Book: The Farpool: Marauders of Seome

The Farpool: Marauders of Seome

The Farpool: Marauders of Seome

Published by Philip Bosshardt at Smashwords

Copyright 2017 Philip Bosshardt

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Chapter 1

“The sea is only the embodiment of a supernatural and wonderful existence.”

Jules Verne


Off the coast of North Carolina

November 20, 1942

4:30 pm

It was the Julie Lane’s second officer, Alonzo Henry, who first spotted the funnels of the waterspouts. They were a curious, even foreboding sight, to the fatigued crew of the old beam trawler. Since sunup that morning, the Lane had been trawling for tuna, snapper, drum, anything they could find. Pickings had been slim for days and Henry had blamed the Navy, the Coast Guard, German U-boats, bad weather, the moon, anything he could think of for why this trip had been such a dud.

Now it was late afternoon, the sun shining in shafts through scattered clouds and this…

funnels? Waterspouts? What else could happen?

Captain Curt Klamath stood against a door on the forward weather deck of the Julie Lane and tried for the fifth time to light his cigarette. Fortunately, his first mate, Gallagher, was nearby and came to the rescue, cupping his hands around Klamath’s stiff fingers.

All three men were still shaken from what they had just witnessed.

“Never seen a spout like that, Lon…quite a sight that was.”

Alonzo Henry agreed. He lit his own cigarette. “Never this far north, eh? Like something out of the tropics. Sky split open, crack of lightning. It’s a wonder that whole school of tuna didn’t scatter to the winds. They got up a good frenzy but they seem to be settling down. Shall I put the nets further out? Otter boards are flapping like there’s not much inside the net.”

“Yeah, give the order. She’s probably a small school but we might have some good ones in there. Run the bobbins out as far as they’ll go, though. This is some fierce chop.”

It was just then that first mate Gil Gallagher, of the trawler Julie Lane, out of Okracoke, North Carolina, lead ship of the Robson Line and always loaded to her gunwales with good meat after a run, saw the ghost, the apparition, the pulses of light climbing down the waterspouts like fireflies on a ladder, for that’s what he would insist on calling it in all the reports and debriefings that would follow.

“What in name of Neptune’s hair is that?” he pointed to the flickering lights.

The men studied the phenomenon for a moment. Half a dozen waterspouts danced across the wavetops miles out to sea, like slithering ropes dropped down from heaven. That in itself wasn’t terribly unusual; all the officers had seen stranger things than that in twenty- two years of trawling and shrimping off the Carolina coast. But the largest of the spouts flickered like a string of Christmas lights, as pulses of reddish-white light coursed down her length, ending in the sea somewhere beyond the horizon.

The apparition ended almost as soon as it started.

Klamath tugged at a pipe and rubbed bristly stubble on his chin. “Lightning, most likely.

Chain lightning. Heard of it, but I ain’t never seen such.”

“St Elmo’s, maybe?’ suggested Henry. “But climbing down that spout, now that’s a sight.

Nobody’ll believe it. Maybe we should—‘

But Henry’s ruminations were suddenly interrupted by a shout from the first mate.

Gallagher was leaning on the railing, starboard side, gesturing at something.

“Look out! She’s a rogue wave, coming this way--!”

And that’s when the deck and forecastle of the Julie Lane was suddenly filled with shouts, curses and scurrying men, trying to lash down everything they could reach.

“Turn her into the wind, Bryan!” Klamath yelled over the roar of the building surf. “Secure those hawsers too! I don’t want to get broadsided!”

Henry, Gallagher, Munsey, everybody was thrashing and sliding across the wet foredeck of the Julie Lane as the chop worsened and the first waves crashed over her bow. Something groaned, then cracked…it was the portside beam, now bent down at an impossible angle— Lane was already listing badly to port, and gear careened around the deck, slamming into knees and legs and faces as the trawler tried to answer her helm.

Henry’s voice strained over the howl of the wind as he grabbed Klamath by the arm and spun the captain around. “We got to cut the lines, Curt! Cod end’s still hung up thirty fathoms down, she’ll drag us right into that wave—“

Klamath shook his head, cried out, “No way, Lon! We’re worked too hard for what we’ve got. We’ve got to show something for all this effort—“

The waves built steadily, Himalayas of water rising up out of the troughs and slamming and hammering Lane from all sides. The trawler had barely enough way to get herself turned bow into the waves, when the front slopes of the monster lifted them fifty feet into the air. For a split second, Klamath, Henry and Gallagher had a glorious view beyond…mottled gray-green surf like a puckered sheet marching off to the horizon, and behind it, more waves, bigger waves and a strange swirl to the ocean, like they were caught in God’s own blender.

And that’s when they saw the lights.

In the days and weeks that followed, Curt Klamath would remember this moment as if it were branded into his brain for all time. The puckering of the ocean in the troughs of the waves, the swirl of the water and the flicker of two lights, just below the surface, devil’s eyes, he called them to anyone who would listen, including his long-suffering wife of thirty-one years Suzanne.

The glare of Neptune’s revenge. Sea monsters. Dragons. Words failed Curt Klamath at times like this, for there were no words to describe what the crew of the Julie Lane had witnessed, in those fateful seconds, before the monster wave hit.

Klamath yelled at the top of his voice. “Belay the nets…unlash the life--!”

But his words were lost in the unearthly howl of the rogue as the full force of the wave hit them at quarter-bow. The Julie Lane upended bow to stern, standing like an uncertain child just learning to walk, before tipping backward, slamming into the water upside down with enough force to split her hull, smash her deckhouse, splinter her gunwales and scattering men and debris like so much kindling. The lifeboats—there were two nicknamed Abbot and Costello—were ripped from their davits and splintered in pieces, then tossed fifty yards into the foam and froth of a boiling sea.

Klamath found himself tugged down by the undertow of the wave’s back side and stroked for all he was worth to avoid the falling beams of the dragger mounts, plummeting out of the sky like broken swords. He thought he heard cries before he ducked under, but he couldn’t be sure.

It was every man for himself now and he had no idea where Alonzo Henry, Gallagher, Munsey

or any of the others were. Chairs, tables, splintered paneling, snatches of netting and assorted gear fell like rain out of the sky and floated on the white-topped crests of the wave.

With all his breath, Curt Klamath snagged something in the water…it turned out to be a broken piece of wooden board-- and held on hard as he could, looping some kind of rope around his arms and body so as to lash himself to the only thing floating he could reach.

Then, in the last moments before he passed out, Klamath saw the lights again. Two glaring eyes, seemingly not connected, yet traveling in unison, dull yellow-white, coursing just below the surface, in the trough of the rogue wave and those that followed.

Klamath puzzled over the sight, as consciousness slipped away. Lanterns torn loose from the Lane, perhaps? Midget U-boats? The Germans had been hunting in these waters for months now and many an unsuspecting tanker or freighter had been caught in their crosshairs and torpedoed to the bottom off the Carolina coast. Strange phosphorescent fish, stirred up in the freak storm that had overturned them?

Klamath had no answers. And a long black tunnel quickly overcame any last thoughts.

A loud horn kept blaring and bleating and Klamath fought his way back to something like a dull stupor. His chin hurt, and there was dried blood—he could taste it and feel it as he wiped his face. He sat up, wobbling around as the waves bounced the little board back and forth. A big wall blocked out the early evening sun, now setting to the west. The wall had a big red stripe on it.

With a start, he realized he was staring at the gunwales of a Coast Guard cutter. He could dimly make out the words Diamond on her sides.

Klamath bobbed in a daze while a small boat circled closer and closer. Soon enough, hands reached in, strong hands, and hoisted him in. Voices filled his ears, questions, comments, orders.

He understood nothing save one thing: he was safe, for the moment. He was dimly aware as heavy cloth covered him and made him comfortable, that the rogue waves had passed and the sea was preternaturally calm. The sun was gone but the sky was lit with a soft pearly light and the first stars were already out.

Klamath wondered briefly if he had died and this was fisherman’s heaven, but a burly, bearded face appeared in front of his and offered him something. He drank. It was coffee, hot, rancid, but still it tasted good and it warmed him well. He dozed off as the boat circled back and approached the cutter, making herself fast in Diamond’s aft well deck.

Crewmen secured the boat and helped Klamath out. He stood wobbly on the deck for a moment, then made out a familiar face: it was Alonzo Henry, cut and bleeding, but alive. The captain and first officer of the Julie Lane embraced.

“Jeez, Lonnie, you look like hell.”

Then, they were whisked above decks to a sick bay crammed with beds and equipment.

Corpsmen checked them out, head to toe.

After the examinations, Klamath and Henry were escorted by two bearded yeoman to a room along a narrow passageway on the Diamond’s main deck. It turned out to the captain’s stateroom.

“Stay here and don’t try to leave,” one yeoman told them. “Cap’n will be by in a few minutes.” They shut the door. Klamath tried the lock—it was unlocked—but he could hear movement just outside. They were under guard.

Klamath and Henry glared ruefully at each other. Klamath spoke up in a rattling voice, still coughing up salt water, sipping Coast Guard coffee like it was champagne. “Lon, I seen monster

waves before. I seen spouts before. I even seen ball lightning and St. Elmo’s before. But those lights under the water—“

Alonzo Henry shook his head, ruffled his wet hair with towels. “Subs, Skipper, had to be some kind of U-boats—“

That’s when they both realized the door had been opened and a face appeared. It was Commander Wilcox. The Diamond’s skipper came in, shutting the door behind him. He was tall, with a buzzcut and gray temples. A faint line of moustache arced over his lips. The moustache twitched like a mouse.

“What about the rest of my crew?” Klamath asked. He rubbed a hot thermos of coffee against the stubble of his cheeks, then took a few sips. Something about Coast Guard coffee—

Wilcox scanned both men with suspicion. “We only found the two of you. How large was your crew?”

Klamath mentally ticked off names in his mind. “Seven in all.” The realization that four of them had been lost in a freak storm weighed heavily on his mind. And it wouldn’t go down well at Robson Line offices in Wilmington either…there would be hours of questions, investigations, paperwork.

Wilcox shrugged. “We did what we could. Corpsman said you two will be okay…mind telling me what you were doing out in such rough seas? There were all kinds of weather warnings this afternoon.”

“Well, we are fishermen, Commander. Julie Lane was out trawling for drum and snapper.

And the fishin’s none too good around here anymore what with you and your ships carving up the waters day and night.”

Wilcox forced a thin smile. “There’s been U-boats sighted around here, you know that.

Tanker went down just twenty miles north, off Nags Head…day before yesterday. Fifteen men too. The Coast Guard can’t keep you out of these waters but you’d best watch yourself. Stay inside the ten-mile line. We and the Navy are pretty busy further out…U-boat pickets and the like.”

Alonzo Henry shook his head. “She was a freak storm all right, Commander. But it wasn’t the waves or the spouts that spooked us.”

Wilcox snickered. Fishermen were all alike, superstitious as all get out. “Ghosts, I assume?”

“Lights,” Henry said. “Weird lights. And it wasn’t no lightning either.”

That made Wilcox’ face harden. “What kind of lights?”

Henry glanced over at Klamath, who nodded silently. Tell him, his eyes said.

“First the big spout had lights, like Christmas lights. They came down out of the clouds…

little blobs of lights, at least two of them, kind of slow, like a bomb maybe, but I didn’t see an explosion.”

Klamath took up the story. “Then when Julie Lane capsized and we were in the water, we saw ‘em again, under the water. Below the surface.”

“How many?” Wilcox asked, now more concerned. “How far away, what bearing?”

Henry took a deep breath and shrugged, pulling long on the thermos of coffee. It tasted like bilge water. “Hard to say. I only saw two. Steady yellow white lights, maybe a few feet below the surface. They passed between us and the Lane, then circled us for a few minutes. Thought they might be shark, but we don’t get shark up here very often.”

“You think they might be U-boats?” Klamath asked. The prospect made his heart race.

“German midget subs, maybe?”

Wilcox backed out into the corridor and conferred with someone else for a second, then stuck his head back in the cabin. “I don’t know, fellas, but the Navy needs to know about this.

We’re putting in at Fort Macon in an hour. I want you guys to speak with the Navy boys when we dock. Tell ‘em everything you saw or heard about those lights.”

Henry made a fist. “It’s the Germans, ain’t it? They got some kind of weird U-boat and you need to investigate, don’t you? Sure thing, Commander, we can tell ‘em what we saw.”

Wilcox started to withdraw. “Get dried off, men. And don’t say a word of this to anyone.“

He backed out of the cabin and shut the door. Both survivors heard the lock click.

Klamath shivered, tested his own coffee. “Guess were stuck here, Lonnie.

The Diamond put in at her dock at Ft. Macon Coast Guard Station forty minutes later.

Escorted down the gangway, Klamath and Henry spotted Coast Guard beach patrols on horseback gathering at the end of the wharf. The ship’s executive officer was a jolly, barrel-chested nearly bald officer whose name plate read Dennison. Lieutenant Dennison was mainly interested in food, from his description of what awaited them.

“Oh, you’ll love it,” he told them, as they headed across the dock area to the stationhouse.

“This time of night… wow…doughnuts, bagels, sandwiches, Coast Guard coffee, that’ll grow hair on your chest…just follow me—“

They wound up at the Security shack, a small cabin just inside the main gate off Spencer Road. Lieutenant Melvin Betters was the base Security Officer. Just as Dennison had said, a table full of sodas, coffee and cookies and sandwiches occupied one corner of the conference room. Klamath wondered if everybody rescued got the same treatment.

That’s when they saw the Navy commander in the corner, flanked by men with M-1


Thirty miles northeast of the Ft. Macon Coast Guard station, two Ponkti lifeships settled to the sandy bottom of the ocean in strong currents. A large underwater vessel was coming. They had sounded it from miles away, then circled the splintered wreckage of the eekoti ship that had just sunk to observe this strange vessel of the Umans.

Loptoheen tu kel: Ponk’et studied his instruments. “Still two beats away, Kolom. Coming this way. It’s big too…bigger than any kip’t I’ve ever ridden, bigger than this ship too.”

Kolom le was jammed in the lifeship directly behind. He could hear the sound of the strange vessel’s screws, multi-bladed, powered by some clunky apparatus that made no sense to either of them. “Loptoheen, are you sure you navigated Opuh’te correctly. This doesn’t seem like—“

But Loptoheen waved his colleague quiet. “Hush! Listen…just listen, okay? I’ll take measurements when the beast goes by. Klindonok too. The other lifeship’s just in position to get a good angle. These Umans have things we never dreamed of.”

The two of them rested quietly inside the cockpit of their ship while the U-95 rumbled ever closer, making barely eight knots at a keel depth of eighty feet. She was a boisterous thing, rumbling, hissing, bubbling, composed of some outer material hard and nearly impenetrable by the Ponkti as she approached. Pulses couldn’t penetrate. Over two hundred feet long, with a beam of twenty feet, massing some eight hundred tons, the Type VII submarine had been stalking and prowling the shoals and waters off Cape Hatteras and Okracoke for days now, having already sent two tankers and a bulk steamer to the bottom.

Now she was upon them and all the Ponkti travelers were impressed with the Uman machine. A great wall of steel passed slowly between the two lifeships, carving the water with

her bow waves rocking the lifeships roughly as she went by, wallowing awkwardly in the currents but possessed of a power that made Loptoheen’s head swim with ideas and ambitions.

He knew it was pointless, but he opened the lifeship cockpit for a moment, just cranked it barely open, to feel the power of the submarine waves wash over his beak, hear the thrum of her screws, feel the pure power of the beast. It was better than a whole herd of seamothers, for that’s what Kolom had called these beasts…metallic seamothers.

Then the U-95 was gone and dwindling in the distance, the turbulence of her wake thrashing the water like a pack of half-crazed tillet.

Loptoheen lowered the hatch and sealed the cockpit firmly.

“Magnificent, Kolom…just magnificent.”

Kolom was sour. “Instruments don’t lie. Look at the readings: the sounds and scents are all wrong. You didn’t navigate the Farpool properly. We’re not where we’re supposed to be, are we?”

“We don’t know that. It’s still the world of the Umans, that’s all that matters. I want to follow that big metallic seamother. See where she goes. Maybe we can communicate with these eekoti, find out how they built this thing. By Shooki, if Ponk’et had such a vessel, we could drive the Omtorish from every sea in the world.”

Loptoheen didn’t know it and never would have admitted it, but his colleague and passenger Kolom le was right. They had entered the Farpool just beyond the surf line and seamounts of Likte Island on their own world and crossed the wormhole bridge through the Notwater as always, but somehow the computations and the maneuvering was wrong. They had come out of the Farpool above the western Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of North Carolina but the time calculations had proven inaccurate.

They had a mission and the metah of Ponk’et, Lektereenah kim, had been quite firm about it: test this Farpool, and travel to the world of the Umans…reconnoiter their seas and waters and learn what you can…the Omtorish can’t monopolize the Farpool forever.

So two lifeships, ot’lum in the Ponkti vernacular, had been built, right from plans stolen from the Omtorish, and equipped for the journey. Loptoheen commanded one, and Klindonok commanded the other. Both were made tekmetah, arms of the metah, bound to Lektereenah to complete the mission or die in the effort.

Loptoheen intended to give Lektereenah no reason to doubt them. And if he could bring back some Uman weapons and technology to help in the unending struggle with Omt’or and the other kels, a struggle to decide who would dominate the seas of Seome, then so much the better.

But Loptoheen had made a slight miscalculation coming through the Farpool. And that miscalculation had landed the two lifeships in the western Atlantic Ocean, in the earliest days of a great conflict among the Umans. Research showed that their own historians would come to call it World War II.

Chapter 2

“I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast, for I intend to go in harm’s way.”

John Paul Jones


Twenty Miles off the coast of North Carolina

November 21, 1942

6:30 am

Doenitz had named it Operation Paukenschlag, or Drumbeat, when the U-boats had received their sailing orders and Korvettenkapitan Horst Muhler, skipper of the U-115, figured that was about as good a description as any. The U-115 had been stalking the rear of the convoy—

intercepts had termed it SC-108—for two days now, just trying to evade a few scattered escorts and maneuver in close for a quick snapshot from her forward tubes. Already they had closed enough to one juicy target for Muhler to risk raising the periscope for a quick look and bearing before final target calculations were made.

“Raise periscope,” he commanded. The boat’s conning tower shuddered as the ‘scope hissed up her sealed tube and poked just above the light swells rocking the ocean surface.

Muhler turned his greasy cap backwards and affixed tired eyes to the rubber eyepiece, silently mouthing the name emblazoned on the forehull of the nearest freighter, now barely a thousand meters away, early morning sun glinting off her funnels.

Bentham Cole.

“Range, nine hundred fifty meters,” he called out. “Angle on the bow twenty-two degrees.

Make tubes one and two ready.”

Standing behind Muhler was the First Watch Officer, Joachim Wechsler. Voices called out from somewhere forward.

Wechsler reported. “Tubes one and two ready.”

“Set your angle and fire.”

The firing command was given and the U-115 porpoised a little as the first G7 torpedo slipped out of her tube, motoring away on high-pitched screws.

“Watch your buoyancy, Eins WO. Flood four and five. And give me the count.”

The boat trimmed out the loss of the torpedo’s weight. Wechsler checked his stopwatch, counting down the seconds. The time seemed to last an eternity, then….


The explosion sent shock waves that shook the boat. A great cheer erupted in the control room.

“Sound man, what do you hear?”

The sound man turned at his desk, holding ear phones tight against his head, his eyes shut to concentrate. It was Genzbach, fresh out of the training flotilla at Trondheim, head full of black hair and a cockeyed grin on his face. “Bulkheads collapsing, Kapitan. Boilers crumpling…I hear the steam hissing…she’s going down fast.”

“Stupid Americans,” Muhler decided. “No escorts, no protection at all. They never learn.

Helm, plane up to periscope depth…I want to take a look.”

The U-115 rose slightly and leveled off a few dozen meters below the choppy surface of the Atlantic. Above, it was still dark, early morning, but the horizon was aflame with a red-orange glow. Muhler rotated the scope, seeing boats and arms and men adrift, while the sea surface burned with flaming oil patches. Beyond, backlit in the glow, more funnels, more freighters and tankers, more targets.

“Surface the boat,” Muhler commanded. “Gun crews, standby. We’ll make our next attack on the surface with our eighty-eights.”

Muhler, Wechsler and the rest of the control room crew hung on as the planesmen made a smart up-angle maneuver to bring the U-115 to the surface. Topside, the water was choppy, slick with burning and dying men floundering in the freezing water.

The Germans referred to it as “die gluckliche Zeit.” The Happy Time.

For the next four hours, Muhler and the U-115 prowled among the hapless tankers and freighters of SC-108 like a wolf in the sheep pen, picking off several with close-in torpedo shots…four hits in four tries!--, then finishing off two more with her deck guns. The last one had been the tanker Harriston, so fully riddled with eighty-eight millimeter fire that her superstructure burst into flames, setting off her interior fuel tanks in a terrific, sky-scraping explosion that blew her hull completely apart. Flaming debris rained down on the Atlantic for ten minutes after that.

“Secure the deck!” Muhler announced over the voice pipe. “Eins WO, prepare to dive.

Sound man, what contacts do you have?”

Genzbach concentrated on his signals, adjusting knobs, adjusting his earphones. “Mostly bulkheads collapsing, explosions, boilers erupting. But Kapitan, there was something before—“

It was the quaver in Genzbach’s voice, an uncertain lilt—he was practically a boy, barely a year out of the Marineschule Murwik –that caught Muhler’s attention. The Kapitan came over.

“What is it? What did you hear?”

Genzbach looked up. “Perhaps another sub…there was a faint kind of whooshing sound…

while we were maneuvering, mostly astern, I think. I heard it several times. Unlike anything I’ve ever heard. Maybe sea life, Kapitan. “

“Bearing, Genzie. What was the bearing and range?”

“Hard to say, sir. It came and went. It sounded like air or water rushing, like you hear when a faucet’s going in the next room.”

“Okay, sound man, okay.” He patted Genzbach on the shoulder. “Maybe it was just a few dolphins humping, after all. It has been pretty exciting around here. Just keep listening on those earphones. Any destroyers, any escorts come our way, I want to know immediately.”

“Yes, sir, Kapitan, of course.”

The deck inclined as U-115 slid beneath the waves, turning east to exit Diamond Shoals and its shallow waters and bays. Muhler checked with the Obersteuermann, Breightmann, on their course.

“Steer east, make it heading zero eight five. Set turns for eight knots. We’ll go an hour or so this way, check contacts, then surface again if she’s clear topside.”

“Zero eight five, aye Kapitan,” repeated Breightmann. He bent to his plot board and quickly penciled in their new course and speed.

Muhler left the conn in the hands of the Eins WO, Wechsler, and headed aft to his stateroom, itself little more than a closet with a curtain shielding it from the corridor. He plopped into his bunk, pinched his eyes shut and tried to relax.

No escorts. Five ships sunk. It had been easy, too easy. When would the Americans learn?

They still had two torpedoes left, but Muhler wanted to save those for defense against destroyers if any were encountered. That was just good tactics, he told himself, though there were some at the OKM who didn’t see it that way, the worthless paper pushers. Muhler snorted.

Happy time, indeed.

Five hundred meters behind the U-115, as she slid through the trackless pre-dawn black of the western Atlantic, the Ponkti lifeships followed at a respectful distance.

Loptoheen pulsed ahead, sounding the shape and contours of the Uman vessel.

“Just like a seamother,” he told Kolom. “She’s a magnificent beast, this one. No musculature that I can pulse. She moves under power of that small propulsor at the rear…hear how it rotates, chops the water. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Just don’t get too close,” Kolom advised. “She has teeth like a seamother too. She spits death with those armored fish and destroys other ships with her guns.”

Loptoheen was mindful of Lektereenah’s orders: reconnoiter, study, gather specimens, and learn. The world of the Umans may become our world, if the Omtorish are right. Shooki sends a great ak’loosh someday and we have to be ready to emigrate.

Loptoheen scoffed. Surely that was just so much p’omor’te, so much blather. The Omtorish used tales like that to scare their midlings and hide their real purpose: to monopolize the Farpool and dominate Seome with whatever they could steal from the Umans, from the strange Tailless beings of the Notwater who seemed to be the most intelligent life on this bizarre world.

The two lifeships followed U-115 all the way across the Atlantic, noting that most of the voyage, the Uman vessel stayed at the surface.

“Understandable,” noted Kolom. “They’re creatures of Notwater…it’s their environment.”

Loptoheen used those hours to bring his lifeship closer for a better look at the curious vessel.

Klindonok was bolder, even surfacing briefly off the submarine’s port side into a bright blue ocean sky one day. In the commotion that followed, the crewmen of the U-115 scrambled to their deck guns, peppering the surface with dozens of rounds. None struck Klindonok’s ship, but the litorkel’ke thought it advisable to dive quickly and disappear beneath the foam and spray.

That earned him a rebuke from the tuk master himself, Loptoheen.

“Stay at a safe distance, Klindonok ka. We don’t want to alarm the Tailless unnecessarily.”

His partner’s voice came over the voice circuit, full of grunts and clicks and squeaks.

“Apologies, tuk master. How long do we follow this vessel?”

Loptoheen gave that some thought. “Perhaps he will come to a base of some kind. I’m looking for something we can use, something we can take back and use against the Omtorish.

That’s what Lektereenah really wants.”

So they followed the German U-boat on her zigzag course for several thousand kilometers, sometimes drifting closer, to pulse and sniff her screws and fittings, sometimes laying back to wallow in her wake, occasionally darting off to investigate something else, a shipwreck, a mound of volcanic smokers—“just like Sk’orkenkloo Trench,” observed Kolom, “hot plumes of turbid water...maybe similar in origin…we could use it for energy, Loptoheen.” Sometimes, darting ahead to measure the U-boat’s speed and maneuverability, creating a brief obstruction in the water that Genzbach, the sound man, alerted Kapitan to and forcing the boat to veer sharply away.

It was Klindonok who even played games with the boat’s sound sensing apparatus. As soon as it was learned, or suspected, that the Tailless were listening carefully to what went on around

them, Klindonok created a cacophony of different sounds, trilling up and down the vocals of the Ponkti tongue, narrating soliloquys, speaking as if on a roam with an army of repeaters, telling bad jokes.

Even Loptoheen had to laugh at what he imaged the Tailless would make of the symphony Klindonok created.

The U-boat pens at St. Nazaire had only recently been opened for operation when Muhler finally guided the U-115 gingerly into her slip at Number Four dock. The dockmaster and a small crew awaited them on the pier.

Dock crews made the boat fast and the men of U-115 began climbing topside and making their way across the gangways. Muhler was one of the last and as he crossed the gangway, the dockmaster, Wegener, stuck out a hand.

“Welcome, home, Kapitan. Good hunting, I presume?” Wegener was sandy-haired, plump, a former burgomeister in a small Bavarian village.

Muhler grunted. “Good enough.” He started to explain why they had taken such a zigzag course back to base, trying to dodge spurious sound contacts, but decided not to. Wegener was a clerk and little more. He’d never understand.

Then there was that encounter on the surface…or maybe they had dreamed the whole thing. The odd little pod-shaped craft. Perhaps the Allies had come up with something new to harass the U-boats. Muhler signed off on some papers and shoved through a small throng of applauding dock workers. He wanted to hunt down the Intelligence chief and find out if any other boat had encountered something similar.

The dock area was lined with machine shops, an optical shop, more workshops, a munitions bunker, well-guarded by the Marine Strosstrupp Abteilung, and offices. Just as Muhler barged into the dock office, a commotion erupted from alongside the pier, somewhere aft of the boat.

Muhler stopped in the door, then stepped back out.

The waters at the entrance of the pen seemed to be boiling and foaming. Something was surfacing…Muhler’s stomach did a backflip when he realized it was the same tiny craft they had seen at sea several days ago. The Americans had followed them somehow, after days of playing cat and mouse with Genzbach the sound man. They’d even shot at the thing.

It had to be the Americans. Or the British. And they had been followed right into the submarine pens at St. Nazaire.

Muhler shouted. “Shoot! Fire! Drive them off!”

Wechsler, the boat’s Eins WO, grabbed a pistol from a yeoman, and started peppering the water with shots. Others joined in the fusillade and soon the sub pen echoed with weapons fire.

Men yelled. Sailors and marines and dock hands scurried along both sides of the pier, raking the water with fire, seemingly with no effect.

The craft submerged again but didn’t go far. It glided further into the pen, looking just like a small whale, dorsal fins, stubby forward flukes, its supple body whipping back and forth.

Muhler had a thought. Maybe it was a whale, confused, hungry, lost.

The craft or whale paused at a small diving platform, suspended over the edge of the dock.

Already, inside the dive shop windows, two men half-clad in dive gear had poked their heads out; they would have been inspecting the outer hull of the boat in another hour, looking for leaks, dents, loose fittings, mangled valves. Now, they ducked back into the shop amidst the volley of rounds flying around the pen.

The water around the dive platform foamed vigorously and two heads poked above the water’s surface. The heads were beaked, rounded and plated as if armored.

Muhler saw them. Froschmann, he decided. American frogmen, combat divers, carried to St. Nazaire to sabotage the boats. They had to be stopped.

Others saw the frogmen. They scurried to the side where the dive platform was suspended, momentarily stunned at the sight of the divers hauling themselves up onto the partially submerged platform.

Only when the first diver was fully in view, standing erect, did Muhler realize this was no American frogman.

Mein Gott…was ist das?” What the hell--?

The diver was much taller or longer than any human Muhler had ever seen. Easily three meters, if not more. The dive suit resembled a dolphin from its mid-section up, complete with beak, eyeholes, forelimbs and odd appendages he had no idea what they were. Below the midsection, were two legs, seemingly mechanized, for they moved with a jerky, mechanical action that belied the natural look of its forebody. One of the forelimbs held some kind of device. It was cylindrical with a horn-shaped opening at one end. The diver aimed the device at the startled men.

A shot rang out. Then more shots, and soon the gunfire was continuous. Marines crept along the ladders and scaffolding, trying to get into better position. But the shots seemed to have no effect. The frogman was armored, it seemed and the impacts were visible, as the diver twisted and turned to evade the fire, but he continued scaling the dive platform. And another head was emerging from below the water next to him.

Then came a brilliant flash of light, followed by several deafening sound pulses. Muhler staggered back, blinded, instantly nauseated, vomit rising in the back of his throat. He pitched forward onto the deck, barely caught himself and shuddered and shivered as more booms reverberated around the pen. Windows rattled and shattered and there was a momentary stillness around the dock. Men lay sprawled everywhere, groaning, their ears bleeding, clutching their faces and eyes.

The Ponkti travelers, Loptoheen and Klindonok, emerged fully from the dive platform and surveyed the carnage, climbing up onto the deck. Klindonok had a slight leak in his suit, the result of scores of rounds from the Tailless weapons, but was otherwise unhurt. Loptoheen was unscathed. They tested their mobilitors and found they could maneuver in this odd world of Notwater, kicking and shuffling along step by step. Both trundled forward along the edge of the pier.

Ahead of them, a door opened. The door sign read Oberkommando der Marine. Two men stepped out, instantly startled at the sight of the Ponkti visitors. One was Fregattenkapitan Werner von Kleist, gray white buzzcut hair, with sandy gray sideburns, thinning on top and a trim graying moustache. Von Kleist had just arrived from Berlin, a fact-finding and inspection mission from the OKM. The other was Wegener, the dock master, who had ducked into the nearest office when the fusillade had begun.

Now, the two Germans and the two Ponkti stared at each other for a long moment. To von Kleist, the visitors looked like dolphins with legs, somehow thrown up on land and seeming to be lost. They looked around nervously, checking everything. The OKM officer had no sidearm, though instinctively he reached for the holster that he had left in his office. Wegener was also unarmed.

Klindonok pointed the sound suppressor at both men and their hands went up quickly. The Germans started backpedaling, but Wegener stumbled over a ladder and went down hard, then slid flailing off into the water with a loud splash. He scrambled to find something to grab onto, but Klindonok handed his weapon to Loptoheen and dropped into the water beside Wegener, grabbing the Tailless under his arms. The Ponkti flippered them back to the dive platform and deposited a coughing and gagging dockmaster over the railing. Wegener coughed up water violently and sucked in huge gasps of air. Then Klindonok climbed back to the deck.

Von Kleist noticed a small pod-shaped device that Loptoheen was removing from a belt around his midsection. He flinched, started backing…another weapon?

But Loptoheen beckoned him to stop, using the gestures he had learned from the eekoti Chase many mah before. The Ponkti withdrew the device and held it out, offering it to von Kleist.

The OKM officer slowly put his hands down. “Was? You want me to take this…is that it?”

Loptoheen shuffled forward a few steps on his mobilitors, earning another flinch from von Kleist. Cautiously, the German reached out and took hold of the pod.

It was a small fist-sized object, oval, rounded at the top. The sea creature had extracted it from a small pouch in his belly; neither of them had seen that. His hands had six fingers, delicate fingers, and they grasped the object with a dexterity they could hardly believe.

“Kapitan…watch out…please, don’t—“ But he had already taken possession of the object.

He stood up and examined it. The dockmaster came up and squinted at the thing in his hand.

“What is it? Is it a bomb?

“I don’t know—“von Kleist shook it slightly, then nearly dropped the thing when it started to glow…a dim red glow emanated from within. The outer case was almost translucent and a single red light shone from within.

The sea creature—von Kleist still thought of them as froschmann—frogmen-- suddenly became agitated, flapping the air with its arms. He clicked and chittered and screeched, slapping the air again and again. The other creature soon joined in. The fracas lasted half a minute.

“What’s wrong with them? What are they doing?”

“It seems upset—“ then von Kleist heard it. Something, a whispering susurration, began issuing from the object. He almost dropped the thing. “What the--?” He shook the can again, brought it up to eye level. Now the red light had grown stronger and sharper. He peered in, seeing nothing, then brought it to his ears. He could clearly hear something.

“Sounds like gibberish to me,” he said. Similar to the clicking the froschmann were doing, the can emitted a steady stream of sounds: clicks, whistles, grunts and chirps. He shook his head, then noticed the taller creature trying to mimic his head shakes. The creature waved his forelimbs, hands extended and von Kleist somehow knew that the creature wanted the object back. Cautiously, he approached, still hovering on the edge of the deck.

“Maybe it’s a grenade…it sounds like it’s ticking,” Wegener decided. “We ought to get out of here right now—“

“I’m not so sure.” Gingerly, von Kleist handed the object back, placing it carefully in the froschmann’s outstretched hand. The fingers, they seemed so—

The creature seemed to nod and took the can. The other creature joined him in examining the object. Von Kleist could tell they were doing something with the object. The dim red light cycled through more colors before finally settling on an orangish glow. He handed the object back to the OKM officer.

Von Kleist was intrigued and a little wary. Maybe it was an American trick, this froschmann with the talking can. But this was unique, working with dolphins like this, dolphins with hands. Or whatever they were. Had the Americans bred and trained these creatures, maybe equipped them with armored suits and weapons? He took the object back, watching the creature’s hand and beak movements carefully. In the back of his mind, the creature reminded von Kleist of a math teacher in Hochschule, one dour old Herr Keller.

Here…you want me to do this…like this…up here?… He raised the can to his ears again.

This time, the whistling and chirping had stopped. Now… my God! He could hear snatches of something…sounds …like words….like—

Understand…voice…to your…can…hear…your voice…(unintelligible…) can you…my voice…

Von Kleist practically dropped the thing. It was a machine. A translator. Voice box…


“Wegener…come over…listen…you can hear…they’re speaking words….”

Cautiously, the dockmaster bent his ear to the device. Even as he listened, he could see

‘Herr Keller’ become a bit more agitated. Clicking. Whistles. Chirps, like a radio.

“It’s a radio, Kapitan,” Wegener decided. “Like a small radio. They’re singing—“

Von Kleist listened more. He knew a thing or two about music, having fronted for biergartens all over Bavaria for years. But this wasn’t singing, not exactly. It was more…

“They’re not singing. They’re talking…this device’s translating all those whistles and screeches…listen—“

And deep inside, Wegener knew he was right. It gave him a chill. To think that the Americans…or the British--

Now, the pod was glowing from within with a warm orange radiance. Von Kleist told the dockmaster it was warm to the touch; Wegener verified that himself, then his curiosity overcame everything. “Let me listen—“

Von Kleist gave him the pod. …you can…can…hear my voice…can understand what…


Both of them nodded. “We understand some words…yes, I hear your voice…can you understand me?” Von Kleist sat down on the edge of the deck, a few meters from ‘Herr Keller’

and the other creature. Wegener hung back by a nearby ladder, still listening, squinting, trying to make out more.

is called…echo…pod…my voice…your voice…together…can you hear what I…

Jawohl!” Von Kleist practically shouted. He grabbed the pod back from Wegener, spoke into it. “Yes, I hear your words…you talk…I mean, you can actually talk--?

‘Herr Keller’ raised his beak, squeaking and chirping rapidly, forelimbs waving wildly.

…’derstand you…echopod need adjust…give me…hand …pod me…

Von Kleist looked up at Wegener. “He wants the pod back.”

“Maybe it needs work.”

Von Kleist gave ‘Herr Keller’ the pod. The creature dropped off the edge of the deck, splashing into the water again, did something once more with the device. The other creature stayed on the pier. Finally, the pod’s light had changed from orange to almost a yellowish tint.

‘Herr Keller’ surfaced, hoisting the pod with his right flipper-hand-thing and handed it back.

By now, Von Kleist knew what to do. He grasped the pod carefully and raised it to his ear.

‘Herr Keller’ had ducked under again, yet both of them could hear the clicking and grunts and chirps bubbling up out of the water. Keller’s accomplice—von Kleist had mentally labeled

him ‘Herr Schmidt’-- had chimed in too. Keller und Schmidt—radio comics often used by Dr.

Goebbels to entertain the home audiences…that made von Kleist smile. If they could only see their namesakes now.

And out of the pod poured a steady stream of words.

…adjust made…you hear better now…?

Von Kleist shivered from a chill that went down his neck and nodded. “Much better. Who are you? Are you dolphins? American froschmann? Where did you come from?”

‘Herr Schmidt’ suddenly stepped off the platform to join Keller in the water, with a big splash.

‘Herr Keller’ seemed agitated by that and began circling alongside the hull of the U-115, the two of them orbiting the small space between boat and dock in perfect unison.

not this world…many beats distant…there is the Farpool…we come for—

But the words stopped and that’s when von Kleist and Wegener both heard the clatter of something behind them.

Two Marine Strosstruppe—German marines—had crept out of a nearby machine shop and were even now leveling their weapons at the creatures in the water.

Von Kleist shouted. “Nein, nein! Hold your fire! Don’t shoot!”

The marines crept forward until they stood abreast of von Kleist and Wegener.

One of them, a steuermann, aimed his carbine at the two creatures in the water. “Kapitan, what are they? Enemy spies? American divers?”

Von Kleist carefully nudged the barrel of the marine’s rifle away. “I don’t know yet.

They’re not Americans…or British. They’re not froschmann, at least not as we understand it.”

Wegener clambered back up on deck, still dripping wet from his fall into the water.

“Dolphins in armor, that’s what they are …and with legs… unmoglisch.”

Von Kleist stooped to the edge of the deck. ‘Herr Keller’ gestured for him to hand back the strange pod again. Von Kleist did so and the creature ducked below the water again, working with ‘Herr Schmidt’, apparently making adjustments to the device. The interior light cycled through red, yellow and amber before settling on a muted gold color. The creature returned to the surface and handed the thing back.

“Who are you?” von Kleist asked. “What are you?”

The pod chirped and squeaked. “Nahh…shkreeahhhh…not this world…we come…


Kleist looked at Wegener, then at the marines, still crouching, their fingers twitching on their rifle triggers. “Not this world…does that mean--?”

Wegener shrugged. “Another world, perhaps?”

As a child, Werner von Kleist remembered listening to radio talks and reading books and articles by Willy Ley and Walter Dornberger, articles about rockets and space travel and intelligent beings from other worlds. It stoked his imagination, but that had been a long time—

“You’re not American? You’re not British.”

Now both of the creatures pulled themselves up and out of the water. The marines shrank back, leveling their rifles. Other strosstruppe were already creeping along the edge of the pier, from both directions, weapons aimed. Fully upright, they did resemble armored dolphins, with legs that moved mechanically—you could hear some kind of motors whirring when they moved

—and arms, with fingers. Six fingers.

Von Kleist thought he had to be dreaming. What kind of dolphin had fingers? And mechanical legs?

“What do you want?”

The larger creature flapped his forelimbs vigorously. “Shkreeah…nahh…kkklllkkkhhh…to help…you help…we help….” He seemed to pointing at the boat, the U-115.

“To help us?” This made von Kleist curious. “Help us…in what way?”

Kkkkhhhlllssshhh…you learn…we learn….”

Slowly, bit by bit, Werner von Kleist teased out the barest shreds of understanding. For the next few minutes, he pinched himself again and again, telling himself, over the chirps and whistles and grunts, squeaks and clicks of the pod-thing, that nobody at OKM in Berlin would ever believe this.

The stand-off lasted nearly an hour, with the two dolphins periodically dipping back into the water, for it was increasingly clear that they were creatures of the water. Von Kleist didn’t understand any of it. Somehow, by the gods of war, the Kriegsmarine had come into contact with a new kind of intelligence…an intelligence not of this world, talking fish with weapons.

Not American frogmen. Not British divers. Not trained animals, though there had been rumors about that.

Creatures from another place…perhaps from another world, as Willy Ley had often surmised back in the 30s. It was incredible. It was beyond imagining. But that seemed the best, maybe the only explanation.

He didn’t know how such creatures had come to be following the U-115 from her assigned patrol area all the way across the Atlantic to the submarine pens at St. Nazaire. Maybe Wegener was right. It was a trick. Circus magic. A stunt…maybe the French Resistance had somehow concocted a new way of harassing them. It was possible, wasn’t it?

No. Von Kleist prided himself on being hardheaded, coldly logical, practical, unlike some of those starry-eyed wunderkind in Berlin.

When all else failed, accept what your eyes tell you. The simplest explanation was always the best. And hadn’t Muhler’s crew just finished reporting strange encounters on their return?

Odd encounters with strange craft at the surface. Inexplicable sounds underwater, unlike any other ships they had ever encountered. Almost as if these armored dolphins were teasing them, playing with them.

Von Kleist eyed the creatures critically. Look at them. Armored suits. Sonic weapons of some type. A craft that could run circles around the U-boats. Maybe other devices. If he played this right, the Kriegsmarine could learn much from this encounter…maybe enough to put the U-boats back on the offensive. Donitz would love that. Berlin would love that. Die glucklische Zeit---the Happy Time—would return and the U-boats could finish what they had started two years ago…starve Britain out of the war before the Americans could jump fully in. Already the convoys had changed tactics, adding more escorts, a few long-range planes, better detection gear…the British called it asdic.

The two dolphin-men that faced them now alongside the U-115 inside a submarine bunker at St. Nazaire could help Germany and her Kriegsmarine turn the tide, start sinking ships again, if properly exploited and motivated.

All this von Kleist imagined as he pressed the translator pod to his ear.

“Perhaps we can arrange a meeting,” he told them. “We must talk…we must learn from each other.” Hadn’t one of them said exactly that?

Now the creatures maneuvered themselves from the diving platform up onto the pier. Fully two and a half, maybe three meters tall, their scaled armor gleaming with dripping water, the larger creature, ‘Herr Keller,’ took back the translator pod from von Kleist and made yet another

adjustment. The interior light settled down to a warm, almost buttery glow. It began to chirp again as the creature rattled off a string of clicks and squeaks and grunts.

Yes…shkreeaahh…meet…we say roam in vish’tu …we trade with zzhhh…other….”

Von Kleist shooed off the strosstruppe and told Wegener to go find a nearby shop they could set up to meet more comfortably with these odd creatures.

“And get a camera too. I want to record all of this…nobody at OKM will ever believe this.”

Chapter 3

“The heart of man is very much like the sea, it has its storms, it has its tides, and in its depths, it has its pearls too.”

Vincent van Gogh


Above Likte Trench, near Liksh’pont

Time: 779.8, Epoch of Tekpotu

Chase Meyer thought that the wavemaker they had rebuilt at Likte, replacing the one the Umans abandoned at Kinlok many mah ago, was working okay, but it was clear that other kelke were using the Farpool and using it without fully understanding what they were doing. The seas above the Trench still churned with dozens of whirlpools— opuh’te, the Seomish called them…

Chase made a mental note that he really did need to learn more of the language now that the metah had put him in charge of operations at Likte. The Farpool itself came and went like a huge, writhing snake of water, dancing like a thick rope across the wavetops, gray and pearlescent, seemingly still unpredictable in occurrence though Likteek klu claimed the Academy had built an algorithm to better predict its appearance.

No, the problem didn’t seem to be in the Farpool itself. The problem was that the Omtorish could no longer control who used the Farpool. And that was a growing problem that Chase didn’t know how to confront.

The new wavemaker that had been re-located from Kinlok Island when the Umans pulled out was similar in size and design to the original. Chase had managed to get one of the Umans, Golich had been his name, to give him details on how the wavemaker worked, how it was constructed. When the Umans abandoned Seome, Chase had been able to assist, then ultimately oversee, the reconstruction of the wavemaker thousands of beats away, in a canyon system near Likte Island, so that the most destructive effects of the machine were better isolated.

And so the Farpool itself would be preserved.

Chase was assigned by the Metah herself, now Mokleeoh loh, to inspect, repair and maintain the wavemaker, and to ensure that the Farpool was navigable, against the inevitable day when emigration from Seome became necessary. Kel’vish’tu, the Omtorish called it. A great roam over a vast distance.

A great roam indeed.

Now, he’d brought along two engineers to help with the inspection. First, there was Arktek le, a young Academy kelke, quick to learn, but a bit impetuous, a bit over-anxious to please.

More than once, his quick reflexes and nervous energy had nearly gotten him into serious trouble with the wavemaker. You had to be careful around the chronotron pods or you could wind up yanked off to another space and time in an eyeblink. Arktek had already come too close to disaster to allow Chase to trust him alone around the most critical parts of the wavemaker.

Then there was Pakto klu, he from an em’kel in the capital city of Omsh’pont that Chase couldn‘t even pronounce, and his echopod couldn’t translate. Something to do with k’orpuh breeding…the webbed electric snakes that often were put to use powering all kinds of equipment around the city and indeed the entire kel. Chase figured he would never understand how the Omtorish controlled and bred the damn things, but Pakto seemed to be a natural. He was even

snake-like himself, in the way he slithered and undulated, an unusual way of getting around that had been said to be the result of a childhood injury during the Circling…the rite of passage that every midling had to endure to enter adulthood. Pakto was quiet, intense, aloof for a Seomish male. Chase didn’t always trust him but he did respect the engineer. And since he was still learning how to pulse others and read the echoes, Chase didn’t always trust his own reading of people like Pakto. One thing you could say about the Omtorish, indeed all the kels: they didn’t hide anything from each other. You couldn’t very well be secretive when the person next to you could easily pulse what you had for dinner, whether you were upset, distressed, had just made love—they did that a lot--or just had gas.

Chase had reserved for himself the inspections above the surface, inspections that involved the chronotron pods—the working parts of the wavemaker—and the outer surface of the vast structure. As a creature of the Notwater, though now modified by em’took, nobody had any problem with that. It was apparent early on that neither Pakto nor Arktek had any real curiosity about what lay above the surface, in the realm that all Seomish called Notwater. In this they were different from Chase’s long-time friend Kloosee ank, whose very em’kel in the city was devoted to studying, theorizing and exploring the Notwater.

Most Seomish were more than content to cruise and roam about their vast underwater civilization, as if it were the only place in the universe.

But it wasn’t the only place. And if the Umans were right, it wouldn’t last much longer.

Seome’s own sun, a star the Umans called Sigma-Albeth B, was doomed, the result of multiple starball hits from a remorseless enemy of the Umans, a race called the Coethi. Golich himself had said it was likely, maybe even inevitable, that Sigma Albeth B would go supernova in a very short time, though no one could say exactly when that time would be.

Only a few Seomish scientists really understood the magnitude of the threat, an existential threat. And that was why it was critical that the Farpool be kept open and navigable at all costs.

It was the only feasible escape route the kels had, perhaps to Earth’s oceans themselves, perhaps elsewhere.

Chase was just about to pilot his small kip’t up to the surface, when Pakto came up with results from his own inspection procedure.

Eekoti Chase, I just finished the measurements on this side of the machine.” He seemed satisfied with what he had done and looked on at Chase with an expectant air, like a dog waiting to be petted. Pakto craved that sort of thing.

Chase was preoccupied with getting his kip’t ready for a surface run. “And--?”

Pakto squinted and squeaked and for some reason, Chase’s echopod couldn’t translate the whistles. But he knew from the sound of them what Pakto wanted. He recalibrated his response rather deliberately. “Pakto, I meant good…you did well. What did you find?”

Now Pakto shook his tail flukes with satisfaction and handed a small echopod to Chase.

“My findings are all there. The smaller opuh’te are stable. All the vortexes are symmetrical, well-spaced…one and half quarter-beats apart…I saw or pulsed nothing out of the ordinary. The vortexes are deep, intense as always…she’s working well from what I could determine.”

Chase was encouraged. “That means the chronotrons are doing what they’re supposed to. I haven’t heard from Arktek…did you see…er, pulse him?”

Pakto squeaked. The Omtorish no. “Nothing, eekoti Chase. Arktek must be on the far side of the wavemaker.”

“No doubt. I’d better go see what he’s up too. I have to keep my eyes on you two…you’re like kids in a candy shop up here.”

This made Pakto’s tiny eyes squint even more and Chase swore at himself for using an Earthly saying that probably didn’t translate well. “Sorry, Pakto…what I meant was that the Metah’s made me responsible so I have to be sure you and Arktek don’t do the wrong thing, damage something or hurt yourself. I’m responsible for both you around this machine.”

Pakto seemed to understand this but what little Chase’s pulsing revealed wasn’t pretty.

Even to his untrained eye, Pakto’s innards were bubbling with nerves.

“It’s okay, Pakto…really it’s okay. I sometimes use Tailless sayings that don’t translate well. You’re doing fine, really you are. I’ll be sure to tell the Metah you’re doing a great job on these inspections.”

That seemed to mollify the young engineer. “Are you going up---“ Pakto flipped his beak toward the surface. “— there…to the Notwater?”

“Soon as I get this kip’t ready. And make sure Arktek hasn’t gotten himself into trouble.”

But that wouldn’t be necessary, for the other third of the inspection team soon flippered into view. He gave his report, then waited somewhat impatiently for Chase’s reaction. Chase was acutely conscious to control his own reaction; he knew they’d be pulsing him for every little nuance.

“Super, Ark…super…good job. Now, both you help me get this sled ready to go topside.”

For a few minutes, the three of them checked out the kip’t fittings—her cockpit seals, her valves and propulsors, her planes and control fins and surfaces, everything. Chase had learned long ago not to take any chances. The surf was rough at the surface, with high winds and waves that could batter you senseless in an instant. Plus it was freezing cold, flecked with ice and growing darker and dimmer every day, as the sun’s light fell off steadily. And he didn’t always feel like he had good control of the sled anyway, with its sound and scent-based control systems, not well suited to a human being who used his eyes to see things.

Chase climbed in. “Wish me luck. You two stay put and don’t get near any vortexes…the opuh’te. If you stay directly beneath the main column of the machine, you should be safe.”

Pakto came back, “We have respect for the great Opuh’te, eekoti Chase. Arktek and I will roam together, right here.”

“Good. And please stop calling me eekoti.”

“But you are eekoti, eekoti Chase. Every pulse proves that.”

Chase was resigned to it. “I know, but it just reminds me that I’m not really like you…I’m not one of you.”

“But you are what you are, is that not so? To try to be something else, kah…wouldn’t that disturb Ke’shoo and Ke’lee?”

Chase relented. It wasn’t the first time he had made this point. Love and life…smooth pulses and a calm inside…that’s what all the Seomish lived for.

“Later, guys…go to your safety zone and wait for me there.”

Both engineers dipped and squeaked together. Chase’s echopod translated it as something like: “At once, master.” He closed the sled cockpit and spun up the propulsors. Pakto and Arktek disappeared.

Chase made the surface in a few minutes. It was rough, turbulent, like riding a young colt trying to throw you off. Through the mist and spray, he could just make out the gray outlines of the upper wavemaker casing, a sloping structure that always reminded Chase of an inverted saucer, a saucer some twelve kilometers in diameter, almost an island in itself. Beyond its pyramidal apex, intermittently lost in the squalls, he could see the ghostly outlines of Likte Island itself, huge craggy ramparts awash in the rising seas.

The chronotron pods were like facets or blisters on the otherwise smooth surface of the upper casing. Golich, the Uman, had once explained how they worked:

“The chronotron pods are the working parts of the Time Twister. There a singularity engine at the core, but it’s the pods that create the twist field. That’s what distorts spacetime enough to yank anything caught in the field off into oblivion, probably the other side of the galaxy…we don’t know where they wind up…and we don’t really care either. As long as the core’s working, the chronotron pods should work but they have to be kept aligned with the singularity engine and they have to be maintained.”

Chase had replayed that explanation over his echopod enough times that he could almost recite it from memory. Nobody on Seome cared about yanking unsuspecting visitors off into oblivion. The Seomish cared about the spinoff whirlpools that the pods also generated, and one of them was especially deep and intense, intense enough to create a wormhole in space and time.

That one they called the Farpool. The Great Opuh’te. A tunnel through space and time to other places and times.

And an escape route away from a doomed world.

Chase, Arktek and Pakto had all seen the Ponkti expedition when it had arrived near Likte Island a few days ago. Two ships, maybe four or five travelers in all, had materialized out of nowhere, navigated the treacherous vortex fields and entered the Farpool.

After they had gone, Chase had checked and measured the effects of their passage—the intensity of the whirlpool, its speed and depth—and determine it was likely the Ponkti had made passage to Earth. There was no way to tell what time period they had traveled to, but Chase knew that other Ponkti ships had done the same, and a few Sk’ortish and Orketish ships as well.

It was true that Omt’or tried to run the Farpool for the good of all the kels, but now ships were coming and going without any control over the matter.

It was just a matter of time before someone damaged the Farpool. And if that happened, the only way off Seome would be gone.

No, Chase told himself, the Metah has to know about this. Especially about the Ponkti travelers.

Chase let the waves and wind bounce the little kip’t around the outer perimeter of the wavemaker. Sheets of rain blasted the cockpit and crackles of lightning veined overhead.

Jeez, just like a Gulf thunderstorm, he told himself, then smiled ruefully at the thought.

Though he didn’t like to admit it, he did miss home and Scotland Beach, even face-lashing Gulf thunderstorms.

Most of all, he missed Angie Gilliam.

Don’t go there, boy…pay attention to your job. There’s nothing there but heartache and misery.

Maybe, if he had his go-tone with him and the Croc Boys all around him singing harmony, he could have turned that into a song. The Omtorish would surely have a hoot with that.

Chase studied each chronotron he could see, noting the kaleidoscopic swirl of water and mist that defined its column of influence. He didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. You wanted to stay well clear of those columns and the whirlpools and vortexes they generated.

More than one Seomish visitor had been sucked into a vortex and disappeared forever; he remembered Habloo in particular, the poor soul.

It was time to submerge and get back to Arktek and Pakto, who remained right here he had told them to stay, a safe zone in the lee of a large seamount a few beats away from the wavemaker. He let the kip’t sound ahead and was relieved when the welcome chirps of Pakto’s

high voice came streaming back through his speakers. Chase homed on that and found them soon enough.

“We’re heading back to Omsh’pont,” Chase told them.

His associates gathered their gear, websacs of equipment and slung them onto capstans mounted outside the kip’t.

“No more inspection?” Pakto asked. “The pods are okay?”

Chase was preoccupied with thought. “Huh…oh, yeah…yes, the pods look fine. I didn’t see anything wrong with how they’re operating.”

It was Arktek who pulsed Chase and seemed to understand. It happened every time the eekoti went up to the Notwater.

“You miss your own kel, no?” he asked. “I’m pulsing that…sadness, maybe a little melancholy…some sorrow…you can’t hide it, you know.”

Chase had long since given up trying. “Maybe you’re right, Ark. Going topside reminds me of home…Florida, the Gulf. Of course, it doesn’t look anything like that at all. But I can’t help it…”

“You come from Notwater,” Pakto observed, cinching up one of the websacs. “We all pulse it. It’s in your blood…you can’t get away from it, eekoti Chase. Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

“See any more Ponkti ships?” Arktek asked. The three of them climbed into the kip’t cockpit, with Chase driving. Kloosee had taught him well enough to pilot a sled from the waters of Likte all the way southwest into the Omtor’kel Sea and the great city—once a great city, now mostly ruins—of Omsh’pont.

“I didn’t but I’m worried. What the hell are the Ponkti up to? Since we came up here for inspection, we’ve seen three of their ships go into the Farpool.”

“Where do they go?” Pakto asked.

Chase shrugged, an instinctive move that he knew no one could see or understand. “Don’t know. The settings and measurements seem to indicate Earth but I don’t know when. But the Metah needs to know about this.”

Home….” Arktek breathed. His forelimbs whisked water around the cockpit in anticipation, fanning it toward his beak. “I can smell it already—“

“Impossible,” Pakto said. “We’re five hundred beats away. That’s just ridge water you smell…Likte always smells like dead tillet to me.”

“Hang on,” Chase told them, as he honked at the controls, trying to get the sonic command string just right. To his immense satisfaction, the sled propulsors started right up and soon settled into a steady drone.

Chase guided them expertly toward the vortex fields that surrounded the wavemaker.

It made Chase nervous, wondering what the Ponkti were doing nosing around the Farpool but there wasn’t anything he could do about it now and he forced himself to concentrate on navigating their way through the vortex fields ahead.

It was a rough, shuddering, jolting ride through the vortex field but Chase had done it before and brought the kip’t out into the colder, calmer waters of the Ponkel Sea in good order. Pakto finished off his gisu, sucked on another one, and promptly dozed off to sleep. Chase pulsed him as well as he could and could sense his belly full and satisfied. He wished he could say the same for himself.

It was going to be a long ride back to Omsh’pont and the project labs.

The Pomt’or was the northern arm of the great Omt’chor Current and it was the only current that directly led to the gap in the Serpentines they would have to negotiate, the gap that led to the

Sk’ork Current and the long slog across the abyssal plain of Omme’tee to Omsh’pont…and homewaters. To get there from the Farpool and the wavemaker meant a long tedious trip through the northwest Ponkel Sea. The waters were cold, dense and sluggish away from the Current, stagnant far to the south at the equator and brimming with foul-tasting and dangerous mah’jeet fields, so thick in patches no kip’t could get through without clogging its jets. But there was no quicker way to the Serpentines and the gap.

At Kloosee’s suggestion, Chase’s plan was to cross the Ponkel until they had reached the junction of the Omt’chor and Sk’ork Currents, then turn south through unsounded waters, paralleling the northernmost arc of the Serpentines, hunt for the gap until they felt the first faint tugs of the Sk’ork Current, then scoot through the gap and ride that underwater river across the abyssal plain. Then he would home on the seamounts surrounding Omsh’pont City, listening for repeater signals and the murmuring voices of the oot’stek, until the echo layer brought them safely into local waters. That was if all went well….

Chase was glad that Ponkel sounded calm today, litor’kel was how you said it, he remembered. The bottom pulsed fifty or so beats below them, thick with mud and hidden, from time to time, by a tricky ootkeeor layer of warmer water. The thermals of the northern seas sometimes played havoc with kip’t navigation and even the locals sometimes got lost in the churning sediment and confusing echoes of the area. Chase was reasonably confident he could make it; he’d come this way for the first time many mah ago, so the complex echoes didn’t bother him. It was just as well that Pakto was asleep. He pulsed like the Farpool itself when he was scared. Even Arktek was quiet, dozing off from time to time.

The kip’t slid easily through the trackless waste and outside the vast swirl of the Omt’chor Current, the sea was as barren as any sea in the world. The water was a clear blue-green, almost sterile of life but for the ever-present gruel of the ertesh, thin and oily in this area. Few creatures found it appetizing enough to school here.

Far to the north, off their starboard quarter, Chase could read the faint echoes of the polar ice pack itself. The Pillars of Shooki were up there. He frowned, thinking about that. Someday, perhaps—

They traveled alone for hours, droning on and on, through the Ponkel, while Chase occupied himself with savoring comforting smells from a favorite scentbulb he had opened up, scents that spoke of faraway places and great adventures: the Klatko Trench and the seamother feeding grounds, the tchin’ting forest south of Likte Island, the caves of the Ponkti…Chase had always loved these scents. They were like warm water, soothing, comforting, old friends. Like old kelmates. He smiled and began to relax; slowly but steadily, eekoti Chase was becoming a creature of Seome. He still had something of that old Gulf Coast surfer boy inside him, but it was deeply buried now and only trips to the surface seemed to stir it up.

Pakto began to stir from a drowsy nap, stretching and flexing himself in the cramped cockpit. Chase checked his sounder, noting they weren’t far from the point where the Omt’chor and Sk’ork Currents separated, a place of rough churning water. The kip’t was no more than a hundred beats from the turbulent T’kel’rok zone when they came upon a furious battle between a hungry mesodont, scavenging through a field of scrubby bushes at the bottom and a seamother it had startled. Chase braked quickly and steered the kip’t toward a dome of rock that poked above the mud, unwilling to risk the attention of the seamother Puk’lek when she was angered.

Pakto and Arktek were now fully awake. Their insides bubbled nervously. The three of them pulsed in awe at the fierce struggle.

Pakto spoke first, after a moment’s reflection.

“When they die, they seek Notwater. That’s homewaters to them…like the Umans.”

“Amazing,” was all Chase could say. “We should give this little disagreement a wide berth.”

They waited a few more moments but as the skirmish and the thrashing moved off into the murk, the way seemed clear and Chase lifted the kip’t on its jets and resumed their journey. “I haven’t see Puk’lek in these waters before. She was well south from her normal feeding grounds.”

“Probably the Sound from the wavemaker,” Pakto surmised. “Everybody’s trying to get away from it.”

Chase piloted them on, toward the Serpentine gap and the rough waters where the great currents split apart, the Omt’chor continuing west and the Sk’ork slicing through the gap toward the abyssal plains to the south, toward Omsh’pont and home.

Chase steered them deftly toward a huge V-shaped notch in the Serpentine. He slowed down and let the faint fingers of the Sk’ork current grab them, first shaking them like an angry fist, then hurling them through the decline. The kip’t sounded ahead, tasting turbulence and the sled shuddered as it passed through the gorge. Steep craggy flanks surrounded them, not visible in the heavy silt and murk, but Chase knew danger was near and he was careful with the controls, adding just a touch of rudder or jet as needed, just as Kloosee had taught him. Pakto and Arktek held their breath…one little eddy, one little bump, a few seconds drift in the wrong direction—

Only when the water calmed did all of them catch a breath. Chase checked the sounder…

clear ahead and the rocky seafloor was opening up and spreading out, giving onto a steep tongue of seafloor that led straight down to the Omme’tee, the vast abyssal plain that covered much of the central Omt’orkel Sea.

The seamounts of Omsh’pont were now less than two hundred beats away.

They all grew more and more excited as the echoes of their home became stronger and clearer. Presently, the towering seamounts of Omsh’pont sounded strong and sure and when the murk cleared, the great city finally lay before them…what was left of it. Chase slowed the kip’t down to approach speed and homed on the signals from the Kelktoo lab, occupying several domes and pavilions along the southwest ramparts of the central mesa of the city.

“Homewaters—“ breathed Pakto, taking in a big gulp. He savored the scents and odors and whiffs and aromas of everything he had grown up with…the accumulated wisdom and noisy clamor and clashing pulses of the only place he had ever called home.

Omsh’pont…heart and soul, the shoo’kel of life itself. Calm and clear waters everywhere you pulsed.

Litorkel ge,” Arktek breathed.

Chase had to agree. It was a hoary old saying but it was comfortable too. “Litorkel ge—“

They drifted toward the landing pads of the Kelktoo labs.

By sight, Omsh’pont could barely be seen in the silt and murk of the central sea of Omt’orkel, but even a cursory pulse would betray the outlines of the once great city. The main axes were wedged in between towering seamounts, held, as it were, in the bosom of the mountains atop a flat mesa-like plateau in the middle.

Pulse in any direction and you would learn of domes and pavilions and floatways and more domes, interspersed with cylindrical structures and pyramids and cones, a geometric forest of cubes and humps and tent-like coverings, all of it crammed and pungent with noisy, honking, bellowing, clicking, snorting life…that was Omsh’pont, the city of Om’t.

As it once had been, for after the sounds and waves and vibration of the original Time Twister had loosed avalanche after avalanche of mud and silt, the city was mostly ruins now…

broken domes, twisted floatways, cracked walls and torn canopies.

The Kelktoo was the largest and most influential of all the em’kels…the traditional house of learning with its academies and labs and observatories and institutes and societies and foundations and studios. The project leader was none other than Liktek lok kel: Om’t, protégé of the great Longsee loh, surely a name that evoked respect in every sea around the world.

Chase guided the kip’t through drifting clouds of silt that continually rained down on the city, scoured off the nearby seamounts by currents and waves the Umans had brought to Seome.

He set the sled down on the one still-functioning landing pad.

The three of them unpacked their gear and drifted inside.

They headed for the floatway leading to the Lab itself, situated under an array of tents and canopies halfway up the outer flanks of the seamount T’or, the tallest sentinel in the city. The outer walls of the floatway were cracked and ripped from strong currents scouring the area.

Likteek lok was studying something under a beatscope when they arrived. He looked up, pulsed them happily and they all hugged like long lost friends.

“How was the trip?” he asked. He pulsed all of them in turn, seeing only relief and happiness at being home at last.

Pakto replied, “Boring. But eekoti Chase drove us well…no problems.”

Arktek added, “We saw a mesodont skirmish with a seamother…very impressive.”

“Especially from a distance,” Chase told him. “I didn’t want to get too close to that.”

Pakto turned grim. “Likteek, the Ponkti have been using the Farpool again.” He withdrew a small bulb from a satchel he’d brought from the kip’t. “I’ve got the scents right here…Ponkti, all right. You can’t mistake that odor.”

“And this—“ Arktek said, not to be outdone. He held up a small echopod. “All recorded…

two ships. They entered the vortex field a half mah ago and headed right for the Farpool. No sign of them since.”

This made Likteek noticeably angry. His insides bubbled. “I’ll check the records of the repeaters. Anybody using the Farpool is supposed to file a plan with the repeaters. If they did, oot’stek should have it.”

“You mean sort of like a flight plan?” Chase asked.

Likteek wasn’t quite sure he understood the eekoti’s reference. “I suppose so, if I understand what you’re saying. Omt’or administers the Farpool for everybody, but if anyone intends to use it, they are supposed report this to the repeaters. Otherwise, it’s chaos. The vortex could be damaged; it’s already happened.”

“It’s vik’t, for sure,” said Arktek. He swooshed about the lab, examining scattered specimens in pods that Likteek’s people had been collecting. “Against all currents.”

Likteek made a few chirps and grunts into an echopod attached to his left forelimb.

Recording a few notes, Chase decided.

“What about Opuh’te itself…the Farpool. You made the inspection?”

Chase nodded, then replied. Gestures like nods, instinctive for Umans, meant nothing to the Seomish. “We did a full inspection, Likteek. Foundation, staying cables, upper casing, the chronotron pods. I didn’t find anything wrong. The Farpool seems to be working fine.”

“And stable,” added Pakto. “The vortexes are all symmetrical, well-contained, intensity at the right levels…it’s all there in the echopod.”

“Good, good,” Likteek decided. “Maybe we were lucky. The Farpool is fragile. If too many kelke use it at once, it won’t work right. You could wind up going some place and time you hadn’t planned on.”

“It’s happened,” Arktek agreed. He ran a few fingers across the translucent face of one storage pod, startling the small creatures inside. They thrashed about, until Likteek honked at him.

“Do you mind?” Now, Likteek drifted about the lab deep in thought for a minute. “I suppose we should report this to the Metah. Mokleeoh loh wants to know any time unauthorized kelke use the Farpool…there’s talk in the Council of setting up some kind of gate, something to control who uses it.”

Pakto sniffed. “The other kels won’t like that…especially the Ponkti.”

“I’ll contact the Mek’too, see if we can get an audience.” Likteek noticed Chase rummaging through a small locker in the corner. “Hungry as usual, Chase? Help yourself. Fresh gisu from the other side of the T’orsh’pont. They were harvested before the last mudslide.”

Chase had already speared open the shell of one pod. “Don’t’ mind if I do.” Inside, the pulp and juice dribbled out and he snapped it all down with a flourish. “Yummm.”

Pakto was amused. “The eekoti always has an appetite…enough for three kelke.”

“Hey, I like to eat. A guy’s got to keep his strength up, you know. All this swimming and roaming about makes me hungry.”

The others honked and bellowed in raucous laughter at that.

Likteek was as good as his word, taking Chase’s inspection report before the Metah and her council. Debate was limited; they could all hear the Sound and feel the vibrations from the wavemaker. Already, more seams of rock from the seamounts had been loosened, falling and damaging structures inside the city. Much of Omsh’pont’s life was conducted outside anyway; people roamed and chatted, but not so much now. Life in the largest city of the kel was muted, people were depressed, conversations were hurried, clipped, pulses were becoming useless, you couldn’t tell what anyone was thinking or feeling anymore.

It was the same throughout the world. Even the oot’stek, the repeaters who roamed between the kels, passing messages on that didn’t reflect properly, were muted and their voices muffled and subdued, lost in the clamor that the wavemaker created. It was different, muted, not the same as the original Uman Time Twister, but the sound was still there.

The Metah, Mokleeoh loh, was a vigorous middle-aged female of nearly one hundred mah, arthritic and stiff in places but much loved and respected by all. She had only one question for Likteek and his entourage.

“These Ponkti you speak of…you say they continue to use the Farpool? And they leave no report with oot’stek, nothing for the repeaters?”

Likteek tried to keep shoo’kel. You didn’t go before the Metah with your insides bubbling like a steam vent…calm and cool, that was the answer.

“Honorable Metashook’let, eekoti Chase and the inspection team tell me this. The Ponkti, and others as well, enter the Farpool with no prior warning. We don’t know where they’re going. But it’s possible such use affects the Farpool in ways we can’t see or detect.”

This made Mokleeoh agitated. She circled the chamber, a small grotto of caves hastily carved out of the Omsh’pont seamount, a poor substitute for her original canopied platform in the center of the city, but the silt rain, mudslides and vibrations had now made that unusable.

Mokleeoh always expressed her anger in a typically calculating way. She circled endlessly, saying little, merely moving about, flipping her flukes in abrupt snaps, her mouth a tight line and her eyes a cruel squint. Her voice softened to near inaudibility and her inner gas cavities bubbled and seethed. Sometimes, she continued to circle or she might stop abruptly and angrily hiss out some orders accompanied by the harsh, sour scent of disgust. The recipient of her anger always got the message.

To plan and organize all the details of the Great Emigration, known as the Kel’vish’tu, was something that Mokleeoh was well skilled at. A consummate negotiator, she was perfect for working with the other kels to address their concerns and needs in this endeavor. But she’d never understood Lektereenah kim, Metah of Ponk’et, at all. The jealousy, pride, and suspicion that the Ponkti had for all kels, especially for Omt’or, would surely cause many problems as the Emigration was organized. And with the Ponkti now using the Farpool on their own, with no thought as to what their unskilled transits through the Farpool might be doing, Mokleeoh realized the issue has now become a personal conflict between her and Lektereenah.

Mokleeoh wasn’t sure this conflict could be negotiated away. There might have to be a winner and a loser in this conflict and, if so, she was determined it would be Omt’or. The sad thing was she had hoped to avoid bringing Seome’s inter-kel conflicts to their new home. She knew the Seomish would have enough problems adjusting to their new home and dealing with local life as it was. Seomish problems would only make the adjustment worse.

The Omtorish knew things the other kels didn’t. They knew from this strange eekoti creature called Chase that there was a great light in the Notwater, something Chase called a sun, that gave light to all the world. They also knew the Umans, when they had a base at Kinlok Island, were at war with a distant enemy, an enemy beyond the sun, beyond even the Notwater.

An enemy called the Coethi. This enemy had wounded the great light, damaged the sun with starball hits, was how Chase had described it.

Now the sun was dying and Seome would someday, nobody knew when, grow cold and frozen and unlivable. The Kel’vish’tu was the only answer. Go through the Farpool, all the kelke of Seome, in a vast fleet of kip’ts and lifeships, to the oceans of Chase’s world, this place called Urth.

Make a new home there. Live in strange waters of unknown litor, unknown taste and sounds and smells, with another race to contend with, a race that may or may not take too kindly to having an intelligent neighbor arriving in their waters.

Chase’s race. A race of eekoti, breathers of Notwater.

Mokleeoh shuddered at the possibilities for conflict and misunderstanding. There was more than enough of that between the kels of Seome.

“The Mek’too has to meet,” she decided, stopping abruptly in front of Chase. “Decisions have to be made now. If we continue to permit the other kels to use the Farpool in this uncontrolled way, and it doesn’t matter whether they’re Ponkti, Skortish, or whoever, they’ll surely damage or affect it in some way and Kel’vish’tu will be impossible.”

“And the sun will go dark,” Chase added grimly. “Or worse.”

At this, Mokleeoh loh circled her small receiving chamber and stopped before a large horn-shaped object near the entrance. She fixed her lips around the mouthpiece of this horn and blew a great breath into the thing.

The horn issued forth a booming, harsh series of tones out into the silted waters of Omsh’pont, a staccato series of bellows that sounded and reverberated and echoed all about the city.

“Summoning the Council,” Likteek explained. “The sound is unique, only for the Metah.

They’ll be here in a few minutes.”

The Mek’too came together in less than an hour, gathering in a somewhat larger cave that branched off Mokleeoh’s receiving court. As the elders of the kel gathered, Chase decided to take advantage of the moment to go visit Tulcheah. He knew roughly where her place was—

somewhere downslope of the seamount and follow the third floatway to the five-way junction—

but in all the silt and mud and commotion, he wasn’t sure he could find it.

Still, it sure would be nice to fool around with Tulcheah again, he told himself. Modified by em’took, Chase knew that he himself probably looked like a frog on steroids and he had places and orifices and things on his hybrid body that he still didn’t know about. But somehow Tulcheah could always find them. It wasn’t a roam he wanted. Or a chat over old times. Chase wanted something more, something closer. A coupling like they used to do.

He glided out of Likteek’s cave and felt his way along the craggy slope of the T’orsh’pont, heading down he hoped, rock by rock, gully by gully, feeling with his hands the loose sediment that was sliding and sloughing off the side of the hill. Others bumped and sideswiped him and he tried pulsing out but he still couldn’t make sense of the echoes and despaired that he’d ever find his way by sound alone. In his ears, the echopod sounded like a million symphonies with a few rock bands thrown in, all out of tune.

Someone bumped him hard from the side. He was about to turn about and tell off the wayward commuter, but found himself staring face to beak with Kloosee ank…old Kloosee himself.

Kloos… you old gas bag!”

They nuzzled and embraced in the Omtorish way. Kloosee had been one of the first Seomish travelers he and Angie had met, way back in a place called Scotland Beach, Florida, when he and his colleague Pakma had come through the Farpool.

Kloosee slipped out of the hug and circled Chase like a stern parent. “So what’s got you all riled up, eekoti Chase? You’re bubbling like a steam vent at Klatko Trench.”

Chase told him about the Ponkti ships he had seen at Likte, entering the Farpool. “We don’t know what they’re doing. Probably nothing good. The Metah’s called a council meeting.”

Kloosee said, “I heard. It’s all over the city. Maybe you’ll go back through the Farpool.

You’d like that…is that what I’m pulsing inside you…you’re up to something, I can tell.”

“Kloos, you know me too well. I can’t hide anything from you.” Chase chose his next words carefully. “I was…um, trying to find someone.”

Now Kloosee darkened and buried his beak into Chase’s midriff. “It’s Tulcheah, isn’t it?

I’ve seen this before in you.”

Chase swallowed hard. For many mah, Kloosee and Tulcheah had been an item. Now, not so much. They’d had some kind of disagreement. Kloosee wanted her to join his own em’kel.

Tul’cheah refused. She was like that, stubborn, willful, mean and ornery at times.

But, boy could she

“Uh…well, yeah, Kloos, actually I was trying—“

Kloosee ank was a powerfully built Omtorish male, silvery white on the bottom, light gray on top with a huge forward dorsal fin…and tail flukes that could slap you silly if you weren’t careful. Chase figured in a fight with Kloosee, he’d probably come out looking like stew meat.

Kloosee snapped off an abrupt swish of his tail, disappeared for a moment, circled around and came at Chase from behind. He butted Chase, not hard, but enough to make a statement.

“Listen to me…Tulcheah’s no good. Stay away from her…she’s like the kor’puh snake.

Slithery, hard to catch, with a sting that’ll hurt for a long time. Nothing good can come of spending time with Tulcheah.”

Chase and Kloosee had done this whole argument before. “I know, Kloos, I know. But—“

How exactly did you say this? “I guess I need to spend time with Tulcheah. I feel like…I don’t know…like if it were Angie—“

“I know you miss eekoti Angie…but you must listen. Tulcheah isn’t eekoti Angie.

Tulcheah’s a different pulse, Chase. You should keep your distance.” Now Kloosee could easily see the disappointment bubbling up inside the eekoti. No one should have to put up with that. Maybe Umans didn’t really know how to keep shoo’kel. Ke’shoo and Ke’lee, love and life… eekoti like Chase and Angie were so easy to read.

Kloosee really didn’t want to be the cause of such a commotion. If Chase can’t keep his insides under control like a true Omtorish, let it be Tulcheah’s fault, not mine.

Now apologetic, Kloosee said, “I’m sorry. I only meant that Tulcheah shouldn’t be trusted.

Be careful around her, Chase. Keep your distance.”

“That won’t be too hard for me,” Chase admitted. “I’ll never find her in all this murk anyway.”

“Come, hold on to me,” Kloosee offered. “We’ll find her.”

The search took only a few minutes.

They found her in her em’kel’s berth space, occupying herself with a scentbulb. She seemed pleasantly surprised to see Chase and they nuzzled for a few moments. When Chase turned around to thank Kloosee, he found his friend had vanished.

“Well, look at you,” she teased, circling to inspect her visitor. “I never expected such a famous kelke to come nosing around his old homewaters…all sleek and shiny. And such happy bubbles, my word… litorkel ge, old friend.”

Chase let her have her way. “Calmwaters to you too, Tulcheah. I wanted to see you. I’m pretty sure I’m going back—“

Tulcheah stopped him with a playful poke in the sides. “I know that…nothing stays secret around here for long, you know that. How’s Shoneeohnay…I hear she couples like a fat pal’penk.”

Shoneeohnay was another one of Chase’s ‘friends.’ It was the part of life in Omt’or that he’d found particularly agreeable.

Chase knew it was best to let Tulcheah get all the ribbing and jealous sneers out of her system. You could pulse the envy inside her…no one could hide all those bubbles.

“I won’t dignify that with an answer. Shoneeohnay’s a good person. She’s smart, lots of stamina…I’d like to see you in the Farpool, Tulcheah…you’d be plastered all over the lifeship, screaming the whole time.”

Tulcheah played at being hurt. “So try me. I’ll make the trip. I’m not afraid of the Farpool.”

“That’s not why I came.”

“I know why you came…a blind tillet could see it halfway around the world. What makes you think I’m in the mood?” Tulcheah held up her scentbulbs; she had a tray of them and she was methodically opening and inhaling each one.

“For the love of Shooki…the whole place smells like a tillet hold…what do you think you’re doing?”

Tulcheah sniffed indignantly at a bulb. “Pleasing myself with old odors…these are from childhood…remember when you used to chase me around the Torsh’pont, pinch my tail and belly?”

“I’ve got something better than those old bulbs,” he told her. Chase swam up close and bumped her. “Look, I’ve got to get back to the Metah’s chambers…there’s a big meeting…how about we—“

But she put a hand to his mouth, fondling his broad facial ridges, the way she always did.

“Chase, you never change. Come with me, o’ great and famous eekoti. I’ll show you things you never imagined—“ And she slapped her tail at him, disappearing into a small cleft in the space, a narrow fold in the rock. It was dark, but the scents were strong. Chase followed.

They made love for hours.

The Mek’too was a sort of council of elders for Omt’or. The gathering was to be held in a larger cave branching off the Metah’s chambers. Chase showed up, somewhat bedraggled and dizzy from his little side trip, just as the assembly was honked to order. It always amazed him how many caves the seamounts of Omsh’pont held. Both mountains were honeycombed with hundreds of them. He figured it was a geological miracle that the Metah’shpont and the T’orshpont hadn’t completely collapsed.

Mokleeoh loh hovered over a small cantilevered platform in the center, a replica of the bejeweled coral bed ‘throne’ that the Metah always occupied in Mek’too when the canopied platform had been in the central plaza of the city. Now that the steady rain of silt and the fierce currents and vibrations and the cold made that impossible, such councils were held inside, in the bosom of the seamounts.

The Metah had everyone present introduce themselves. The names were said and pulses exchanged—Kipto, a placid sort; Okeemah, rather quirky inside—her stomach was a parade of bubbles; Oolandrah, careful and meticulous; Telpy’t, an arguer—you could tell it from the eruption of bubbles when he was pulsed. Chase learned that this one was also a trangkor player, a minstrel from the musical em’kel Tanklu’tong.

Kloosee was there too and immediately noticed more than a casual interest in Chase from Shoneeohnay and another female. Even Tulcheah noticed it, though she wasn’t sure what to make of it.

“Chase,” she whispered through his echobulb, “those two over there…if I didn’t know better, I’d say they’re smiling at you. Are you giving off some kind of scent or something. They act like they’re in heat.”

Chase had noticed it. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he whispered back. “It’s your girl vibes, that’s all.”

“Yeah, well don’t get too close…I don’t like the looks of those sluts.”

That’s when Chase realized just how jealous a girlfriend could really be, even if she was Seomish. From one side of the galaxy to the other, females were the same.

Mokleeoh loh then came right to the point of the meeting.

“I propose that we form a special team, an Omtorish special force. Tekmetah, bonded to me personally.”

Telpy’t raised a point. “Affectionate Metah, surely we cannot afford extra duties now…so much is happening…so quickly…we have to—“

Okeemah rolled her eyes. “Telpy’t, will you shut up for once? Let the Metah speak for us.

What kind of team, Affectionate One?”

Mokleeoh silently thanked her with a barely perceptible nod. Meeting in Mek’too, the elders seldom failed to erupt in argument or name-calling. But now was not the time.

“A special team, three in number, will go through the Farpool and try to locate the last Ponkti expedition. Eekoti Chase, you’ve said before that you believe you can determine where they went, from the wavemaker’s settings? Is this true?”

Chase felt his stomach turn a few flips. To be addressed directly by the Metah, in a formal session of the Mek’too, was sort of like answering your own mother when she asked, what have you been up too this time?

He just hoped his echopod would convey his words properly.

“Yes, Honorable Metah—“ How exactly did one address the Metah? “When the Farpool is used, it leaves a kind of trail, kind of like waves. If you’re careful, you can measure them. I’ve noticed this before. The height of the waves, the pitch, that sort of thing. I think I can reconstruct—pretty closely—where the Ponkti went…and when.”

Mokleeoh loh came off her coral bed perch and drifted right up to Chase, nosing about his face and torso. Seomish did that sort of thing. She considered Chase’s words, but she was looking for something that couldn’t be conveyed in words. Methodically, she pulsed Chase up and down, seeking deceit, other purposes, the telltale bubbles of doubt. She found none and seemed mollified.

Mokleeoh returned to her ‘throne.’ “The team will be three of you: eekoti Chase, Pakto klu and Kloosee ank. You will be tekmetah, bonded to me personally. Your mission is this: find the Ponkti. Learn what they are doing. Prevent them from damaging the Farpool. For it is said: the great ak’loosh is coming. The great wave is foretold. Find the Ponkti and stop them from doing anything to the Farpool that would prevent Kel’vish’tu…our emigration efforts. Omt’or administers the Farpool and we will oversee Kel’vish’tu as well. Eekoti Chase, you must come with me for the tekmetah.”

At this, the Mek’too erupted in a chorus of honks and bleats and chirps, whistles and squeaks.

“Affectionate Metah, the other kels—“

“…no one can stop the Great Roam now—it’s foreseen-“

“…what kind of seas does this place have…Chase you must—“

It was a frenzied response that Mokleeoh incited, coming from every direction: shouts, curses, snide comments, sarcastic jokes, all of it too fast for Chase’s echopod to translate.

Chase’s ears hurt from the noise and he momentarily turned off the echopod. Now only a rising crescendo of grunts and clicks and whistles and squeaks and honks could be heard. It sounded like a symphony and a rock band battling it out on stage…or like the Croc Boys when they were tuning up before a gig…that made Chase smile ruefully. He realized he missed jamming with the Boys, picking out tunes like when they were kids in Smiley’s garage.

Through it all, the Metah circled the cavern honking and bleating back at each one of them.

Chase watched the melee for a moment. This is how they make decisions, he told himself.

By shouting and swearing at full volume. Maybe the words didn’t matter. Maybe Kloosee was right: what was inside, all the bubbles and gurgles in your gut, that’s what mattered.

It hit him just then just how truly different the Seomish were from ordinary garden-variety human beings.

But the decision had been made. Chase hastily turned his echopod back on when he realized that one of the Metah’s privy councilors—he thought her name was Encolenia mek’t—was talking to him, summoning him to follow.

“…must come, eekoti Chase…you must come. Pakto and Kloosee too. The tekmetah occurs now—“

She swam off. Pakto and Kloosee came by and took Chase firmly by the arms.

“Let’s go,” Kloosee said. “We can’t be late to this.”

“It’s an honor…very solemn,” added Pakto.

The three of them followed the Metah’s convoy out of the cavern and into the drizzle of silt and the numbing buzz that was the city of Omsh’pont.

“What does this thing called tekmetah involve? Didn’t I do this before once?” Chase asked Kloosee, when they had reached the ancient pavilion near the center of the city. “What do I have to do?”

The Metah’s staff was preparing a meal for all of them, crab, ertleg stalks, bulbs of stew.

“Your echobulb should explain,” Kloosee told him. “Turn it on.”

So Chase activated his bulb’s dictionary function and listened…

“Tekmetah - The act of spiritually binding any member of the kel to the will of the Metah for a specified period of time. Basically a contractual relationship entered into for the purpose of doing something the Metah would rather not be associated with. Free-bonds can be used for anything but have come to be employed in espionage and intelligence work in modern times, thus a certain social stigma results from the public knowing a person is bound this way. Failure to carry out the stipulations requires the bound one to take his own life in shame. The bond is cemented by consuming a vial, called a pot’l, of the Metah’s blood. The incentives are many: loyalty, patriotism, special favors from the Metah….”

“Take his own life…you’ve got to be kidding?” Chase switched off the bulb, helped himself to ertleg claws and sucked loudly. Others gathered around and there was a jostle of smacking and sucking and chomping around the platform.

“It’s a formality,” Kloosee said. “Being tekmetah means you become an agent of the Metah. You have duties, certainly, but as tekmetah, all kelke are bound by law to help you and give assistance, anyway they can. It’s a great honor, eekoti Chase.”

Chase was dubious. “If you say so. When does this happen?”

“Right now…as soon as we finish the meal.”

The ceremony was held at the Metah’s pavilion, now no longer occupied, located on a small rise in the center of the city, a hill nearly obscured by rain and silt, dark and slowly being buried in mud. Strong cross-currents had knocked down some of the baffles that had once encircled the pavilion and the small and select audience had trouble staying in position.

Mokleeoh was there, as were most of her court and the em’kel leaders from around the city, known as the Kel’em. Chase was to be first. He was solemnly conducted to a small position alongside Mokleeoh. One difference in this ceremony was the presence of other Metahs…there were five of them lined up behind Mokleeoh. Kloosee had said this was unusual, even special, signifying the importance of the occasion.

Chase swallowed hard. The birds started flapping around his stomach again.

For some time, Mokleeoh made a speech. It sounded like a cross between a song and a chant. Chase let his echobulb translate but even the translation didn’t make any sense. It

sounded like Mokleeoh was giving them all a history lesson, reciting a long list of every important moment in Omtorish history—

…the Eepkos plot…the Pillars of Shooki…a great potu shortage…in the spirit of the Peace of Tekpotu…mah’jeet blooms…the Boskeldic wingcraft….”

Chase decided that politicians were ever the same, whether on Seome or on Earth.

Finally, the time came for him to swallow the pot’l, a vial of the Metah’s blood. Mokleeoh handed him the tube and showed him how to unseal it. Chase looked around. They were all looking right at him, expectant faces, half-smiles, frowns, anticipation, disgust, concern, hope…

it was hard to tell from the faces. Seomish faces always looked the same.

He swallowed the blood and gulped it down, then gave the vial back.

Mostly, it seemed to have little immediate effect. It was warm, recently drawn, a bit salty, thick and brassy in taste. Not too bad…but it wasn’t exactly a shrimp taco.

Then he felt momentarily faint and had to be helped to a small pedestal nearby. He was briefly nauseated, and not sure how regurgitation worked in his new hybrid body, but it passed.

The faces swam and blurred and for a time, he was back on stage at Apalachee High again, this time it was the prom and he was plucking at his go-tone, the rhythm coming easily, he was nailing each note and he was concentrating on the faces up front, there was Angie, only he didn’t really know her well, but she was cute and he winked at her and through some kind of signal neither of them understood, it was arranged that she would turn up backstage after the set and that was the beginning of that—

Then the next thing Chase knew, he was back at the Academy chambers and being fed strong gisu to suck on.

“Wow…what the hell happened…did I pass out or something? Did I make a mess?”

Kloosee and someone else fed him more gisu, while Likteek looked on gravely. “You took the Metah’s blood…now you’re tekmetah. How do you feel?”

Chase felt like he’d swam across the entire Gulf of Mexico. “Well, it’s sort of like a hangover….you sure I didn’t gulp down a whole bottle of tequila?”

A few hours later, Chase had recovered enough to take a short roam outside with Kloosee.

They cruised gently along the slopes of the T’orshpont seamount, visiting, chatting with neighbors, nosing into and out of small caves and niches.

Kloosee seemed troubled. Chase noticed it. “What is it, Kloos? Did I do something wrong?”

“No, but in order to lead the expedition through the Farpool and confront the Ponkti, you have to be inducted into an em’kel. The Metah wants you to be part of Kelk’too, the academic em’kel, the house of learning.”

“You said ‘lead’ the expedition. Kloos, I’m no military commander.”

Now Kloosee chose his words carefully. “The Ponkti don’t trust us. Even the Eep’kostic don’t trust us. With the waves and the tremors and the seas changing, everything is in turmoil.

Eekoti Chase, you’re Uman. The Metah thinks a Uman must lead this expedition. She believes you think as they do, that you’ll know how to proceed.”

Chase pulled up short and Kloosee circled back. They drifted for a moment, face to face, or more correctly, snout to beak.

“Kloos, I don’t know anything about how to deal with the Ponkti. I’m no leader. I can’t even get my own life together…in fact, my Dad thinks I’m a worthless scumbag that’ll never do anything more than sell T-shirts on the beach. Doesn’t your Metah understand that?”

“It doesn’t matter. It’s kel politics. You’re eekoti, you’re an outsider. From the Notwater.

None of the other kels trust each other. There’s no shoo’kel anymore. No good feelings. The ak’loosh is upon us and every kel is fighting for every advantage, trying to grab whatever they can. And the Kel’vish’tu…we may all wind up on your world anyway. You have to lead this.”

Chase thought about his Dad. Nobody ever believed Chase Meyer would be anything other than a beach bum. Even Mack Meyer had put him to work at the Turtle Shop to keep him from winding up in the gutter…he’d said that enough times. Now, the Omtorish wanted him to lead an expedition to confront a Ponkti team on Earth and stop them from damaging the Farpool, or messing up the Emigration plans. Maybe selling T-shirts wasn’t so bad after all.

“So what do I have to do?”

Here Kloosee indicated they should continue the roam. He brought the two of them to a small ledge higher up on the seamount, not far from the summit. Canopies and tents and domiciles dotted the slopes. Kloosee pointed out over the city with a sweep of his armfin. Chase couldn’t see much, just shapes and hints of shapes identifying the tubes and floatways, domes and pavilions and platforms, some shattered in mudslides, many covered in silt.

“Be yourself, eekoti Chase. That’s what they expect of you.”

That didn’t help matters. “But, Kloos, I’m just me. I don’t know a thing about leading a military expedition to engage the Ponkti. I’m just a beach bum…from Scotland Beach.”

Now Kloosee turned to face his friend. “Eekoti Chase, there is a saying among us Omtorish… ’when Shooki wants you, the right wave will come.’ You can’t fight it. The currents are strong. You must learn how to navigate them now, like a true kip’t pilot. You know this.

Treacherous currents are ahead, just like Pul’kel…remember how that was? Find the best course and hold on.”

Chase took a deep breath. Maybe Kloosee was right. Fate didn’t care what you thought.

When life dropped you in the midst of strong currents, you had to go with the flow.

But thinking that didn’t make him feel any better.

They returned to the Kelk’too labs.

A special kip’t was fashioned for the trip through the Farpool and several days were spent outfitting it for the trip. One day, when Chase and Kloosee were working with Academy staff on the kip’t interior setup, Chase made an admission.

“Kloos, I don’t know how to tell you this but I miss Angie. Maybe I can figure out a way to use the Farpool to find her again.”

That made Kloosee stop what he was doing and turn around.

“Chase, the last time we traveled to your world, eekoti Angie was much older. In fact, she had died…don’t you remember?”

Chase sighed. That didn’t translate well in the echopod. “I know. But I figured it out…we went back through the Farpool to the wrong time. It was like eighty years after our earlier trips.

I think I can fix that this time.”

“We must focus on the mission,” Kloosee insisted. He pulsed his friend, saw something he didn’t like, and came over to nuzzle Chase around his face. It was a Seomish custom Chase had never gotten used to. It was like being licked by your dog. “I pulse that you have strong feelings in this matter…but we’re both bonded to the Metah. We can’t lose sight of that.”

“No, of course, you’re right. But still—“ Chase didn’t bother to hide a wistful memory…he and Angie doing their thing in his old canoe in Half Moon Cove, with the waves rocking the boat, the cypress trees so fragrant—

It brought a mischievous smile to his face.

A day later, Likteek and Tulcheah and a small crowd of onlookers watched as Chase, Kloosee and Pakto loaded up their kip’t with supplies. The trip up to the Farpool would take several days.

The privy councilor to the Metah was also there, Encolenia mek’t. She represented the Metah and her council.

“Our prayers are with you, eekoti Chase, Kloosee ank and Pakto klu. You have a long journey ahead of you and what you’re doing is critical to Omt’or, indeed to all the kels. Litorkel ge, both of you. The Metah hopes and prays that you will be successful in your mission. Find out what the Ponkti are up to and make sure the Farpool isn’t damaged.”

Pompous old windbag, thought Kloosee as he boarded the kip’t. Pakto was already in the rear cockpit. Chase would drive the first leg, across the Om’metee abyssal plain to the Serpentines. All the cargo pods were attached. The lifesuits and other gear were refurbished, now with new mobilitors, like legs, like the seamother’s limbs, Kloosee suggested, to give their lifesuits ground mobility in the Not-Water. “You’ll waddle like a pregnant seamother,” Tamarek had described them. “But at least, you can move around.”

Likteek had one last word of advice. “Don’t be heroes. You’re not immortal, eekoti Chase.

Omt’or needs you all to come back, alive and in good health. Many others will be making the trip after you. Make sure the passage is safe for Kel’vish’tu. This is the will of the Metah.”

So we’re all guinea pigs, Chase thought. Or lab rats. If we can make it, then everybody else can too.

Kloosee closed and sealed the kip’t cockpit. He waved at the assembled crowd, then Chase fired up the sled’s jets and rose on the current, climbing swiftly through the domes and floats of Omt’or, past the Torsh’pont until they felt the first tugs of the Omt’chor Current.

They would have to tack and beat against that current to reach the Serpentine Gap and the Farpool.

The trip would take two days and there was no guarantee the great vortex would even be there when they arrived, not if the Ponkti and the Eep’kostic and the other kels continued to use the Farpool without any understanding of what it took to make it work.

All of them were grim and silent as Chase steered them past the seamounts and set course for Om’metee and the abyssal plains to the north. He tried to occupy his mind with more pleasant things: the smell and taste of Tulcheah kim, the gisu and tongpod he’d gorged on the evening before, the swoosh of the water against the kip’t cockpit.

But he was troubled and he couldn’t say why. Just a feeling. Maybe a foreboding sense that this would be a different kind of journey. And the knowledge of just how much Omt’or was depending on them...that was a lot of responsibility to put on someone the kelke called an outsider, a loner, a tchuk’te who looked like some kind of slime fish from Klatko Trench…or as Angie liked to say: a frog on steroids.

That hurt. But it was probably true. Chase shook himself out of the funk and tried concentrating on his instruments, on the tug of the current, on the echoes that gave him their course.

Two days to the Farpool. He knew he would do a lot of thinking in that time.

Mostly about Angie Gilliam--

Chapter 4

“The sea, the majestic sea, breaks everything, crushes everything, cleans everything, takes everything…from me.”

Corinne Bailey Rae


Kriegsmarine U-boat Base

St. Nazaire, France

November 22, 1942

An optical shop had been chosen to meet with the strange froschmann from the sea and von Kleist scurried about the periscope tubes and glass sheets and molds and ovens, clearing space for the meeting. Tables were shoved together. Scope segments and calipers and tool chests were shoved off somewhere else, anywhere else, von Kleist growled.

“And hurry. Hurry! Mach schnell! Before we all wake up from this daydream and come to our senses.”

When the shop was ready, von Kleist went out to the pier and met ‘Herr Keller’ and ‘Herr Schmidt’ once more. He picked up the odd little pod that did the translating, examining the thing.

Ubersetzen. A machine for translating. He sniffed it, studied the warm glowing amber light inside. Von Kleist saw two of the creatures drifting about the side of the ladder platform alongside the U-boat.

He spoke into the pod.

“We have a room set up. For meeting. If you would please come up here—“ instinctively he beckoned them with his hands.

The reply, when it came, was a series of chirps, whistles, squeaks, honks and grunts. The pod vibrated slightly, then:

Shhkreeahh…we understand…we come…to you…kkklllkkkk—“

Von Kleist watched, open mouthed, as two of the froschmann—he couldn’t think of them as anything but divers—clambered awkwardly up onto the platform. They were in suits—he could see that much. Mechanized, somehow, probably armored suits, with powered legs and arms and some kind of helmet. He stooped to see if he could catch a face inside the helmet, but the light level wasn’t right. Still, he felt a chill. He was sure he had seen something like a beak.

The two froschmann clambered onto the platform and erected themselves fully upright, a bit unsteadily. At full extension, they were easily nearly three meters in height, towering over the strosstruppe nearby, who clutched their rifles nervously, backing off.

Von Kleist beckoned their visitors on, waving the marines back.

“Give them room. They’re not used to walking.” He wasn’t sure how he knew that, but it seemed true enough.

“You have others?’ Von Kleist asked, into the pod.

SSShhhkkkk…two others….kkklllggghhhh—“

“They should join the meeting.”

Now the nearer froschmann leveled a stare directly at von Kleist. The officer swallowed hard, feeling he was being sized up for something…maybe dinner.

SSShhh…zzzhhh…they stay behind…we zzzhhh…meet—“

“As you wish.” Von Kleist told himself this was surely some kind of Allied trick…or a bad dream. Maybe it was that wurst last night. Or the potatoes. “Come, come…this way, please—“

Slowly, meter by meter, the two creatures shuffled their way toward an open door. It was the optical shop at Number Four dock. Room had been made and a table and chairs brought in, along with some maps.

The creatures made their way awkwardly into the shop, encountering a gathering of wide-eyed Kriegsmarine officers. Von Kleist had asked for certain people: Seventh Flotilla commander Freiburg was in St. Nazaire for meetings on convoy tactics. He seemed to be holding his breath, as the froschmann shambled slowly in, blinking hard at the sight. Then there was Kapitan Muhler himself, U-115 skipper who had first encountered these strange creatures.

Von Kleist represented Berlin, the OKM or Naval General Staff.

Von Kleist gestured to some chairs. “Please sit…make yourselves…er, comfortable.” As well as you can, he didn’t add.

The shorter creatures seemed to be speaking now. “KKKKrrreeeaaahhh…we stand…can not…ssshhzzzhhh…flex enough—“

“Ah, yes,” von Kleist, “perhaps…in those suits.”

Now the taller creature spoke rapidly. Perhaps a sort of fuhrer? von Kleist surmised.

ZZhhhsshh… you fight…other…with others…destroy…zzhh…craft…explain?”

Von Kleist looked at Muhler and Freiburg. The meaning suddenly became clear.

“Yes,” Muhler spoke up. “My craft is an unterseeboot…U-boat. Submarine. We fight our enemies. Sink their ships.

Von Kleist had mentally named the taller creature ‘Herr Keller’ and the shorter one ‘Herr Schmidt’. He scribbled this on a piece of paper and passed it to Muhler and Freiburg. Eyebrows went up.

Now Herr Keller spoke at length. The translating pod hummed and vibrated like a bees’


Zzzhh…we fight also…Omtorish enemy…zzhh…control Opuh’te…Farpool…this craft…U-boat?”

Muhler stared intently from the pod on the table to Herr Keller. “U-boat, yes? A submarine craft. That boat of yours, also a submarine?”

Herr Keller seemed to understand. “ZZhh we call ot’lum…or kip’t…travel through Farpool.”

Kapitan zur See Freiburg asked, “Where do you come from? What country?”

This seemed to perplex Keller and Schmidt. The pod hummed and vibrated more, then:

Skkkhhrrr…call this kel…family…you say clan, perhaps?”

It took several minutes for the three officers to admit, even to themselves, that Herr Keller and Herr Schmidt were from no country the Germans officers had ever heard of.

ZZhhkkll…tell we…this of fight….why fight? Who fight? Like Omt’or?”

Freiburg snapped a finger. “He wants to know about our fight. We fight the British. The Americans. Germany fights to survive, to expand. We need more room for our people. You understand this?”

Bit by bit, the Ponkti travelers and the German naval officers probed and questioned each other. After more halting, barely understandable questions and replies, von Kleist added this:

“We must fight. We fight to live, to survive. If we can’t sink ships, the enemy will overwhelm us.”

Herr Keller looked at Herr Schmidt. There were audible clicks and snorts that the pod couldn’t translate. It vibrated and hummed, but there was only static. Then, Herr Keller came forward and took the pod, making yet another adjustment to the device. Nobody stopped him.

Outside the optical shop, strosstruppe and dockhands stared into the shop in amazement.

Herr Keller put the pod back on the table.

ZZhh…make adjust…you understand…speak better?”

Von Kleist looked at Freiburg. “I think so…you can adjust this…device?”

Herr Schmidt spoke for the first time. His squeaks were higher pitched, but the pod did the translation without inflection.

“Zh…yes…we adjust…we also fight…kels in conflict…the Omtorish want control…

kel’vish’tu comes and Omt’or wishes command…but other kels resist…we resist…seek help”

For an hour, the Ponkti and the Germans traded broken snatches of language and gradually came to a sort of understanding with each other.

Von Kleist wanted to clarify what they were hearing. “You are in some kind of conflict…

these Omt’or people…this is correct?”

Herr Keller said, “Correct.”

“And you see that we too are at war…’in conflict,’ with others like us…British, Americans, Russians—“

“We see this…yes.” Herr Keller seemed a bit uncomfortable, still standing, his mechanized legs whirring and occasionally grinding. “Zhhsshh…we help…you help—“

Before that could be explored though, it was Herr Schmidt who coolly informed the officers that the visitors would need to return to their own ship. After a moment’s confusion, Herr Keller and Herr Schmidt turned about and clanked their way out of the shop to the edge of the pier.

One after another, they stepped off, plunging into the waters. Moments later, one of the two strange little craft—midget U-boats, Muhler marveled—surfaced briefly. There were two occupants and one of them seemed to be Herr Keller. Then it submerged again in a froth of bubbles and churning waves.

“What are they doing, spying on my boat?” Muhler growled.

Freiburg was thoughtful. He turned to von Kleist. “Kapitan, do you see this as I am beginning to see it…these…creatures, froschmann, whatever they are…are from somewhere else


Von Kleist. “Another world, perhaps, Herr Kapitan…like Willy Ley and Dornberger and Oberth have told us…such people, such races might exist.”

“Perhaps. Maybe another country or a long-lost race in the Amazon. Who can say? But they seem interested in the fact that we’re at war…can you see this? They seem interested in our U-boats…how we fight underwater.”

“They’re spies,” said Muhler firmly. “They buzzed my boat repeatedly as we returned to base…like they were playing with us.”

“And those weapons they came with,” von Kleist remembered. “Some kind of sonic weapons…I’d love to take a closer look at those.”

Freiburg shook his head, watching the Ponkti craft maneuver up and down the length of the U-115. It was hard not to get the impression their visitors were spies, inspecting the length and fittings of the U-115. “They seem to be involved in some kind of conflict themselves.” The flotilla commander smiled faintly. “A wild idea—“

Von Kleist knew how to read his commander. You didn’t advance in the Kriegsmarine without having a sixth sense about these things. “An alliance, Kapitan? Some kind of pact?”

Freiburg shrugged. “It had crossed my mind. Like we once had with the Russians. Look at it this way: we’re having growing problems with the convoys, no? The Allies have these blasted new devices…sound devices to track us…and the airplanes… Mein Gott, it’s a wonder Muhler here has any hair left.”

Muhler had to agree. “Maybe these beasts would be willing to share some of their ideas…

their little U-boats, their sonic weapons…it couldn’t hurt.”

Von Kleist thought the idea had merit. “If I could take something back to the OKM, Doenitz would have something to show those blockheads in Berlin, that we’re doing something about the convoys.”

Muhler just shook his head. “I can’t believe I’m having discussions with talking fish…in armored suits. The war has come to this now.”

Presently, the froschmann returned to the diving platform and clambered up to the pier.

‘Herr Keller’ announced that they would like to resume talks.

Zzhh…we return to water…the Notwater….we say puhl’ke… hard for us—“

The Ponkti travelers and the Germans returned to the optical shop.

Von Kleist said, “Look, I don’t really know who you are or where you’re from, but we have an offer…something for you to consider. You have wars too…conflicts… der Krieg…where you’re from?”

Herr Keller clicked and squeaked for a moment, before the translation pod chirped. His armored suit, still dripping wet, rasped as he shifted from one leg to another, obviously uncomfortable standing.

Many kels home…we fight…this yes…with kel’vish’tu, now fight hard…conflict many….”

Muhler brought up the subject. “We’re interested in your weapons…that sonic thing…you know sound well…maybe you could help us with our enemies. They can track our boats with their sound devices…it gets harder and harder to attack the convoys.”

The other froschmann, Herr Schmidt, spoke up. “Zzhh…you have large ot’lum… large vesselmany small we say k’orpuh… exploding k’orpuh…”

Muhler snapped his finger. “He means torpedoes…like our G7.”

Von Kleist was intrigued. “This interests you…our boats? Our torpedoes?”

Herr Keller indicated that it did. “Zzhh…help…fight Omtorish…help Ponk’et control Farpool…help kel’vish’tu…”

Now Freiburg was puzzled. “What is this…kel’vish’ speak of? Another weapon?”

Herr Keller seemed to cough…or maybe it was a grunt. It didn’t translate. Then he said:

“Kel’vish’tu is great roam…we come…all to your world…many kelke…”

“Your people are coming here…how--?”

After a few minutes’ back and forth, it became apparent to von Kleist and the others that the creatures had come to Earth from another place, another world, via some kind of tunnel…a tunnel that manifested itself inside of a great waterspout. They called it the Farpool.

Von Kleist sat back in his chair. “Just as Willy Ley wrote about…all these scientists…the raketen menschen…creatures and people from other worlds.”

Freiburg was skeptical. “You listen to Herr Goebbels’s crap too much, Kleist. This is nonsense.”

But Muhler wasn’t so sure. “Maybe it’s true, maybe it isn’t, but those weapons and that midget unterseeboot they travel around in aren’t imaginary. We need to learn more about those…maybe some kind of alliance.”

That made sense to von Kleist. The Third Reich needed more allies. There was only so much that dolt Mussolini and the Italians could do. And the Japanese…too far away.

Von Kleist put the idea to the froschmann. “We’d like to propose an alliance. Sort of an agreement, between you and us. We teach you about our U-boats and torpedoes. You show us your craft…and those weapons…the blinders and the sound guns.”

Now it was Herr Keller’s turn to stiffen. He turned to Herr Schmidt and the two of them chittered and squeaked and honked and bellowed at each other for a moment. The pod couldn’t make anything of their talk. The thing hummed, vibrated, crackled and growled, then nearly slid off the table. Only a quick reaction from Muhler stopped it from hitting the floor.

Loptoheen and Klindonok ignored the others, conversing in a Ponkti dialect they knew the echopod couldn’t handle.

“It’s an opportunity… kah, a great opportunity,” Loptoheen was saying. “The eekoti Tailless have things, vessels, weapons…we could use these against the Omtorish.”

Klindonok was more circumspect. “We’re both tekmetah to Lektereenah…you remember what she said… do nothing to damage the Farpool…reconnoiter…study the tailless and their world and their seas…find a home for us and make sure the Omtorish can’t interfere… can we really trust these creatures?”

Loptoheen scoffed, studying the three Tailless creatures carefully. They resembled eekoti Chase in many ways, but they were clearly fighters, soldiers in some kind of conflict.

“Klindonok, I’ve been tuk master for many mah…I know fighters when I pulse them.”

“You can’t possibly pulse these creatures.”

“No but I sense it. They’re struggling…their opponents are strong…they need new moves, surprises to stun their enemies with, new weapons…we can learn from them. They could be valuable allies in the kel’vish’tu…they could help us against the Omtorish.”

“Just be careful, Loptoheen…be careful…you’re not so young anymore. You know what Lektereenah said.”

Loptoheen switched back to standard Ponkti dialect and the echopod cleared, beeped and a stream of translated words once again issued forth.

“Zzzhhh…talk we…together…”

For the next hour, Werner von Kleist felt as if he were living in a dream, like the comics he read as a child, or the stories he’d grown up with on the radio. Stars, other planets, rockets into space…his father thought it all so much cow droppings. Prodded by the froschmann, he admitted the Kriegsmarine was having trouble with new Allied developments in sound detection and escaping the dreaded aircraft that now had begun escorting the convoys.

He learned that the creatures call themselves Ponkti. He rolled that around his tongue for a few moments. The Ponkti then gave their names but the translating pod did little to help. The names came out as just so much unpronounceable gibberish. Kleist decided to stick with

‘Keller’ and ‘Schmidt’.

Loptoheen and Klindonok sensed a rare opportunity with these strange eekoti creatures of the Notwater.

“We can show them how the blinder works…and the suppressor too,” Loptoheen told Klindonok. Then he made a statement for the echopod that startled the Tailless completely.

Zzzhh…we can bring puk’lek here…as newborn calves….breed them in your seas… puk’lek can help you…attack these ‘convoys’.”

Asked to explain puk’lek, Loptoheen’s description made von Kleist’s eyes widen. The Fregattenkapitan turned to Muhler with a grim set to his face.

“You realize what he’s talking about, this puk’lek? It’s some kind of beast, like a whale or something like that. They can bring them there and breed them and unleash them against the convoys.”

Muhler was skeptical. “I’ll believe that when I see it. It may be a ruse…we’ve got to be careful with these creatures, Kleist. Berlin will think this is all just a bedtime story…or a fairy tale. I’m starting to think that myself—“

But von Kleist was intrigued enough to follow up. “I…we…will need some kind of proof of all this. Something to convince our superiors. Can you create a demonstration of this…and show us how your weapons and your craft work?”

Keller—Loptoheen—indicated they could. “Zzhh…Klindonok will return…Farpool…bring calves here…they breed fast…you make target—“

Freiburg snapped his fingers. “They want to know what to target…I’ll check B-dienst…I think there’s a new convoy sailing from Halifax in a week. That’s what Naval Intelligence says.”

Kleist was intrigued with the possibilities. “These beasts…these creatures…can you describe them? How exactly will they attack the convoys?”

After puzzling for a few moments over the German’s request, Loptoheen took the translating device and made another adjustment, activating its dictionary feature, which fed its output through the translating circuit. He set the pod back on the table.

Now, a high-pitched, nasal voice issued from the thing. It said:

“… sometimes called the seamother, the Kelm’opuh (Destroyer of Nations) and mythologically, Keeshoovikt (The One Who Swims Against the Current or goes against God), the puk’lek is the most fearsome beast in the waters of Seome. Mythology speaks eloquently of the mixture of fear, veneration and fascination the serpent holds. Occasionally reaching a hundred beats in length, with a powerful horned and spiked tail and a reptilian head with a broad veined crest, the puk’lek roams the seas of Seome unmolested, usually alone. It is carnivorous and easily provoked, usually preferring to feed on teng (a shark-like fish but longer) and various scapet (a tunnel-shaped fish with a colorful head stripe and water-jet escape mechanism).

Puk’lek are known to prefer the continental slopes as feeding and spawning grounds and they occasionally leave the water altogether for several hours at a time. What happens to them on land is not known and has been the subject of mythology and speculation for ages. One theory has it that the puk’lek are not true sea-dwellers at all but some kind of hybrid land-sea dweller, and that they were punished by God long ago for the transgression of leaving the water by having to endure both environments in order to survive (in other words, amphibious.). There are myths that say the puk’lek fathered a new race of beings on the land and must leave the sea periodically to care for them. But there is no proof of this. From a distance, the puk’lek resembles a fat, scaly k’orpuh, but the puk’lek is silvery white and gray whereas the k’orpuh is very dark and mottled like seaweed…”

Von Kleist looked at Freiburg and Muhler. “This we must see. Kapitan, have you a map…

to show our friends where the next convoy will be?”

Freiburg left the optical shop and quickly returned with a paper roll, which he unfurled on the table. It was a map of the north Atlantic. The 7th Flotilla commander penciled in some lines.

“Our intelligence people think the convoy will sail from Halifax on or about the twenty-ninth or thirtieth of this month. I’ve sketched out the likely route. From the beginning of

Operation Paukenschlag, our U-boats have to operate beyond this line—“ his fingers traced a dotted line paralleling the North America coast “—to stay beyond the reach of aircraft. And now the American convoys have better escorts, better tactics. They have sound detection.”

Muhler picked up the tactical explanation. “We have to attack at night from the surface. On the surface during the day, we’re vulnerable to aircraft. Submerged, we’re vulnerable to their sound detection.”

Keller picked up the map and sniffed it, waving the crumpled paper across the beak vents of his lifesuit. Nothing. He couldn’t taste or sniff the thing that so interested the Tailless. But he understood what they were asking. There was an enemy. The Tailless needed help defeating the enemy. Puk’lek would make quick work of this enemy if the conditions were right.

The Tailless offered a trade: help us with this enemy and we’ll share our U-boat technology.

Loptoheen knew such vessels and weapons would be invaluable against the Omtorish, on this world or on Seome. The Metah, Lektereenah, would never forgive him if he didn’t take this opportunity.

He and Klindonok studied the three Tailless creatures. They chatted on a frequency that the echopod couldn’t translate. To the Germans, the beasts squeaked and clicked furiously. But nothing came out of the pod.

“Klindonok, you pulse what they ask? They have an enemy, as we do. They want our help.”

Klindonok was more circumspect. “We should be careful about this, Loptoheen. The Tailless are clever. They know their seas better than we do. If we help them, we may become involved in something we can’t control.”

Loptoheen scoffed at that. “Happens all the time in tuk matches. Every move your opponent makes, you have a counter. That comes from training, from experience. They’re no different from that eekoti Chase, from what I can see. Eekoti Chase gives the Omtorish an advantage in this world. Now we’ll have our own eekoti, with these Tailless. We can’t let Omt’or dominate us anymore.”

“Still, we should take care.”

“Kah, Klindonok, you’re an old man. We just have to find out where this enemy is. Show them what puk’lek can do…what our blinders and suppressors can do.”

Now, Loptoheen shifted to an echopod frequency, so the translator would work.

Zzzhhh…we go…prepare…find enemy…”

Von Kleist took the map from Keller’s armfins and spread it back on the table. “Then you’ll help us? You can show us what your creatures will do against this convoy?”

Keller indicated they would. “Zzzhhh…I send my comrade associate…through Farpool.

Returns he with puk’lek…little ones. We breed. Then…your enemy…we find…we destroy.”

Kleist regarded Muhler with a tight smile that said let’s see what they can do.

“Excellent, excellent. Perhaps we could—“

But before von Kleist could finish his words, Keller and Schmidt turned about and shambled out of the shop, shoving through the door and startling the Stross-truppe on guard outside. They raised their rifles but von Kleist hustled after the creatures and waved the marines off.

“Let them through. Stand aside!”

The two creatures then ambled to the edge of the pier and, one after the other, dropped straight down into the water. Moments later, the two small craft powered up, sending small streams of froth to the surface. They submerged and were gone.

Kleist just shook his head. Muhler and Freiburg had come out too. Muhler lit up a cigarette with shaking hands, puffing hard, coughing.

“I must be dreaming, Kleist. Six weeks at sea in a big greasy metal coffin…that’ll do it to anybody. They must be American divers…this is just the sort of stunt the Americans would try.”

Kleist watched the wake of the Ponkti ships slowly dampen itself out in the confines of the pen, washing against the hull of the U-115. “I don’t know, Muhler. When I was boy, I read all I could about spacemen, raketen mensch, other worlds. I studied Willy Ley. Dornberger. Oberth.

They all talked about people from other worlds.’

“Maybe they’re from Atlantis,” suggested Freiburg. “Some underwater civilization…you know, there are theories about this—“

Kleist shook his head. “No, I say we take them at face value. What have we promised, really? Nichts. Nothing. If they understood us, and we understood them, all we’ve done is ask for a little demonstration. Muhler, I’ve got to this back to Berlin as fast as I can. Doenitz needs to know about this. The OKM needs to see this.”

“They’ll never believe a word of it,” Muhler said.

Then Freiburg remembered the translating device. “The pod…it’s still on the table.”

The three of them went back to the shop. The translating pod was still there, still humming, still lit within with a soft amber glow. Kleist picked it up carefully.

“They will now. When they see this…. this is no dream, Muhler.”

Freiburg studied the north Atlantic map. “Convoy KMT-22, isn’t what the geniuses at B-Dienst called this formation?”

Kleist said, “That’s what I heard. Over a hundred ships. Escorts all over the place. Aircraft support. If these creatures can help us with KMT-22, nobody will think we’re dreaming this.”

Muhler pointed to the map. “Somebody should go out there to observe. I’m sure Doenitz will cut the orders soon. Another wolf pack—“he shuddered at the scenes he saw in his mind.

“Destroyers chasing all over the place. Depth charges pounding us below the surface.

Hedgehogs bracketing us topside. Gunfire. Bombs. Explosions. Aircraft buzzing us at wavetop height. If even half of what these talking fish promise comes true, I’ll stand up on my conning tower and sing Deutschland uber Alles naked.”

Freiburg snorted. “Now, now, Muhler, we don’t want our visitors to think us uncivilized, do we?”

Kleist was already headed out of the shop. “I need to contact OKM immediately. Where’s the damn phone around here? I need to find out what their plans are for this convoy. Muhler’s right…we need some observers out there. Gentlemen, this could be just the break we need in the Atlantic.”

The trip to the vortex fields where the Farpool would re-appear took Loptoheen and Klindonok two days, Earth time. Navigating strange waters, unpredictable currents and odd seabed topography made the trip a challenge but Kolom, riding in the kip’t with Loptoheen, was a repeater from the old days and had great sense about such things.

As they approached the turbulence of the vortex fields, Klindonok called over the comm channel to talk with the tuk master.

“It’s a great risk you take, Loptoheen. Lektereenah gave us a mission to study and observe, catalog the environment, take specimens, measurements. Not involve ourselves in a Tailless war. And how exactly do you plan to bring seamothers through the Farpool anyway?”

Loptoheen said, “Klindo, you remind me of my old pet Ping-Ping. Fattest pal’penk I ever saw. She liked to stick her nose in our sleep niche and cuddle up. Some place safe and secure.”

“Maybe so, but what you’re doing is outside the bounds of the Metah’s orders.”

“What do you know of the Metah’s orders? It’s like a tuk match, Klindo. Move, counter-move. Thrust, counter-thrust. You don’t win matches by only following the moves. Sometimes you have to invent moves.”

“That’s called cheating, isn’t it?”

“I call it inspiration. With these Tailless we followed, we now have a possible ally in this world. Klindo, we know nothing of the waters here. But with the Tailless, we can learn more.

We’ll have an advantage over all other kels if and when Kel’vish’tu comes…and it’s coming, Klindo. Pulse me deep…it’s coming. That’s what Lektereenah really wants.”

Loptoheen was already slowing down, letting the second kip’t follow their lead.

Klindonok was curious about their surroundings. “Sounding ahead, now…I’m pulsing big hills, like Omsh’pont, there and there—“ he indicated with his armfin a dim range of underwater seamounts off to their right. “Maybe ten beats, at most. I’ll bet the Omtorish like this area. It’ll remind them of home.”

“Give me the caves of Ponk’t any day,” Loptoheen replied. He studied the passing hills silently, reading the echoes off his own kip’t’s sounder. “Tall and broad… litorkel ge in currents.

Might be a good place for us too…but I still like the caves…Ponkti are made for caves.”

“Lots of traffic above us too…look at the sounder.”

Loptoheen had already noticed the scores of returns peppering the sounder with staccato chirps. Overhead, at the surface, dozens of craft droned by.

“Tailless craft,” Klindonok theorized. “Maybe one of their…what were they called?”

“’ Convoys’,” said Loptoheen. “Many craft…maybe there’s a Tailless kip’t---they called it a


Klindonok read one specific tune of frequencies on his own sounder. “Vortex field dead ahead,” he muttered to Pelspo, his passenger. “And the Farpool is due to appear in a quarter mah…better let Loptoheen know. I’ll tell him to close up and follow me through.”

They dove deeper into the murky water—Klindonok wrinkled his beak at the taste; “it’s too p’omor’te, Pels…too dirty for me here”—and then they homed steadily on the frequencies of the field of whirlpools and vortexes that always preceded the coming of the Farpool.

Outside the fields, the two kip’ts settled to the seabed to await the proper moment, amidst a jumble of metal wreckage and drifting soda bottles. Klindonok would pilot the kip’t that would make the Farpool transit back to Seome. Pelspo would accompany him. Loptoheen would remain behind, with Kolom.

After the brief stop, Loptoheen heard Klindonok’s raspy voice erupt over the comm circuit.

“She’s almost here, just a few more minutes. We’ve still got a full beat to cover…”

“Get going, Klindo. Litor’kel ge…calmwaters for both of you. And stop worrying.”

“Great Shooki swims with you…and don’t start another war while I’m gone.”

With that, Klindonok sped off into the midst of the vortex field, rocking and rolling as the kip’t approached the coordinates where the schedule said the Farpool should appear. For many mah, scientists all over Seome had worked on predicting the arrival of the great whirlpool, building an algorithm, studying the variables, calculating all the factors, then re-calculating and testing. A schedule born all over Seome by repeaters was public knowledge, the common property of all the kels. True enough, anybody could use the Farpool.

But Loptoheen agreed with Lektereenah, and not just because she was Metah of Ponk’et.

The Omtorish had long been first among equals. The Farpool wasn’t their birthright. It wasn’t their possession. Other kels had the same right of passage, free of any restrictions.

Part of his mission here on the world of the Tailless was to assert that very right, and procure for Ponk’et freedom of transit through the wormhole.

Kolom was trembling nervously in the rear of the kip’t cockpit.

“What’s the matter with you?” Loptoheen growled. “P’omor’te water give you the shakes?”

“No, Loptoheen…it’s the Farpool. It makes me nervous, just to be around it. So much can go wrong when we use it…I’ve never liked having my insides scrambled like that.”

“Relax, Kolom…we’re well outside the vortexes…nothing can go wrong. Just pulse the show.”

When it came, the light of the Farpool landing was as if the sun itself had fallen into the ocean. A blinding flash suffused everything around them into a milky white glow and the waters shuddered. The little kip’t was battered and flipped nearly upside down by the shock wave. On impulse, and because he was tuk master of Ponk’et and loved to do crazy things, Loptoheen pulled back on the kip’t controls and jetted them toward the surface.

“What are you doing!” Kolom cried. “You’ll get us both killed!”

“Hold on to your gills…I just want to take a peek at the Notwater—“

The kip’t slipped and shook its way through tricky cross-currents and battering waves until it popped to the surface like a balloon. It was still bright, daylight topside and heavy surf crashed over their heads. On the horizon, indeed in every direction, dozens of Tailless craft could be seen plowing through the rough seas, staining the air with black smoke from their funnels.

“A convoy…just like the Tailless said!” Loptoheen breathed. Then he saw the waterspout dancing across the wavetops, scarcely half a beat away. It looked like a writhing rope snaking its way through the troughs and peaks of the waves.

The Farpool glistened like a seamother’s tail, while pulses of light surged up and down the length of the spout. The apparition lasted only seconds, then with a bone-rattling roar, the base of the whirlpool lifted away from the sea surface and corkscrewed its way like a lasso up into the low-hanging clouds. The clouds crackled with lightning and bursts of gold and amber light washed out everything. Slowly, the clouds returned, resuming their forms and shapes and the great Opuh’te was gone.

“I hope Klindonok made it,” Loptoheen said quietly. Heavy surf continued to toss the little kip’t around and Loptoheen knew they couldn’t stay there. He submerged the kip’t and drove them away from the area, circling the outer edge of the vortex fields, careful not to drive too close, while the whirlpools gradually subsided and the sea returned to normal.

“Loptoheen, look at your sounder…something nearby…that looks like a—“

Loptoheen studied the returns. Kolom was right…the echo was small, sharp at the edge of the base frequency—almost like another kip.t. A small craft. Not a Tailless submarine.

Had another ship come through the Farpool?

“Let’s see what it is,” he told Kolom, and steered them onto the bearing of the strongest signal. The racket of the Tailless craft above made following the signal a challenge, but Loptoheen had keen ears, and soon enough they found themselves nose to nose with another kip’t, as Kolom had suspected.

“It’s Omtorish,” Kolom shuddered. “In fact—isn’t that--?”

Loptoheen felt his stomach turn a flip. It was Omtorish; you could tell from the nose design, the placement of the control fins. And inside…it couldn’t be…

The eekoti Chase Meyer. And two others.

Omtorish—“Loptoheen spat out with disgust. “They must have come through the same Farpool as Klindonok used. Three of them—what are these ‘penk lickers doing here?”

“I don’t know…maybe we should—“

But Loptoheen was Loptoheen and he was already maneuvering to attack the intruders.

Kolom swallowed hard, squeezed himself to keep from trembling so much.

It was Kloosee who recognized the sounder echoes first.

“That’s a kip’t, Chase…I’d recognize that anywhere. Looks Ponkti.”

Chase had heard the echo too but wasn’t as quick as the Omtorish to pick up sound signatures. “I’d say we found what we came for—“

But his words were interrupted by a deafening concussive BOOM! Another pulse followed in short order and the little kip’t shuddered, a hairline crack opening up in her canopy.

Suppressors!” shouted Pakto, who was in the kip’t with Kloosee and Chase. “They’re firing on us!”

Chase manipulated the controls and dove deep, wrestling the little sled through turbulence and shock waves reverberating off the seabed. He leveled off ten beats below the Ponkti kip’t.

“I’ll try to come around behind him,” Chase decided. He planed upward, corkscrewing through more BOOMS as the Ponkti attackers sprayed the water with sound shocks from their suppressors. More distant explosions could be heard as well, many beats off. The water became roiled, and they rocked and skidded through wave after wave.

“What was that?” asked Kloosee. “More Ponkti ships?”

“I don’t think so,” Chase said. “Sounds different, more distant. See the scope?”

While they puzzled over the source of the distant explosions, Chase drove the kip’t around a wide sweeping circling, ascending slightly, to put them behind the Ponkti. They closed quickly and inside of three beats, he tightened his face as best he could to make the right sound, and when he felt ready, honked at the weapons control station.

There was a moment’s delay, then their own sound suppressor discharged, flinging yet more BOOMS out to rip the Ponkti. Chase honked several times more— blast it! he’d never get the hang of these sonic controls—but the weapon fired and the waters burned with acoustic shock waves.

For several minutes, like dueling seamothers, the Ponkti and Omtorish craft circled and spat sound shocks at each other, the rolling waves churning the seas like the more distant depth charges being loosed on a pair of nearby U-boats. Nearly oblivious to the distant battle, the two kip’ts dueled and maneuvered around each other for several minutes, until finally, the Ponkti ship broke off the engagement and turned about. The skirmish was over.

“He’s pulling out!” Kloosee noticed. “Speeding up…shouldn’t we follow?”

Chase had his orders from the Metah. Mokleeoh had made all of them tekmetah, bonded to the Metah for the mission. He couldn’t disobey those orders, not and keep face with the rest of the kel.

“I’d like to find out what those far-off explosions are, Kloos but you’re right. We’re here to find out what the Ponkti are up to. Recon…that’s our mission. That and studying the seas around here. Search out a new home for you.” Reluctantly, he swung the kip’t away from the distant battle and set course to follow the Ponkti ship.

The seas were rough, with tricky cross-currents, and Chase was tired. Traveling through the Farpool did that to you and if you weren’t careful going through, you could wind up somewhere

and sometime other than you wanted. He swapped places with Kloosee who took over piloting and wriggled into position in the back, next to Pakto, who was rummaging through a sack for something to eat. While Kloosee banked them left and right, trying to follow the Ponkti ship through unfamiliar currents, Chase and Pakto smacked loudly on gisu bulbs.

They traveled for a day or so, piloting the sled in shifts, always keeping the Ponkti ship just barely in sight. Its sound signature and unique scent were relatively simple for Kloosee to follow, but Chase had never gotten the hang of sniffing along a scent trail in a kip’t.

“Guess the em’took procedure didn’t give me a nose like you guys,” he’s said once. “Look at me: I’m not human and not Omtorish either. Just a crazy, mixed-up hybrid amphibious freak.

I can’t do anything well anymore.”

But neither Kloosee nor Pakto would ever believe that.

In time, the Ponkti ship slowed, as it approached a looming range of seamounts, severe underwater mountains somewhat reminiscent of the T’orshpont and Meta’shpont around Omt’or’s capital city.

“Pulses familiar to me,” Kloosee decided. “But why’s he stopping here?”

Chase looked at the acoustic display on their board, laying out a trace of the forbidding terrain they were now entering. “Beats me. If they’re really Ponkti, don’t they live in caves?

Seems like they be looking for a place like back home. I think we came down somewhere in what we call the Atlantic Ocean, but I don’t know where exactly. Or when.”

For several hours, as Kloosee slowly circled the seamounts from several beats away, they quietly monitored Ponkti activities. There was only the one kip’t and they became increasingly puzzled over what it was doing.

“Erecting some kind of structure,” Pakto finally decided, studying the acoustic traces.

“Right along the flanks of that volcano… kah, the waters around here are so p’omor’te…so thick with silt. Can’t pulse anything…Kloosee, can’t we get any closer?”

Kloosee jetted them forward, twisting carefully around the steep sides of one seamount.

There were streaks and gouges and a loose rain of small rocks sliding down the sides. “It’s pretty unstable around here. Currents are strong. I don’t want to give us away.”

“Just a little closer,” Chase agreed with Pakto. “We’ve got to find out what they’re doing.”

Kloosee found a small hollow in the upper slopes of one seamount and settled the kip’t into it. They waited a few moments, then Chase decided it was time to put some eyes on the Ponkti.

Maybe the Seomish use sound and scent, but this old boy needs his eyes.

He unsealed the cockpit, and hoisted himself up, Kloosee right behind. Pakto would stay with the kip’t.

The two of them reconnoitered the upper slopes of the seamount for many minutes, clinging close to the rock face, scooting from one hollow to another, hiding behind loose boulders and hillocks, all the while closely steadily on the Ponkti ship. Finally, they came to the summit and peered over the top into a broad, crumpled ravine below.

A vast mesh-like enclosure had been erected over most of the ravine. There was the Ponkti ship across the gap, a full half beat away, cruising slowly in a straight line, paying out some kind of fiber, crisscrossing the opening like some kind of weaver’s shuttlecock.

The enclosure was only partially complete but it seemed as if the Ponkti ship would eventually completely envelope the cut with the mesh.

“Tchin’ting fiber,” whispered Kloosee. “I’m sure of it. The Ponkti are masters with tchin’ting. They grow it in huge quantities…like the sound shield we used on the first wavemaker.”

Chase tried pulsing the scene but couldn’t make anything out. Kloosee was better at this.

“Seems like a fence. Or maybe a giant sack. What are they doing?”

Kloosee studied the scene for a moment. “Whatever it is, it’s huge. Maybe a base of some kind. Why build an enclosure like this here…unless you’re trying to contain something…

something big—“

“Something that doesn’t want to be contained--?” Chase suggested. “Prisoners, maybe. Or an animal….”

Chase’s words made Kloosee suddenly shudder with foreboding. He pulsed the dimensions of the enclosure. It was certainly big enough.

Eekoti Chase, you may be right…about an animal.”

“What kind of animal would—“But Chase suddenly stopped in mid-sentence.

They looked at each other, each having the same thought.

Kloosee said it first. “Seamothers. Puk’lek.”

“A fence for seamothers…how is that even possible? They couldn’t survive here, could they?”

“Not normally,” Kloosee said, “but with care and breeding and modifications, maybe puk’lek calves could. Eekoti Chase, the Ponkti are bolder than any of us ever imagined. Either they’re planning on breeding seamothers in this place…or somehow, they’re bringing live ones here.”

“Through the Farpool…there’s no way,” Chase was aghast at the idea.

“Apparently, somehow, the Ponkti have found a way.”

Chapter 5

“There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul.”

Victor Hugo


Along the T’kel Range, the Ponk’el Sea

Time: 779.7, Epoch of Tekpotu

Klindonok ka knew full well that capturing calves from a full seamother herd was about as dangerous a job as anyone could imagine. Herds were fairly common in the northern waters of the Ponk’el Sea at this time of year, but with the dying sun above the clouds, all the seasons and currents were crazy anyway and Klindonok was actually more concerned with something else.

He knew perfectly well that this expedition to gather puk’lek calves for transport through the Farpool had taken them deep into the sacred waters of the Pillars of Shooki. Even pursuing seamothers there, let along harvesting or gathering specimens, was a serious violation of the sacred injunctions.

But he did have the approval of the Metah Lektereenah. For whatever that was worth.

The truth was that Klindonok was scared. Maybe scared wasn’t quite the right word. When his kip’t pilot, Gosu te, had heard the details of their mission to the northern Ponk’el Sea, he had scoffed and just darted around the em’kel chambers, agitated and nervous.

“It’s insane,” he declared. “You want me to do what? Capture a seamother calf, from a live herd? Are you some kind of snake, Klindonok?”

“Loptoheen’s commanded it,” Klindonok explained. “And the Metah has blessed it. We capture a young calf, then put it into the net and bring it back to Ponk’t.”

“Just like that…and through the Farpool too…?” asked Lukto, another kip’t pilot. “Just how do you plan to accomplish that? You’ve been in the gisu again…that’s what this is.”

“No, really, we have a lifepod…a transfer pod…we stole it from Omt’or…thanks to Tektu here—“ Klindonok indicated a third person roaming with them about the vast underground cavern that was the city of Ponk’t. Tektu snapped a tail fluke in appreciation.

“Wasn’t easy…but I got the plans too. Tchee’lum, they call this thing. It’ll work, I tell you.

The Omtorish have already used it to bring live specimens back from that other world.”

Gosu was still not convinced. “This is all about Loptoheen, isn’t it? You’re litorkel’ke, aren’t you, Klindonok? Loptoheen’s butler, valet and general go-fer. Whatever crackpot idea the old guy has, you do it, no matter how insane.”

But nobody could argue with the Metah in this matter. Lektereenah’s orders stifled all talk and dissent. When Klindonok waved that pod in front of them and they all heard Lektereenah’s gravelly, sultry voice issuing the orders, there was no further discussion.

But there remained a steady flow of sullen, ill-tempered cuts and jibes for the whole trip up from Ponk’t to the northern seas.

Two kip’ts were assigned to hunt down a seamother and its calf and grab the baby. One kip’t was piloted by Gosu, with Klindonok riding in back, clutching the Metah’s echopod orders as if were a lifeline to home, which in a sense it was, for without the Metah, nobody in all of kel

Ponk’et would even give Klindonok the time of day. That’s what it was like to be litorkel’ke to a famous athlete like Loptoheen.

When Klindonok first saw Loptoheen perform in a tuk match, he had been intrigued. He resolved to learn more about Loptoheen and soon found out that the great iconic athlete and tuk master was seeking a sort of private valet. The Seomish term was free-bound and one who seeks and is accepted in this is called litorkel’ke, meaning one who is so close that the waters between them are calm and temperate.

Klindonok was among many who applied to be litorkel’ke to Loptoheen and he was accepted among dozens of applicants. The contractual period was normally for 10 mah and this was agreed on. So Klindonok went to live with Loptoheen in his em’kel, a gathering of tuk artists known as Tuk’te. He became a sort of man-servant, valet and butler.

Such creatures were usually treated at best with contempt in Ponk’et and Klindonok’s case was no different. Litorkel’ke were treated like furniture, seldom noticed and often accorded less status than pets. But for Klindonok, this was okay. It gave his life meaning and gave him protection from others.

He resolved to serve Loptoheen to the best of his abilities. And over the years, Loptoheen has come to rely more and more on Klindonok to help him get around and attend to personal needs. At first, Loptoheen treated Klindonok as a pet or a servant. But in later mah, after one contract extension after another, his regard for Klindonok evolved into something approaching genuine affection.

The other kip’t was piloted by Lukto tu, with Tektu the thief riding in back. It had been Tekto who had insinuated himself as a spy inside Omt’or and made off with the transfer pod and its design plans.

The mission was simple to state, though damnably hard to pull off and all four of them knew it.

Find a suitable seamother calf and capture it. Bring it back to Ponk’t in a net. Force the poor creature into the transfer pod and transit the Farpool with it, back to the strange world of the Tailless, a place Loptoheen had come to call Urth, trying to mimic the sounds that the Tailless themselves made when they described their home.

Loptoheen would breed and raise the calf, with the help of some special substances, and when it was fully grown—a process he insisted would take less than a mah—turn the adult beast Puk’lek against the enemies of their Tailless friends, their ships and convoys, and thereby gain a powerful new ally when the time of the Great Emigration finally came, as it inevitably would.

These Tailless allies, who lived and breathed in the strange world of the Notwater, would ensure that the Ponkti would prevail when all the kels finally completed the Emigration and set up their new homes in the tasteless but survivable waters of the new world.

That, at least, was the plan. But first, they had to find a seamother calf. And then they had to hope that the Omtorish, the Skortish, the Eepkostic and the other kels didn’t get wind of the plan and interfere.

Klindonok knew there were about a million things that could still go wrong with this stunt.

Klindonok shared none of this with Gosu, who appeared content to study the scenery and the beat echoes on his panel, trying to fathom the structures that reflected their constant pinging.

Instead, Gosu sounded the approach of a decline some fifty beats ahead of them. He steered them around a strong upwelling and a dense bank of silt before finally reaching the first of the slopes. They had a long climb ahead of them to find a gap through the range of hills so he throttled back the jets and let the kip’t settle as close to the mud as he could

Behind them, Lukto and Tektu did the same.

Ahead of them, a low ridge of mountains loomed large and rugged, a fence of saw-toothed gaps and rounded peaks cresting a plateau in the distance.

“Through this gap,” Gosu finally explained to Klindonok, “we catch the northern arm of the Pom’tel current. After that, it’s a straight path to the Pillars and Kinlok.”

“How long?” Klindonok wanted to know.

“Perhaps a tenthmah…are you in a hurry?”

Klindonok didn’t reply but instead sounded ahead himself, looking for a gap in the range, but instead of the steady bass echo he expected, he got something else in return. The mountains seemed to be moving. There was an unmistakable shift in the echo, a flurry of halftones.

Something was in motion about ten beats above them and it couldn’t be the mountains.

Gosu heard it too and sounded no rockslide ahead. The waters were too calm for a seaquake. Sounding again, he couldn’t imagine what it was, except huge. The echoes weren’t rock, the pitch was too high for that and the frequencies too complex—it was flesh, no doubt about that. He slowed up just a bit, reading the outlines of the echoes and then he knew. With a shudder of excitement and foreboding, he knew.

Puklek. The seamother. An entire herd of them.

Sometimes called Kelm’opuh, the destroyer of nations. Sometimes called Ke’shoovikt, the One who flows against the Current. Always feared. Always respected. And never, in a thousand thousand mah of known history, understood.

“We’re trapped!” Gosu yelled. “Get down in your cradle as far as you can and pray!”

They had somehow blundered into seamother feeding waters, unmarked and unsuspected, and now they were caught in the middle of a rising herd of serpents.

Gosu shut off his jets and Lukto did likewise in the other kip’t. Now they were both stopped in the water. The beasts were everywhere, above and below them, on all sides, scores of them.

A series of waves rocked the kip’ts. Gosu and Klindonok couldn’t always see them clearly and though Gosu knew well the story of the Skortish repeater who had stared a seamother in the eye and was turned into a spineless globbula groveling in the mud, he didn’t plan on getting any closer than necessary.

The kip’t sounders told them that the herd had just finished feeding. They usually ate makum, a slim barracuda that liked to school in the protected valleys of the mountains, especially in subarctic waters like this. Klindonok could tell from the echoes they were satiated and now they were heading for the surface, churning up the water and sweeping along anything that got in their way. He could feel them all around; now the best they could hope for was to stay out of their way, rise with them and pray the herd didn’t close ranks anymore and crush them to death.

They still had to hunt for smaller echoes too, the returns of the calves riding along inside the protective circle of the mother herd.

He was exhilarated and frightened at the same time. It was like riding the crest of a great wave, or wallowing in the mouth of a whirlpool. The waters frothed with the steady beating of flippers and the kip’t rose with them, bucking in the turbulence.

Klindonok was mesmerized. He could almost reach out and touch them. Never had he seen anything like this. They were right on top of the kip’t, no more than a few beats away, just beyond sight in the dark waters but close enough to trap the sled in their wakes.

They had run into the herd nearly an hour west of T’kel. If all the stories were true, the herd would soon leave the water altogether, once they had made the surface. Klindonok knew that

T’kel possessed several peaks that nosed just above the water—he wasn’t sure if they were nearby—so it was possible the seamothers would beach themselves on those tiny spits of land.

No one had ever seen the phenomenon, mainly because no one had ever been able to survive the Notwater. No one until Kloosee and Pakma and eekoti Chase and the coming of the Farpool.

That there were now well inside the sacred waters of the Pillars of Shooki and were about to engage in something that was both sacrilegious and strictly forbidden had occurred to Klindonok but he was litorkel’ke to Loptoheen and they did have the Metah’s orders.

That’s when Lukto cried out over the comm circuit.

“There’s a calf right there…see the echo?”

Gosu sounded in that direction. The echo was right. A faint bleating could be heard over the splashing and honking and bellowing of the adults.

“Deploy the nets,” he ordered.

Behind him, Klindonok honked at the controls. In seconds, the tchinting fiber nets billowed out the back of the kip’t, streaming like sinuous tails as the nets first reefed, then extended to their full shape and length.

“Nets deployed,” Klindonok announced.

Now came the ticklish part. First, suppressors would be fired to stun the gathering of seamothers. It would likely take multiple bursts. Then, the two kip’ts would coordinate their approach to the calf, from different directions, crisscrossing back and forth, laying down the net until the poor thing was trapped and fully enveloped in the fibers. If all went well, the nets would be cinched up and the kip’ts would begin withdrawing before the adults returned to their senses and attacked, for attack the enraged females surely would.

“Lukto, where are you…are you in position?” Gosu asked over the comm.

The answer came quickly. “A beat to your left…I’ve got puk’lek all around me, they’re all rising together to the surface…fire now!”

Gosu did just that, triggering the sound suppressors. The water seemed explode all around them in a detonation of bubbles and froth. Acoustic waves discharged and the pulse stunned the gathered seamothers into a stupor. Suddenly the thrashing stopped and there was a deafening silence for a moment, but the beasts were only stunned and began moving again almost immediately.

Again!” Gosu commanded.

Another pulse, this one almost visceral, something you didn’t so much hear as feel in your bones. Klindonok shook his head, blowing water to clear his ears and senses.

They found themselves caught in the middle of the herd with nowhere to go but up.

As they ascended, Gosu struggled to keep them away from the flailing tails and flippers. It was much like when they had run through azhpuh’te a few days before. They were in the midst of a crushing maelstrom of currents, being kicked, pulled and shoved in all directions at once. A seamother displaced a lot of water just floating. When she was in flight, it was said, all the oceans heaved.

“Looks like we’re caught in the middle of them!” Klindonok yelled over Gosu’s back.

Gosu said, “For the moment…I don’t want to startle them…we could be crushed…we’ll just have to ride it out—Lukto, where are you—“

But there was no response for at that very moment, the other kip’t was trapped between two awakening seamothers, stirring groggily and now fully aware of the enemy in their midst.

The surface had to be near. Klindonok could both feel it and see it now; a diffuse green light above them. For the first time, he caught more than just a glimpse of one of the seamothers.

Behind him, he heard Gosu suck in his breath. “My God---“

She was just below them, all mouth and snout and black eyes. If she had chosen, she could have swallowed them whole. Never had he been so close.

No more than three beats separated the kip’t from her reptilian head. They could see each rib in the broad, veined crest that crowned that head; the crest shook with each stroke of her huge paddles. From nose to tail, the seamother averaged maybe five or six beats—this one seemed larger than that.

They could see her horned and spiked tail too, whipping back and forth like a wave. Her flanks were a rippling mass of silvery-white, mottled with gray and also with scars from innumerable battles she had fought. Blemishing the otherwise smooth skin were dozens of tiny, tube-shaped scapet, symbionts who scavenged off the remains of the seamother’s meals.

He barely had time enough to notice all this before their kip’t was smashed by the forepaddles of another serpent and tossed out of the water altogether.

They hurtled across the surf like a mad wing-walker before slamming into a roaring wave.

The impact stunned Gosu and Klindonok both, even before the kip’t crashed back into the water.

Another jolt nearly split the cockpit.

For several minutes, their kip’t was thrashed about at the surface, knocked by the forepaddles of each serpent as it surfaced. The seamothers slapped the water with loud thumps, bellowing angrily in the spray. Two beats away, Lukto and Tektu were gone, their own kip’t smashed and sinking rapidly into the black trench a thousand beats below, a crumpled mass of wreckage, the mangled object of the seamothers’ wrath.

Gosu felt their kip’t tug sharply to the right. “It’s the net…we’ve got her!”

Now entangled in the fiber trap, the puk’lek calf twisted and thrashed and bellowed and shrieked, trying to extricate itself from the net.

Gosu fought the controls and yelled at Klindonok. “Cinch her up! Shorten up the draw!

We’ve got to reel her in and get out of here before the adults come back—“

Klindonok worked the net controls, reeling in the tow line and closing the opening of the trap. Bit by bit, struggling and whipping and tearing at her confines, the calf fought them hard, but the reel closed up and the trapped baby was brought steadily into the kip’t’s stern.

Just as the animal came into view, writhing and slashing a quarter beat behind them, there came a deafening explosion. The shock wave came like a slap in the head and punch to the gut.

Klindonok reeled, stunned, and found himself momentarily drifting, his head spinning, his ears throbbing. He caught a glimpse of Gosu in front and saw a huge gray mass, barely moving, equally dazed.

Moments later, both had recovered enough to regain control. The seamother calf swiped and thrashed at them again and once managed to slam the kip’t hull. The shock jolted both of them but somehow, Klindonok managed to recover. Just as he was about to continue reeling the calf in again, another explosion thundered in the water, slapping them both with fists of shock waves. Klindonok and Gosu both went reeling.

That’s when Klindonok saw what he was sure was a dream…materializing out of the ice-choked debris. An apparition floated before them, tiny and serene, almost petite. Pure white skin and delicate fins that seemed more like tissue. Her beak was knobbed at the point and Klindonok sensed tingling again—like the k’orpuh, like the Ponkti prod, clearly she carried voltage.

In her tiny hands, she held a small fist-shaped object, oval, with projections at each end.

The apparition shook the object and another deafening explosion came, a boil of bubbles and

froth and heaving shock waves that flattened Klindonok inside the sled and drove him deeper into his cradle. Gosu stirred groggily up front.

Gosu’s voice came up stuttering inside the cockpit.

Klindonok…back away quickly! Be still! It’s one of the priestesses. One of the mekli—let go of your reel--“

Pakto drifted back beside him and physically dragged Klindonok away, relieving his fingers of the net controls.

Gosu chirped, glaring out of the cockpit at the apparition. “This is one of mekli priestesses.

We’re inside the holy waters…the Pillars of Shooki. The mekli won’t let us continue…we’ve done a terrible thing. I warned you this would happen.”

Klindonok was still recovering his senses. His ears rang like a bell. “What about the calf…

we caught her….”

“It doesn’t matter. Now the mekli have put a stop to everything. We’ll have to accompany her…make recompense to Shooki. Look…they’re all around us.”

And Klindonok saw that Gosu was right. Dozens of the whitish figures hovered above, below, all around them, each bearing the strange oval suppressors.

“They can detonate the water,” Gosu explained. “It’s a chemical reaction…closely guarded by the mekli. They enforce the shoo’kel here. The mekli will let nothing disturb these waters.

Only the most serene are permitted.”

“But why—“Klindonok had about a million questions. “We were just defending ourselves from—“

“You can believe that if you want to. The mekli know what we came here for.”

Now the circle of mekli was already closing in on them, opening the sled cockpit, motioning both of them out, then herding them together. Klindonok didn’t object. Gosu seemed resigned.

But just as the pilot was exiting the sled, he chirped at a small control on the side of the kip’t.

Instantly, a sharp pulse emanated out into the water.

“Emergency message,’ Gosu explained. “Hopefully, it’ll reach oot’keeor. The thermal layer should carry it far enough for repeaters to hear it. With any luck, the pulse will get back to Ponk’t.”

One of the mekli lunged angrily at Gosu, spearing him in reprisal. He didn’t resist, though the impact hurt like hell and left a dark bruise.

They both had decided it was expedient to go along.

“Where are they taking us?” Klindonok asked.

Gosu seemed a bit nervous. “Inside the Pillars, I think.”

“What’s going to happen to us?”

“I don’t know.”

And with that, the circle of mekli priestesses, with their grenades and a line of fearsome-looking spearfish behind them, nudged their captives into motion. Above them, the ice floes groaned and screeched as the bergs bumped against each other. And beyond all of it, the seamother herd continued to bellow at the surface.

Lekto, Tektu and the other kip’t were nowhere to be seen.

Klindonok found the pace easy enough to keep up with, despite the numbing cold of the water. You could call it tchor’kel’te cold. The ice pack played strange tricks with the light. It coalesced in patches, forming apparitions that frightened and confused them at the same time.

Schools of scapet and tooket swirled in the twilight. Thick clouds of sediment rolled along the bottom, obscuring everything.

And the huge floes rained chunks of ice down on them from above.

The captives bore on for what seemed like hours. The sameness was monotony, agony, even misery. They seemed stuck on the same course, wedded by sheer exhausted numbness to a heading that never changed. Beat after beat of frozen tubegrass and ice mounds. Unending hail from above. Nothing living, save for themselves. Only ice and ice and more ice: ice kels, ice kip’ts, ice tillet, ice ompods. The image of it burned in their minds, searing their vision into a gray-white void. For a brief instant, Klindonok felt himself falling, as if a whirlpool had reached out and grabbed him. He welcomed the giddiness gladly—it was something he could still feel.

It washed over him like the great currents themselves, strong, overwhelming, a wonderfully delicious feeling of helplessness.

And then, there it was.

The berg was so large that it blocked a clear view of anything beyond, refracting most of what little light there was off its chalky white slopes. But even with that, the presence of a vast structure, dense and hard, could be felt.

They slowed their approach and came into the holy waters of the Voice with hushed awe.

Klindonok watched Gosu’s reactions. Guess I’d better act the same way. The Pillars rose up out of the silted bottomland like legs of rock. Cruising near the seafloor, the captives and their guards circled the Pillars completely, gulping in the scented waters voraciously. There seemed to be no way in. After several circuits, they halted and settled in a clump of tubegrass half a beat away.

The mekli seemed to be waiting for something, perhaps a signal.

Then it came. High on the side of the nearest Pillar, a ring of bubbles swirled around the edge. The stream was emanating from a narrow elliptical crevice. One of the mekli separated herself from their guard detail and poked her beak into the crevice.

In that moment, powered by some device Klindonok couldn’t see, the entire side of the Pillar grated and groaned and started moving to one side. The mekli entered. The captives were herded inside after her.

Gosu pulsed gently. He had never been here before. Inside, steep ramparts scattered echoes in all directions. Klindonok hung close by, watching his friend’s amazed reaction. A complex network of chapels, crypts, cells, catacombs and other chambers could be dimly sensed. Above the ramparts, heavy bedrock foundations loomed like a crest, tapering out of sight as they extended upward into the Pillars. It was a tight and uncomfortable wriggle to get inside.

Klindonok hesitated, then squeezed through.

They were in a tiny cave, sectioned by a post in the middle that seemed to have buckled. It was dark—the only light came from glowfish trained to float through the corridors in set patterns, casting their spectral copper light in diffuse ovals on the bare stone walls. They went half a beat or so, then came to an intersection. More corridors merged in the crossing, leading out in every direction, above, below, and beside them.

“Where are they taking us?” Klindonok whispered.

Gosu’s voice came back hushed, strained. “The Judging Chambers, I suppose. Be quiet.”

They could have taken any of the corridors, but the mekli leading the convoy chose one passageway that angled off on the other side of the post. It was soon apparent that the corridor wasn’t really a corridor at all, rather more like a tunnel, low and cramped. Klindonok could barely kick his legs.

He tried a pulse—it sounded more like a bad cough, earning a glare from several of the mekli—and found that the tunnel widened a few beats ahead. There was more light too—

glowfish he was sure, since the mekli seemed to abhor anything artificial inside the Pillars. But it was pitch black in the tunnel. Almost like a burrow, hollowed out down through uncounted spans of time, the tunnel sides had been worn completely smooth, for which they were both thankful. Otherwise, they would have skinned themselves badly.

Klindonok heard Gosu’s voice on his echopod. “The water is so still,” he said.

Klindonok agreed. “It must be the shape of the chamber…pulse how it damps out any currents.” He thrashed an armfin to disturb the water. Sure enough, the waves died out in seconds. The chamber crossing was designed to maintain an imperturbable tranquility.

Indeed, the Pillars pulsed much like a womb. All his life, Gosu had heard stories from pilgrims about the serenity of the place, the warmth, the concord, the strong bond of Ke’shoo that it made with all comers. Nothing was unaffected. That explained the constricted spaces and the pleasant scents: the mekli had re-created the ancient womb of the cave cities here. Like Old Kengtoo, they had preserved in sharp redolence the scents of the first days, down to the most ethereal details. The Pillars mirrored and embodied the timeless aspirations of all Seomish: Ke’shoo and Ke’lee and Shoo’kel, the inward eye blind to anything beyond the immediate concerns of family and kel.

Their mekli guard detail herded them on, through one maze after another, indifferent to the discomforts of the trek. The lead priestess could be heard swooshing well ahead of them, leading them deeper and deeper into the Pillars, into the Quarter of Melodies, where the shape of the caves altered the quality of their sound. There seemed to Klindonok to be no meter to it, only the vaguest sort of melancholy, yet the water whispered with definite musical tones. The tunnels had now widened the deeper they went into the Pillars, making it easier for him to keep up.

They traveled an endless and confusing course through the tunnels; all the time, it seemed to Klindonok, they were ascending. On occasion, the faintest, fleeting tinkle of notes rippled by them, like delicate chimes being gently tapped. There would be voices too, or what seemed like voices, whispers just beyond hearing, though Klindonok sometimes thought it was no more than the ever-present swish of the water. They were herded through fairly large caverns as they ascended, caverns dimly lit with glowfish and among the shadows, he could make out faces: forlorn, sepulchral, and weary.

“Pilgrims, resting after their journey here,” Gosu told him.

Through narrow tunnels and rock-hewn chambers, the guards and the convoy followed the mekli. Klindonok knew well that the Pillars of Shooki did not stop at the surface; they extended well beyond, far into the Notwater. They were still ascending, traveling the convoluted labyrinth of corridors, occasionally coming upon larger caves and crypts, and he wondered. How far would they go?

Tradition had always said the Judging Chambers were near the pinnacle of the Pillars.

The mekli brought them to the edge of a cliff, at the end of one of the tunnels. Even as they approached, they could pulse through the opening that the cavern beyond was deep and wide, and filled with fast-rising columns of water. It was at the core of one of the Pillars, hollow from its bedrock foundations to its majestic pinnacle high above the surface.

The mekli priestess then lunged from the cliff and caught one of the streams. It whisked her away from the opening and carried her upward. She soon vanished beyond an overhanging ledge.

Prodded by the guards, one after the other, Gosu and Klindonok launched themselves into the midst of the currents.

The water was both brisk and exhilarating. It carried them rapidly along, past other landings and portals, sweeping them toward the summit of the Pillar. Both of them tried pulsing in the direction they were heading—seven full beats later, the first echoes returned. A tiny ring of white light capped the heights.

The mekli was somewhere above them, no more than a blip in the pulse. Her tail was dimly silhouetted against the brighter background. Below them, the trunk of the cavern spread out into the vast hills from which the Pillars had been formed. The walls beneath the bottommost shelf of landings widened to an immense grotto, the floor of which was covered in exquisitely sculpted stalagmites.

But as they rose further, the radiance from the top washed out all other detail.

A blinding white blaze enveloped them. The light of Notwater, Klindonok realized. Painful, penetrating, it cascaded down and streaked the water with shafts of luminous blue-green. Gosu clutched at his eyes; Klindonok did likewise. He had experienced this before, on the world of the Tailless and he didn’t like it then. His eyes throbbed from the exposure and he found they were useless. Opening them, he saw only a shimmering glow.

He pulsed and found the top of the tower near, a beat or so away. Even as he tried to sort out the confusing echoes, the lifting current slacked off and they drifted aimlessly for a minute, barely touched by the fringe of the current. Other currents dispersed here too; it was a gathering point for entry to the Echopods.

Another tunnel, this one smooth like a pipe, bent around in a wide sweeping curve. They were wriggling straight up and the waters murmured to them with a mischievous stealth. Voices, hushed and furtive, sprinkled the pauses in their own swishing. The tunnel straightened, leveled out and the mekli slowed down, whispering for silence from the captives and guards. Now the voices were clearer, sharper. The Echopods. Distinct accents. Inflections. Someone trilling, arguing. A bass reply, deep and ponderous. An aria. A flurry of oratory, crisp and pointed.

The passageway widened abruptly and suddenly, the voices were everywhere, swelling in unison, falling away, crackling and whistling, a chorus softly floating. In the next moment, the chorus faded and the voices rose again in argument, thousands of them, strident yet gentle, firmly commanding, clashing, conflicting, filling the Chamber with incessant chatter. Gosu felt Klindonok bump him behind. He opened his eyes.

The glow was dazzling, resplendent in shades of amber, gray and white. It is Notwater, Klindonok breathed. Loptoheen should see this. The light streamed into the Chamber from all sides, as if the water itself were ablaze. Despite the intensity, Klindonok held his eyes open to see and wonder.

The Chamber itself was oblong. Panels of some transparent substance wrapped the walls.

The floor was arrayed with rows of cells, each of which contained one echopod. More cells lined the walls between the panels. Open holdpods swayed from the ceiling, their bowls carrying scentbulbs. Om’pshoo was the scent predominating, aromatic and sweet. That brought a smile to Gosu. He had worked with this scent before. The waters were litor’kel and shoo’kel, and the Voice of the Echopods steadfast. Shooki’s Voice.

But it was what he saw through the transparent walls that made them both tremble.

They were now above the surface, in this Chamber of Echopods, thrust like a sharp blade right into the very heart of the Notwater. Though the glow of the day was fierce, Klindonok blinked in amazement at the view. Even Gosu seemed speechless at the sight before them.

All about the Pillars, the bleak and desolate white of the polar icecap stretched to infinity. A solid flat plate, littered with mounds and hillocks and wind-shaped edges, frozen and silent.

Above, a hoary sheet of gray clouds scudded by. Klindonok gasped at the sight while Gosu gouged at his eyes. Something moved. The hillocks had legs—a head—a spiked tail—

Puk’lek,” Gosu whispered.

It was true. Both of them stared in wonder as hundreds of seamothers, half-buried in snow, reared themselves and shook the powder off their backs. As one, they marched past the Pillars, honking, bellowing loudly, heading for a fissure in the ice on the other side of the Pillars. It was half-hidden by the snow-dusted bulk of the towers, but even so, the beasts could be seen waddling into the frigid blue waters, wallowing for a few minutes, then submerging in a spray of foam.

There were now several mekli in the Chamber, along with the guards. The mekli were attending the Echopods, listening, arguing their interpretations of the Voice. All the pods seemed active together and the sayings, parables and utterances of Shooki were at once both confusing and reassuring. Their own mekli beckoned them deeper into the Chamber and slowly, prodded by the guards, they complied.

“This is the Judging Chamber,” she told them. “Listen to the Voice. The Voice will soothe you. Let it enter you and fill you with the right shoo’kel. The waters of this Chamber are the standard. Shoo’kel here is correct for all kelke, everywhere in the world. Now, speak the truth to me…why have you come to the Pillars and disturbed these waters with violence in your hearts?”

The emergency message from Gosu and Klindonok took a day to reach Ponk’et via the deep sound channel of the thermal layer and the repeater network. When she received it, the Metah, Lektereenah kim, was furious at what she heard.

Orkto the repeater had been a repeater for the better part of seventy mah, cruising the currents and byways of the Ponk’el seas for most of that time, conveying messages off the deep sound channel back and forth and in all that time, he had never been to the city of Ponk’t. There was a very good reason for that.

Orkto hated the Ponkti.

So it was that when a priority emergency message came off the sound channel, from some place way up north near the Pillars of Shooki, and it was coded for delivery to the Metah of Po-nk’et personally, Orkto swore a lot and cursed his bad luck.

Then he went hunting for Ponk’t, the city of caves.

Orkto had traveled perhaps ten beats or so when the vast sediment beds west of the T’kel ridge that had seemed to stretch to infinity dropped away abruptly. He drifted out over a precipitous slope that fell below into a deep canyon, buried under scores of beats of silt. Slowly, he descended to a row of dim recesses in the rock face, cave mouths he presumed, all arranged in a ragged line across the cliff.

He found the opening half way down and, pulsing softly, went through.

It was more of a narrow tunnel, he soon found out, roughly rounded at the ceiling and, not unexpectedly, filled with baffles, false chambers and row upon row of slender metal cones lining the walls. A stunning field, he surmised, to kill anything that got this far into the city.

He navigated several tortuous turns, then went up to the edge of a long sloping ramp. An oval of pale amber light glowed at the foot of the ramp and Orkto pulsed a very large cavern down there, beyond it.

Pulling himself through, eyeing the wary glances of nearby Ponkti prodsmen, who leered at him though he bore the official markings of a repeater, he came at last into the heart of the city of Ponk’t.

Orkto’s first impression was that he had somehow made a complete circle and returned to the open sea. Yet it couldn’t be for here was life in greater abundance than he had ever seen before. Dense, teeming, raucous and restless, more crowded even than Omsh’pont, before the coming of the Sound.

The light was low and pulses were useless with so many people, but Orkto could feel the size of the place. Even as crushing as the mass of life was, he could still sense the spacious dimensions. There had been rumors about this for a long time. A fellow repeater had once told him once that Ponk’t was like a great vishtu, a roam so large it boggled the mind. And he had also said there were cavernous chambers the size of small oceans here, dozens of them, buried under the plateau, all connected like the radii of a starfish. Pulsing as far as he could, Orkto found that even Liket’s description didn’t do justice to the sight.

Nudged along by nervous prodsmen, Orkto went deeper and deeper into the city, passing through innumerable scent fields. The presence of an official repeater from outside aroused considerable curiosity and the soldiers had to fight to clear a path at times.

Orkto was escorted to the very bottom of the cavern. He drifted down through layer after layer of roaming citizens, through holds and berths made of sheer tissue that parted for their passage, then closed again, through squabbling em’kels and solemn lectures, prodigal feasts thick with the aroma of tongpod and ertleg, games of kong’pelu and tonkro, debates, sexual couplings, tuk matches, a fight and myriad other scenes.

They followed the spine of a pillar that buttressed one wall, passing in their descent, hundreds of small, dark recesses, cavities, niches and hollows at every level, all of them full to bursting with kelke. Orkto could barely contain his amazement, never tiring of the extraordinary diversity of life in Ponk’t, even though they traveled for what seemed an hour or so. Always, when he thought he had seen everything, another sight would replace it almost immediately and he would have to watch that too and study it. And there was no way he could take in the entire pageant at a single glance; it was far too complicated, shifting, much too spontaneous for that.

He couldn’t make sense of all of it now.

The convoy of prodsmen were bearing him toward a group of canopies at the bottom, delicate pastel structures that seemed to drift slightly in the prevailing currents. As they approached, Orkto could see that the canopies were attached by cords to flat stone foundations on the cavern floor. Hundreds of Ponkti streamed in and out from beneath them and the entire area seemed to be the focus of great attention.

His first impression was that it was a fight, but a closer look showed that such was not the case. Though it was difficult to see through the swarming bodies that flitted in and out, Orkto was able to see enough to realize that he was witnessing the ancient art of tuk, the ritual dance discipline that was virtually unique to the Ponkti.

Orkto turned to the nearest prodsmen. “I’m a repeater…come from the seas with a priority message for the Metah… your own Metah knows of this—“

The prodsman said nothing but gestured with his weapon toward one of the canopies. Orkto pulsed the soldier and found him remarkably quiet and well-disciplined inside. Unusually calm considering he lived in the midst of such raucous chaos. He decided it would be prudent to respect the Ponkti.

He was motioned on, conveyed toward the canopy where the tuk match was still in progress.

Ponkti swarmed around them as they approached but the prodsmen held them back. Orkto noticed that most of the people seemed very correct in their actions and in complete control of

themselves—perhaps it was the influence of arts like tuk, but whatever the explanation, he was impressed with this feat of self-mastery. It was like pulsing an army of identical reflections.

In the center of the main canopy, the crowds were thickest, huddling around a large, blubbery female of medium-gray skin. Not surprisingly, the Metah Lektereenah kim, was the center of slavish affection—an unending stream of Ponkti filtered down from outside the cavern and paid their respects by nudging, kissing and stroking her. She was dining on stuffed pal’penk, from the aroma of it, while studying the tuk match before her. A young servling brushed her tail flukes.

Orkto watched as the prodsman worked his way through the line of admirers and, reaching the Metah at last, told her the repeater had arrived. She showed no reaction at all, but merely shooed the horde away. At her command, the prodsman beckoned Orkto to approach.

Right away, Orkto noticed a radical difference. He could easily pulse that Lektereenah was a fickle, nervous woman—her innards seethed without pause. He had thought the Ponkti would admire shoo’kel more in their Metah, but either she was so popular that she could do as she pleased or the Ponkti held their leaders to different standards. In any case, she paid them little attention when they arrived; indeed, the presence of non-kelke worried her attendants more than her. They quickly erected a partition of sheer tissue around the Metah, then scattered to the corners of the pavilion and scowled at the visitors.

“Give me the message,” the Metah growled.

Orkto cleared his voice and sang out the contents of the priority communication that had come down the sound channel. It was short, even cryptic, tinged with desperation. Lektereenah bade him sing the message twice.

Now, the Metah scowled and with a wave of her armfins, shooed her servlings off. “The mekli…” she hissed. This made her mad and she bestirred herself to leave the canopy with a few quick slaps of her tail flukes, circling the pavilion like an angry k’orpuh, shoving onlookers aside. It looked like a wave moving through the throng. Finally, Lektereenah returned to her coral bed platform and summoned her privy councilor, Oolandrah.

“The nerve of those priestesses…like fat and happy pal’penk. It’s perfectly legal and normal to hunt puk’lek in those waters.” Lektereenah bubbled angrily inside, not bothering to hide the turmoil. “This has Mokleeoh’s prints all over it. She’s behind this. Well, this can’t be allowed to continue. We have a perfect right to hunt seamothers. And I’m not letting the Omtorish dominate the Farpool and lord it all over the kels when we all wind up on this new home world. Oolandrah, summon my kip’t. I’m going to the Pillars. I’ll confront these mekli and show them they can’t threaten Ponk’et in our own seas.”

Orkto was roughly escorted out of the city and sent on his way. Servlings and aides scrambled to make ready the Metah’s kip’t, with its train of escorts and prodsmen. No Metah of Ponk’et ever left the city without an escort. The whole process took several hours, but before the final meal, the convoy had left the city of caves and was making its way north by northwest toward the ice-choked northern seas and the Pillars of Shooki.

Inside her sled, consumed with anger and annoyance, Lektereenah seethed. “Any word from Loptoheen?” she asked Oolandrah, who rode with her. “Any news?”

“Nothing, Affectionate Metah. No signals have come. Maybe Klindonok has word.”

This made Lektereenah blush with fury. “And now he’s a prisoner of the mekli…we’ll see about that.” Thinking about Loptoheen brought a mischievous smile to her face. “Oolandrah, did ever tell you about the time Loptoheen tried to prevent me from becoming Metah?”

Oolandrah had heard this story dozens of times, enough to follow Lektereenah’s account word for word.

“No, Affectionate Metah…I don’t believe so,” she lied.

Lektereenah settled back in her sling and launched into one of her favorite stories.

It had started in the year 730, in the Epoch of Tekpotu. Loptoheen tu, Ponket master of tuk and a very powerful male in Ponkti society had tried to intimidate the Ponkti Kel’em into changing the laws of succession, from appointment by the Metah to appointment by the Kel’em, where Tuk’te, the tuk masters’ em’kel, dominated. Such a bald power play had infuriated Lektereenah, with its audacity and disrespect for her authority. Lektereenah decided to teach Loptoheen a lesson. She had him arrested and charged with treason. Disdaining a trial, in order to illustrate her own powers, Lektereenah sentenced Loptoheen to be executed by live burial and dared anyone to protest. So shocked and stunned were the Tuk’te and all of the kel that no one said anything. Lektereenah let the proceedings go on until a few minutes before the burial was to begin, then dramatically halted it. Loptoheen was grateful but acted sullenly. But the event proved that Lektereenah knew and understood the dynamics of intimidation as well and from that time on, Loptoheen grudgingly acknowledged her pre-eminence.

The incident illustrated Lektereenah’s character well. She possessed a fascination for the tactic of intimidation and threat and an innate psychological sense of how to use it. She wanted not only respect from her subordinates but fear and loyalty too. She wanted them to recognize her eminence. But she had no real talent for persuasion other than fear or force. Her effectiveness had always been limited to these tools and they were sometimes inadequate to dealing with Loptoheen.

The relationship between Lektereenah and Loptoheen was like the great Ork’lat Current, always moving but sometimes fierce and turbulent and sometimes more placid and predictable.

Loptoheen loved Lektereenah for her sexual prowess and her feisty personality but he didn’t necessarily like her. The two of them were like potu pearl beds…irritants to each other that, given enough time, would eventually produce something of great value. It was and always had been a hot and cold affair, with each side never knowing what would come next. For Loptoheen, loving Lektereenah was like a tuk match with a skilled, wily and clever opponent…you had to watch your back at all times. You had to be fast, decisive, choose the right moment and strike with force. Lektereenah expected that and thought less of Loptoheen when he didn’t challenge her. Her natural environment was ‘hot water.’ If there was no crisis to attend to, she would manufacture one.

Lektereenah was always happiest when dealing with a crisis. Relating to, loving and dealing with Lektereenah was like trying to grab a hold of the tail of the snake-like kor’puh. It stung and shocked you, but the ride was worth the effort.

The trip north lasted two days and Lektereenah was drowsy and fatigued when the kip’t pilot finally announced, “Pulsing the Pillars ahead, Affectionate Metah…I’m slowing us down and circling in before we cross the boundary waters.”

Lektereenah turned to her privy councilor, squeezed in the back of the kip’t.

“Oolandrah, get off a message to the Kel’em in the city. I want a small force of prodsmen up here as soon as possible. At least a hundred of them. We may have to do something violent…to get our people back.”

“At once, Affectionate Metah.” In moments, a message had been composed, approved and broadcast out to the sound channel. Repeaters would pick it up and the Kel’em would receive the orders in a few hours.

They approached the circle of the Pillars cautiously, the kip’t pilot hunting through ice floes and chunks for a safe path inside the boundary. After several orbits of the Pillars, it was an escort kip’t alongside who noticed the stream of bubbles issuing from one of the Pillars.

“There…see it? Look…there’s something happening.”

Then it came. High on the side of the nearest Pillar, a ring of bubbles swirled around the edge. The stream was emanating from a narrow elliptical crevice. One of the mekli emerged from the opening.

In that moment, the entire side of the Pillar grated and groaned and started moving to one side. Several more mekli emerged and swam toward the convoy. All of them were like ghostly wraiths, there and not there.

Lektereenah emerged from her kip’t, quickly surrounded by her own guard detail.

The mekli stopped half a beat away. One of them then eased forward, brandishing a pair of sound stunners.

“To come into the waters of the Voice, you must show shoo’kel. I do not pulse that among you…indeed, I pulse threat…intimidation. Why have you come to these sacred waters?”

Lektereenah had never been one to back down from a challenge. She stroked forward, hovering right before the mekli.

“You’ve got some of my people. You have prisoners…Ponkti travelers. Release them now

—“ Her words carried a scarcely veiled threat. As if to back them up, two prodsmen drifted forward.

Now the mekli softened a bit. “Though you bring a great disturbance to these waters, Shooki is generous. Lay down your weapons. All who come with tranquility in their hearts may enter these waters.”

Lektereenah inched forward. “My people…where are they?”

The mekli smiled enigmatically. “They are in the Judging Chamber. Shooki will decide what to do with them.”

“No,” Lektereenah said firmly. “I am the Metah of Ponk’et. I will decide what happens.

Stand aside, priestess…or else—“

The other mekli now joined the talking priestess. “We must pulse true shoo’kel before any pilgrim may enter. Do you have this among you?”

Lektereenah sneered at her opponent. “In fact, mekli, we have something better.” A quick gesture from her armfins brought all the Ponkti guards forward.

Surprised, the mekli held up her stunner but before she could use it, two prodsmen discharged their own weapons. A sharp pulse of sound deafened the area, sending shock waves reverberating among the Pillars.

The mekli, momentarily stunned, was quickly seized by one of the prodsmen and relieved of her weapon. A short, vicious melee erupted, as more Ponkti surged into the fray. In moments, all the priestesses were captives, held by prodsmen, while Lektereenah cruised among her prisoners, sneering at all of them, pulsing them, butting several with her beak…a serious violation of protocol.

“Now we shall see who is judged and who is not. Take them to the kip’ts and lash them down. Oolandrah…where’s my force?”

The privy councilor came up. “The repeaters say a large formation has just left Ponk’t, coming north, this way. They will be here in half a day.”

Lektereenah decided. “We’ll wait here, outside the Pillars. When they arrive, we’ll move in force and occupy the whole district. Captain, send up your best sounders…I want to try and locate our people.”

This disturbed Oolandrah greatly. “Honorable Metah, to use force in the sacred waters…

like this…is…is-- “

“Is what, Oolandrah? Unprecedented? Blasphemy? Never done? So be it. Lektereenah doesn’t always follow the rules. Ponkti make their own rules.”

Two males showed up, the official sounders. “You sent for us, Metah?”

“Yes. I want you to poke your beaks inside that crevice, where the mekli came out and send a loud pulse inside. Several if you have to. Find Klindonok and Gosu and get them out of there.”

The sounders did as ordered, pulsing through the gate into the Pillars complex. They pulsed for several minutes, then one announced he had found a return.

“It sounds like Klindonok, Metah.”

Lektereenah ordered a squad of prodsmen forward. “Get in there. Find our people and bring them out. If any mekli get in the way, take them into custody. The Pillars are now Ponkti territory…as they always have been.”

The sounders disappeared inside the opening, followed by several squads of prodsmen.

Oolandrah was beside herself. “Affectionate Metah, this will be considered a sacrilege…to violate the holy waters—“

Lektereenah slapped Oolandrah on the beak. “No more! I know what others think. I don’t care. These have always been Ponkti waters. And you know what, Oolandrah…once we’ve consolidated our position here, we’ll move in and take over Likte Island and the Farpool too. No more will the Omtorish run things around here.”

With that, Oolandrah shuddered visibly and sank back into the crowd of prodsmen, busying herself with details of the Metah’s schedule. It wasn’t smart to challenge Lektereenah when she was like this.

An hour later, Klindonok and Gosu emerged from the Pillars, unhurt, but shaken. They explained what had happened.

Lektereenah listened for awhile but she had already decided what needed to be done.

“The calf you captured is still in its net. And your kip’t is undamaged. Go to the Farpool and return to Loptoheen. We have new allies on this distant world and I don’t want to disappoint them.” She sniffed the waters, finding only the satisfactory smells of her Ponkti soldiers around her. “We’ll need them when Kel’vish’tu comes and we all make the great roam to our new waters.”

“Yes, Metah…at once.” Klindonok was just glad to be free of mekli custody, free from the Judging Chambers. He had heard what happened to those who violated the holy waters. And he wasn’t sure he wanted to be around when Shooki himself woke up and discovered the Ponkti crawling all over his caves. The image of the seamothers lumbering around the icescapes of the Notwater was still fresh in his mind.

Klindonok and Gosu left.

Lektereenah decided it was time to deploy her prodsmen to the farthest corners of the Pillars. “Every crevice and every niche, every berth and hold, I want Ponkti scents and sounds to be there. If there are pilgrims inside, give them the chance to become Ponkti kelke. If they refuse—“here Lektereenah’s voice changed, becoming darker and more menacing, “—you know what to do.”

The chief of the guard bowed his head and gripped his prod more tightly. “We do, Affectionate Metah.”

With that, the force moved out and entered the Pillars themselves. Lektereenah went back to her own kip’t, to plot her next moves. She found Oolandrah there, hurriedly chirping and squeaking into an echobulb, updating the Metah’s schedule and record.

Now that the Ponkti had moved in force against the Pillars of Shooki, the sound channel that enveloped the entire world came alive with the news. From one end of Seome to the other, from Omsh’pont and the lower Serpentines to the Shookeng’kloo Trench and the icy wastes of the Eep’kostel Sea, the repeaters and the deep sound channel was filled with the news of the Ponkti treachery.

It was unprecedented. It was pure arrogance. It was an affront to Shooki Himself. It was Ponkti cunning, Ponkti duplicity, Ponkti cravenness. Who would stop Lektereenah now? Who could stop her now? Appeasement and negotiation and consultations hadn’t worked. The Ponkti stood revealed for what they truly were.

Two thousand beats away, Mokleeoh loh, Metah of Omt’or, gathered her own Kel’em in council and tried to forge some kind of consensus on how to respond, now that Lektereenah had forced their hand. Mokleeoh knew full well that much of what drove Lektereenah was actually jealousy and anger with her….the conflict had simmered for many mah, but now it was boiling over openly and a stand would have to be made. Sides would have to be taken. Alliances would have to be made and positions determined. Hard negotiations were ahead.

“It’s bad enough she takes and occupies the Pillars of Shooki,” said Likteek, from the Academy. “But it’s the Farpool they’re really after.”

“No doubt,” said Arktek, from the tillet-handlers’ em’kel. “But how do we stop them? The Ponkti have a formidable force of prodsmen.”

“We need a militia…citizen soldiers!” declared someone.

“Let’s have a roam now…a call to arms--!”

“No,” Mokleeoh held up her armfins. “We have to be smart about this. First things first.”

To her own privy councilor Iltereedah, she said, “Take this message. Put it on the oot’keeor for all the repeaters to pick up: ‘ All Metah gather here in Omsh’pont…a council of war…we discuss how to respond to Lektereenah and the Ponkti moves.’ Send that, Iltereedah.”

The privy councilor snapped the echobulb shut. “At once, Metah.” She disappeared out of the cavern that had been coopted into a meeting space, to find the local sound channel and sing out the message. It would travel around the world for hours.

Responses weren’t long in coming in. A day after the Kel’em of Omt’or had met, the first Metahs began to appear, in this case, the Metahs of Eep’kos and Sk’ort. They rode into the city of Omsh’pont in long trains of kip’ts, surrounded by their own guards. Mokleeoh greeted both of them and escorted them to her official quarters, high on the southern slopes of the great seamount Metah’shpont.

In the current epoch, the Metah of Sk’ort was Okeemah em...known to be shrewd and meticulous—some would say slow and deliberate for that was how most kels saw the Skortish.

The Metah of the Eep’kos was the dour old Kolandrah lu…always argumentative and suspicious, yet she had made the journey from the southern seas with many of her councilors in good time.

Okeemah wasn’t shy with her opinions. “It’s a crisis, I’m telling you. All over the world, the kelke are upset, angry, surprised and thirsting for revenge. This time, Lektereenah’s gone too far.”

“What do you propose, Mokleeoh?” asked Kolandrah.

The Metah of Omt’or had been mulling over an idea for several days…it was crazy, in normal times it would have provoked laughter and derision, but these weren’t normal times.

“Let’s roam,” she said. “Around here, the walls have ears.”

So all the Metahs took off on vishtu, and cruised about the silted ruins of the city of Omsh’pont, while Mokleeoh explained her idea in detail.

There had never been anything like it in all the history of the kels. The expeditionary force, comprised on prodsmen and stunners from Omt’or, Eep’kos, Or’ket and Sk’ort, didn’t even have a name at first, for nothing like it had ever been attempted before. The Metahs debated terminology for hours on roam, before settling on “muh’pul’tekel,” which, as Kolandrah of Eep’kos explained, literally meant a ‘ plague group of anger.’


Mokleeoh had proposed a combined force, with soldiers from all kels, to assemble at the Pillars of Shooki.

“I even have someone in mind to lead the force,” she told them.

“One of your cousins, no doubt,” muttered Okeemah, of Sk’ort.

“Better than that…one of our most experienced kip’t pilots, Manklu tel. You’ve no doubt heard of him?”

The force would number forty in all, with Omt’or providing command leadership, most of the weapons and most of the force. Of note was that Kolandrah eventually fell into line, not to be outdone by Mokleeoh and the Omtorish, and nominated a renowned handler of the deadly k’orpuh snake, one Koboh tel, to lead their contribution.

Weapons would vary from prods and sound stunners, to pods full of k’orpuh, the eel-like snake that the Eep’kostic bred in great numbers, to sacs of mah’jeet, the stinging clouds of organisms that could be launched into confined spaces like the Pillars to flush out a stubborn enemy.

The Metahs debated strategy and tactics, though none could recall any such large-scale military effort going back to the days of the Peace of Tekpotu and the beginning of the current epoch. In the end, it was decided that strategy would be two-pronged: a siege of the Pillars from outside the waters of the sacred district, an effort to starve or intimidate the Ponkti into giving up their illegal occupation of the shrine waters. The Omtorish negotiator Haktek would lead this effort, and the demand would be nothing less than total surrender, departure of the Ponkti force from the Pillars, return of the captured mekli priestesses and a full, world-wide kel’em, a peace conference to restore shoo’kel to all the disturbed waters.

The second prong of the strategy was more controversial. The Metahs agreed that a small Omtorish special force, led by Manklu himself, would attempt a covert penetration of the Pillars complex, to hunt down the Ponkti commanders, even the Metah Lektereenah if she were there, and capture or kill them inside. The force would consist of Manklu himself, two prodsmen and two stunners, all specially trained in close-quarters combat, and all tekmetah, bound to all the Metahs to achieve complete victory or die in the process.

The entire operation would commence when all forces had gathered near Kinlok Island, not far from the Pillars of Shooki and the start signal had been received. Mokleeoh would send this coded signal, via the sound channel, and a special repeater song that had never been sung before…and thus would not be recognized by anyone listening in.

The Metahs reluctantly agreed to the operation and later that day, Mokleeoh summoned Manklu himself to her quarters.

“Eat,” Mokleeoh commanded the veteran kip’t pilot. “You may not have such provisions again for a long time.”

The Metah’s quarters had been festooned with racks of gisu and ertleg, palpenk steaks and spices and sauces the Metah saved only for special occasions.

Manklu tel needed no further encouragement. He dove into the gisu and was soon covered with blood and innards as he smacked his way through rack after rack.

Manklu was one of the most experienced kip’t pilots in Omt’or, known both for his skill and experience and also for his vast knowledge of Seome. He was a member of the kip’t pilots’

em’kel, known as Pelspotu. He’d always been a great storyteller and after many kip’t runs, he and several other pilots would go for a roam and swap tales of strange places and exotic sights.

And always, Manklu would find a small but growing crowd of children and midlings following him as he roamed, listening in. In time, the pilots allowed the older ones to join them and they were regaled with the lore of the pilot’s world, while tagging along on these roams.

“It’s a dangerous thing, this mission,” Manklu said, between big bites of ertleg steak. “Not sure how it will turn out. Nobody’s ever done this…not in my memory.”

Mokleeoh sniffed around the pilot as he gorged himself. She pulsed him deeply, finding no telltale bubbles of worry or fear, only the smooth steady echoes of determination…and a happy gut, rapidly filling with food.

“There’s never been a time like this. What Lektereenah—what the Ponkti have done—“ she corrected herself, for this could not become a personal vendetta between her and Lektereenah

—“is more than a sacrilege. It’s more than an affront to Shooki, though it is surely that.

Likteek’s right…the Farpool is the real prize. If the Ponkti seize that and try to control access to the gateway, we’re all in trouble. Manklu, Kel’vish’tu is near. I don’t have to tell you that…you can go outside and see for yourself what’s happening to our city, to our kel. It’s happening everywhere, even to the Ponkti. The Farpool is our means of escape…and eekoti Chase has to lead us to this new world…it’s his world, after all.” Now Mokleeoh darkened and stood very still. The determination couldn’t be hidden, in her words, in her gut, in her rigid fins. “The Ponkti have to be pulled back into line…we’re all in this together. We can’t take our kel conflicts with us to the new world. If Lektereenah takes control of the Farpool, only Ponkti will escape what’s going to happen to Seome. I— we—can’t let that happen. It’s up to you, Manklu, you and your soldiers, to put an end to this outrage. The Farpool has to be open to all. And we can’t allow anything to affect it, or damage it. Otherwise, the world is finished…and with it, all the kels…all the kelke…you, me, everything.”

“Then you believe what eekoti Chase says…that the light of the Notwater, that luminescence beyond, will consume this world, all the waters, all the kels?”

“I do. Eekoti Chase is a creature of the Notwater. He’s talked with the Tailless, both here and on his world. They know of things we can’t even dream of. In a very real sense, our lives are in his hands. Lektereenah doesn’t understand that. The Ponkti don’t see that. They see only gain for themselves, preferably at our expense. Manklu, help me bring this conflict to an end.

There are vastly more important things to be concerned about now.”

“It will be done,” he said solemnly.

Manklu tel left Omsh’pont the very next day, heading up a squadron of kip’ts, headed north for the Pillars of Shooki.

The force of muh’pul’tekel assembled in a small ravine in the lee of Kinlok Island, less than ten beats from the outer boundary waters of the Pillars. Timing was discussed. The first effects

to be launched would be a barrage of sound stunner shots, to deafen the Ponkti guards. During this barrage, the siege force, headed by Haktek, would move into position, completely surrounding the Pillars. It was anticipated that the Ponkti would resist and skirmishes would develop.

In the chaos of the barrage and the resulting skirmishes, Manklu would take his own small force inside the Pillars, by way of a little-known lava tube below the seabed, an approach already scouted and reconnoitered by specially trained tillet in advance of the assault. Tillet were common pack animals and it was customary and normal to find long convoys of the animals crossing the seas en route to disgorge cargo from their huge belly pouches. No one, not even the Ponkti, would suspect such creatures could be trained as spies. And beyond that, Manklu had another idea on how to use the tillet in ways no one would ever have imagined.

The tillet came back to the expedition encampment after a day of nosing about the entrance to the Pillars and squeaked the details of what they had found. They were petted and fed well for their efforts.

Then the moment came for the barrage to begin.

The stunners went first, blasting sonic charges directly into the Pillars. Deafening booms ripped the water, cascading seams of loose rock and a rain of silt from the columns. The water churned and burned as heavy waves rolled across the entrance to the complex. Inside their own sound barrier, Ponkti guards tumbled and flipped, concussed by the shock waves, stunned by barrage after barrage of sonic discharges.

At the moment of maximum chaos, the muh’pul’tekel prodsmen surged forward, shockwands at the ready. They crossed the outer barrier, just as the stunners ceased fire, and engaged the Ponkti with their weapons. Steam flashed and hissed as electric discharges slashed through the water, the expeditionary force and the Ponkti rapidly closing into close-quarters combat. With the initial shock of the sonic barrage and the mass of the assault, the muh’pul’tekel troops quickly punched a hole in the Ponkti defenses. Fighting was fierce, as many of the Ponkti troops grappled with the assault force, using their knowledge of tuk and other martial defense tactics to blunt the initial penetration.

As the scrum continued, less than a beat away, hidden in a deep ravine, Manklu tel and his special force had gathered a small herd of tillet…long-distance pack animals specially bred for their upcoming mission. Manklu led the lead animal to a holding area and unzipped its belly pouch. Tillet were often used for long-distance cargo transport and it wasn’t unusual to come across trains and convoys of the animals plying the waters and currents between the kels. Even the Ponkti occupying force used them and Manklu was counting on that to provide the cover they needed.

An Omtorish prodsman helped Manklu with the animals. “These beasts have large pouches, shoo Manklu…special cargo for them?”

Manklu and the prodsman worked to steady and calm the beasts down, securing them one by one to a rail they had installed in the side slope of the ravine.

“Very special cargo, Klekto… us. We’ll ride in the belly of these beasts, right inside the Pillars.”

This made Klekto pulse in confusion. “Us…inside the tillet? How is that—“

Manklu honked a command and the rest of the force assembled around the tied-down animals.

“I’ll explain. We’ve reconned Ponkti operations around the Pillars for the last few days.

Every day, they receive their supplies from a train of tillet sent up from Ponk’t; they enter on the

far side of the Pillars…there’s a gap between one of the columns, almost a trap door. These tillet are specially bred and trained to carry kelke.”

“Almost like a kip’t,” said an Eep’kostic stunner.

“Exactly. I’m counting on the Ponkti being on schedule. Our friends here are trained to carry us, individually, in their belly pouches. Once were inside, they’re trained to sniff out their fellow tillet…if we time it right, they’ll sniff out the next Ponkti delivery train. We’ll join the convoy and that gets us through their sound and scent barriers and inside the Pillars. When the time is right, we emerge. And we come out fighting.”

“Locate the leaders?” another soldier offered.

“Capture the Metah?”

Manklu could tell his troops were fascinated by the tactic and itching to go. You couldn’t hone good troops to a fine edge and expect to hold them back for long. All of these kelke had been hand-picked and made tekmetah with Manklu. They would complete the mission…or die in the process.

“That’s our mission. Now get your gear together and let’s board our train….”

And one by one, the muh’pul’tekel force disappeared into the swollen belly pouches of the tillet.

Moments later, by instinct and by training, the pack leader stuck her beak into the flowing currents swirling over top of the ravine and then led her herd off, sniffing and hunting for the Ponkti logistics train that would soon arrive.

A thousand beats west of the battle at the Pillars of Shooki, Klindonok and Gosu rode their own kip’t toward the vortex fields around Likte Trench and the Farpool. They had left well before the kel army had arrived, dispatched by Lektereenah herself with orders to take their captive seamother calves—there were now two, male and female—through the Farpool and back to the world of the Tailless, to their new allies, and to Loptoheen, who would train and breed the beasts to help the Germans in their dispute with the other Tailless kels.

“How are our pets doing back there, Gosu?” Klindonok asked. He steered the kip’t carefully, slowing down as they crossed a gap in the Serpentines, hunting by feel for the first signs of turbulence that signaled the vortex fields ahead.

“I’m glad they’re anesthetized,” Gosu remarked. He studied the transfer pod attached by tow line to the kip’t, bobbing and oscillating like a heavy balloon aft of them. It was an Omtorish invention—they called it tchee’lum, and it had cost the life of several Ponkti agents to smuggle the design out of Omt’or—a swollen bag of a pod, barely large enough for the two calves inside. It had fins and control surfaces to keep the thing stable, it even had propulsors at the stern—but in the wake of the Ponkti kip’t, the pod bucked and undulated and twisted like a midling’s playtoy. “Are you sure we can control this thing when we go through the Farpool?”

“Of course,” Klindonok lied. “The Omtorish do it all the time. It’s just a matter of entering the pool the right way. Finesse, Gosu…it takes finesse. The right touch.”

“Like you did the last time…and nearly killed the both of us.”

Klindonok clamped his teeth down hard for he knew Gosu was right. The last passage had been rough. Loptoheen was wrong about that. The Omtorish knew much more about navigating this damned opuh’te whirlpool than anyone else did, Loptoheen included. They should have their heads examined and their insides pulsed clean for trying stunts like this. If kelke had been meant to fly through the Farpool--

Still, they had a mission, and Klindonok ignored Gosu’s jibes and the tugging of the transfer pod astern of them as he hunted for the right approach into the vortex fields. He felt a slight shudder in the controls—was that it? He couldn’t be sure even now, after multiple passages, but he steered in that direction anyway and the tug grew stronger, more violent, knocking them first one way, then another. If it wasn’t the Farpool, then what was it?

Klindonok checked his time. The algorithm tables they had stolen from the Omtorish were specific. The Farpool was due to ‘land’ any moment now and if they weren’t in the right place, oriented correctly, buttoned up for the ride of their lives, then—

Klindonok didn’t know which was worse: Lektereenah’s wrath or Loptoheen’s contempt.

Both made him nervous, anxious, he couldn’t hide it, there was no point in even trying.

He just wasn’t meant for duty like this.

Some kind of force was now pushing them sideways in the water. At the same time, the compartment picked up a light shuddering vibration, gyrating like a top at the end of a string.

“Klindonok…what’s happening?”

“I don’t know, but I think we’re on the outer edge of some kind of vortex…the water’s all rushing sideways, dirt, pieces of things…I can’t really make it out.”

Kah, I hope it’s not the Farpool…I’m not ready for--”

The force began to increase, a centrifugal force that soon shoved them to one side of the compartment and pressed them hard against the walls. Worse, the compartment began a slow roll, a rotation that didn’t remain slow for long, but picked up rate at a steady clip.

Soon, they were spinning enough to become disoriented and dizzy.

“Klindonok…my stomach…I don’t feel so—“

Gosu’s words were suddenly lost in a bright flash of light, a searing, painfully white strobing light that flooded the compartment and blinded both of them.

Ow…I can’t see—“

The spin kept accelerating and moments later, Klindonok and Gosu both passed out.

Had there been anyone watching from the surface of the stormy Omt’orkel Sea, they would have been treated to an incredible sight offshore, just before what passed for dawn. Backlit with the orange glow of sunrise to the east, a thin ropy waterspout formed several kilometers off Likte Island. As the spout danced and skipped across the waves, a bright pulse of light emerged from the sea and vaulted heavenward along the length of the spout, followed by a series of light pulses, as if the spout were sucking buckets of light right out of the ocean.

The light pulses disappeared into low-hanging clouds and vanished, leaving only a faint iridescent flicker, like a silent lightning discharge.

Moments later, the waterspout collapsed into the sea and the ocean returned to its restless heaving.

Unseen by anyone, Klindonok ka kel: Ponk’et and his aide Gosu had just been catapulted six thousand light years across the Galaxy and several hundred years into the past.

Chapter 6

“I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by, And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking, And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.”

John Masefield


The Western Atlantic, near Bermuda

December 15, 1942

The lifeship jetted out of the Farpool in a blinding light, a roaring rush of deceleration, throwing Klindonok and Gosu hard against the cockpit windows. Caught in the whirlpool, Klindonok rammed the ship’s rudder hard over, while firing her jets to counteract the centrifugal force of the spin. For a few moments, they were both pinned sideways against the cockpit, until the force of the jets shoved them through the core of the whirlpool and out into calmer waters.

Gosu breathed hard, wiping his beak with his hands. He checked the instruments.

“Sounding meetor’kel water, Klin…rough water but visibility improving. I can pulse ahead…looks like we’re back in the right place.”

Klindonok fought the lifeship controls to bring them into a stable attitude. “Thank Shooki we came through that one…a rough ride, rougher than most. How’s our cargo doing back there?”

Gosu checked behind. The cargo pod was still in tow, connected by line to the aft end of the ship. The captive seamother calves from the northern seas were inside, now awake, thrashing about, frightened, perhaps even injured.

“Pod’s still there…I don’t know how they’re doing…maybe we should stop and check.”

Klindonok shook his head, gently massaging the controls with the tips of his forepaddles.

“No time…we’re behind schedule as it is…now if I can just find that blasted kip’t station….”

The lifeship slowed down poking through the murky waters of the western Atlantic Ocean, riding faint currents for a few moments. Klindonok hunted methodically for the station where Loptoheen had docked the kip’t; the sled was the only way they would get back to meet with the Tailless. The lifeship was just for transit through Farpool.

Finally, the beep-beep-beep of a contact sounded through their headsets. “There…that’s Loptoheen’s signal…sounds better than a tillet baying.” He dove toward the signal, which emanated from a narrow ledge carved into the side of a seamount, still many beats away. They would park the lifeship there, secure the vessel and transfer everything from the cargo pod to the seamother hold that Loptoheen was supposed to have built. After that, there would be heated discussions and arguments over tactics, some decisions, then several hours of cautious maneuvering to get beyond the whirlpool fields and the travelers would be on their way back to the Tailless base, a strange place called…Klindonok tried several ways of pronouncing it: ‘ Saint Nazaire France.

Loptoheen had chosen a seamount, a flat-topped guyot, that the Tailless would have known as the Muir Seamounts, just northeast of the Bermuda Platform. A narrow range of underwater mountains, each topped with a shield-shaped plateau several thousand meters below the surface, the seamounts offered a variety of terrain, niches, crevices and caves to build a base of

operations. Though there was plenty of surface traffic overhead and the underwater range was noisy and turbulent, there was little underwater traffic, save for the odd species that inhabited these waters…Loptoheen had learned from listening to their communications that the Tailless called some of these beasts ‘ whales’.

“Not so different from our own puk’lek,” he had surmised, though not as fast.

In the rocky folds of one seamount, Loptoheen and Kolom had located a broad depression surrounded on all sides by the steep slopes of the mountain. Over this depression, the two Ponkti had erected a tchin’ting fiber net, to form an enclosure that would become the seamother hold.

Numerous caves and hollows nearby would serve nicely as storage places for all their gear, including the lifeship and the kip’ts.

Klindonok homed on Loptoheen’s signal and found the seamount complex soon enough.

They met briefly above the just-finished hold, with Klindonok relaying news from Seome.

“Lektereenah has lost her mind,” Klindonok was saying. “She’s occupied the Pillars of Shook and taken the mekli hostage. Now the other kels are mounting a force to re-take the Pillars. It’s a great battle, Loptoheen…it’s chaos.”

Loptoheen was nosing around the outside of the transfer pod. Inside, the seamother calves were just awakening from their sleep, vainly thrashing about their confines.

“Not unlike this world,” he decided. “The Tailless fight among themselves constantly, destroy each other’s vessels, attack all the time. Ponkti would feel right at home in this mess.

How did our friends inside take the trip through the Farpool?”

Klindonok pulsed into the depths of the hold. It seemed big enough. The depression and make-shift enclosure would have to hold at least two fully mature seamothers.

“Better than I did…we had a rough ride and I wasn’t sure if I had managed the lifeship and the whirlpool properly…you know how it is. Roll this way or that way, but not too far, or you’ll wind up somewhere else. Is this pen big enough? Will it hold them?”

Loptoheen said, “It’ll have to. Let’s get our charges into their new home.”

Klindonok climbed into the lifeship and jetted forward, drawing the tchee’lum pod over the center of the hold, then hovered there for a few moments. As he maneuvered to keep the pod centered over the depression, Loptoheen, Kolom and Gosu detached the tow line and tugged the pod down into the hold. Then Loptoheen fastened a catchline to the pod hatch. He signaled that they should depart.

Klindonok drove the lifeship away a short distance, while Loptoheen drew the netting closed, feathering the catchline through a small opening in the net. Inside, the pod slowly settled to the bottom of the hold, rocked in the currents and was still, save for the occupants’ continued thrashing and bellowing.

Once the net was secure, Loptoheen pulled the catchline taut, then pulled harder. The pod hatch sprung open. The hatch had barely cleared its flange when a seamother calf poked her head out, then crashed about while levering herself out of the pod. She stroked about the hold, bleating and bellowing, while her companion came out too.

Soon the hold was a frenzy of violent snaps and lunges and snorts and honks, as the calves explored their new quarters.

“Looks like they’re in decent condition,” Loptoheen observed. He retrieved a small pouch from his belt. “I’ve rounded up some food in that pen over there—“he pointed to a small sac floating at the end of an attached tether. Small dart-shaped fish scooted and slithered inside.

“I’ll just smear some of this—“ he withdrew a tube of paste from the pouch and reached inside the sac, expertly spearing one of the fish, which he held as it whipped its body back and forth,

then rubbed the contents of the tube along the sides of the fish. He did this with several fish in the sac, then set the tube aside and released the tether. “Bring that sac…I’ll show you the feeding port.”

Gosu was curious. “Growth drug?”

“Exactly. Actually a tekne’en derivative. Modified from the memory drug, if you can believe that. It accelerates growth, applied the right way. I learned it from one of Lektereenah’s consorts. I’m using a lot here…if it works, the puk’lek will be fully mature in two or three entemah, at most. A few weeks to the Tailless, if I understand their timekeeping.”

“Those fish…they’re not eelot or teng or scapet—“

“No,” Loptoheen said. “I don’t know what they are. These waters are so different from ours…we’ve got a lot to get used to here. Come on—let’s feed our babies.”

The growth of the calves was extraordinary, owing to the enhancers Loptoheen had applied.

Every day was the same. While Loptoheen examined his charges, Klindonok, Kolom and Gosu scoured the seamount and surrounding waters for food, cataloging some species, gathering others and cramming the still-wriggling fish inside the seamother holds. The calves had voracious appetites and were gaining weight and scale visibly every day.

“Is the hold big enough for them?” Klindonok asked one day, watching one calf straining at the fibers as she thrashed and kicked her way around the hold.

Loptoheen eyed the scene warily. “It should be. I hope so. I’ll cut back on the tekne’en just in case.”

After several weeks, both calves were already approaching full adulthood, a process that normally took the better part of a full mah on Seome.

Loptoheen went with Klindonok one day to perform a full measurement of their size and scale, and do more extensive examinations.

Occasionally reaching a hundred meters in length, with a powerful horned and spiked tail and a reptilian head with a broad veined crest, seamothers had always roamed the seas of Seome unmolested, usually alone. They were carnivorous and easily provoked, usually preferring to feed off teng (a shark-like fish but longer) and various scapet (a tunnel-shaped fish with a colorful head stripe and water-jet escape mechanism). On Seome, they were known to prefer the continental slopes as feeding and spawning grounds and they occasionally left the water altogether for several hours at a time. What happened to them on land was not known and had been the subject of mythology and speculation for ages. One theory had it that the puk’lek were not true sea-dwellers at all but some kind of hybrid land-sea dweller, and that they had been punished by God long ago for the transgression of leaving the water by having to endure both environments in order to survive (in other words, amphibious.). There were myths that said the seamothers had once fathered a new race of beings on the land and had to leave the sea periodically to care for them. But there was no proof of this. From a distance, the puk’lek could resemble a fat, scaly k’orpuh, but the puk’lek was silvery white and gray whereas the k’orpuh was very dark and mottled like seaweed.

Loptoheen examined the calves for several hours, pulsing and sounding both of them thoroughly, and said, “Klin, I think it’s time. Get the signaler ready. We should inform our Tailless friends that their newest weapons are ready.”

A signal was broadcast to the Germans and within a few days, a U-boat appeared nearby, nosing around the upper slopes of the seamount like a timid barracuda. By agreement, the

Germans wanted to examine the seamothers. Von Kleist had been skeptical, to say the least, that the Ponkti could do what they claimed they could do. But he had convinced Admiral Doenitz and the OKM that they should at least give their strange allies the benefit of a doubt and see what they could provide in the war effort. For the truth was that in the fall of 1942, the Allies were already beginning to find and deploy ever-more successful means of protecting their convoys and harassing the U-boats. If steps weren’t taken and new tactics developed soon, von Kleist knew that the sheer mass of Allied naval power would eventually prevail.

Studying what the Ponkti claimed were powerful new weapons seemed an acceptable risk with the possibility of a great reward if their claims were true.

Moreover, von Kleist would see his own standing rise immeasurably among the hard-bitten old farts of the General Staff and one day he might even command a ship in combat once again.

To Wilhelm von Kleist, that was worth a great deal indeed.

So, the Type VII U-boat U-155 had been outfitted with a diving chamber to her stern hull and sent off from St. Nazaire to hunt down the Ponkti base and see what the strange froschmann had to offer.

It was Gosu who sounded the approach of the U-boat and helped guide it to a point along the seamount slopes near the seamother holding pen. Through the signaler and a modified echopod, Loptoheen realized that the Tailless commander eekoti von Kleist was aboard the submarine.

After a few hours of strained and difficult communication, the Germans finally admitted they would deploy two divers from the U-155 and follow the Ponkti to the seamother hold.

Then the Germans and von Kleist would have their proof.

The divers soon emerged in ungainly and awkward full-pressure suits, drifting warily atop the U-boat hull in the cold and dark. Presently, Klindonok and Gosu appeared and each took one diver in hand. At first reluctant, the German froschmanner allowed themselves to be steered away toward the hold. One diver dragged a bulky underwater camera along with him.

At the hold, with the seamothers thrashing and bellowing, the divers were at first reluctant to approach. With some encouragement and awkward sign language, they relented. No echopod translator was available so the Ponkti were left to use their forepaddles as signing devices, hoping the Tailless would understand.

Through some delicate maneuvering and with Kolom and Gosu distracting the seamothers with extra rations of food, the German divers were able to get close enough to the beasts—not without reluctance and some resistance—to get some decent footage. When they seemed satisfied, Klindonok escorted the froschmanner back to their boat. The divers re-entered the diving chamber and then the pressure hull, releasing their footage to an anxious Fregattenkapitan von Kleist, who handled the film canisters as if they were made of gold.

The U-155 then came about and made her way back to St. Nazaire.

A week later, while Loptoheen was arranging a rack of fish for his seamother pets, the signaler erupted again, beeping insistently with a message from the Tailless.

It seemed that von Kleist and the Umans wanted to meet again, in person, at St. Nazaire.

Urgent. Come at once.

Loptoheen and Klindonok powered up the kip’t and sped off toward the base while Gosu and Kolom continued to tend the seamothers, by now fully grown and barely contained in the hold.

Loptoheen steered the kip’t carefully into the submarine pen, following the Tailless instructions and parked the sled beneath the dark hull of a U- boat. They found the diving

platform as before, and with their mobilitors powered up, clambered awkwardly up onto the platform. They found themselves surrounded by Sturmabteilung marines, weapons aimed.

Eekoti von Kleist stood alongside the pier rail, beckoning them on. He held the echopod translator in one hand.

Von Kleist hand-motioned Loptoheen and Klindonok—to his way of thinking Herr Keller and Herr Schmidt—onto the pier. They climbed awkwardly, their mobilitor motors whirring softly.

“Come…come…let’s meet…come this way—“

Once he was stable and upright on the pier deck, Loptoheen removed a separate echopod from a pouch at his ‘waist.’ He handed it to von Kleist.

“Ah, you want me to take this—“he examined the device. It seemed similar to the one he held.

“He wants to swap, I believe,” said Seventh Flotilla commander Kapitan zur See Freiburg.

Von Kleist made the swap. Loptoheen handed the German’s device back to Klindonok, who stowed it in a web pouch.

“Come,” beckoned von Kleist. “The room’s ready.”

The Germans and the Ponkti met once again in the optical shop, just off the pier at Slip Number Four. It had been cleared of all its scopes and glass-cutters, calipers and molds. Only a table and chairs remained.

Von Kleist and Freiburg were joined by Kapitan Muhler, skipper of the U-115. His boat was still in the slip, being repaired from its last mission.

Von Kleist waved the Ponkti to sit, but they preferred to stand. Indeed, as von Kleist watched them maneuver awkwardly around, he couldn’t see any way they could sit. Must be uncomfortable in those suits. I wonder what they really look like.

He got down to business, spreading out a fan of murky still photos, images taken by the German divers a week before, blurry pictures of the seamothers inside their hold.

“This is the weapon you promised to bring us?”

Herr Keller—Loptoheen—waddled closer to the table and picked up a photo, raising it to his helmet. He couldn’t see it and there was no smell.

“…zzzhhh...screeah…you…’—derstand…my words…zzzhhh—“

Von Kleist and Muhler fiddled with the new echopod, turning it around in different orientations. It resembled the old one, save for a warm, hearth-like orange glow emanating from inside.

“Yes…your words seem clearer now…do you understand me… us?”

Loptoheen indicated that he did.

Von Kleist pointed to the photo which Herr Keller had just dropped onto the table. “They look like—“

“Dragons,” offered Freiburg. “Some kind of beasts. How can this help us with the convoys? I don’t understand.”

Now Klindonok spoke—Herr ‘Schmidt.’ The echopod translated his words at a noticeably higher, almost feminine pitch.

“…zzzhhh...puk’lek will attack your targets….we…apply—this is the right word?—puk’lek blood…puk’lek scent…to target. Puk’lek sense rival. Attack and destroy—“

Muhler snapped his fingers. “He’s saying they can somehow smear the blood and the scent of these beasts to the Allied ships. But can these—beasts— schlange…these serpents—really sink a freighter? Mein Gott, some of them are twenty-thousand tonners.”

Freiburg was skeptical. “I doubt it. This doesn’t seem possible. Kleist, this is a waste of time. It’s a circus trick…has to be. An Allied ruse of some kind.”

“No, wait,” von Kleist urged them. “Let’s hear them out. It may be possible—“

Back and forth the Germans and the Ponkti went. Loptoheen and Klindonok insisted the seamothers were fully capable of sinking ships. All that was needed was to work them into a fury, make them believe the ships were rivals, apply the scent and blood and in their mindless rage, they could destroy anything. There was no limit to what puk’lek could do—Loptoheen and Klindonok had seen it many times.

“Give the idea a chance,” von Kleist urged his flotilla commander. “Hasn’t B-Dienst got something on the boards…some kind of upcoming convoy? Our…friends here…could try out their tactics on a convoy. What do we have to lose?”

Freiburg was responsible for ten boats—he ticked off the captains in his mind—Geller, Sohler, Prien, Schultze, Knorr…all of them good men, but the Allies were becoming ever-more effective with their own escort tactics and their sound devices and now the blasted airplanes had bombs and range that made any mission a suicide run.

Von Kleist was right. What did they have to lose?

Freiburg consulted a notebook. “Intelligence says there may be a convoy—it’s called KMT-22, according to what I’m reading. Sails from Halifax in six days, if this is to be believed.

Could be as many as a hundred ships. We’ll have to deploy everything we’ve got from St Nazaire, form up a wolf pack…get Doenitz’ approval.”

Von Kleist said, “All we need to do is get a course and speed…and give it to our allies here.”

Loptoheen and Klindonok were puzzled when Muhler and von Kleist pulled out a map of the Atlantic Ocean. The map meant nothing to them. Ponkti—like all Seomish—worked from sound and scent.

Von Kleist eventually understood this. “You have a base near Bermuda—“

Loptoheen listened to the translation, then: “…zzzhhh…puk’lek…we hold them…the waters we say p’omor’te…tootenk surrounds…mountain is the right word--?”

Muhler seemed to have a better grasp on what was coming out of the echopod. “Where they keep the schlange…the serpents. We have to give them the convoy’s course and speed in terms relative to that position.”

Bit by bit, the Germans were able to devise a way of communicating the anticipated course of the KMT-22 convoy in distances and bearings from the seamother hold. Muhler helped with the navigation details, pointing out seabed topography and sea conditions he’d become all too familiar with after a dozen missions.

Loptoheen seemed to understand, though with the aliens, it was hard to tell. But time and again, when Muhler and Kleist outlined the convoy’s course in pencil and ran their fingers along it again and again, Loptoheen tapped the map with his suited forepaddles while Muhler ran down the conditions he had encountered.

Herr Keller and Herr Schmidt seemed to understand. But Freiburg just shook his head.

“We could be talking about new food sources for all they know. Kleist, give up this nutty idea.

We’ve got a real mission to plan and OKM wants results this time. Too many ships are getting through…we’re losing too many boats. Doenitz has been on my back for weeks to do something different.”

“Kapitan,” said von Kleist in exasperation, “don’t you see? This is different. If what Keller and Schmidt are saying will work and the schlange can damage or destroy some of the convoy, or occupy the escorts, that makes Muhler’s job here that much easier.”

Freiburg lifted an eyebrow and glanced over at the U-boat skipper. “Your call, Muhler. Is this even worth pursuing…this crazy idea? Think about what Berlin will say if word gets out we’re using fairy tale tactics against a convoy.”

Muhler rubbed month-old stubble on his chin. His eyes seemed weak and clouded but they glared at the map with a fierce, even vengeful glint. “I’ve lost too many men already, Kapitan. I don’t care if anyone thinks this is a fairy tale. Anything that helps me and my men against those blasted destroyers and airplanes is good.”

Freiburg seemed a bit disappointed with Muhler but recognized that the U-boat skipper’s experience was worth something. “So be it. Give them the expected course and speed of the convoy…and the timing.”

Von Kleist and Muhler worked with Herr Keller and Herr Schmidt for some time, to explain how position and bearing was determined.

Loptoheen offered, “… zzzhhh…we smell…we taste…we hear…we study your p’omor’te waters…currents… shkreeah…listen for great sound…many ship…?”

Muhler seemed to have intuitive sense of how to interpret the beasts through the translator.

“I think he’s saying they detect and maneuver through sound and scent. If we can put them in the vicinity of the convoy’s track, maybe they’ll hear it.”

That was agreed to and the two Ponkti visitors left, waddling like motorized penguins out of the shop, down to the diving platform and into the water. Moments later, their small craft disappeared out the end of Slip Number Four and was gone.

Von Kleist watched them leave. Muhler stood alongside the rail.

“Perhaps we should have our heads examined, eh Fregattenkapitan? Are we not dreaming all this?”

Von Kleist pinched himself. War did strange, inexplicable things to men…and nations.

“Muhler, I’m not sure what I’ll put in my report to OKM. At least we have Freiburg on our side.

Berlin will listen to Flotilla, if it gives them a chance to stop a convoy. I’ll make something up.”

“Nobody would believe what we’re doing anyway. If this stunt works, maybe you’ll finally get a ship to command after all.”

Von Kleist took a deep breath. “Nothing would please me more, Muhler.”

“Where’s that blasted dockmaster Weser? I want my boat buttoned up today. I’ve got a mission and I want to get underway tomorrow.”

The kip’t bearing Loptoheen and Klindonok dove deep after passing over the continental shelf and turned southwest for the seamother hold, now easily several thousand beats away.

Loptoheen probed for the faint currents, the faint scent trail of their previous passage, the trail that would guide them back to the seamounts….back to Kolom and Gosu.

Overhead, ships plied back and forth across the Bay of Biscay.

“The Tailless do have a lot of craft,” Klindonok observed, settling in for the long trip. “A lot of noise. Did we understand what they wanted back there?”

“Some kind of roam…a great fleet of surface craft is coming. They want us to attack the fleet…destroy the ships. We’ll have to reconnoiter around the sh’pont, probe and listen, sniff and taste these dirty waters…ugh! …until we find them. Then we use puk’lek blood to mark the craft as targets. After that—“

“We let them out.” Klindonok shuddered at the prospect. “It’s risky, Loptoheen. Puk’lek aren’t predictable. They may come after us instead.”

“Not if we do the marking right. It’s worth the risk. If we show the Tailless what puk’lek can do, we can negotiate for their devices… tor-peed-ho, they called them, if I’m saying that right. And their craft…so huge, so loud. Ponkti will dominate Seome if we have these things.

Lektereenah will be pleased.”

“Maybe,” Klindonok said glumly. He settled in for the long ride.

Neither of the two Ponkti was ever aware of the presence of another kip’t trailing them by a few dozen beats.

The kip’t kept behind the Ponkti ship, always steering to stay in her baffles. Kloosee kept a light touch on the controls, nosing in and out of hollows, using the seabed and the thermocline to disguise their pursuit.

“Where are they going?” Chase asked, studying the sound returns on Kloosee’s scope.

“Probably back to the sh’pont,” Kloosee decided. The little kip’t rocked and waggled in faint currents as they kept a steady pace, never closer than twenty beats behind, maneuvering as their quarry maneuvered, left, right, diving and ascending, riding and tacking across the mid-Atlantic currents with increasing skill. Kloosee was a good kip’t driver.

Behind Chase in the three-person sled cockpit, Pakto munched on gisu and tong’pod. “Want some?” he asked.

“Not now,” Kloosee waved his forepaddle off. “And keep the crunching down back there…

I’m trying to listen for the Ponkti ship…there’s such a great racket above us, it’s hard to hear.”

The two kip’ts sped silently but steadily westward, passing the Galacia Banks, toward Bermuda and the Muir seamounts…toward the seamother hold and barely contained furies about to be released.

Nealy Smith had been first officer aboard the MV Jackson for two years, five months and a smattering of days now, and he’d even been through two U-boat attacks but even still, the massive explosion on the horizon and the eruption of flame and smoke spiraling into the night sky from several ships out there caught him by surprise. Smith had been out on Jackson’s weather deck, trying to light up a smoke, when the whole horizon lit up and the concussive booms rolling in across the waves told him all he needed to know.

One of those damned tankers. Look at her burn—God help those poor suckers--

Smith ducked back into the bridge and immediately started shouting orders.

“Get the Captain up here right now! Right full rudder…make turns for fifteen knots! Tell those escorts were changing course…Helm, bring her around to zero ninety…due east…we’ll cross the main bearing and try to put some distance between us and all that chaos and wreckage out there!”

“U-boat, Mr. Smith?” asked Hennings, at the main panel. He was hurriedly plotting their new course on his board, fumbling with the calipers as Jackson heeled hard to starboard. Behind them, they all heard several lashings let go and a few pallets of cargo careened overboard, but it couldn’t be helped.

“Probably several! Make tracks, Mr. Wolf,” he told the bridge mate.

“Engine room answering now, sir…fifteen knots!”

For the next few moments, the twenty-two thousand ton dry stores freighter MV Jackson veered off her assigned course, ignoring frantic radio calls and warning flares and star shells from an escorting destroyer two thousand yards abeam. Smith knew that convoy protocol called

for all ships to stay on course even during a U-boat attack. Ships that darted off to go it alone became easy prey for the German boats, so said the official doctrine.

Smith practically swallowed his cigarette. Official doctrine, my ass. Whoever wrote that never captained a freighter through a night attack in the middle of the ocean.

“Signals from the destroyer, sir. It’s the Franklin. She’s ordering us to maintain course and speed.”

“Ignore ‘em! We’re putting some distance between us and the convoy. Mr. Riley, get outside with your binoculars…see if you can see anything. These friggin’ Nazi skippers like to run on the surface at night!”

Riley shoved through the bridge hatch and disappeared. Moments later, he stuck his head back in.

“You’d better come see this, Mr. Smith!”

“Got a contact already…what bearing…is she running toward us?”

Riley shook his head. “Sir, just come and take a look. I don’t think it’s a U-boat at all, sir.”

The two men emerged onto the weather deck. In the glare of exploding star shells and flares, it was hard to tell what Riley had seen.

It had a head, a horned, spiked head with plenty of highly visible teeth. It was as long as the Jackson, maybe longer, with a tail, which slammed the waves as it approached. The skin was scaly, glistening, even armored. It had forelimbs of some kind, two, maybe four.

“What in God’s name is that?”

“I don’t know, sir…maybe a whale, a squid, Neptune’s revenge, but it seems to be coming right for us!”

The impact, when it came, jarred the ship and both men went careening into the railing. But for Smith’s quick hands, Riley might have plunged overboard.

The beast had rammed them, and it was now coming again.

On the horizon, more explosions ripped the night sky, light and smoke and flame geysering into the clouds, which were backlit with a fierce orange glow.

Smith staggered back to the bridge and got on the 1MC. “All hands…all hands…rig for collision…rig for--!”

The impact came again, this time creating a shudder that cascaded down Jackson’s hull, sending cargo pallets, rigging, at least one crewman and pieces of superstructure into the foaming sea. The freighter heeled to starboard and the list worsened, with her bow dropping.

precipitously. It was clear the hull had been holed below decks.

Jackson seemed mortally wounded and Smith was about to order counterflooding portside to counter her worsening list, when something flashed across the bridge windows. For a moment, Smith thought it was a reflection, but when a glistening forepaddle smashed through the windows, he knew it was no mirage.

The beast had grabbed Jackson like a bathtub toy and was pulling her over.

Smith clung vainly to a stanchion, but lost his grip and went sliding belly first into the helmsman’s seat, cracking several ribs.

The moments that followed seemed a nightmare from hell. Again and again, the serpent rammed the freighter, and after each impact, her forepaddles swept up and along the starboard deck, clutching, grasping and probing for any purchase it could find. Already, one of Jackson’s funnels had been toppled, crashing overboard in a great cloud of greasy black smoke.

Now the deck plating itself buckled and in her final moments, the freighter groaned like a wounded animal—or perhaps it was the beast itself—before her starboard gunwales fell awash

into the sea. Men and gear and pallets were flung a hundred yards into the water, while the beast broke Jackson’ s spine and smashed her foredecks with flailing forepaddles, tentacles, arms, whatever they were.

In mid-air, Smith went cartwheeling toward the ocean and just before he landed headfirst into a floating deck spar and died instantly, the first officer caught a glimpse of the beast’s face, a black, glistening monstrosity with row after row of teeth, multiple tongues flicking out, saliva, blood and viscera dripping from her fangs.

In his last second of consciousness, Nealy Smith thought of Jonah and wondered if the stories of the Old Testament had somehow come alive to the crew of the MV Jackson.

Smith struck the deck spar and died at once. He never saw the lights of the Ponkti ship cruising only a few meters below the wreckage.

When underway at full speed and on course for Bristol, England, Convoy KMT-22 had been spread out over a ten-square mile area of the North Atlantic. She was a basically rectangular convoy formation, with escorts fore and aft and along both sides. Out of range of land-based aircraft, she depended for her safety on keeping strict maneuver discipline at all times.

Yet such was the nature of her human captains and first officers and crew that when a trio of U-boats from Seventh Flotilla out of St. Nazaire, France penetrated the destroyer screen and set several tankers aflame, sinking one, that immediate panic, confusion and chaos ensued and all semblance of formation discipline was lost.

Panic turned into terror when the first of the now fully grown seamothers appeared on the surface. Sailors tend to be a suspicious lot and the image of their spiked and horned heads, crested and armored like childhood memories of dinosaurs in picture books, surfaced primal fears that most men would have scoffed at in the light of day.

The Ponkti ship bearing Loptoheen and Klindonok cruised fifty meters below the maelstrom, systematically marking the bottom hull of each freighter, tanker and lighter with blood and scent entrails of other seamothers, substances brought through the Farpool all the way from the city of Ponk’t, on Seome. In so marking their targets, Loptoheen knew that his two now mature seamother adults would quickly sense the entrails and viscera and attack furiously, at once, hoping to drive their ‘rivals’ from the sea…it was the nature of puk’lek to be so territorial and so quick to engage a rival.

Those ships not sunk or smashed by the enraged beasts were easily picked off by the attending German U-boats, one of which was the U-115, captained by Muhler himself. The commander had been awed at the ferocity of the Ponkti serpents and even more awed at the speed at which the convoy formation had broken apart, despite the efforts of her screening destroyers to fend off the U-boats.

“Like terrified children,” Muhler muttered as he clung to the conning tower rail, while the boat maneuvered among floating debris and wreckage and burning oil patches and bloodied, battered bodies, nosing forward for a quick shot to finish off yet another freighter dead ahead.

“Slow to one quarter…come right to zero five five…make tubes one and two ready—“

Moments later, the U-115 slung her death spit at the last freighter still afloat in the area and was rewarded by a teeth-rattling BOOM! A series of concussive shock waves and heat from the ensuing explosions followed. The detonation of two G7a torpedo warheads against the freighter’s hull broke her back and in seconds, she was stern high and gurgling down below the surface in a foaming avalanche of steam and fire.

All stop!” ordered Muhler. He didn’t want to get sucked into the vortex of the sinking ship.

“Back one third…lookouts, don’t let any survivors climb onboard…marksmen, shoot to kill…

you know we can’t take any prisoners.”

The U-115 slowly and cautiously backed her way out of the thickening wreckage and turned about, heading for open sea.

Two kilometers away, Chase, Kloosee and Pakto had watched the entire attack…the U-boats operating in Rudeltaktik—a wolf pack—and the pair of enraged seamothers.

Chase explained what he knew of the war from vague memories of History class…and Mr.

Weems, his Net tutor.

“They’re called submarines. They attacked convoys of ships, trying to starve England out of the war.”

“The Tailless fight as much as we do,” Kloosee observed. “Kel against kel…but they have different weapons.”

“Maybe that’s why the Ponkti are here,” Chase said. “Those weapons are called torpedoes, by the way…that’s what sinks the ships.”

“Metal snake…like the k’orpuh,” said Pakto. “Maybe we call them ke’kor’puh…like a snake.”

They were all silent, as the sound of bulkheads collapsing and metal rending told them of another ship headed for the bottom.

Kloosee had a thought. “I don’t know what the Ponkti are doing here but they seem to be helping the Tailless with their ke’kor’puh…maybe Loptoheen hopes to take one of them back to Seome.”

Chase was suddenly chilled at the thought. “Kloos, that would be a disaster. There’s nothing on Seome like those torpedoes…or those U-boats. If the Ponkti had those in their arsenal, they wouldn’t need prodsmen or stunners or suppressors or anything.”

Kloosee agreed. “They could dominate all the seas. They would rule Seome…all the kels would be under them.”

Chase said, “That has to be what’s going on here. It just makes sense. The Ponkti help the Tailless—the Germans, the Nazis—and they in turn help the Ponkti. Kloos, we’ve got to get this back to Omt’or. And fast.”

“What do you mean, eekoti Chase?”

Chase was more than ever convinced he was right. “Look, Kloos, we’re all tekmetah…

bound to the Metah. Mokleeoh wants to know what the Ponkti are up to on Earth. I think we’ve seen what they’re up to…somehow they’ve made an alliance with the Nazis…in exchange for what, we can’t be sure, but I’m betting Loptoheen wants one of those torpedoes…maybe a whole U-boat.”

“But they’re too big…nobody could take that through the Farpool,” Pakto said.

“They don’t have to,” Chase said. “All they have to take back to Seome are the plans. The knowledge of how to build those torpedoes and U-boats. That they can take through the Farpool.”

They were all silent for a moment, save for the distant sounds of more bulkheads groaning and muffled explosions.

“What can we do?”

Chase knew that the Metah expected a lot of him. His dad, Mack Meyer had always expected a lot of him too and he’d let his dad down for years. Now it was time to step up. Now

it was time for Chase Meyer to show the world he was way more than just a beach bum working in his dad’s surf shop at Scotland Beach.

“Kloos, you and Pakto head back to where we landed. If it’s still working properly, you have plenty of chances to go into the Farpool.”

“Back to Seome—“ Kloosee was apprehensive about the prospect. “I don’t—you always did the navigating…you must come also.”

“Kloos, you can do it…I’ll explain what you have to do. It’s all in how you maneuver inside the vortex. I know you can do it.”

“And what will you do, eekoti Chase?”

Chase took a deep breath. “Whatever I can here…try to learn more about what the Ponkti are up to…maybe I can find a way to stop them…I’m human, after all…at least, I was. This is my world. I’m coming back to the Farpool with you, just not going through with you.”

Kloosee turned the kip’t around and eased the throttles forward. The sled jetted deeper and settled onto course for the landing zone of the Farpool, a place not far from the Muir seamounts and the Ponkti base.

“Where will you go, eekoti Chase, if not back with us?”

Chase had told no one about his idea, and he wasn’t about to reveal his plans to Kloosee and Pakto, at least not yet.

Images of torpedo attacks, German U-boats and staccato explosions filled his thoughts as they cruised on, riding strong mid-Atlantic currents like seasoned explorers.

The images were mixed with pictures of Angie in his mind and their fumblings in his canoe at Half Moon Cove and the first time he’d encountered the Farpool waterspouts off shore, with Kloosee and Pakma walking up onto Shelley Beach in their frogman suits, their mobilitors.

The Angie images had never really subsided—sometimes they bubbled up late at night and he savored them like gisu and tong’pod, or even better a burger and fries-- and Chase knew in his heart that the Farpool was the way home, the way back to Scotland Beach and his own time.

He said none of this to Kloosee and Pakto. He barely admitted it to himself.

“Where will I go?” Chase smiled inside, a gesture that no one could see because he was em’took-modified and he looked like a frog on steroids. “To a place I should have gone a long time ago.”

The problem was he knew that the Ponkti had to be stopped and the Omtorish—his friends, his kelmates—needed help to do it.

But surely a little personal side trip wouldn’t hurt anything.

Chapter 7

“To reach a port, we must set sail—Sail, not tie at anchor, Sail, not drift…”

Franklin D. Roosevelt


Near the Pillars of Shooki, the Ponk’el Sea

Time: 781.2, Epoch of Tekpotu

The Omtorish special force, headed by Manklu tel, had finally located the High Priestess and the mekli hostages in a labyrinth of caves deep inside one of the Pillars. Sounders had pinpointed their position fairly precisely. Now, the force tasked with penetrating the Ponkti defenses was moving into position.

The idea had come to Manklu during a brief strategy roam outside the sacred district, an idea that was so crazy Manklu surprised even himself and he couldn’t explain where it came from.

“Perhaps from something eekoti Chase once told me,” he said lamely, admitting it was just insane enough to work, if they could somehow pull it off, for the tactic would surely catch the Ponkti defenders completely unawares. He described it carefully and his soldiers were sure in hearing the details that Manklu had suffered some kind of breakdown…it happened to kip’t pilots sometimes.

Now, the muh’pul’tekel soldiers were inside the belly pouches of specially bred tillet, joining up with a regularly scheduled Ponkti cargo train. Manklu squirmed in the tight confines of the belly sac, holding his breath against the overpowering odor, shifting back and forth as the creature flexed and surged forward to take its place in the train of tillet approaching the Pillars.

If all went well, the Ponkti would never suspect that their own supply train would betray them.

Manklu listened carefully, as the tillet probed and sounded ahead. From earlier recon of the Pillars, he knew what the chamber where the mekli were being held sounded like, what it pulsed like. When he heard those echoes, he’d give the belly a little kick and disgorge himself from the pouch, sonic gun ready to stun anything threatening.

Then they would go hunting for the High Priestess and the hostages.

Twists and turns followed and Manklu could easily imagine he was riding a kip’t on one of those long lonely voyages across the northern Omt’orkel Sea, a trackless wasteland where strange thoughts often burbled up in your mind.

Then… there! That’s it…the echoes came.

Manklu kicked hard and the belly pouch opened like sac untied. He squeezed out and brought his stunner up, but there was nobody around. Ahead and behind, reacting to the same echoes they’d been trained to recognize, the other stunners were emerging from the cocoons of their tillet pouches, slightly dazed, surprised they had made this far, cautious and alert.

The tillet train moved on, out of sight around a bend in what seemed a long linear cavern of ice.

Manklu sniffed for a moment. A delicate, very faint odor wafted through the space, spices, ice fingers, fear, perhaps…all mixed together,

“This way…keep your stunners charged.” He looked up at the stalactites of ice arrowing down at them and wondered just what effect a full-on sound discharge would have on the crystalline shards. Maybe they would be lucky and not have to find out.

No Ponkti guards, prodsmen, stunners or anyone blocked their way. It was as if the Ponkti never suspected anyone could co-opt the tillet and make an undetected entrance but somehow, they had done it.

Kilot lu, the top sergeant and lead prodsman, sniffed too. “That’s the mekli, isn’t it? That flowery smell…like a perfume?”

“It is. Sacred oils, I assume. Just ahead too. Let’s go.”

They spread out and assumed assault formation, with Kilot taking up the lead and Pulintok the rear. The scent path took them through a confusing labyrinth of caves and tunnels, up an incline, down a ramp and across several intersections, where the soldiers argued over which way to go. Kilot had the best nose and Manklu was inclined to trust the sergeant.

They followed Kilot.

Then they emerged into a small cavern thick with spears of ice jutting down from above, and sharp stalagmites on the floor. Shadowy wraiths darted in and out among the columns of ice.

The mekli!

Manklu darted forward and came face to face with one of the priestesses. She was a small figure, alabaster skin with delicate beak and fins and forepaddles that swept the water around in languid patterns. A strong and rich scent of spice enveloped her. She pulled up, startled at the Omtorish soldiers.

Kah…in the sacred waters, no violence is allowed—“

“Holy One,” Manklu moved to re-assure her, “we’ve come to get you out. And the High Priestess. Where is she?”

Momentarily flustered, the mekli indicated the back of the cave. Manklu brushed past her and soon found the High Priestess hovering over an opening in the floor…it was clear that she had been using her beak and forepaddles to shape some form out of ice shards, perhaps a statue?

Mekli--,” Manklu offered his belly to let the Priestess pulse him. She did so and concluded he was no threat. “Mekli…forgive us for disturbing Shooki, but we’ve come to get you out.”

“Out of here?” the Priestess seemed indignant. “We belong to Shooki, we roam as He roams. Only pleasant thoughts are allowed here… shoo’kel must be maintained. Put down your weapons…”

Manklu hadn’t counted on the priestesses resisting rescue. “Mekli, the Ponkti have occupied the Pillars. You’re all hostages…don’t you realize that? We’ve come to take you out of this place…set you free.”

Now it was the High Priestess’ turn to look amazed. She swept some of the essence of her sacred oils toward Manklu, almost overcoming him with its cloying scent. “We are part of Shooki, misguided one. Would you free the k’orpuh from its tail stinger? Would you free the tillet from its belly pouch? No, we cannot leave the Pillars. Shooki will maintain the waters.

Shooki keeps litor’kel in these waters. Litor’kel ge, my brave warrior. The mekli will survive.”

Manklu didn’t know what to do. The force was tekmetah to Mokleeoh, life-bound to the metah of Omt’or. They had a mission: rescue the mekli from the clutches of the Ponkti. Or die in the attempt. But no one had counted on the mekli refusing to be rescued. If he tried to force the priestesses out, what might happen?

“Mekli, as long as you stay, the Ponkti will stay. They’ll control the Pillars and the waters.

Shoo’kel will be disturbed. The waters will be violated. We have to get you out, at least for

awhile, so we can force the Ponkti from the sacred waters. There’s a force, the muh’pul’tekel, dedicated to doing this. We’re all bound to the metah of Omt’or. We have a mission to rescue you…all of you.”

The High Priestess came up and nuzzled Manklu around his beak. “And so you shall, brave one. But let there be no disturbance in these waters. Shooki takes those who show anger and rage in their bellies and makes them to be still. There is a better way—come—“

She drew Manklu and his troops onward, to another cave, branching off the larger cavern.

Inside, the water was cold and dense. Manklu shivered.

The High Priestess gathered all the mekli around her. Then with a vigorous swirl of her fins and forepaddles, she began concentrating the water. Manklu watched and pulsed in amazement, as all the mekli did the same thing.

Round and around her paddles went and the water grew thicker, cloudier, silted, and before he could react, the mekli had begun to change shape. They morphed through a dizzying array of forms, first resembling the faces of pal’penk, then he saw the fangs of the k’orpuh, then other faces, before settling into a blurred but passable resemblance to tillet, with swollen belly pouches, soft beaks and bemused smiles.

Manklu figured he was imagining things, that the water was drugged somehow.

The High Priestess, the one he thought had been the High Priestess, laughed. “We call this sh’kel’tet. It means life out of life. Life with no boundaries—“


The Priestess explained. “The waters here are cold, dense, turbid…we say p’omor’te.

Magical. By gathering the waters, we can resemble many things. Even your tillet.”

“I’ve never seen such a thing.”

“The mekli have many powers, brave one. Now, perhaps, you can rescue us?”

Manklu pulsed them, finding only echoes of what they physically resembled. To all intents and purposes, the mekli had transformed themselves into tillet, pack animals of the type that all the kels used, beasts that should arouse no suspicions among the Ponkti occupiers.

“Let’s go,” Manklu ordered, still not fully understanding what had just happened. With his charges in tow, the Omtorish kip’t pilot led his small force back through a twisting labyrinth of tunnels, hollows and caves, sniffing along the scent path of their entrance into the Pillars.

We may be lucky, Manklu thought as they approached the final turn. So far, they hadn’t encountered any Ponkti guards.

But at the rocky escarpment that marked the entrance to the Pillars, their luck ran out.

It was Yaktu, the Sk’ortish prodsman, who sniffed trouble first.

Look out! Dead ahead—a squad of them!”

Just beyond the escarpment, the entrance was surrounded by a detail of Ponkti prodsmen.

“We’ll have to fight our way out!” Manklu yelled. “Surround the mekli…make sure they’re protected. Yaktu, you and Typek…flank left and right. Suppressing fire in the middle…!”

The prods of a dozen soldiers discharged at once, sizzling and hissing through the water.

Trails of agitated water made seeing and pulsing nearly impossible. Manklu closed on what he thought was the center of the Ponkti line and immediately got a full charge right in the beak, stunning him momentarily. He cartwheeled, backed off, and lashed out, lobbing a few sound grenades ahead.

The BOOMS! detonated in the water and the concussion shock waves rolled through the melee, scattering everybody. More grenades, then more hisses and sizzles crackled through the water.

A scrum developed and bodies flashed and slashed left and right. Though it all, Yaktu gingerly led his train of tillet, including ones who weren’t tillet, around the edge of the fight, nosing off into the dark water, bearing on the last position of their kip’ts.

Manklu was doing his best to keep the Ponkti occupied while the mekli were led away.

The fracas lasted a few more minutes, and the muh’pul’tekel gave as good as they got.

Several Ponkti had already died and the rest of the detail began grudgingly withdrawing, back inside the Pillars, to a more defensible position. They lashed out with prods and stunners and scentbulbs let fly nauseating scents, and then came more grenades, but a gap had opened up between the forces and Manklu took advantage of the separation to give the order.

“Fall back! Fall back to the kip’ts!”

The muh’pul’tekel retreated, still firing but the Ponkti didn’t follow, seeming not to suspect who was hidden in the convoy of tillet.

At last, the engagement ceased and the waters burned with all the prods discharged, but Manklu pulsed ahead and after a spiraling approach, finally located and rendezvoused with Yaktu and the mekli.

“Got their beaks bloodied but good,” Manklu boasted. He gingerly felt a deep prod wound on his forepaddle, where the discharge had stung him. Others had similar wounds; one had been blinded by the stunners. Two were permanently deafened.

The tillet gathered nervously around them for comfort and solace and several soldiers petted the beasts to calm them down. Soon, out of the placid bucolic faces of the animals, the angelic faces of the mekli emerged. Immediately, the mekli came to the wounded soldiers and applied their beaks to the injuries, trilling their melancholy songs, rubbing their tears on the wounds and the soldiers slowly grew calmer.

The High Priestess did the same with Manklu’s injury. In moments, he felt better, and he let her work her tears into the burn spots up and down his forepaddle. A sharp stinging was soon replaced by an almost pleasant tingling.

“Remarkable,” was all Manklu could say. “Remarkable. My men are in your debt.”

Now the High Priestess backed away and pulsed Manklu up and down. “You know, brave one, that we can’t leave the Pillars.’

“Beloved, we risked our lives to rescue you. It’s not safe here. The Ponkti are in control of the Pillars. There will never be peace or shoo’kel here as long as the Ponkti are here. Come with us…to Omsh’pont. The Metah, Mokleeoh, will give you safe haven until we can work matters out with the Ponkti.”

The Priestess resembled a delicate figurine, almost a small statue, so perfect were her features. “Oh, no, brave one, if we come with you and stay in Omt’or, what will the other kels think? That you’ve bribed the mekli, that you’ve violated Shooki’s waters. We must stay here.”

“It’s not safe here…are you not already violated by the Ponkti? Mokleeoh only wants to restore the Pillars to what they were before.”

One of the other mekli bumped the Priestess and indicated they should confer. The Priestess backed away and all the mekli gathered themselves into a formation, schooling and roaming about the perimeter of the base. This went on for several minutes, until they broke apart and returned to the kip’ts.

The Priestess appeared greatly troubled. “We hear of many troubles inside the Pillars. The Voices are troubled. The waters are disturbed. The Ponkti are killing pilgrims. Destroying ancient scentbulbs. Desecrating the Pillars, just as you say. Perhaps you’re right, brave one.

Perhaps we should leave the Pillars—Shooki forgive us!—and consult with your Metah. How long is the trip?”

Manklu felt a certain relief at her words. The tekmetah couldn’t be broken. If the force did not return with the mekli rescued—

“The trip to Omsh’pont takes three days, by the best route. We go by the northern Ponk’el to the Omt’chor Current, tack against that to the Serpentine Gap, then we cross the abyssal plain, the Omme’tee and bear southwest to the seamounts. Three days at least, and that’s if we don’t encounter any resistance. We’re still in Ponkti waters here. Outside the Pillars, who knows what we’ll find?”

The Priestess had made up her mind. “Then we’d best be underway. If it helps, the mekli will make themselves to resemble anything you wish…tillet, k’orpuh, pal’penk.”

Manklu said, “Tillet will do. Priestess, someday you must show me this trick. Such morphing would surely help our soldiers.”

“Oh, it’s not for that. It’s just for defense. We only do this to try to maintain peaceful waters here in the Pillars.”

Manklu was already giving orders to mount up, gather all the tillets into convoy, lash them to the kip’ts and stow all weapons and gear. “That’s all any of us wants, beloved one. To keep the peace. It’s the Ponkti who want otherwise.”

The convoy departed soon afterward, heading west along the edges of the polar ice pack, darting in and out of bergs and floes, to confound Ponkti repeaters and sensors.

It would be an arduous, stressful journey back to what was left of Omsh’pont. Three days at least.

If they were lucky.

Lektereenah poked and prodded at the strange Uman device, noting its hard, metallic sides, its curious propeller at the end, its blunt nose.

“It’s called a tor’pedoh,” Loptoheen announced. “The Tailless use it to attack and destroy surface vessels…very powerful. I brought this one for you to examine. And we have the plans too. We can make more of these, as many as we want, as soon as proper materials are secured.”

“The Tailless attack with this…how does it work?”

“One of the Tailless engineers recorded a description…it’s translated. Listen—“ Loptoheen produced a small echopod and activated it, setting it down on the coral pedestal that dominated the Metah’s chambers. The pod buzzed and fizzed, then:

All of the G7e models share standardized dimensions with all our torpedoes designed for use by U-boats, They measure 53.3 centimeters in diameter, 7.16 meters in length, and carry the Schiesswolle , a warhead of 280 kilograms. All are powered by 75- kilowatt electric motors and lead-acid batteries which, unfortunately need constant maintenance to maintain their reliability. Additionally, the batteries of these torpedoes need to be preheated to a temperature of 30 °C to operate with maximum speed and range…”

The translation went on for a few moments. Lektereenah cruised silently about her chambers, listening, thinking.

“This is called a tor’ped’oh?”

“That is the Tailless word, yes. All Tailless are creatures of the Notwater. Their craft cruise at the surface. When the tor’pedoh is used, it contacts the target and explodes. The craft sinks and many die. But this weapon can be used on our world as well. It could be a new playtoy for you, Affectionate Metah.”

Lektereenah scoffed at that. “You mean aside from you. Yes, and this toy doesn’t talk back to me and make critical remarks…already I like it better. We must put our engineers to work and make more of this tor’pedoh weapon.”

“I pulse you have plans…big plans for this.”

Lektereenah stopped roaming and came directly in front of Loptoheen. “Summon the Chief of the Guard. I have more than plans, Loptoheen. I’m going to finish the Omtorish off once and for all.”

“Another demonstration of your nearly infinite powers and infallible judgment, Affectionate Metah?”

She speared him roughly with her beak, then flippered off to roam again. “Don’t patronize me, tuk master. You remember what happened the last time you did that. I could have had you killed.”

Loptoheen was used to the Metah’s outbursts. And he did remember, all too well.

Lektereenah was happiest when dealing with a crisis. Relating to, loving and dealing with Lektereenah was like trying to grab a hold of the tail of the snake-like kor’puh. It stung and shocked, but the ride was worth the effort.

Lektereenah liked Loptoheen because she felt he was the only one equal to her in force of personality. Lektereenah loved a challenge and a challenger. Loptoheen was all that. She was always dismissive of those who couldn’t or wouldn’t challenge her. Like many Ponkti, she admired only strength and courage and she embodied these for her kelke. As Metah, Lektereenah had reinforced the primacy of tuk in the life of Ponk’et. And she kept Loptoheen around, even past his prime as a tuk player, as a reminder of what great force and skill could get you and also as a reminder of what happened when you lost it.

Lektereenah didn’t like to lose, in tuk or to other kels, especially Omt’or. She always had a special contempt for the haughty and arrogant Omtorish and was determined to see that Ponk’et would dominate Seome and the Omtorish were ultimately relegated to a backwater.

Now, Lektereenah stopped in mid-flight and hissed at Loptoheen. “As soon as our craftsmen have made enough of these tor’pedoh weapons, there will be an all-out assault against Omt’or. I will destroy Omsh’pont, their capital and the Omtorish detail at Likte that runs the Farpool. I will wipe the Omtorish from the waters of Seome, destroy them forever as a functioning kel, take full control of the Farpool and I will administer it for us, for our good and profit. These things will happen, exactly as I have said. Now, with the Omtorish having violated the Pillars of Shooki and kidnaped all the mekli, there’s no point in pretending to keep shoo’kel any longer. This will be a fight, Loptoheen…a fight to the death between us.”

Lektereenah continued to circle the chamber. Loptoheen tried pulsing the Metah but quickly shrank back from the echoes.

The bubbles told him everything he needed to know…anger, guile, determination, ruthlessness…it was all there in abundance.

He had no doubt that everything Lektereenah kim, Metah of Ponk’et, said would soon come true.

Chapter 8

“We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.”

William James

Gainesville, Florida

June 15, 2117

8:30 am

Chase Meyer shuddered and fought the kip’t controls the best he could as the sled shimmied and shook like wet dog coming out of the Farpool. There was a blinding light and a roaring rush of deceleration as he slammed into the water and struggled to keep the kip’t stable and upright.

Jeez, it’s like riding the Cyclone at Daytona Beach, he told himself. All I need is a ball of cotton candy. But this was no amusement park ride.

Finally, he drove out of the core of the whirlpool into calmer waters and felt his heart racing.

He let the kip’t wander for a few moments, settling deeper into what seemed to be cold, rough mid-ocean cross-currents. He hoped the Farpool had taken him to the right place and time.

Beats the hell out of cruising around in the middle of U-boat attack, he thought. He went back over the maneuvering he’d just done: a little half kick when he’d first drove into the heart of the vortex, shimmies and twists and turns during the ride, a little bit here, a little bit there.

There was definitely an art to riding the Farpool, just like surfing off Shelley Beach back home and he had actually become quite good at it.

All to a purpose.

Chase knew that if he’d done his maneuvers right, he’d ridden the Farpool forward in time, hopefully to a time just before he and Angie had first met. Not everybody got a do-over in life, but when you had a Farpool and you knew how to use it, you could do things like that.

Chase had a few things he wanted to clean up in his relationship with Angie. It was always best to start at the beginning.

Now, how to get to Scotland Beach?

From previous reconnaissance, Kloosee had made an echopod recording for him, with a sequential record of all the sounds, scents and sights he would encounter, assuming the Farpool had deposited him somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic. All he had to do now was follow the sequence stored in the echopod, drive the kip’t according to the sounds it generated and make sure what he sensed from the kip’t matched those sounds and, if all went well, he should wind up off Scotland Beach, Florida.

Yeah, right. One thing that Chase had found abundantly clear: humans weren’t creatures of sound and scent, not like the Seomish. Hell, just getting the blasted kip’t to respond to his laughable efforts with the sonic controls was enough to drive you nuts.

Here he was on his own home world, yet he still couldn’t easily figure out where he was or which way to go, not without help from a race of talking fish from a gazillion light years away.

Sure, that made perfect sense, didn’t it?

There was only one thing to do: follow Kloosee’s instructions and drive the kip’t accordingly.

He honked, bellowed, screeched and clicked at the kip’t controls until at last the damn thing responded and it jerked forward, then scooted ahead. Chase almost busted his head on the cockpit canopy, then grasped the control handles—made for pilots with flippers and fore paddles, he noted—and ever-so-gently massaged the handles, guiding the sled out of the vortex fields that always surrounded a landing of the Farpool and into calmer, deeper waters.

Time to start Kloosee’s pod, he told himself.

The pod sounded like a constipated whale to Chase’s ears, full of moans and groans and whistles and clicks. He tuned the kip’t sounders to pick up outside noises and was rewarded with a cacophony of screeches and bellows.

“Well, this is going to be lots of fun,” he muttered, but in time, he found he could sort of maneuver the kip’t to keep the outside sounds matched up with Kloosee’s recording. He sure couldn’t see anything outside the cockpit. All he could do was trust Kloosee’s work and hope his fallible ears would somehow match outside sounds from the sea with the pod sounds.

It was going to be long, strange trip at best. And he knew he could just as easily wind up in the Arctic Ocean as the Gulf of Mexico.

Two days passed, at least. Chase was often lulled into a daze by the monotony of the kip’t jets but he knew he needed to be alert enough to catch subtle shifts in sound and echo, pitch and frequency. In time, he was pleasantly surprised by glimpses of the seabed, noting with some satisfaction the sandy bottom of what sure looked a lot like the Gulf. Patches of seagrass waved in the currents. Silvery reef fish darted past.

Columbus got nothing on me, he sang out and sure enough, the sandy bottom, always marked with junk cars, trash bags, beer bottles and once a few iron bed stands, began shelving upward, shallowing and as Chase listened closely, he found he could detect no difference in what the kip’t was detecting with its sounders and Kloosee’s pod.

Maybe I should go up and just take a look. He surfaced the kip’t.

It was night and the waves were gentle. Chase opened the canopy and inhaled the deep rich, humid air, telling himself it sure smelled like home, but then who was he kidding? He was only half-Seomish and any dog in the streets had better scent powers than he did.

A light on the horizon was winking on and off. The lighthouse, he convinced himself.

Apalachee Point. Somehow, some way, he seemed to have made it to Scotland Beach.

Kloosee, you old dog, your pod recording worked. When I see you again, I’m giving you a big wet kiss.

Then again, maybe not.

Chase had wondered how he would actually locate Angie Gilliam. If he’d maneuvered the Farpool properly, he should be off shore at a time just before he and Angie had first met. That would have been at the hospital in Gainesville, right after his Dad had been wounded in the holdup at Turtle Key Surf Shop.

Chase swallowed hard, letting the current carry him along, remembering the panic nights and the cold chills he felt sitting on those hard seats in the ICU Waiting Room, praying and staring at those tattered burgundy drapes and that scuffed-up plastic furniture while his Dad went through surgery.

It was Angie Gilliam, then a Red Cross volunteer working with ICU families, who had offered the only sense of hope, the only human touch he remembered during that long, lonely first night.

Mack Meyer had suffered head and abdominal wounds and only some serious medbotic intervention saved his life. For nearly two weeks, Chase and the family gathered daily at the University Hospital in Gainesville, while medbotic inserts and surgeries were performed on his Dad. His prognosis had been touch and go, but eventually he pulled through. For years thereafter though, Mack lived with an internal fleet of nanoscale medbots inside his body, constantly prowling for scar tissue, blood clots and other residual effects of the multiple gunshot wounds. Chase started calling his Dad ‘Bot Man’ after these procedures, and he sported some enhanced capabilities as a result of the interventions. One of them was greatly improved lung capacity, as a result of hosting a cadre of respirocytes, which were needed to help him with a collapsed lung. The respirocytes had the unintended effect of boosting his lung capacity, which helped Mack with scuba lessons.

One result of this medical crisis was that Chase met a young girl who worked at the hospital as a Red Cross volunteer. Her name was Angie Gilliam and she was from Scotland Beach too.

She had been working the summer at the hospital. Even better, she was a student at Apalachee High and had been in some of his classes.

Chase took an immediate liking to Angie. She was quite different from Cindy Benitez, and Angie knew all about the “Hound Dog Affair,” from girls gossiping around school. Angie went to the same school as Chase, but she was a year younger. They liked each other immediately and started dating almost immediately.

Chase watched the beachside lights of Scotland Beach slide by. The current was carrying him north. The current always did that off Apalachee Point. He knew that if he did nothing further, the current would eventually carry him to a little indentation in the shore, a place called Half-Moon Cove. That was where, several years later, Chase and Angie would be making whoopee in his canoe when they spotted the Farpool for the first time. Plus, armored fish-like creatures cruising around just below the surface—Kloosee and Pakma tek, they would turn out to be.

But all that was yet to come. Chase chuckled softly at the absurdity of the situation. Wasn’t time travel a hoot?

If he was where and when he thought he was, Chase figured he would have to find a way to get up to Gainesville, which was miles and miles inland. That summer of her junior year, Angie worked at University Hospital and roomed with a nurse named Sheila Shivers in an apartment in Gainesville. Her family lived in Scotland Beach…the address came immediately to his mind: 199 Fairwinds Trail, just a short hop off Highway 19.

So how to get from Half-Moon Cove and Shelley Beach to Gainesville? He couldn’t just come ashore and grab a taxi…not when he looked like a cross between a frog on steroids and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. He’d have to find Angie another way.

Then it came to him. Alligators.

Florida had lots and lots of alligators. And where did the gators live? In creeks, and rivers and swampy marshes. Florida had lots of those too.

If he gave it some thought, Chase figured he could probably find a waterborne path from Scotland Beach all the way inland to Gainesville. He just had to think of it.

He drove the kip’t into Half-Moon Cove, almost without thinking, and beached her on a spit of sand beneath some old gnarled cypress trees. He climbed out, broke off a small branch and made a big marker by stripping off leaves. Then he sketched out a crude map of Florida’s Gulf Coast in the wet sand.

Okay, I know the Suwannee River empties into the Gulf about here, just below the aquarium.

But upstream, where does it go?

Bit by bit, recalling vague memories of hikes and bike rides and chasing Topper, their dachshund, through the woods when he got out of the fence, Chase reconstructed a rough map of the local waterways and mapped out a possible course inland.

Looks like I can just take the Suwanee northeast, he followed his map with a finger. Then, there’s this little creek here—I can’t remember the name of it… Willow something or other…

branching off here—shoot, alligators do this all the time and I am part alligator—

Chase drove the kip’t along the shore until he felt the first tugs of the outflow current from the river. He parked the sled on the bottom, next to an old battered refrigerator, now serving as sort of a reef for scores of fish. He surfaced one more time to get his bearings—

There’s the aquarium to the left. Sunset Beach down there. Well, here goes

He stroked his way into the river channel and plowed ahead against a moderate current, feeling the brackish, silt-laded water peppering his face.

Jesus, what crap…they really should clean this place up.

Then he headed upriver, past The Landings, Reedy Top and the Fanning Springs-Highway 19 bridge.

For several days, stopping often to get his bearings and to munch on pods of gisu and ertleg, Chase Meyer navigated the creeks and waterways of the Big Bend area of Florida. Several times, he took wrong turns and wound up in dead end swamps and marches. He had to fight off amorous alligators, nosy turtles and curious catfish several times.

But finally, much to his own surprise, a good bit of luck and enough memory of the area, Chase found himself scraping along a narrow channel that seemed to be near his destination. He could see bright lights above the surface, and something large and looming. A building, maybe.

He surfaced, poking his head just above the brackish water.

A brilliant red and white sign winked on and off, right in his face: UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL

“Mercy for all”

He didn’t know whether it was sheer luck, homing instinct, intervention of the gods, all those vegetables his Mom made him eat or what, but he had somehow found his way to the right place. Chase gave a silent prayer.

The time seemed to be late afternoon. He could tell from the dark purple clouds overhead, the occasional crackle of lightning and the first fat drops of rain pelting down on the creek.

Normal Florida summer weather, he figured. First, there would come a terrific thunderstorm, a driving, wind-blown rain, which would last maybe twenty minutes, then an hour of drizzle and then the setting sun would come out.

He hunkered down to let the storm pass.

Now, how to locate Angie?

When in doubt, just do it. Surely, somebody had said that. When the storm passed, he’d just climb out and start looking. Easy.

An hour later, after again kicking and scrambling away from several gators, Chase dragged himself up onto the banks of the creek, which seemed to form the back boundary of a parking lot.

He was near the Emergency entrance, for several times, he saw ambulances coming and leaving.

He watched the hospital employees come and go for a few minutes, from the cover of a rather prickly row of holly bushes. Then he stepped out and approached the ambulance entrance.

“My God…look out! It’s…it’s a gator--!”

“Get back…ma’am…I’ll get my rifle—“

There was a commotion around one ambulance. Someone fainted. Bodies flew in all directions. Feet pounded and he sensed shadows nearby, flinching as the first shots gouged up dirt geysers right next to his face.

What the hell…they’re firing at me! The jerks--!

“Hey…hey--!” Chase quickly ducked back into the creek, realizing he must look like a frog on steroids, or worse. Bullets whizzed by underwater. One struck him on the left arm, just a glancing impact, but it stung nonetheless.

Thank God for this armor.

Police, ambulance drivers, and hospital security scoured the grounds back of the parking lot and the Emergency driveway, hunting along the creek banks for any sign of the weird gator thing that had caused such a ruckus.

“Ernie, what the hell was that?”

“Hell if I know…never saw a gator stand up on its hind legs like that—“

“Keep hunting…maybe his snout’ll show above the water.”

Chase lay on the creek bottom for what seemed like half an hour. He could see shadows above the surface for awhile, but they eventually left and he seemed to be alone.

Cautiously, he poked his head up and looked around.

Now, it was just nicely dark, perhaps eight o’clock, if this was early summer, as he had hoped coming through the Farpool. He climbed up carefully onto dry land and reconnoitered the perimeter of the hospital grounds for a few moments, keeping to bushes and trees beyond the fence as best he could.

Angie Gilliam worked as a Red Cross volunteer at the hospital. It was only a summer job.

She still had another year, her senior year, to complete at Apalachee High.

They first encountered each other in the summer of 2117, when Angie was a sophomore and Chase was a junior. Angie had taken a summer job as a Red Cross volunteer at University Hospital, up in Gainesville, to help her Mom out with family finances. Chase’s Dad was there now, recovering from gunshot wounds suffered in the surf shop holdup earlier that summer.

Angie and Chase had also been taking the same Algebra class. Neither was a math whiz and they both struggled. They didn’t sit right together but were drawn to each other by a common dislike for the teacher, Mr. Winans, who was very strict and nasty with those who didn’t live and die for math. It was no secret around the school that Winans had a drinking problem and the kids called him ‘Mr. Wino’ behind his back, and sometime to his front too. There was mutual disrespect on all sides, so much so that the school assistant principal had to come and talk with the class privately several times.

Chase swallowed hard, realizing his Dad was probably inside now, recovering from several gunshot wounds. He remembered that Angie had gone to live with an ER nurse, Sheila Shivers was the name that came to mind, while she was in Gainesville. Angie could drive, but she didn’t have a car, so she rode to and from work with Sheila.

The car he remembered was a battered old green and white Tomota semi-auto roadster, soon to be scraped if he had any say about it. Truthfully, there were better looking vehicles at the bottom of the Gulf; he’d seen them.

He scampered and skulked toward the parking lot, ducking in and around of cars and vans, keeping an eye on any pedestrians strolling around…or hospital security or bleary-eyed post docs and interns. He found several Tomotas but none seemed the right car, and then—‘

There it was! A rolling car wreck, he’d once called it, much to Angie’s embarrassment. At least it gets us where we want to go, she had retorted. That had to be the car…which meant that it was likely Angie…and Sheila, were still inside.

All he had to do now was find a quiet out-of-the-way spot and wait.

He lay in tall grass and weeds, behind a row of hibiscus bushes in full bloom, running through his mind just what he would say, how he would present himself to Angie. They knew each other at this point in time, but their adventures in the Farpool and on Seome were still to come, if he’d maneuvered through the Farpool properly and come to Earth a few years before they’d been catapulted across half the Galaxy.

He tried out different words and phrases, tuning his echopod to get the right translation, the right tone of voice, dimly aware of the total absurdity of a frog on steroids accosting a young nurse and a Red Cross volunteer in a hospital parking lot.

Then…he heard voices. Female voices. Nearby too.

Chase swallowed hard and began standing up, swaying a bit to get his full weight under him.

The two women were chatting amiably as he emerged from the bushes.

They reacted to the sight of an alligator on its hind legs calling to them in completely different ways.

Sheila Shivers had been an ER nurse at University Hospital for three years and enjoyed working with Angie on the swing shift. When she saw Chase, she immediately shrieked and dropped a notebook to the wet grass, just managing to snag her purse before bolting from the scene, streaking back into the hospital screaming at the top of her lungs.

GATOR! Oh my God, there’s a gator out--!”

For her part, Angie Gilliam froze completely still, almost paralyzed whether by fright or what she couldn’t have said. Her feet seemed rooted to the spot. She dropped her own purse, and stood trembling, shivering in spite of the sultry, humid night air.

“Oh my God—“ she mumbled. “This can’t be happening—“She looked around, found nothing she could use as a weapon and remained completely still, eyes fixed on the sight.

It sure looked like an alligator. The spade head and flat snout. The armored skin. The tail.

The short, powerful legs. And yet—and yet—

Angie tried to remember anything she could about how to deal with a gator too close. Don’t run. Don’t make sudden moves. Make yourself look bigger. Pray.

She did all those things.

But it was no use. The blood had already drained from her head. She wobbled, went to one knee, certain the beast would lunge and take a bite of her leg. Then she toppled to her side and passed out.

“Angie! Angie--!” Chase went to her, scooping her up in his arms. Awkwardly, not really caring about all the shouts and figures racing through the shadows along the driveway, he physically carried her away from the light and into the dark weeds, gingerly feeling his way down the slippery creek banks. He found the creek, almost stumbled into it with his load, then slipped and slithered along the banks for a few hundred yards, deeper into the brush.

There he found a small bare spot, a patch of dry ground and laid Angie down carefully, cushioning her head with a clutch of leaves and branches.

He heard voices, heavy feet crashing through the brush, saw flashlight beams but none of it seemed to be coming his way. After a few minutes, the commotion subsided and all he heard then was the croaking of bull frogs nearby and the gurgle of creek waters around some half-buried rocks in the stream.

For nearly ten minutes, Angie Gilliam was unconscious. Chase studied her, admired the curve of her blouse against her breasts, her shoulder length russet hair…she hadn’t done it up page-boy style yet—that would come in another year. Her senior year, he remembered.

Then she stirred. Chase wasn’t sure she was awake and didn’t want to startle her, so he did nothing. Angie opened her eyes to slits, saw the monstrous face and fought back panic.

Steady, girl. Just be calm. Yeah, right. I’m practically kissing a gator and I should be calm.

Well…you should be, stupid. The face leering down at her sure seemed like a gator. What else could it be? She tried to see around her. Was there anything she could use, a stick or something? Did she have even a remote chance of kicking and clawing her way out of this?

Then she heard a strange tinny, almost mechanical voice.

“Angie! It’s me. Are you okay? It’s me, Chase…Chase Meyer.”

What the hell?

Angie was frankly stunned into silence. She tried not to move anything. Don’t let him know you’re awake…or alive. But the damned thing could speak.

Now scaly fingers were brushing back her wet hair. Eeeyyyeew!

“Angie…don’t be scared. I know how this must look. But it’s really me. It’s Chase Meyer.”

She knew Chase. Not well, but they were friendly. They were both in Mr. Winans’ Algebra class. Okay, so maybe they were more than just friends. A kiss here and there. Some hand holding. A few notes back and forth, nothing special. But how could this be—

She decided to take a chance and open her eyes. And what was that strange voice?

The voice came again and when she opened her eyes, she realized the voice was coming from some kind of box gizmo, some kind of device that rested right on top of her chest.

“Angie, I know what you must be thinking—“the voice from the box was clear enough, but if she closed her eyes, she could hear the gator—Chase, whatever—clicking and squeaking and whistling and somehow the box was translating all that into words she could more or less understand, except it sounded like the voice was coming out of a closet.

The voice was explaining something. “…to be here…it’s called the Farpool. Yeah, it’s really me, except…well, I went through a procedure—they called it em’took…so I could live in their world. You went through it too—“ now the words were coming out in a torrent—“except not yet. I mean, it’ll happen…in the future…but not yet. That’s why I look like this.”

Angie studied the face. Somehow the gator knew they had been or were in Mr. Winans class. Now, honestly…how could an alligator know that? Or a voice in a box. Just the question almost made her laugh.

Without really understanding why, Angie was no longer quite so frightened. Wary, yes.

Cautious, to be sure. On high alert, no doubt. But now…unaccountably, a bit curious. She sat up on her elbows. Chase---the gator—removed the voice box and laid it on the grass.

“Are you okay?” said the voice box. Again, the clicks and whistles and squeaks, like some exhibit thing had escaped Sea World and was having a conversation with her in the woods back of University Hospital. The absurdity of it made her smile.

She brushed hair out of her eyes. “I think…so. What…who are you? Is this some kind of prank…Chase Meyer, honestly, I swear, if that’s you in that silly suit—“

“Angie…it’s really me. We had Algebra together. You sat two seats ahead of me. One row over. We used Marcie Devins to pass notes…except when she—Angie, no kidding, it’s me.”

Angie’s smile left. No way an alligator, or anyone dressed as a gator, would have known all that. It had to be Chase Meyer, the jerk.

“What is that suit, Chase? It’s too early for Halloween…wait, don’t tell me. You and the Croc Boys are having a costume party.”

So they talked, more or less, for a few minutes, and Angie found her curiosity growing and her skepticism slowly ebbing away. Several times, she pinched and tugged at Chase’s outfit. It sure felt real.

Chase talked, through the voice box—he called it an echopod—and said a lot of things.

Mostly mixed-up things that didn’t make any sense. Seome. The Seomish. The Omtorish and the Ponkti. The em’took procedure. The Farpool. The Tailless.

It all sounded like a bad dream. Worse, he insisted it hadn’t happened yet. It was all said to be in the future, the near future. The two of them would become girlfriend-boyfriend—she definitely had her doubts about that. They would be making love in a canoe—out in Half Moon Cove…she had heard of that. They would see a waterspout and wind up being sucked into it. It was a wormhole in space and it would spit them out on an oceanic world full of talking fish.

They would have lots of adventures there, close calls, and they would both be biologically modified—this was the em’took procedure—to live in this world of oceans and live among the talking fish. But Angie would be homesick and come back to Earth. They’d be separated in time, because traveling the Farpool wasn’t all that predictable…or accurate.

Angie would die an old woman before Chase could find her again.

Everything they discussed seemed to be in some kind of tricked-out future…it hadn’t happened yet, but it would.

Angie found herself mesmerized, terrified, intrigued and skeptical all at the same time.

This had to be some kind of stunt. Or a joke. Sometimes Chase’s band, the Croc Boys, did things like this.

“Come back with me,” he finally said to her. By now, Angie was sitting up, rubbing her face, half of her looking for ways to get away and half of her just fascinated enough by this stunt to stick around and see what came next. “Come back with me through the Farpool.”

Now Angie really looked at the Chase thing. “I don’t know what this is all about, Chase, or whoever you are. Or what kind of game this is. But I’m not going anywhere but back to my apartment. It’s late, I’m tired. I’m got another shift and where is Sheila anyway?” She looked around for her nurse roommate. They’d been sharing an apartment at the Coconut Cabana for almost six weeks now; it was thanks to Sheila that Angie had been able to work as a summer intern at the hospital at all, since she knew he Mom didn’t have the money to get a place to live in Gainesville. But for Sheila and saving on rent, she’d still be working at the Piggly Wiggly.


“The Farpool…this waterspout-wormhole thing…you want me to go into something like that? What…are you crazy?”

Now Chase rolled over in the grass, belly-up, just like a gator sunning itself, except it was nearly ten o’clock at night and the moon was out. She half expected him to howl like a werewolf.

“I’ve got a lifesuit. You’ll be okay. Just come with me, okay? Back to Seome.”

“Not that I believe a single word of what you’ve said, Chase Meyer, but humor me. Remind me again, why exactly you came back to Earth.”

Patiently, through the echopod, with Angie by turns curious and skeptical, trying not to laugh at what was surely a practical joke or gag of some kind, Chase explained about the Ponkti, and how they had come through the Farpool themselves, not to this day but to another time and place, in fact during World War II—“ remember, we studied that in World History, Miss Grant?

—“ how the Ponkti had partnered with the Nazis in another timestream, how they now possessed torpedoes and other German naval weapons, how they were helping the U-boats attack Allied convoys and how the Omtorish, which meant Chase and Angie, had to put a stop to this. The Kel’vish’tu—that somehow got translated as the Great Emigration—was threatened by what the Ponkti were doing.

Angie was a bit overwhelmed by what Chase related. It would have made a great science fiction film. But mostly she didn’t believe a word of it. She just wanted to go back to her apartment. But there was something about this creature—it had to be one of the Croc Boys…

some kind of prank or joke—this Chase guy who seemed to know all about her and her life.

Angie found herself both scared, repelled and intrigued. She liked her summer job at the hospital and she wouldn’t really mind skipping out on school at Apalachee High for semester, except her Mom would kill her if she tried it.

And this Chase, really. He called himself ‘Chase’ and he insisted that he was the same Chase Meyer she knew at school, which Angie didn’t really believe. Plus, she didn’t really know Chase all that well anyway. What was this: some kind of wicked new method of getting a date? Well, the prom was already passed.

Maybe it was that last taco I had for lunch, she told herself.

“So how do you go through this Farpool thing anyway?” she asked.

The Chase thing sat down, more or less, next to her, moving the voice box between them.

“There’s a little ship, like a capsule. It protects you. Angie, it’s awesome. It’s like Space Mountain and the Cyclone, a hundred times over.”

Angie saw that now was probably her best chance to get away. She figured, with the Chase thing now sitting, she could spring away and be on the run in about two seconds. No way he could catch her then…she had done a personal best several weeks ago in the 440…and the school record was doable. Girl, you’re on the track team and this bozo’s dressed up like some kind of football mascot. I could be a mile ahead before he even gets up.

But she made no move and she really couldn’t explain why. If this was Chase Meyer and he’d really gone to all this trouble, dressing up like a monster, with a voice box and a story about wormholes and talking fish, then maybe he really did like her. Maybe she should just humor the guy…what could it hurt? Chase Meyer was cute, in a blond surfer dude sort of way. Not the brightest bulb in the lamp, but he’d look good on her arm at the sock hops and around town.

Like a new accessory, sort of.

“Chase Meyer, or whoever you are, I just want to go back to my apartment. I gotta think about this.”

Again, the tinny voice through the box…she’d have to ask how he’d done that…

“Okay, that’s fair. Uh, I don’t really have a car—“

“Yeah, I noticed…hey, that’s Doctor Murray…he’ll give me a ride—“ she started to get up, but one of the scaly hands grabbed her momentarily.

“Hey, think about what I said. The Farpool…Seome…Angie, it’s like nothing you’ve ever imagined—“

“I’m sure of that. Now let me go hitch a ride—“

“Two nights from now,” Chase said. “Right here, behind the hospital.”

She stared at him and nodded. “Okay…if that’s part of the game.”

“Angie, it’s not a game. This is so not a game.”

“Two nights—“ she got up and scampered off after Doctor Murray, who was heading to his convertible after a late night in the ER. Murray was an intern, but he was tall, serious, with black glasses and cute in a geeky kind of way. Angie trotted out into the spotlight, concocted some tale about why she looked so wet and disheveled and asked for a ride.

Moments later, the two of them were climbing into Murray’s car.

Chase felt a pang of jealousy. How does a frog on steroids compare with Clark Kent? he asked himself.

The car pulled out of the parking lot and was gone.

Chase heard voices and figured he’d better make himself scarce. He slithered off into the bushes and quietly splashed into the creek, submerging quickly to avoid a scene like earlier.

He wondered if Angie Gilliam ever really believed him.

At the Coconut Cabana, Sheila Shivers was cuddled up in a sofa with about five wine glasses strewn around the coffee table when Angie showed up.

“Girl, what happened? Did you get away from that…thing? Did you get hurt?”

Shivers was all over Angie like the nurse she had been for five years, examining her face, helping her out of her damp clothes. Angie inspected her uniform and blouse for grass and mud stains. One sleeve was torn. She’d always liked the uniform of a Red Cross volunteer, with its stripes and flowers. It was cute. And she filled it out well.

“Sheila, I’m okay…really…it was just a prank. Some of Chase Meyer’s friends…I know

‘em from school.”

Shivers looked dubious. “You mean that was just a suit, like a costume?”

“More or less. It was all a big joke. Hey, I’m kinda tired. You must be too. You did two shifts straight, didn’t you? What say we call it a night…I’m pooped.”

“Yeah, sure…you don’t want anything? Maybe a sandwich. A beer? I almost called the police, you know. We haven’t seen gators behind the parking lot in months. The hospital said it was a seasonal thing. I guess that wasn’t a gator, huh?”

“No, just a sick prank. ‘Nite, Sheila…I just want to take a quick shower and hit the sack.”

“Sure, you’re not hurt or anything?”

“No, really, thanks…I’m actually fine. It’ll be okay.”

“Well, call me if you need anything—“

“’Nite, Sheila.”

Angie disappeared into her bedroom and flopped on the bed, still half in her wet uniform.

She kicked off her flats and lay there for a few moments.

She knew she had a lot of thinking to do. If Chase Meyer would go to that kind of effort just to get her attention, maybe she needed to re-evaluate her ‘situation.’ She’d have to talk with some others. And then there was Cory, who’d had eyes for her butt for months now.

I do have a cute butt, but that’s beside the point.

She’d have to be careful with what she posted in the coming days. This little affair with Chase needed to be kept close, the closer the better.

And she had promised Chase she would make a decision in the next two days. They’d decided to meet alongside the very same creek banks next to the hospital. Right after her shift…

two nights from now.

The big question gnawing at her now was this: was he going to do something really weird like propose to her? That thought had been bubbling just below the surface all night.

It was the kind of thought that made her really get the shakes.

Chapter 9

“Hark, now hear the sailors cry, smell the sea and feel the sky, let your soul and spirit fly, into the mystic…”

Van Morrison


Omsh’pont, the Omt’orkel Sea

Time: 781.8, Epoch of Tekpotu

For three days, long-range Omtorish sounding had detected and tracked the small Ponkti formation, crossing the Serpentine Gap, seemingly heading straight for Omsh’pont. Scouts had pulsed the expedition, repeaters had sung out verbal warnings, and the Metah Mokleeoh had finally been convinced to order a defensive force to assemble and prepare to move out and intercept the oncoming visitors.

“We’ve been monitoring oot’keeor full time,” said Likteek, head of the Kelk’too, the great Academy, summoned one day to Mokleeoh’s chambers. “We’ve heard nothing. The repeaters are just conveying normal songs and schedules, routine stuff. The sound channel’s been unusually quiet lately.”

“That’s what makes me nervous,” said Mokleeoh. “It’s not like Lektereenah to stop boasting about how she’ll destroy us. She’d never miss a chance to take a jab at anything and anyone Omtorish. She must be up to something. How big is this force?”

Likteek checked the echo record. “Not that big, actually. Maybe twenty in all. We are pulsing some rather strange echoes…long, cylindrical objects. We’ve not seen these echoes before.”

“A kip’t? Some kind of transport?”

“Impossible to say, Affectionate Metah. Until they come closer.”

Mokleeoh roamed about the chamber. Likteek pulsed her nervous stomach. Bubbles upon bubbles. The Metah was rattled and it showed. She stopped in front of her Privy Councilor.

“We’re not waiting until they come closer. Lektereenah’s up to no good. I can tell. Send for Manklu. I want a force out there to meet the Ponkti before they get within fifty beats of the city. And bring the mekli before me…they have special powers. They can do strange things with the water…we may need them.”

The Privy Councilor dipped her beak and departed quickly. “At once, Affectionate Metah.”

Likteek had seen the strange echoes himself and wondered: what were the Ponkti up to now?

The defensive force led by Manklu numbered twenty in all. It was a mix of prodsmen and stunners, armed with electric prods, stunners and sound grenades, scentbulbs, mah’jeet sacs and k’orpuh, quickly assembled into a platoon that would set forth to engage the Ponkti well away from Omsh’pont.

The mekli had declined Mokleeoh’s request. The High Priestess explained.

“Honorable Metah, we wish only smooth waters to all comers. Shooki commands this.

Litorkel ge to all…that’s our way. That is the only way.”

Mokleeoh was angry. “These are not the Pillars and those aren’t pilgrims bearing down on us. Surely you can pulse that. All I’m asking is that you go with my prodsmen and use your sound detonators to protect us. Lektereenah’s up to something, I’m sure of it.”

But the mekli would not be dissuaded and Mokleeoh summarily dismissed them.

“Worthless as pal’penk tail, if you ask me. They could stop this in an instant if they choose. But they’re all spineless worms.”

“Affectionate Metah,” said Likteek, “perhaps we should make plans for you to move to safer quarters…outside the city. Just in case.”

Mokleeoh snapped back. “And have all the kel’ke pulse me running away…no, Likteek.

That is one thing I can’t…I won’t do.”

Likteek was dismissed and went back to the Academy caves. He couldn’t be still and decided to listen once again to a pod rendering the strange echoes.

What are those objects, he wondered? The echoes say they’re cylindrical, hard like metal, with strange fins at one end. He spent the next few hours listening to one echopod after another.

There was nothing in any of the thousands of pods stored in the Academy’s library like these echoes.

Command of the Ponkti force had been given to Loptoheen and he meant to make the most of this opportunity. After he smashed Omsh’pont for good and the entire kel of Omt’or was scattered to the far currents, Lektereenah would never been able to threaten him again…the kel’ke of Ponk’et would probably proclaim him Metah, if things worked out. Lektereenah wouldn’t have any choice.

All he had to do was make sure these blasted Tailless weapons worked like they were supposed to and the whole of Ponk’et would be his.

No more tuk matches for this old skeleton, he said to himself. Even Lektereenah would have to accede to the people’s wishes.

“Omsh’pont sounding seventy-five beats away, Commander,” said the chief prodsman, Glendok. “Shall we prepare the tor’pedoh weapons?”

Loptoheen ordered the company to halt and they gathered around a small hillock on the otherwise nearly featureless abyssal plain that surrounded the great city. Already the huge seamounts, Torsh’pont and Metahsh’pont, could be pulsed in the distance. The city was wedged in between the towering cliffs.

“We’ll stop here and make the weapons ready. Bring the detail forward, Glendok.”

They had five of the tor’pedoh. The Tailless called them G7e…an odd name, to Loptoheen’s way of thinking. Six fins long, half a fin wide. Powered by an internal propulsor the Tailless referred to as an engine, powered by electric batteries. A hard metal k’orpuh, said Glendok, when he first saw them. A snake that doesn’t bend or coil…or stop.

The detail set all five tor’pedoh on top of their launch cradles, each slung between sturdy prodsmen who bore the weight of each weapon like a cargo pack.

At Loptoheen’s signal, each weapon was started in turn, their small propellers whirling about rapidly at the base of each weapon. There was a seeker head at the front. The Tailless officer vonkleist had called it an acoustic homing device. “Works on sound,” he had told them.

That was something Loptoheen understood.

“Make sure it reads the sounds of the city, Glendok.”

“Of course, tukmaster. Already, we think they are hearing the Omtorish chattering away, even over seventy beats.”


“All is ready.”

“Then, release them. Send the tor’pedoh to their targets.”

One after another, the prodsmen removed their forepaddles from the weapon slings. And one after another, the tor’pedoh lifted away and motored off into the distance, disappearing quickly through stringy tufts of sea grass.

At the speed vonkleist had estimated, Loptoheen figured the weapons would find their targets in about ten minutes.

The Omtorish defenders pulsed the oncoming tor’pedoh but could not close the distance in time. The contact exploder of the first weapon struck the side of the vast Torsh’pont seamount and its nearly six hundred pounds of Hexanite detonated immediately, sending concussive shock waves down into the heart of the city, the acoustic energy of the blast focused like a lens by the slopes of the seamounts.

The destructive force was immense…unexpected. And catastrophic.

For nearly an hour, floatways were smashed. Em’kel pods and caves were collapsed.

Debris rained down on the city from the surrounding seamounts; the entire upper third of the T’orshpont crumbled into rubble and drifted down in huge chunks, smashing kel houses, domes, labs, potu beds and pal’penk herds, gardens, pavilions, everything. The kel treasury was pounded flat by the impact of boulders from above.

It was the first physical assault of one kel against another in many metamah…no one could remember such a thing. To breach shoo’kel, to disturb the waters with such chaos…it was unthinkable. But it had happened.

The Omtorish were stunned, paralyzed by fear. Chaos reigned for many hours across the city.

Kloosee’s em’kel, the Pelspotu, was particularly hard hit. In the first minutes of the tor’pedoh attack—the very word would evoke shudders for years afterward—nearly a third of Kloosee’s kelmates died, when the upper caves of the complex collapsed and they were buried alive. Kloosee, Tinklek, Oolandrah and others tried to organize a rescue but the continuing rain of debris and the landslides and avalanches off the steep slopes of Torsh’pont made that nearly impossible.

“Drag the nets inside!” Kloosee shouted. There had been beat after beat of nets just outside the cave entrance to Pelspotu’s home that had been used to collect gear for the em’kel’s outings to the surface, for that’s what the em’kel was to many: a big family of campers and hikers who lived for the risk of surfacing and cavorting in the Notwater, despite all the restrictions and comments against such things. “The nets’ll stop some of the debris--!”

So the survivors unlatched their nets and struggled with them, pulling them inside over rubble and moaning bodies to keep the worst of the debris from injuring more people.

The tor’pedoh attack set off numerous tremors and quakes and more landslides, as the T’orsh’pont loosened seams of rock and sloughed off sheets of mud and whole villages and kelpods were quickly buried in the ensuing rockfall.

Beyond the perimeter of what had once been a thriving city, a capital and the beating heart of the whole kel, the defense of Omsh’pont began in earnest.

Manklu tel led the force, who homed on the Ponkti squadron and engaged them. They had intercepted their assailants too late to stop more tor’pedohs from being launched and more destruction raining down on the city, but the Omtorish prodsmen, stunners, and blinders swept

into the Ponkti formation, unleashing hell with a ferocity that rapidly turned the waters of the Omtor’kel Sea red with blood and entrails.

For hours, the Ponkti and the Omtorish thrashed and battled. The line of engagement centered on a slight rise in the abyssal plain a few beats northeast of the Torsh’pont. Manklu ordered elements of his prodsmen to flank the Ponkti left and right—‘get behind them and attack from the rear,” he ordered. “Hit them where they’re weakest.” Two teams split apart and sped off to try the encirclement, while the brunt of Manklu’s stunners drove forward against stiff opposition, trying to locate the t’orpedoh launchers and put them out of action.

But resistance was stiff. The Ponkti were superb in close-quarters combat, with all their tuk moves and superior flexibility. Again and again, the Ponkti were driven back for a few moments, then segmented their defense and came at the Omtorish from unexpected angles, appearing out of the murk leading a counterattack with squirts of deadly mah’jeet and slashing tails of k’orpuh snakes. Backed up with blasts of their sound suppressors and blinders, what seemed to have been a break in the line rapidly mutated into a reverse envelopment which often threatened to cut off the Omtorish completely.

Time and again, Manklu would have to order a tactical retreat, a re-grouping and an assault along another bearing.

In the meantime, more t’orpedohs were launched into the city, pummeling both seamounts and dropping tons of mud on the defenseless citizens of the capital below.

In the Metah’s chambers, itself nearly flattened by a rain of boulders from the Metash’pont seamount nearby, Likteek appeared and bluntly told the Privy Councilor that the Metah should make plans to evacuate the city.

“Manklu’s just barely holding the line,” the scientist murmured as they roamed together through the shattered corridors and floatways of the Metah’s compound, dodging fallen wall sections and shifting foundations; the entire complex was in danger of being completely buried by a mudslide encroaching from the east. “The Metah and her court need to leave… now. I’ve already rounded up a convoy of kip’ts and tillet, every pack animal I could find.”

The Privy Councilor was Encolenia mek’t, a pompous old windbag who had been chief of Mokleeoh’s court for too long, in Likteek’s estimation. She seemed confused, almost dazed by the destruction all around them.

“And where would the Metah go, esteemed thinker and wise one? Omsh’pont is home. It’s the heart of the kel. Everything is here…all the records, the scentbulbs, all our history and culture is here.”

“The city’s doomed,” Likteek told her. “Look around you. The Ponkti have some kind of new weapon, probably something they stole from the Tailless. We can’t stop it. We can’t counter it. They’re devastating the city with it. If this keeps up, both Torsh’pont and Metahsh’pont will be piles of rubble and Omsh’pont will be like the ruins at the bottom of Shookengkloo Trench…a memory. A land of fossils…that’s what will be left. You want to be a fossil?”

Encolenia darted about the ruins, sniffing at smashed scentbulbs and echopods, a pained squint in her eyes. Inside, she was a cauldron of bubbles. Likteek forced himself not to turn away.

“Mokleeoh will never leave this place. Her whole life— our whole life is here. From the time she was a midling, Omsh’pont’s been in her blood. Just look, Likteek. Look and pulse—

look what they’ve done. The damned Ponkti are ripping the heart out of this kel…how can you

say leave it all behind…we should be defending it. Fighting off the Ponkti…fighting to the death…to do what Lektereenah’s done… Shooki will have His revenge, I’m sure of it.”

Likteek could pulse there was no arguing with the old Privy Councilor. Best to go right to the Metah. To hell with decorum, he told himself.

“Where is she now?” he snapped.

“What? Why? You can’t just barge in—“

But before Encolenia could react, Likteek had pushed his way past her and sniffing left and right, found his way into the inner chambers of the compound.

He found Mokleeoh drifting sullenly about her official receiving platform, scentbulbs in both paddles, reliving old memories, while the carnage rained outside.

‘Affectionate Metah, a thousand pardons. The time has come. We have kip’ts and tillet outside. You must leave, carry the official scents and echoes with you. Leave and preserve what is vital to Omt’or. Come. Come now, before it’s too late.”

Mokleeoh seemed a broken old woman now, not the vigorous roam leader who’d once led a vish’tu roam nearly around the world, the Metah’s whose voice rang out loud and clear for thousands of beats.

Mokleeoh loh had ascended to become Metah of Om’tor in 715.5 Tekpotu. It was a time of great prosperity for Omt’or however shortly after her confirmation, a threat to that prosperity arose when two of the four other kels, Sk’ort and Ponk’et, refused to allow Omtorish kip’t pilots to transfer goods and cargo through their seas. Since Omt’or’s economic health depended on just such trade, Mokleeoh had to act quickly. Being a hard-hearted, practical business-minded person who would become known later for her generosity, she decided to try to bribe Ponk’et and Sk’ort back into Omt’or’s fold. She did this by getting both kels to agree to permit transit of their territory and allowing them to levy a tax on certain goods—notably food products and scentbulbs. In return, Omt’or raised its freight rates to cover the new costs and the trade was preserved.

The incident illustrated some important characteristics about Mokleeoh. She was materialistic and practical, as were many of her kel-mates. She was a canny negotiator and adept at securing advantage out of any agreement. She was cognizant of the importance of small details. Her principal motives were to preserve and protect the interests of her kel Omt’or (as were all the metahs), to increase the profit of Omt’or’s traders and merchants. Mokleeoh was the typical Omtorish person: a creature who existed for trade and economics.

Her reign since 715 Tk had been fairly smooth and free of crisis, although not without minor problems, notwithstanding the presence of the Umans and the wavemaker. In 721 Tk, an Omtorish student on a Circling, Pelpo tom, encountered a dead seamother near the Klatko Trench, with strange, non-Seomish skeletal remains inside her belly. Theories flew like mad but Mokleeoh’s main concern was how to convince the Skortish to let Omt’orish kip’ts transfer the hordes of tourists to the site, which the Skortish had made into a popular attraction. She accomplished this by agreeing to rebate some of the profits back to Sk’ort and agreeing to help maintain the site.

As Metah of Omt’or, Mokleeoh had the duty to determine the rate at which the currency standard potu would be harvested, in effect determining the money supply on Seome. Because of this power to affect the global economy, she was often the target of attempts to influence her decisions, but as always, she was guided by what was best for Omt’or. When in 731 Tk, the Kel’em of Omt’or decided to authorize the cultivation of new beds, because the harvesting em’kels wanted to expand their size and influence in the kel, Mokleeoh refused to permit it and

to enforce her decision, she and her staff lived next to the beds for nearly a full mah and dared anyone to challenge the Metah’s authority. No one did but to placate the disappointed em’kels, Mokleeoh promised to select one of their females for the mektoo, this causing further protests which Mokleeoh negotiated into oblivion.

Most of the time, Mokleeoh got her way, because she was a stubborn, persistent negotiator, with a good sense of timing. As a midling, she was the youngest member ever to be admitted to the Koh’letoh, an Omtorish em’kel devoted to the perfection of rhetorical skills, one of the best throughout Seome. She showed great talents from an early age. Mokleeoh was also a young member, even before her Circling, of Omt’or’s main em’kel of pakohs, called Pakoh Onktoolee, where she learned how to organize production and service activities for profit. After her Circling, (during which she scouted investment opportunities for Omtorish merchants), Mokleeoh went to work mainly for Pakoh. She maintained other interests in em’kels that specialized in games and one that appealed to middle-aged females with an interest in roaming to distant places.

“I’ve been a good Metah, haven’t I?” she asked Likteek weakly. Already, he was gathering up as many bulbs and pods as he could, passing them along to members of the Privy Council who had silently gathered around their leader, gently sheparding all of them out of the chamber toward the waiting convoy of kip’ts. “The kel’ke always adored me. I was fair. I was honest. I could be strict, but I’ve always loved Omt’or…I have been a good Metah, no?”

“You have, Affectionate One,” Likteek mumbled back, struggling with a fin-load of bulbs.

“The people say you’re the best Metah ever. Generous. A strong leader in the vish’tu roam. A canny negotiator with the other kels…oh, the kel’ke think Mokleeoh loh will one of the greatest…but Metah, now we must go. We must hurry. It’s not safe here. Look, we’re taking all the official scents and sounds. Omt’or will live on.”

“…live on…yes, she has to live on. We’ll build a great new city.” Yes, we will, Likteek.”

She seemed energized by that and started to help move the bulbs and pods out. “But where…

where will we build this great city?”

“I don’t know, Affectionate Metah,’ Likteek said. “But for now, we must escape the Ponkti and all the debris. We’re heading south…to Sk’ort.”

And so it came to be that Likteek, Mokleeoh loh…twenty-eighth Metah of Omt’or…

influential members of the Kel’em and much of her Privy Council and court left the crumbling ruins of Omsh’pont to form a government in exile. The mekli priestesses, including the High Priestess, were also taken along. They had been rescued from Ponkti captivity and Likteek felt the Omtorish were responsible for their well-being, especially in the face of the Ponkti siege. If Lektereenah should ever get her hands on the mekli again, Likteek figured the results wouldn’t be pretty. So the mekli went too.

The convoy of kip’ts and tillet pack animals left Omsh’pont quickly, following a course through the middle of the city well away from the ever-present mudslides and avalanches that were devastating the capital, snaking their way through growing mounds of rubble, floating corpses, smashed pavilions and gazebos, even the lovely coral beds of the Tostah with their intricate pink and red branches and limbs of calcium carbonate, now shattered into millions of pieces.

Outside the city, away from the assault and the destruction, the convoy would head south by southeast. The convoy was led by one Koktet lu, an Omtorish engineer who led the team that operated and maintained the Farpool at Likte Island. Koktek had been asked to take the lead

kip’t as he was half Skortish himself and the always-sensitive Skortish might react more agreeably to a convoy led by one of their own.

The Skortish had agreed to house the convoy for the time being, so Koktek steered them east for the Skork Current and planned to ride this current to the Klatko Trench and into the Sk’ortel Sea to the city of Tostah, home of one of the two great branches of the Skortish, the Tostah, who lived on the edge of the seething Sk’ortoo lava trench.

Kloosee and Likteek rode in a kip’t midway in the convoy. The Metah was near the front, surrounded by a squadron of prodsmen and stunners.

“I’ve never been to Sk’ort before,” Kloosee remarked as they got underway.

Likteek was checking a sonic map of the route. “You haven’t missed anything.”

The Sk’ortel was a warm, sluggish sea that occupied the southwest part of the map. The domain of the Sk’ort was principally encompassed by this sea. The eastern boundary was the lower Serpentines and the Sk’ork current. The western boundary was sometimes disputed with the Orketish but was usually taken to be a line extending directly north and south of the vast Klatko Trench in the equatorial zone.

Many of the other kels looked down on the Skortish as lazy and indolent, though this opinion was unfair. The warm and occasionally hot, slow-moving waters of the sea contributed to this feeling of enervation. The Skortish roamed less often and more slowly than any other kel, many preferring to simply float with the currents. To the others, this was laziness.

The Skortish subdivided themselves into two great branches: the Tostah and the Kekah. The Tostah were the smaller of the two, residing mainly in and around the city of Tostah, near the seething lava trench. Many of them made their living harvesting the valuable coral-like material ting, which grew abundantly in the hot, mineral-rich waters. Their kel-mates, the Kekah, lived hundreds of beats to the south among the angular ridges of Kekonk Tenk, where most of them were renowned as miners, working the immense veins of ore in the mountains and canyons that encircled that city.

The Skortish were generally indifferent to the opinions of their neighbors, particularly the Orketish. They felt that the other kels did not understand them or didn’t want to. The Skortish prided themselves as great thinkers (though they had produced few great thoughts) and as connoisseurs of an elegant way of life based on physical contact rather than roaming. This put them at odds with much of Seome.

The trip south took several days. When Koktek announced to the convoy that the echoes showed a great trench coming up, there was palpable unease among the Omtorish. Already, the temperature of the waters had reached uncomfortable levels. Ahead of the convoy, a seething wall of bubbles indicated the approach of the trench, which was filled with lava and hot mud rising in chimneys of scalding hot water like so many dangling fingers.

Likteek appraised the echoes with scarcely concealed dread. “Just be glad we’re not going to Kekah, Kloos. There, they all live around a huge volcano… the Ve’skort.”

Koktek brought the convoy through the curtain of bubbles and orbited over the chasm while homing on the repeater signals that indicated the landing pads outside the city. Inside the curtain of smoker columns, the trench bottom was a palette of ever-shifting red and yellow, as hot magma welled up from the below the seabed, bubbled and heaved, turning the ocean waters into twisting black strings of steam and hot smoke.

“How can anyone live like this?” Kloosee wondered out loud.

Likteek shrugged. “The Ponkti live among ice bergs. The Skortish live in this soup. The Five Daughters gave us the kels. Each to their own place. I’m not sure what the Skortel’s first mortals were thinking when they came here.”

Koktek led the convoy cautiously to the landing pads and the convoy of kip’ts settled to the seabed.

The Skortish of both cities lived in settlements carved out of rock mounds, for the seabed was thick with volcanic tuff, which hardened when exposed to water and made superior building material. The city of Tostah hung precariously over one edge of the vast canyon that was Sk’ortoo, in stepped-back terraces of dried lava and tuff stacked several beats high and following the curve of the trench for many beats in each direction.

The landing pads were at the top of the terraces. Likteek had studied the geology of the kel lands while en route and had learned that the city of Tostah would in time slide off into the trench; no one knew exactly when, but the forecast had not stopped the Skortish from building and expanding the city. In fact, Likteek wasn’t terribly surprised to also learn that the Skortish had developed elaborate myths that explained why the city had been built over a volcanic trench in the first place and why they needed to live near such smothering heat.

Their clanmates, the Kekah, considered the citizens of Tostah as little more than eccentric relatives.

It was to Tostah that Mokleeoh and the Omtorish court had been formally invited.

Upon leaving their kip’ts, the Omtorish were treated to a brief but moving ceremony.

Dozens of Skortish midlings performed ritual dances and lined the landing pad with odd sculptures taken directly from the trench’s magmatic eruptions, bizarre shapes that to Likteek resembled nothing so much as corpses in varying states of agony.

“Just keep shoo’kel,” he told Kloosee as they solemnly endured the ceremony. “We’re visitors here and they already have a dim view of Omtorish as it is.”

The Metah of Sk’ort was now Skeleemah kah, a placid middle-aged female bordering on plumpness, but with odd red markings around her dorsals and a benevolent squint to her eyes.

Inside, she was calm and composed as only a Skortish citizen could be, her bubbles all uniform and steady as the smokers of the trench below them.

“Sk’ort bids all welcome to the southern seas,” she bellowed. She circled the convoy with a small retinue of advisors and viziers in tow, sniffing, pulsing, occasionally smiling and murmuring soft platitudes. In time, she came to Mokleeoh.

The two Metahs appraised each other cautiously.

“Thank you for hosting my people,” Mokleeoh said. “May Shooki grace the clans of Tostah and Kekah with prosperity and happiness.”

“And the same for Omt’or,” said Skeleemah.

“Shall we roam?” Mokleeoh offered. “In the Omtorish way, vish’tu is good for talks. We think the effort of exertion loosens tongues…makes us more revealing. To roam with another is to know everything about them.”

To this, Skeleemah scoffed. “An Omtorish myth, to be sure. We Skortish don’t put the same emphasis on roaming as you do. Our seas are not so accommodating. And there isn’t much to see or pulse anyway. No, we go inside Tostah. Skortish like to eat. There’s quite a banquet waiting for us.”

Lazy pal’penk, thought Likteek. But there was little he could do. The Omtorish were smoothly sheparded off the landing pad and herded inside the terraces of Tostah.

And Kloosee found himself already intrigued by the smells and scents of the upcoming feast. The last few days in Omsh’pont had been a battle just to get out and away from the Ponkti assault. He was hungrier than he realized.

Maybe the Skortish are on to something after all, he told himself. Smells like tong’pod and gisu down there.

After the banquet, the Omtorish were assigned temporary quarters at the lowest level of the terraces, directly overlooking a bend in the trench, a steep drop into the magma pools just outside the entrance. The waters were enervating and uncomfortably warm inside the small quarters Kloosee and Likteek were given. The apartment was a small niche carved directly out of the tuff into a bowl-shaped space, with smaller niches, bays, recesses and alcoves about the compound.

The entrance was open, but partitioned off by a ‘curtain’ of steam columns, generated from a line of hot rocks lining the opening.

Kloosee saw Likteek nervously nosing his beak into every hole and space about the apartment. He pulsed Likteek to catch the scientist’s reaction. It wasn’t pretty…like a cauldron of nerves and unease, not unlike the bubbles of magma just outside.

“Likteek, are you going to explode…calm down, will you? Litorkel ge, my old friend. It’s not the end of the world.”

The scientist eyed the steady stream of mineral clouds boiling up from the trench, just beyond their quarters. “Maybe not, but you can see it from here.”

Kloosee had an idea. “Let’s roam. Explore the place. A little exertion will put your mind at ease.”

Likteek couldn’t argue with that so the two of them set out, cruising up and down the terraced slopes of Tostah, checking out what the Skortish city had to offer.

After a time, Kloosee remarked, “They don’t go in much for roaming here, do they?”

Likteek agreed. Already the roam had calmed his insides. “I haven’t seen two kelke since we left. Maybe it’s some kind of holiday…or they’re all off on a great roam, a kel vish’tu, like we do.”

“I don’t know. The Skortish aren’t anything like us, Likteek. Come on, let’s go see what all those stalls are down at the bottom.”

The lowest level of the terraces was a promenade, a labyrinthine bazaar of shops, stalls and stores, each carved into every niche and crevice of the hard tuff that could be used. A few roamers were about, but they soon pulsed the approach of the Omtorish and gave them a wide berth.

That made Kloosee feel uneasy. “What is it? Do I have spots? Some kind of disease?”

“They don’t roam like we do. Look at them, Kloos…they just drift along. Ride the currents. How lazy.”

The stores sold everything from raw gisu and tongpod to scapet and eelot to potu jewelry and odd sculptures made of ting, the mineral harvested right from the streamers boiling out of the lava trench. Weird, grotesque shapes leered back at them from the shelves and sacs.

“Even their art is different,” Kloosee muttered.

They passed by more stalls and heard voices.

“Get out of here, you fat ‘penks!”

“Stop disturbing the waters!”

“Get out of here, scum!”

“…go on!...give us some peace, why don’t you--!”

Kloosee and Likteek swerved out away from the wall and cruised gingerly right over the lip of the trench, increasingly aware that their presence bothered many shopkeepers. A moment later, they ran headlong into a trio of armed Skortish wardens…the local law enforcement.

They pulled up and stopped. One of the wardens brandished a stunner.

“You’re the Omtorish intruders.” It wasn’t a question.

Kloosee started to object, but Likteek intervened. “Kloos, let me…yes, we are from Omsh’pont…roaming about your city. We just wanted to see the shops…and the view. Quite impressive, this—“

The middle warden with the stunner cut Likteek off. “We’ve had complaints. You roam like crazed tillet….can’t you see that? You’re disturbing the shops…you’ll have to come with us.”

Now Kloosee was getting mad. “We roam as we always do. Everybody roams…we’re just out for a stroll…no harm in that.”

The warden brooked no nonsense. “You roam like Omtorish, thrashing about, disturbing everything. You’ve left a trail of destruction everywhere you’ve gone. Come with me—“


The wardens closed about the two of them, made a circle and draped a net over Likteek and Kloosee. Two of them cinched it up tight, then the wardens proceeded to haul them off, to where Kloosee and Likteek had no idea. All they could do was squirm a little, trying to squeeze out a little more space.

The wardens hauled them outside the bazaar, further along the promenade, then up several levels to an outcrop studded with crevices and little alcoves. Likteek and Kloosee were removed from the net and shoved into one of the crevices. There was barely enough room to turn around inside. A different net was drawn over the opening. It was tough, fibrous, unyielding tchin’ting…Ponkti tchin’ting, it seemed. And just beyond, hot vents from the trench made the water warm and thick, tasting of minerals, clogged with sediment.

The wardens disappeared. Likteek and Kloosee made themselves as comfortable as they could, which wasn’t easy.

“Could you just move a little” said Kloosee. “Your old tail’s right in my beak.”

“Sorry…I can’t budge. My beak’s caught in this hole—“

“What do we do now?”

They didn’t have long to wait.

A cramped hour passed, then a face appeared just outside the netting.

It was the Metah’s vizier, Ork’lek tu. The vizier was a stern, serious official. Kloosee managed a quick pulse… the vizier’s insides were well-controlled…not a single bubble out of place.

Ork’lek identified himself. “The chief warden reported there was a disturbance down among the shops. I assume it was you two.”

It was Kloosee’s turn to be serious. “We caused no one any harm. We were just roaming about, inspecting the produce, admiring the merchandise.”

Ork’lek sniffed. “Roaming about…it’s clear you Omtorish have different ideas about what a roam is…you were thrashing about like crazed animals…disturbing shelves and racks. Quite a lot of damage, I was told.”

“We roam as we always have…everybody roams…what can I say?”

“You can say you’re sorry. We do vish’tu a little differently here in Sk’ort.”

Kloosee smirked. “You mean all that floating about…that’s what you call roaming?”

“Kloos, that’s enough—“ Likteek cut off his friend. “We didn’t know. Skortish aren’t quite as …vigorous, shall we say, in their roaming. It was an innocent mistake.”

“Doesn’t matter…the Metah’s ordered your release. I’m escorting back to your compound.”

“Our refugee camp, you mean—“ said Kloosee, but he clamped his mouth shut and simmered after Likteek gave him a look.

The vizier unzipped the netting and ushered them out. “Follow me…and keep your tails quiet. I don’t want any more trouble.”

They followed the vizier, accompanied by warden escorts up several levels and out along the spine of the terraced slopes, to a narrow plateau covered with scores of tents and makeshift canopies…the Omtorish camp, perched on a precipice overlooking a boiling steam vent. The waters were hot and turbid with minerals… sk’orkel’te, in the Omtorish way of saying things.

The Skortish were not amused.

Likteek and Kloosee were greeted by a squad of the Metah’s prodsmen.

“She wants to see you…right now,” said the chief of the detail. The prodsman was burly and scarred with scrapes and bruises from some kind of recent fight.

The Omtorish and the Skortish aren’t getting along too well, Kloosee thought.

They followed the prodsmen to the Metah’s tent. Inside, they found Mokleeoh drifting above a bed of coral and elaborate netting. Likteek was surprised to find the thing had been carted all the way from Omsh’pont. A monstrosity, he muttered to Kloosee. They should have left it behind…to be eaten.

Mokleeoh was surrounded by dozens of echopods, many of them activated so that the tent was filled with whispers and songs and sayings and fables, all clashing and most inaudible.

The Metah put down one pod. “Pres’kah’s poetry soothes me…I need that these days.

Haven’t you two caused enough trouble for one day?”

Likteek started to explain, but Mokleeoh was in no mood to listen. “Spare me. I can imagine the details. Until I say otherwise, you two are confined to camp. We can’t be out there provoking our hosts…these aren’t the Ponkti, you know.”

When Likteek started to complain, the Privy Councilor, Oncolenia mek’t, spoke up. “Hush, both of you. Our situation’s precarious enough as it is…we’ve been listening to the Skortish repeaters…do you know what they’re saying?”

Before Kloosee or Likteek could answer, Mokleeoh answered Oncolenia’s question herself.

“They’re saying that Ponkti propaganda’s making friends even down here in Sk’ort. There are many Skortish who think we’ve monopolized the Farpool too long…that’s the trash Lektereenah’s putting out and even the Skortish are starting to believe it.”

“That’s preposterous—“ said Likteek.

“Of course it is,” agreed Mokleeoh, “but it doesn’t matter. They believe what they believe.

I had you two brought here for a reason…and, by the way, you’re welcome for having me insist on getting you released—“

“Thank you, Affectionate Metah—“both Kloosee and Likteek said together.

“Be that as it may…Skeleemah’s agreed to host a meeting in a few days. She wants to be a peacemaker…you know how the Skortish are—the placid old ‘penk love their peace. I am meeting with Lektereenah and a diplomatic mission from Ponk’et. The mekli High Priestess will mediate. Skeleemah wants us to find a way to end our conflict.”

“They destroyed our capital!” hissed Kloosee. “How can we negotiate with our enemies…

it’s like the Tailless world… Urku or whatever it’s called. They fight all the time, sink each

other’s ships, kill each other by the hundreds. Nobody gives a damn about keeping shoo’kel.

The Ponkti have picked up bad habits from the Tailless, not that they needed any more.”

“I agree,” said Mokleeoh, “but you’re not part of the negotiations. I’m doing this to humor Skeleemah. I have no intention of giving in to Lektereenah on anything. As for you two, I have something else in mind. A special mission.”

“What kind of mission, Metah?” Likteek asked.

“I can’t allow the Ponkti, or anyone to take control of the Farpool. It’s too fragile. The Farpool is the only way we have to emigrate from this world. Make no mistake, Likteek…your own observations have confirmed this: our world’s doomed. The great light of the Notwater is dying. Our world is dying. To keep the Ponkti from destroying the Farpool, I want to shut it down…at least for awhile. Your mission is this: the two of you will go with Manklu tel to Likte Island, to the Farpool. Remove the singularity engine from its core. Eekoti Chase gave you the procedure. Hide it. This will shut down the Farpool.”

Likteek remembered the procedure Chase had given him. He had an echopod with the instructions. “It’s risky, Metah. Very risky. A single mistake, a careless slip—“

“I know how risky it is,” she snapped. “But we have no choice. If Lektereenah and the Ponkti continue to use and abuse the Farpool as they have been, they may well irreparably damage the gateway and prevent Kel’vish’tu from getting underway. Nothing can stand in the way of the Great Migration. Our lives depend on the Farpool working. Likteek, you know this.”

“I also know that such a shutdown will strand eekoti Chase and our special team on the other world.”

Mokleeoh put down all her echopods and with a loud series of clicks, turned them all off at once. Silence pervaded her tent, save for the ever-present hiss of the steam vents outside.

“I’m aware of the risk but the Ponkti have to be prevented from damaging or taking control of the Farpool…it’s a resource for all kels, not just one. I’ve tried to administer the gateway for everyone but Lektereenah doesn’t see it that way.”

“Nor do the Skortish…or the Eep’kostic,” said Kloosee.

“It’s vital that the Farpool work properly and that the Kel’vish’tu be organized. Otherwise, it’s just chaos. None of us will survive. Now, go…you have your orders. And it is to me that you will be free-bound for this task. You must do this…already Manklu tel is readying a kip’t.”

“At once, Affectionate Metah,” said Likteek. One after the other, Likteek and Kloosee came forward to kiss Mokleeoh on her flanks. She grabbed each in turn by his fin….

“Don’t fail me,” she said softly. “There isn’t much time.”

They left. Kloosee was silently thankful for the task, risky though it might be.

Anything to get out of this hellhole, he told himself.

They found Manklu at the landing pad, powering up the kip’t. It was a larger sled, equipped to carry a pilot and two passengers with equipment and supplies. Additional holdpods had been lashed to her sides.

“Let’s go,” Manklu ordered brusquely. The three of them climbed in, got situated and Manklu thrust them off the landing pad. Moments later, the terraces of Tostah were gone and only the withering hot columns of mineralized steam could be heard and felt behind them.

In silence, they headed toward the equator, toward the eastern Omtor’kel Sea, tacking against the Sk’ork Current, as beat after beat of ridged terrain and fields of sea grass slid by below.

They did not know it, but above the surface, in the once-bright skies of the Notwater, the great light of Sigma Albeth B was already in the earliest stages of a catastrophic collapse, the result of the Coethi enemy’s final starball impacts a few days before.

The three of them said little, preferring the solitude of their own thoughts and the steady beeping of the sounders as they drove north. Each knew in his own way how risky, probably suicidal, the mission was. Yet they were all freebound to the Metah and they knew they had to persevere…or die. It was now evident to any discerning kel’ke anywhere across the seas of Seome that the only hope for all the kels was to finally leave this doomed world…for good.

Chapter 10

“The sea, the sea, the sea. It rolled and rolled and called to me. Come in it said, come in.”

Sharon Creech


Gainesville, Florida

June 18, 2117

9:00 pm

It was just nicely dark and mostly cloudy, threatening rain, when Chase returned to the Coconut Cabana apartments via the creek. He waited for a long time, just in the water, listening for voices, watching for shadows, shooing off nosy gators, before he was reasonably sure the coast was clear. He dragged himself up out of the water and skulked quietly off through the bushes to Building C, Unit C-20. Angie and Sheila’s apartment.

It was past time for Angie to make a decision.

Up and down the breezeway, Chase saw nobody. It was just dark, sultry, with rain drizzling off the gutters but he didn’t care about any of that.

He took a deep breath and knocked on the apartment door.

For a moment, there was no response, though he could see shadows moving inside. The lights were on. Someone was coming to the door. He stepped out of the light, realizing that there was a camera overhead, and turned his back.

“Who’s there?” came a voice. It was Sheila.

Chase murmured something about returning something. The door opened. It was Sheila.

When the nurse saw Chase, her face locked into a mask of pure terror. She screamed, forgot to shut the door, started backing away and tripped backward over some kind of ottoman. Sheila went down hard and lay still.

Angie came rushing up, stopped short and shook her head in disbelief.

“Chase…is that you? Is this some kind of joke? I didn’t think you’d actually show up here!”

“You said you’d make a decision…by tonight. Well, it’s tonight.” The echopod on his side chirped and spat out the words in tinny sort of way. Conscious of the need for the device, he unhooked it and handed it to Angie.

“Put that down…help me with Sheila…jeez, the poor girl’s…just help me, okay?”

Together, they dragged Sheila’s prostrate body into the living room, then Chase hoisted her up, carried her into the back and lay her down as carefully as he could in her bed.

Angie shut and locked the door, then looked irritated at the trail of mud and creek water across the carpet. “Chase, we just had that cleaned.”

“I came for your answer, Angie. You said you’d make up your mind tonight.”

“Yeah, well I thought we were meeting at the hospital, you jerk. You surprised me.”

“Yeah, I guess I do that a lot.”

Now Angie got some fruity energy thing to drink from the fridge and curled up on the sofa, not sure whether she ought to check on Sheila or talk with ‘Gator Man’ here. Chase shifted from

one foot to another, his mobilitors whirring softly to compensate, then finally gave up and crouched down on the carpet, feeling in that moment just how different they really were.

This would have been a lot better if I could have come back when she was still em’took , still modified. But sometimes, you couldn’t control the Farpool that precisely.

“I’m still waiting on your answer, Angie.”

“Or what…you’ll slide back into the creek. Really, Chase, this is pretty sick. Isn’t this some kind of prank…a promo for the Croc Boys?”

Chase thought about the band and the guys and realized he missed plucking notes on his go-tone, jamming with the fellas late into the night.

“It’s no prank, Angie. I want you to come back with me…back to Seome. Through the Farpool.”

“Oh, Chase, give me a break, will you? I’ve got school next fall. I’ve got a job at the hospital. Mom needs me…listen to yourself. You look like a bad sci-fi movie in that get-up and now you want me to go somewhere, through some kind of pool to a place that sounds like a bad dream…I mean… really—. Do I even know you that well?”

Angie was beside herself, unwilling, maybe unable to make a decision.

Chase’s heart sank. “Then you’re not coming?”

Angie picked up a cushion from the sofa and covered her face with it. She peeked out from a corner. “Chase, this is nuts. It’s insane. It’s a bad dream. Or maybe it’s some kind of computer game. I’ve got my storyspecs on and the VR’s working and I’m trapped in a story universe…that’s it.” She finished off her drink. “I think need more than this. Chase, pinch me.

In fact, hit me so I’ll know I’m awake. I can’t believe I’m having this kind of talk with some kind of gator man through a universal translator right out of old Star Trek.”

“Angie, it’s not a game. I know what I told you is hard to believe, but you’ll just have to trust me. Look, we’re together. Ever since Geometry and Mr. Winans, I wanted you to be my girl. I couldn’t say it at first…I was shy. I didn’t know what I would do if you said no…I wanted to ask you to the prom…but, you know—“

Angie sucked in her breath. Whatever had happened, or would happen, or might happen, this was Chase. She was sure of it. It talked like Chase. It knew things only Chase would know.

She had no explanation for any of this, but she was sure it was Chase down there wriggling like a giant lizard on their nice clean carpet.

“Tell me more about this Farpool thing. Will it hurt? Can I go like this?” She wore a T-shirt and cutoff jeans, with flip-flops half dangling off her feet. “I mean, really, what is it? How does it work…where would we go?”

Chase explained as best he could, explained something that had not yet happened but would happen, and soon. And in another time stream, it already had happened. His head was starting to hurt, just thinking about it.

“The Farpool is like riding Space Mountain, only about a million times wilder. But it’s not really a ride. It’s like a…well, think of it as a gate…to other times and places. You go in, you hold on for dear life, you spin around, maybe throw up, pass out and when you come to, you’re somewhere else. Someplace else. And you can control it, sort of. That’s how I wound up here.

I could have wound up later in time, when you and me really are hot to trot—“

“Oh, Chase, you can just get over that right now. That is wishful thinking—“but as soon as she said it, she wished she hadn’t. Truth was, she did like Chase. He was cute, in a blond surfer boy kind of way, with that lock of hair that wouldn’t stay put…or he had been until…this. Was

it an infection that made him look like an iguana? Or was it really bad acne…maybe if I put him in a tub of benzoyl peroxide…and aren’t there melanocyte bots for this anyway?

“So tell me again…how come you look like a bad sci-fi movie…all those scales and fins and that tail… jeez…?”

Chase tried to explain the em’took procedure, for about the jillionth time. “I told you. Hey, I think it’s in this gizmo…give that to me.”

Angie handed him back the echopod and Chase fiddled with it for a moment, swearing blasted sound controls, then he tried clicking and squeaking at the thing. Eventually, this came out, in a high-pitched, almost nasal twang:

The Seomish can modify subjects by placing them in a sort of cocoon, a variant of the lifepods (suits used to travel in the Not-Water).

The procedure lasts about 2 days and is largely automated.

The subject is not conscious during the procedure.

Seomish science has perfected this technique to enable some Umans to visit Seomish in their natural habitat, but very few have done this.

Most Seomish who must visit Not-Water prefer to remain unmodified and use their lifesuits to survive out of the water.

The modification procedure entails some risk. It is considered more or less permanent. Reversing the procedure entails heightened risk.

Seomish science uses a combination of surgical (bacterial) and pharmaceutical steps to do the modification.

The name of this modification cocoon or lifepod is em’took , a variant of the Seomish word for a berth or living space, also connoting a place of new birth. Also the name of the entire procedure.

The procedure uses bacterial or microbial technology to accomplish most modifications.

The em’took procedure has multiple (7) stages: Internal organs (intestines, pyloric caeca, stomach, kidneys, spleen, liver, heart, swim bladder) Known as the Intook .

Skeletal and vertebrae modifications. Known as the Vertook.

Reproductive organs. Known as Potook .

Immune system. Known as Sitook .

External organs (gills, skin, scales, fins) Skor’took.

Sensory organs and tissues (eyes, olfactory, lateral line, etc) Boltook .

Head, brain, neural systems (central nervous system, cerebellum) Metook.

Seomish medical technology is largely based on use of genetically modified and programmed bacteria and microbial organisms.

The em’took begins with a genetic sequencing and a neural scan. After the sequencing and scans, the bacteria and microbes are selected and ‘tuned’ to match the recipient. The sequencing and scanning process is known as vish’tu .”

Angie listened to the words, trying to make out the explanation through the strange dialect.

“I still don’t believe it,” she decided. “You’ll have to do better than this, Chase. Show me this Farpool…I want to see it.”

“Okay, girl…you’re on. Except that it doesn’t operate all the time. It comes and goes. But I can kind of predict it…sort of.”

“Sure you can.”

“No, really…my lifeship’s just off shore, off Scotland Beach. We’ll have to get to Scotland Beach. You got a car…I can’t really drive…like this—“ He held up his squat forepaddles and chuckled. Angie was not amused.

“Let me check on Sheila. Maybe I’ll just leave her a note.” She went to the back bedroom, found the nurse still unconscious and checked to make sure she hadn’t suffered a head injury in her fall.

“Nope…just out cold. I feel like maybe I shouldn’t be leaving her like this—“

Chase had wriggled his way to the bedroom door after her. The echopod chirped. “Just leave a note. She’ll be okay.”

“Oh, yeah, like you’re the doctor. But I do think she’s all right.” Angie quickly scribbled a note on a nearby pad and left it on the night stand. Then she backed out, kicking at Chase to move, and gently shut the door. “She’ll wake up and figure it was all a nightmare.” Angie looked down at the Chase thing slithering toward the front door. “Maybe it is—“

Somehow, they got Chase into the back seat of Sheila’s beat-up Tomota and left the apartment parking lot. The car was auto-enabled for trips on major roads so Angie just punched up the address of the Turtle Key Surf and Board Shop in Scotland Beach— Chase’s Dad owned the place—and settled back to let the car exit the lot, make a few turns, then merge onto the Gainesville Highway.

The trip took an hour.

The only problem occurred when the Tomota exited the highway at U.S. 19—the road to Fanning Springs—and Angie took back driver control as they slowed down to make the turn onto Citrus Boulevard. She didn’t come to a full stop, but did what had long been referred to as a ‘rolling stop,’ only to find blue lights in her mirror and a siren filling the air.

The cop had been hiding behind some bushes and a big billboard at the exit.

Crap! That bastard—“Angie pulled over onto the shoulder. The squad car rolled in behind them and the officer was at her window a few moments later.

“License and registration, ma’am.”

Angie fished in her purse and tried to offer an explanation. “Sorry, Officer… there was a truck right on my bumper…I thought he was going to hit me…so I kept—“

“Save it…you just ran a stop light, young lady.” He examined the license/ID card and waved a penlight over her photo. The thing chirped and came back green: no priors. “I’ll have to write it up.” The officer was a middle-aged rather thickset man with bad hair and a thin line of moustache. He smelled like turpentine, too. “What’s that in your back seat?”

Chase hadn’t moved an inch when they stopped. He tried to hold his breath…play dead.

“What? Oh, that—er, that, yeah…it’s kind of toy. A prop, actually.”

The officer stared back, unblinking. “A prop?”

“Yes, sir. That’s it. I’m taking it…see, it’s animated, moves around…I’m taking it to a school play tonight. Apalachee High. Tonight. And we’re, um, sort of late.”

The officer was clearly skeptical and handed back the ID card. “I see this isn’t your vehicle, ma’am. Where ‘s the owner…Ms. Shivers, it says here.”

“Uh, back in Gainesville, sir. She just let me use the car tonight—“

The officer handed her a small tablet. “Uh huh…sign here. You’ll get the citation by email.”

Reluctantly, Angie scribbled her signature. The officer did something with the device, jammed it in a side slot on his web belt and said, “Okay…ma’am, that will be all. Be more careful in the future. Have a nice night.”

He went back to his squad car and climbed in.

Slowly and carefully, Angie started up and pulled the Tomota out onto Citrus Boulevard.

Traffic was light. Chase was quiet.

Angie was steamed. Sheila will have my head. And now I’ve got points on my license…just what I need.

“Chase, this better be worth it.”

Chase sat up the best he could. “You wanted to see the Farpool. That’s where we’re going.”

Angie steered down Citrus straight to the Shelley Beach gate, clenching her teeth. “If we don’t wind up in jail first. Jeez—“

She parked the car at the public gate and the two of them got out.

“So where is your little ship?”

Chase led her out onto the beach. It was partly cloudy, moonless and humid. The tide was going out and there was minimal surf. The hiss and foam of the breakers gave a monotonous rhythm to the night as they made their way to the water’s edge.

“Out there, about ten kilometers.”

“Anchored, I presume.”

“On the seabed.”

“You mean, we’re diving?”

Chase looked at her. “It’s only about forty feet deep there. You’ve dived that.”

Angie just shook her head. “Chase, you dolt…I didn’t bring any dive gear. If you’d bothered to tell me—“

Then Chase snapped a finger. “The surf shop…it’s just up the beach. We can walk.”

“It’s closed, isn’t it? I mean, it is almost ten o’clock.”

Chase had already broken into a trot. “Come on, girl. I know where Dad keeps the key.”

Exasperated but curious, Angie wondered if this really was such a great idea. If anybody showed up on the beach tonight—and there were always beach walkers in the summer—they’d faint at the sight of Chase. Really, that outfit makes him look like something from a million years B.C.

But in spite of her misgivings, Angie trotted after Chase, shaking her head the whole time.

Chase found the spare key to the Turtle Key Surf and Board Shop right where his Dad always put it, partially buried in a can, about six feet from one corner of the shop. He opened up and turned on the lights.

“By the way,” Angie announced, when they had gone inside, “last time I checked on your Dad, he was doing well. He’s expecting you to visit him tomorrow. Doctors say he’ll be up and walking in a week.”

“Thank God for that...let’s see, you’ll need one of these—“he pulled down a snorkeler’s mask and snorkel, placed it next to Angie’s face for a rough fitting, then exchanged it for another one. ‘That’s better…try it on—“

“You did hear me about your Dad?”

“I heard you. I last visited him—“he stopped, realizing he was in another timestream…in this one, Mack Meyer had just been shot in the holdup and he had only known Angie for a few weeks. It was all very confusing. “Uh…never mind…it hasn’t happened yet.”

Angie was fiddling with her mask. “Oh…right, you told me…you’re from the future…or another timestream…or something like that. I forgot.”

They found Angie’s size in flippers and a weight belt and some other gear.

“I’m hungry, Chase…how long’s this going to take. I mean, where is this Farpool you keep talking about?”

“Uh, well it’s kind of like near Bermuda…I think. The most recent landings have been in that area.”

Bermuda! God, that’s a thousand miles from here…how long will it take to get there, by the way?”

Chase did some figuring. “Probably two or three days, if I’m figuring it right.”

“Chase, this really isn’t such a great idea.”

“I thought you wanted to see this Farpool?”

Angie found a bag and stuffed her gear in it. “I do. I mean, I think I do…shouldn’t we be paying for this stuff, anyway?”

“Oh, don’t worry…I’ll work out the inventory with Dad later. Hey, that makes me think…

since we’re going to be at sea for several days, we ought to grab some snacks too.”

“Chase, I don’t--“

But they saw lights coming from down the beach. “Either that’s the Beach Patrol or some kids out walking, looking for turtles. Come on—“

Without even thinking about it, Angie let Chase lead her out the back. They waited in some beach sawgrass for a few moments until the lights passed. Teenagers. Angie thought she knew one of them. But Chase shushed her.

“Come on…just a few steps to the water. Get your gear and let’s get going.”

They were wading out into the waves in less than a minute. Chase helped Angie with her mask and snorkel and fins. Then they dove.

The water was salty, warm as a bathtub and surprisingly gentle. Angie was a good swimmer, not as good as Chase but not bad for a track girl. Plenty of stamina. They went down about twenty feet until Angie signaled she was having ear problems. Chase tried to teach her how to clear her sinuses but it wasn’t working so he signaled her to surface, then hand motioned that he would bring their little ship to the surface. Angie went up, slowly, as she had been taught.

Chase disappeared.

She bobbed about in the gentle surf for a few minutes, hoping no sharks or other creepy things with sharp teeth came by. She did see fins a few times and hoped they were just curious dolphins.

Don’t panic, girl. Don’t panic. He’ll be along in a minute.

She hoped.

Then something bumped her legs and startled her. She let out a half-shriek, then saw the bubble canopy surface a few feet away. Inside, barely visible underneath the canopy, she saw a shape…like a gator thing. She sighed with relief, then laughed. A week ago, a sight like Chase would have sent her into paroxysms of fear. Now--

Chase seemed almost a welcome sight.

The canopy opened and Chase hand-signaled. Get in…come on.

Angie got in and the canopy was shut. At least, there was breathable air inside. It was cramped and stuffy but there was enough room for two of them, with their supplies and gear.

Kind of neat. She’d never been aboard a submarine before.

They dove and Chase did something with the controls—as far as she could tell, he was honking and bellowing and shouting at them—and the little ship eventually responded and turned about and headed out to sea.

They had been traveling for half an hour, when Chase twisted about and said, through the echopod, “Hey, what’s in that goody bag of yours? I’m hungry.”

So they snacked on peanut butter crackers, dry cereal and some bottled water for awhile, in silence.

Angie dozed for several hours. In that time, Chase wrestled with the kip’t’s controls, swearing silently at these blasted scent and sound controls…I’ll never get the hang of this. They headed south by southwest, beyond the continental shelf and then turned south for the Florida Straits. Chase found it easier to backtrack, setting up the kip’t sniffers to ferret out his own trail into Scotland Beach and following that.

They were passing through light chop in the Florida Straits when Angie woke up.

“Chase, I’m sorry about what happened to your Dad. The doctors said he was lucky.”

“I know…I was just thinking about that, while you were asleep.”

Mack Meyer had suffered head and abdominal wounds in a holdup at the Turtle Key Surf and Board Shop two weeks ago and only some serious medbotic intervention had saved his life.

For nearly two weeks, Chase and the family had gathered daily at the University Hospital in Gainesville, while medbotic inserts and surgeries were performed on his Dad. His prognosis was touch and go, but eventually Chase knew he would pull through. Traveling around different time streams did that…you knew stuff you really weren’t supposed to know. In time, however, Mack would live with an internal fleet of nanoscale medbots inside his body, constantly prowling for scar tissue, blood clots and other residual effects of the multiple gunshot wounds. Chase knew he would start calling his Dad ‘Bot Man’ after these procedures, as he sported some enhanced capabilities as a result of the interventions.

Chase knew all this was in the future…of this time stream. “There is one good side to this,”

he said.

“What’s that?”

“I wouldn’t have met you if Dad hadn’t wound up at the hospital.”

Angie thought about that. “I suppose that’s true. You looked so alone in that waiting room…I had to do something.”

Angie had been drawn to Chase because he seemed so lost and forlorn with his Dad in the hospital and because he seemed more sensitive and mature than a lot of the guys his age, even if he was a bit of a jock. Their first date had occurred— would occur-- during the Christmas holidays later that year, at a school dance, and the holidays would be much more pleasant for Angie than the year before. Plus, she was on better terms with her Mom Maggie as well. And brother Mark was getting ready to go off to college at Gainesville, becoming a newly minted Gator.

Angie liked Chase’s assumed ‘surfer’ look and she was especially intrigued with his abilities as a musician and with the go-tone. Chase had occasionally let her hang around the band during their practice and jam sessions and she liked that. Chase didn’t seem to mind when Angie even started calling him by his (not really well liked) nickname Flip.

“Well, having you around the Croc Boys while we jam sure spruced up the sessions. The music’s just flowing better now.”

“Chase, this…um, outfit of yours…it’s not just a suit? It’s not like some prank you and the Boys are playing…you know, like an advertising stunt?”

“No, Angie…I explained about the em’took procedure…and the different time streams. I know that probably sounds nuts—“


“—but it’s the truth. Here, pinch me if you want. This is real. You’ll go through the same procedure yourself…then they’ll reverse it and you’ll be back to good old Angie…in another time stream.”

Angie munched on another cracker. “All this makes my head hurt. I’m sure this has to be a dream…I just can’t seem to wake up.”

“Wait’ll you see the Farpool.”

“How much further?”

Chase shrugged, then realized she couldn’t see the gesture. “I’m not really sure. These ships run on sound…and scent. I’m still trying to figure ‘em out. Right now, I think I’m following my previous trail…it seems pretty strong. If I’ve worked these controls right, we should wind up back in the landing zone…where the Farpool appears and re-appears.”

“It doesn’t work all the time?”

“No, it comes and goes. It’s kind of a long explanation. The Farpool depends on a machine on Seome. Kind of a time machine…it’s called a Time Twister. Actually, the Seomish had to build a new one…see, the Umans pulled out and—“

Angie patted him on the shoulder. “Enough. Stop, already. Just show me this Farpool, okay?”

“Then you’ll really come back with me…back to Seome?”

Angie had no answer for that question.

They traveled across the Florida Straits, through the Bahamas, passing near Grand Turk and Eleuthera, then headed out to sea, toward deeper water. For a time, Angie was amazed at the scenery, what she could see, with the profusion of life, the coral beds, the mile after mile of sea grass, shipwrecks everywhere, and pods of right whales that they found themselves following for awhile.

Finally, Chase admitted something was wrong. “We should be pretty close by now…the kip’t sniffers are saying the scents are strongest right here…hear that beeping? If I drive us

around, the scents fall off in every other direction. I must have come down right in this area.

But I don’t see…or hear anything. The water’s relatively calm. No vortex field. Nothing.”

“You said this Farpool comes and goes. Do you know the schedule?”

“Not really. Even the Seomish have trouble predicting it. Maybe we’re early.”

“Or late.”

For hours Chase piloted the little ship around, letting its internal sniffers hunt for the right scents, listening carefully to the echoes of the sounders. There was nothing he could recognize as belonging to the Farpool…no big waves, no waterspouts, no whirlpools. Nothing.

Something was wrong. Chase became increasingly worried, not sure what had happened…

or what he would do now. He tried not to show it to Angie but she sensed something wrong anyway.

“Chase, tell me the truth: there is no Farpool, is there? This is all a big joke. It’s a sham and you know it. I’m not sure what the game is—“

“No, Angie, I swear…it’s no joke. There really is a Farpool…I just can’t seem to find it.”

“Right. This is some stunt the Croc Boys thought up. I bet you’ve been recording everything I say and do inside this crate. So what’s the deal: is this going to be like some kind of album cover…don’t tell me, you finally got a contract and the producer—“

Chase was sick. And worried. What had happened to the Farpool? It should have appeared by now. “Angie, honestly…I don’t know what to say—“

“I do. Take me home. Right now. Take me back to Scotland Beach. I’m tired of this charade. Your Dad needs you and the hospital needs me.”

Reluctantly, Chase agreed to turn them around. It would take several days to get back, but their trail was still fresh and the kip’t would have no trouble sniffing their most recent tracks and following them.

Still, he wondered: what had happened to the Farpool? Was he now stuck on Earth, in this time stream, a budding relationship with Angie quickly turning sour? Trapped in some dinosaur suit that he couldn’t change?

Something had happened to the Farpool. Chase Meyer didn’t know what exactly but he strongly suspected the Ponkti had something to do with it.

Chapter 11

“Beware of little expenses. A small leak will sink a great ship.”

Benjamin Franklin


The Western Atlantic, near Bermuda

January 5, 1943

Klindonok ka and the remaining Ponkti special troops were still at the seamother holding pen near Bermuda when the signaler chirped. They had finished the small tactical base at the Muir seamounts and now they were breeding, raising and training more seamothers…already five of the beasts were thrashing about the pen in varying states of maturity, straining at the fiber nets, trying to burst out.

“They’ll make fine animals when they’re grown, assuming Loptoheen knows what he’s doing,” observed Kolom, when the signaler went off.

Klindonok had given the device to the eekoti vonkleist to facilitate communication between them. Now the thing was singing like a tillet calf and Klindonok was mildly annoyed.

What did the Tailless want now? The signal was a short-range device. Hearing it at the seamother pen could only mean one thing: the Tailless were nearby. Probably in their big metal craft. Unterseeboot, the echopod had once translated. Kolom localized the bearing and the two of them headed off toward the source.

It turned out to be the U-184, hovering just the other side of seamount, maintaining her depth at about a hundred meters.

The Tailless ship was easily a beat or two long, her hull of some very hard material, with a propeller at the end. It ascended and descended with some assurance but had none of the flexibility of the Ponkti kip’ts.

The Tailless inside used the signaler to send a message: Von Kleist wishes to meet…St.

Nazaire…two days….

“Now?” asked Klindonok. “If we don’t feed these seamothers regularly, Loptoheen will find out. He’ll be angry…you know how tuk kelke are when they’re angry.”

“I know, but we have an agreement with the Tailless. Eekoti vonkleist must have something.”

The Ponkti signaled back an acknowledgement, then went back to the holding pens.

“Make sure there’s enough food, Kolom…put more of those things that look like scapet in the pouches. Puk’lek can feed themselves from the pouches. I just hope Loptoheen doesn’t come through the Farpool and find us not on duty here.”

“I haven’t see the ak’loosh recently…what’s happened?”

Klindonok was already busy provisioning the kip’t with food and drink for the trip to the submarine pens at St. Nazaire.

“Who knows? The Farpool comes and goes…I don’t understand it. Nobody does. Maybe somebody’s adjusting the thing back on Seome. Come on, help me with these holdpods. Our Tailless friends must need more help…another herd of the surface craft, maybe. But I can’t release these seamothers yet. They’re not mature enough…to be on their own in these strange waters—“

Kolom agreed. “Disaster, for sure. Give them another few weeks, though.”

The two of them climbed into the kip’t, after checking around the pens and their gear.

Everything seemed secure. Only occasionally did the Tailless venture into the waters. They were true creatures of the Notwater. Klindonok hoped nothing would disturb the base…or their rambunctious charges. As the kip’t sped off, the penned-up beasts bellowed and thrashed violently about their enclosure.

Klindonok prayed the netting would hold. And that Loptoheen wouldn’t show up and find them missing.

The trip to St. Nazaire took two days. Klindonok followed the scent trail of the Tailless ship across thousands of beats and, when they had arrived in the little bay, methodically hunted for Slip Number Four, the normal entrance into the compound. Another U-boat was berthed there.

And the diving platform was in place alongside her.

Klindonok parked the kip’t a few meters below the oily surface of the pen. He got out, squirming into the lifesuit as he did so. “Stay here, Kolom…I’ll see what they want.”

Klindonok then surfaced, actuated his mobilitors and let the device hoist him out of the water onto the platform. He found himself staring at a dozen Tailless faces, some of them German Marine Strosstruppe, armed and ready to fire. He felt subconsciously for the blinder attached to his web belt, reassured it was still there.

The Tailless commander, von Kleist, was among the faces. He was signaling with one hand, while talking into an echopod he held in the other.

“Come…come…here…let’s meet in the shop….”

Klindonok started to move toward a ladder but a faint sense of caution stilled his mobilitors and he stayed on the platform. Into his own echopod, he said, “…stay here…meet here…

(shkreeah)…you come….”

Von Kleist rubbed fingers across his moustache nervously. He hadn’t counted on this.

“You want me down there…? Very well…Sergeant?” He signaled to the Strosstruppe squad leader. "Move your men back out of sight…I think you’re scaring my friend here.”

The young sergeant looked at the Fregattenkapitan dubiously. “Mein herr, perhaps—“

“Do as I say!”

Instantly, the sergeant waved his men back.

Von Kleist came over to the platform. “We must talk…there are concerns. Ships are still getting through…you have more of the…monsters…beasts…Berlin is very concerned now.”

For a moment, Klindonok wasn’t sure what vonkleist was trying to say. “The puk’lek are in their…zzzhhh…pens….they ready are in period time…month?”

Von Kleist stood up at the railing and spat something into the waters. “That’s no good.

Look, our naval intelligence…the B Dienst…say another convoy is forming. It leaves in a few days…Halifax, I think. We don’t know the destination…perhaps Bristol, Liverpool, who knows? But we…you and we…have to stop them. Sink the ships…you understand this? We have an agreement.”

Klindonok could tell from broad pulsing how agitated the Tailless speaker was. Sounding wasn’t as good in the Notwater, but you couldn’t hide bubbles like that. Something had him upset.

Shkreeah…puk’lek not ready…grow more…cannot surface attack herd…”

Now von Kleist was visibly irritated. “But we had an agreement. Whenever a convoy leaves, you send out your beasts…they’ve helped us but lately—“ the German officer threw up his hands. “The OKM reports that too many freighters are getting through. The Allies have improved their defenses…their blasted planes harass our U-boats day and night, and they have greater range. The British have their asdic…their Hedgehogs…and the Americans…something has to be done.”

Klindonok wasn’t sure what to do now. It was clear the Tailless commander was quite upset, even angry. But the seamothers were not ready to be turned loose. Puk’lek needed time to grow, even with the growth drugs, the tekne’en, Loptoheen was using and there were problems with that too. Then there was the training, waving the proper scents in front of the puk’lek, increasing its potency every day, mimicking the correct response so the puk’lek would have the right imprinting….there was still much to be done.

Klindonok indicated he needed to confer. “Return…minutes…discuss…”

He stepped off the platform and returned to the kip’t. Kolom was still inside. Klindonok explained the dilemma.

“I can’t release puk’lek, Kolom…it’s too soon. They’ll just thrash around and run off.

They’ll panic without the right imprinting. They don’t have their mothers around, so we have to substitute for the mothers.”

Kolom had an idea. “Klin, we still have the ak’loosh’ke, don’t we? Back at the puk’lek pens?”

Klindonok said, “The vortex generator? I think so. What good would that do us?”

“Just this…I know how to change the settings on it, really amplify the effect. In my em’kel in Ponk’et, we used to do things like that…you know how midlings are. Properly adjusted—and it might only work a few times—the ak’loosh’ke should be able to damage the Tailless surface craft. Their ships are so fragile…set off ak’loosh’ke the right way and I’m sure we can sink one of them, maybe more. It’s something.”

Klindonok was nervous. Kolom could pulse that much. “Where is Loptoheen when we need him…he’d know what to do. And the Farpool…something must have happened. Okay, Kolom, we’ll try your idea. I’ll tell eekoti vonkleist what we have…what we can do.”

He squeezed out of the kip’t and went back to the diving platform. Now, the Strosstruppe had returned. Their weapons were trained on the platform. Klindonok squeezed his insides hard, trying not to show nerves. Nobody knew just what exactly the Tailless could pulse or sense.

Best to try and maintain some kind of shoo’kel.

Klindonok explained about the vortex generator. “Called ak’loosh’ke…destructive whirlpools…we use against…target?”

Von Kleist seemed skeptical. “Can you show me this device?”

Klindonok told him the ak’loosh’ke was at the Ponkti base. “We…zzzhhh…assemble…

together parts…”

Von Kleist was thoughtful. He had two real concerns. One was doing whatever was needed to stop Convoy KXL from getting its cargo through to England. The other was getting the crusty old fossils of OKM Berlin off his back.

“I need to see this device…this vortex generator. Is there room in your little ship for me? I could ride with you to your base.” Left unsaid was von Kleist’s growing curiosity about the Ponkti and their strange equipment. Maybe this was a chance to do a little reconnaissance for the OKM himself. The Ponkti might well have other devices, other gear that would be useful for the Kriegsmarine.

Klindonok was initially opposed. “No room…Kolom with me…” But the more he thought about vonkleist’s request, the more it made sense. Kolom could attach himself to the kip’t and ride outside. A rough ride, to be sure, but having the Tailless along inside the kip’t, if conditions could be set up, was just the kind of initiative Loptoheen wanted Klindonok to take. How often had said, “Klindonok, you’re just like a tillet. You go and do what everybody else says. No thoughts of your own. No ingenuity or resourcefulness…do I have to work your mouth for you as well?”

That hurt and Klindonok chafed at the rebukes because he knew they were true.

Klindonok had always had something of a self-esteem problem. This stemmed from something that happened when he was a midling. At the age of 10 mah, Klindonok began his Circling, a custom common among all Seomish kels. But he had never done particularly well in the Navigation Tasks and he became lost. Overdue back at Ponk’t, Klindonok had to be rescued by senior kelke from Ponk’et. This was especially embarrassing to Klindonok, who had never lived down this experience. Among the Ponkti, self-reliance and strength and courage were highly prized. Klindonok failed in respect of being self-reliant. To this day, he was thought of as being spineless and weak, and was sometimes called korpuh (snake) behind his back.

After this embarrassing episode, Klindonok managed to apply for and be accepted into the Ponkti em’kel Meklonoh, which managed and operated the terpoh business for Ponk’et. The terpoh were an industrial bacterium raised and cultured in caves that surrounded Ponk’t . The bacterium was critical to Seomish industry, which depended on chemical and biological methods for shaping and molding materials. As a member of Meklonoh, Klindonok was assigned ‘keeper’

duties, one of the lowest occupations. Essentially a custodian who was responsible for keeping the waters and surfaces around the culturing vats clean, Klindonok found the duty degrading and humiliating and he often dreamed of something bigger. Inside Meklonoh, Klindonok was sometimes referred to as vishke, “one who goes with the current,” in other words, a follower, not a leader.

Now, here was a real chance to move against the current. Klindonok looked up at vonkleist and said, through the echopod: “ZZZhhh…come with me…provide…zzz…Notwater…you have breathe…?”

Von Kleist eventually understood that he would need his own air supply for the trip. He told Klindonok he could provide that. “Our taucher…our divers, have this. Froschmann…I can use their equipment.” The Fregattenkapitan climbed up off the platform and went hunting along the shops for the right gear. Soon, he had gathered several tanks, regulators and mouthpieces, along

with masks, a crude voice talker and a full weight belt from a shop in the rear. He held them up for Klindonok to see.

“I have the equipment. What do I do next?” Already, von Kleist was slipping off his shoes, his socks…. The others around the pen looked on with alarm.

“I…zzzhhh…speak…Kolom….” Klindonok submerged and went back to the kip’t, to tell Kolom what was happening. His partner was pained at the prospect of riding on the outside of the kip’t and none too happy at the arrangement. But the needs of the situation prevailed.

Von Kleist was soon equipped and ready. With a weak smile, he stepped off the diving platform, submerged in the frigid water and soon felt hands, or something, guiding him along.

He bumped into something solid and the hands maneuvered him into the kip’t, in the aft end of the little ship. Herr Keller, for he still thought of the larger of the creatures as ‘Herr Keller,’

climbed in the front and the canopy slid shut. The other froschmann clung to the outside.

The kip’t thrummed with power and began moving. Von Kleist felt his heart racing. Either he was going to learn wonderful things so incredibly powerful that Germany would finally be able to push the Allies back and gain all of Europe for Der Volk….or he was about to die for the Fatherland. He didn’t know which but it was clear that all of his training in the Kriegsmarine--

the Marineschule training as a cadet, his first cruise aboard the Emden as a newly minted Leutnant zur See, the invasion of Norway aboard the Gneisenau, the Jaguar and her collision with ice floes near the Finnish coast, his assignment to shore duties in Berlin--none of this had ever prepared him for this.

Von Kleist felt the little craft shudder and her hull crinkle and flex as they dove deeper and deeper. Surely by now they had left the bay at St. Nazaire and were heading out into the Atlantic. He could barely see anything outside the canopy; only the scaly back and fins of Herr Keller was really visible, working the controls up front. He craned to see, saw no instruments he recognized and wondered how the creature operated the ship.

“How do the controls operate?” he asked, not sure if the translator device worked here.

Herr Keller—Klindonok—replied over a staticky channel on the echopod.

“ZZZhhh…we work by…zzhh…sound…scent. The kip’t sniffs….course…study echoes—“

“Ah, you can range with sound… ja, our U-boats have this also. And scent…I must learn more about this. Admiral Doenitz would be very interested—“

Herr Keller shifted position, so that Von Kleist could see the control panel. With his forepaddles—von Kleist would never get used to seeing six fingers on them—Klindonok indicated several displays. To von Kleist, they resembled nothing so much as the face of a drum, fabric sheets stretched tight over some kind of soundhead. Even as he watched, he could see slight reverberations and vibrations of the fabric.

It’s creating sounds, von Kleist realized. Vibrating with the echoes it’s picking up. He realized that such a control system made sense for a people who lived like fish. You couldn’t see anything down here anyway. Sound was the medium for situational awareness. And even the controls of the little ship were designed to receive and ‘display’ sounds all around them.

Herr Keller was navigating purely by sound. And scent too, he had said.

Von Kleist figured the more he learned and took back to the OKM, the better his prospects with the Admiral. New devices, new tactics and only he would know how they worked. He imagined himself as a sort of ambassador, or liaison with the sea people…already he was calling them seeleute—if he was clever enough, he’d soon be indispensable to the blockheads in Berlin.

Maybe another command, he imagined. Command of a whole fleet of these little ships. An obvious extension of Doenitz’ wolfpack idea. The seeleute also had sound grenades, blinders,

this thing called ak’loosh’ke that generated huge waves and vortexes…what couldn’t they do with water?

And then there were the dragons… drachen…the monsters. Herr Keller had called them puk’lek, or something like that. Who would have thought of using such fearsome beasts as weapons, trained killers to sink ships and patrol the seas? Von Kleist was sure there was nothing like them anywhere on Earth. Perhaps they could even be used in land attacks. The Wehrmacht would find that most interesting.

And he, Fregattenkapitan Werner von Kleist, would be at the center of it all.

“Herr Keller, these beasts, you call them puk’lek…can they survive on land as well?”

For a moment, Klindonok didn’t respond, as he was preoccupied with maneuvering their ship onto a new heading. They seemed to be quite deep now and much as he enjoyed naval service, von Kleist had never imagined himself as a submariner, like Muhler and his people. The confines of the cockpit were close and he closed his eyes while the maneuvering went on.

“Shhkkkrreah….true…puk’lek live in Notwater…survive both…zzzhhh…I adjust pod…

explain…” Klindonok reached behind and took the small translating device. He made some adjustments and von Kleist watched in fascination as the interior glow cycled from warm yellowish-orange to crimson and purple and a dozen other colors, before settling into a muted and cool blue-white. He gave the pod back to von Kleist and, as he did, the kapitan could already hear a steady stream of words issuing forth—

“… sometimes called the seamother, the Kelm’opuh (Destroyer of Nations) and mythologically, Keeshoovikt (The One Who Swims Against the Current or goes against God), the puk’lek is the most fearsome beast in the waters of Seome. Mythology speaks eloquently of the mixture of fear, veneration and fascination the serpent holds. Occasionally reaching a hundred beats in length, with a powerful horned and spiked tail and a reptilian head with a broad veined crest, the puk’lek roams the seas of Seome unmolested, usually alone. It is carnivorous and easily provoked, usually preferring to feed off teng (a shark-like fish but longer) and various scapet (a tunnel-shaped fish with a colorful head stripes and water-jet escape mechanism).

Puk’lek are known to prefer the continental slopes as feeding and spawning grounds and they occasionally leave the water altogether for several hours at a time. What happens to them on land is not known and has been the subject of mythology and speculation for ages. One theory has it that the puk’lek are not true sea-dwellers at all but some kind of hybrid land-sea dweller, and that they were punished by God long ago for the transgression of leaving the water by having to endure both environments in order to survive (in other words, amphibious.). There are myths that say the puk’lek fathered a new race of beings on the land and must leave the sea periodically to care for them. But there is no proof of this. From a distance, the puk’lek resembles a fat, scaly k’orpuh, but the puk’lek is silvery white and gray whereas the k’orpuh is very dark and mottled like seaweed…”

Von Kleist settled back with the echopod resting in his lap. Now it was silent. He would have to get Herr Keller to teach him how to activate the pod’s encyclopedia function. So much could be learned from this device…and from Herr Keller’s people in general Yes, von Kleist thought, the seeleute and the Germans would make fine allies. And with such an alliance, the Allies would never be able to stop the legitimate aspirations of Der Volk.

Herr Hitler’s whole crackpot idea of Lebensraum could someday cover the entire planet.

Maybe even beyond.

Chapter 12

“We should not moor a ship with one anchor, or our life with one hope.”



Tostah, the Sk’ortel Sea

Time: 782.5, Epoch of Tekpotu

With her people now exiled to the seas of the Sk’ort, the metah Mokleeoh had reluctantly realized that the home waters of Omt’or and the great city of Omsh’pont had been completely destroyed by the Ponkti assault forever. No one could say that the Omtorish refugees were held in high esteem by the Skortish; quite the opposite. Conflict and disputes multiplied every day.

The situation was becoming increasingly perilous, unsustainable.

Even Likteek had nothing but bad news. The Academy had sent observers to the upper seas, even into the Notwater, not long after the refugees had arrived in Tostah, to determine if conditions were improving.

They were not, said Likteek. The observer’s report proved it. The great light above that eekoti Chase had called a sun—it even had a name…Sigma Albeth B—was clearly in its last days, injured, perhaps dying like an old seamother. The waters grew colder every day. Even the Skortish were complaining about it and huddled ever closer to their lava trenches and hot vents nearby.

Now, this…the final insult. Mokleeoh burned with anger as she listened over and over again to the words of the Skortish metah, Skeleemah kah: it was nothing less than an ultimatum to Mokleeoh. The Omtorish refugees must leave Skortish seas and they must leave in ten mah, or less.

Mokleeoh angrily snapped the echopod shut with Skeleemah’s words still blathering out as Likteek himself had been shown into her tent by the vizier, Orklek. The old scientist was clearly troubled, what with all the interior bubbles churning about—but Mokleeoh paid little attention.

Now was not the time to maintain shoo’kel.

She had made a critical decision and she wanted—needed—Likteek’s support before the Kel’em.

“Where is he?” she asked. “I want to roam. I need to roam.”

The vizier was nearby, filing echopods and scentbulbs for the future. Racks and slings had been erected inside the Metah’s quarters for this.

“Affectionate Metah, I believe Likteek is with the Kelk’too…half a beat away. Last I pulsed him, he was with that group, studying specimens from the Trench.”

Mokleeoh sniffed. “The Skortish already know what’s in their trench. What does he think he can add? Send for him. I want vish’tu…my mind won’t be still and I need to roam.”

Ork’lek arranged for the scientist to be summoned. He appeared at the entrance to her quarters a few moments later.

“Honorable Metah…I’m told you wish to see me?” Likteek was getting older. You could pulse it inside. The bubbles were smaller, as if some internal fire was slowly being banked. His skin was mottled with splotches and he wasn’t as nimble as he once had been.

“Likteek, you and Ork’lek come with me. I always think best when I’m moving. I’ve made a decision…but I need to hear your thoughts.”

The three of them set off, flanked on all sides by burly prodsmen and stunners. The Metah always traveled in convoy when on roam, to discourage the curious and the malcontents.

They swept along the upper ledges of the terraces that overlooked the chasm of the lava trench. To one side, curtains of hot water boiled up in column after column of mineral-rich emissions. The water was too warm, too silted, too skor’kel’te, for Omtorish taste. It was like taking a salt bath.

Mokleeoh cruised with vigorous slaps of her tail flukes, seeing row after row of tents and canopies perched next to each other at the very edge of the trench, crowded and crammed almost on top of each other. Omtorish refugees cruised in and out of the tents, visiting, arguing, fighting, eating, mating, playing. The Metah acknowledged the honks and calls and waves of her kelke. She felt by turns both anxious and sad for their welfare…they would know the truth soon enough.

“I’ve made a decision,” she announced as they were approaching the end of the refugee camp and made an abrupt turn out over the rising hot waters of the trench.

Ork’lek had brought a blank echopod. “Recording now, Metah.”

“I’m sending Manklu and Kloosee back to Likte, back to the Farpool. I want them to re-activate the Farpool. Put the singularity engine back inside. We’re going to need it.”

This perturbed Likteek greatly. “Metah, why do this? You shut down the Farpool to keep the Ponkti from abusing it…or damaging it. What’s changed?”

“Everything!” Mokleeoh snapped. She removed a small pod from her web belt and handed it to Likteek. “Listen to this…it’s Skeleemah. She’s given us an ultimatum.”

Likteek listened. His face scrunched up into a mask of anguish when he realized what had been said. “The Skortish invited us here. When the Ponkti attacked the city, wasn’t it Skeleemah who allowed us to come to Tostah, live in their hot waters? Didn’t she say we’re all kelke together in these seas?”

“She did, but she’s changed her mind. I don’t know…maybe Lektereenah’s got something on her. Maybe the Ponkti have threatened the Skortish. I wouldn’t be surprised. “

“But why activate the Farpool now?”

Mokleeoh snapped off a particularly vigorous turn and came to a full stop. Likteek and Ork’lek almost ran into her. Even her convoy of prodsmen stroked right past them before realizing the roam had stopped.

The Metah glared at the both of them. “Are you both that dense? We have nowhere else to go. The mekli are still with us. The High Priestess owes us favors, but we can’t return to the cold waters. Those are Ponkti seas and they’re still occupying the Pillars. Likteek, the day of kel’vish’tu is here. The Great Emigration.”

“Honorable Metah, I don’t—“

“Hush! Just listen to me. You saw the reports from the Notwater. The seas are getting colder everywhere, even here in Sk’ort. Skeleemah blames us for it, but that’s ridiculous. The light of Notwater is dimming every day. Your own report says so. Remember what eekoti Chase told us: the light is damaged somehow. He learned it from the Tailless, the Umans, before they left. No, I’ve made up my mind. We have no choice now and to argue is to delay the inevitable.

Seome is doomed. You know it and I know it. In a few days, the entire kel of Omt’or will leave Tostah and make our way north to Likte, where we will travel through this Farpool, in small groups, and leave our home waters forever. Eekoti Chase has described his home…I believe they call it Urku. Maybe I’m pronouncing it wrong, but something like that. Likteek, I want you to head up the construction effort.”

“The construction effort?” Likteek said blankly.

“We need kip’ts. Lifeships. Any kind of craft that can survive the Farpool…we need dozens, maybe hundreds of them. Use eekoti Chase’s instructions. He’s been through the vortex many times. I just wish he were here with us. We could use his guidance now.”

Mokleeoh made several more sweeps of the settlement, then returned to her own tents. But Likteek remembered nothing of what she said afterward. The sheer scale of the effort made his mind numb…so many kel’ke, so many ships, the logistics of the migration exceeded anything he could imagine…and he could imagine quite a lot.

Where’s old Longsee when I need him? He’d have to get back to the Academy’s tent and find Longsee’s pods and bulbs…maybe there would be something in them he could use, some pearls of wisdom, some nugget of knowledge that would help.

Mokleeoh had made up her mind. She ordered Ork’lek to gather all the official court repeaters. “I’ll tell them what to say, then we’ll roam together and make the announcement. I want to be on hand for questions…the kel’ke deserve to have their Metah nearby when they hear this.”

A small army of repeaters was assembled. Mokleeoh had already composed her message, the words they would sing out, over and over again, as the formation roamed about the tent city of the Omtorish. Her words would be encoded into hundreds of echopods for every family, every em’kel and her scents impressed on bulbs so the people would know how serious this was.

“Kel Om’tor…gather your belongings…the day of kel’vish’tu is at hand! In three days, we leave this place, the waters of the Skortish for Likte…for the Opuh’te, for the Farpool. We travel to our new home. We travel to Urku…come and be joyful with me….”

The repeaters practiced the words, arranged their harmonies and rhythms, suggested new phrasing with Mokleeoh and finally were ready. They set off to make the announcements.

The effect was like poking a stick in the eye of the seamother.

From one end of the refugee camp to the others, as if a great signal had been issued, Omtorish kel’ke poured out of their tents and began chatting, shouting, swearing, pushing, fighting, jostling and bellowing. Every em’kel held emergency meetings. The craft em’kels assembled tools and what materials they could find. Search parties were organized to locate anything that could be turned into a lifeship, cobbled together just long enough to support a few kelke while they went through the whirlpool. Prodsmen broke up fights. Tradesmen made deals.

Em’kels bartered household goods. Weavers and carvers and growers and herders argued.

And through it all, the Skortish circled above and beyond the terraces of the camp, by turns amused, annoyed and more than a little satisfied to be seeing their unwelcome neighbors gather their belongings to begin the great roam north. Many did not understand where the Omtorish were going.

“To the Pillars! They’ve got the mekli!”

“To the caves of Ponk’t…they’re prisoners!”

“No, they’re off to Eep’kos…the ice tunnels, the snake gardens. They’ll be slaves of Oolandrah and spend their days sniffing tekne’en.”

The truth was that no one in Sk’ort really believed the Omtorish would make kel’vish’tu and leave Seome altogether. To most, it was just a bad dream, like what happened when the k’orpuh bit you…and the Eep’kostic raised lots of k’orpuh.

With Kloosee and Manklu up north at Likte Island, working on re-starting the Farpool, Kloosee’s em’kel, known as Putektu, scrambled to gather their belongings for the great migration.

Arkto was closest to Kloosee. He took a few sacks and started gathering scentbulbs and echopods and other records for storage. Klek and Metaklee tried to help.

“No, no…let me do this…I know what Kloosee wants to save.”

“So what are you…keeper of the pods? We’re just trying to help out,” said Klek.

“Don’t pulse like that…your insides are all jumbled up. Just keep shoo’kel for a while and I’ll get this done. The Sko’rt already think we’re just fat cows.”

“Who cares what the Skortish think?”

Every em’kel had the same battle: what to take…what to leave behind. Above the refugee camp, perched or tethered to the terraces along the lower slopes of the hills, scores of kip’ts were assembled, each carrying far too much for such a long trip. Em’kels squabbled and argued over priorities… why are you keeping that?...there’s no room for that in there…leave that behind, the Skortish can have it.

The Metah’s vizier, Orklek, roamed about the settlement, helping where he could, taking notes of questions and petitions for the Metah, expediting where he could.

We’ll never get all this organized, he told himself. Not in ten thousand mah.

But somehow, some way, the Omtorish did.

Several days later, the great roam north, the kel’vish’tu, was slowly coming together.

The official vish’tu roam was a custom as old as the world. Its origins were lost in the murky currents of the past, unclear and shrouded by the mythical tales of the ancient cave-dwellers. It was very much in the traditions of Ke’shoo and Ke’lee and Shoo’kel, and typically involved two roamers, although custom did not dictate any set number. Entire em’kels, or even whole kels, were known to conduct their business in vishtu, on roams that might last from a few hours to a few days, and range over thousands of beats.

The beauty of the vishtu was that it encouraged great physical exertion. That was good in itself but it also helped unblock other channels of communication like scent and gave them a chance to work. Sharp disputes often arose on roams but the vishtu seemed to blunt them.

Something happened to kelke who roamed in vishtu; they were more congenial and flexible. It was the physical beauty of the landscape, in the opinion of many, that accounted for this. Others insisted that it was the muscular exertion involved—the body and the mind were one and sustained effort was needed to ease the roamer into a trance where he could merge his personality with his fellow roamers. More likely, the magic of vishtu was due simply to what was called t’shoo, a feeling of sliding through the water, brushed by currents and tingling from beak to tail, spiritual orgasm it might be called. Vishtu was all these things.

The Metah had called for kel’vish’tu, to discuss and decide on how the Omt’orish would travel through the Farpool…who would be first, what order would be followed. To set the right tone for the roam and the difficult decisions ahead, Mokleeoh had decreed that the roam would begin with a reciting of the Tillet Songs. In the earliest days of the Sound, when the Farpool had first appeared, most of Omt’or’s tillet and pal’penk pack animals had scattered to the boundaries of the Omt’orkel Sea in fear. In order to attract and gather them again, a great roam would be

put together to beckon them back, a roam lasting several days for it would take that long to reach the Farpool. All the kel would join in singing the Songs which would draw the beasts from their hiding and entice them to return.

Omt’or’s thousands soon began gathering near the top of hills overlooking the fiery lava trench. For several days, the kel assembled all its people, those that had survived the Ponkti assault, until they swarmed in such multitude that the din could be pulsed around the world and the other kels knew Omt’or as a single powerful echo.

Most of the Sk’ortish were glad to see them go.

When at last the full kel had gathered and the seamounts of the valley were lost in the immense tide of people, the Metah sent her Kel’em councilors among them with the protocol of the roam. There were moments of great excitement and disappointment, waiting to learn how the em’kels would be arranged, who would roam with whom, who would be separated, who favored, who would roam nearest the Metah and who at the tail. The clattering of potu pearls changing hands was quickly followed by the buzz of the prodsmen’s prod, to keep the bribery within bearable limits. When it was done, the vizier took Likteek aside with a beaming smile on his face.

“Mokleeoh has honored you with a flank just one beat behind hers. You’ll be able to hear and pulse everything that is said. I hear from some of her servlings that she thinks you can explain kel’vish’tu better than anyone. She may even ask you to roam with her for a time.”

“You’ll be up there with me, I hope,” Likteek said. “I’m not so young as I once was.”

“One flank ahead, along with some of my own em’kel. There are so many big decisions we have to make. But Likteek, remember this: the Metah expects that you will be pure and candid in your echoes. She demands that. Remember what you’ve been taught about shoo’kel.”

“Steady as she goes,” Likteek repeated. “Vizier, I knew shoo’kel before you were even born.”

The great day came and Mokleeoh made her appearance with her full court in tow. The vishtu formed swiftly as she paddled serenely toward the head of the roam. A hush rolled through the crowd like a strong current and there was furious commotion behind them as the kelke pulled themselves together. Likteek stole a pulse at the magnificent sight: the flanks curved out of range around the end of the valley and spread out into the Sk’ortel Sea itself, in evenly stepped divisions. He imagined it as a massive seamother, poised to strike. A prodsman tapped him on the dorsal and told him to face the Metah with all pulses. From now on, he was expected to remain in flank with the others.

They set off at a slow pace, allowing the crowds behind them to catch up. The Metah led them through a dense bed of brilliant blue ting coral that marked the end of the valley, though it was partly obscured by the ever-present rain of hot silt. Beside each flank, a cluster of servlings hovered, ready to swoop in with pods of food. Likteek ate them as soon as they could be replaced.

Shookengkloo Trench dwindled behind them; ahead, the southern limb of the Serpentines could barely be pulsed. Once out of the valley, good ootkeeor water could be felt for hundreds of beats in any direction. That would make the discussions and the decisions easier. The vishtu murmured in anticipation and Likteek noticed that all of the servlings had now vanished.

A high ringing shriek from the Metah was the signal. The sound channel magnified the shriek into a crescendo of shrill notes, pealing away in the distance. Another shriek met the first overtures of the full vishtu, deep, melodious harmonies building majestically to a deafening

bellow, a wail sliding across the ocean, reverberating around the world, the kel’s way of saying

“Here we are.” Tillet and pal’penk could never mistake the sound, even as it clashed with the other noise.

The first call was soon repeated, with higher pitch and the waters shook with the cries.

From the bottom, eelots and scapet and kiplet stirred and listened carefully; great schools massed beneath the vishtu, following it across the sea. The first melodies of the Songs were repeated, once, twice, three times, lamenting the kel’s loss. Omt’or mourned the days of loneliness, with sorrow and pain. Her lost herds would hear the moans and return to still them forever.

The overtures lasted for the better part of a day and by the time the vishtu had reached the first slopes of Eeskorkloo Trench, Likteek was exhausted trying to keep up. Orklek, the vizier, took pity on him and lashed him side-saddle to a lumbering tillet, who managed to keep up barely and seemed increasingly annoyed to have such a dead weight on its back.

The next part of the Songs dealt with the history of the kel; it was a necessary interlude to the kelkemah, the story of Omt’or’s response to the attack of the Ponkti. Kelkemah was a detailed rendering of the kel’s daily activities…the coming of the Ponkti, the destruction, the city, its collapse. Through this, it was believed, the missing beasts would pulse how important they were and come back to their duties. After Kelkemah, the refrain of the laments would follow.

And the stage would be set for what was sure to be a vigorous discussion of what to do next.

But first, the vishtu would eat. The roam curved along the spine of the Trench and Likteek could pulse far into the canyon, reading the outlines of a rugged floor strewn with boulders and fallen lava domes. He got echoes of a massive school of elongated animals— peektots, from the strong bounce of his pulses—and wondered if they would rise from the Trench to investigate what all the noise was about. A servling streaked in front of him and Likteek reached out, snatching a pair of eelash pods from him. He bit into one and swallowed hungrily.

Soon enough, the kel finished eating and began the Echoes of the Histories. Likteek began to wonder if the Metah would ever raise the issue of the Farpool and what was coming; that was ostensibly the whole reason for the roam.

So the songs went on. From the birth of the Omt’orkel Sea to the metamah of Tekpotu, the life of kel Omt’or was celebrated. Metahs were praised, the greatest scents described, famous repeaters remembered. The Eep’kostic Aggression was retold and the mah’jeet plagues and the beginnings of potu culturing. The kel sang to itself a litany of the ages, romantic and sad, bold and adventurous, all the thousands of mah of remembered history gathered together in an intricate ballad. Nothing was forgotten and to help refresh its memory, servlings cruised up and down the fringe of the roam with open scentbulbs. Likteek found the scents cloying, even overwhelming, but others around him seemed to enjoy them. The rich, tangled skein of odors soon engulfed him with feelings he had no words for.

Maybe I’m too old for this, he realized. If only Kloosee could be here, to see and experience all this. But that only made him sad.

The vishtu continued its swift procession through the warm sluggish waters of the north Sk’ortel. Somewhere beyond the pulse line of these seas, beyond the Serpentines, the Eep’kostic lived, burrowed into caves carved from the ice itself. They drifted with the polar currents far to the south and east, an enigma to the entire world. The land of the k’orpuh, Likteek told himself.

Treacherous and bleak. Just the thought of an ocean of tchor’kelte water made him numb.

A shout erupted from behind them and Likteek turned to see. He pulsed the reason almost immediately.

A long, ragged bank of weary animals was rising from a ravine a few beats south of them.

Hungry tillet, coming home. The kel exploded in a great outburst of cheer, shouting at them, coaxing them, momentarily frightening them until the strong, clear voice of the Metah was heard, drawing them back into the Songs. The beasts listened for a few moments, as the kel slid by, then gradually fell into formation with the vishtu, forming new flanks above and below them, content just to pulse something familiar.

Even as he watched this, Likteek pulsed more tillet schooling around them, on all sides, rising from the seafloor many beats below. He pulsed down and thought the floor was alive; waves of silt and mud rolled by, giving way to more waves of tillet and pal’penk and stek’loo and all manner of Omtorish domestics. The water was thick with them and the kel had to slow to make its way.

The beauty of the Song was soon lost in the din of the reunion. The vishtu itself threatened to break apart, as thousands of beasts sought out and found their old masters. Chaotic pulses screeched around them. Only the prodsmen were able to restore order, darting in with their weapons to push away the delirious animals. The prodsmen managed to form a precarious barrier around the roamers, while the tillet skipped along the edges, probing, bumping, jostling, pressing in to join them. The confusion went on for hours but gradually a form of order was restored.

It made a majestic sight.

From where he roamed, Likteek imagined that the vishtu had somehow grown wings. For as far as he could pulse, to their left and to their right, staggered lines of excited tillet flocked.

Pal’penk roamed in tight schools above and below the wings, barely able to keep up despite losing much of the fat the herding em’kels had put on them. The kel itself had already started into Kelkemah and the tillet answered the Song with a steady clicking and whistling of their own. Likteek had no doubt that the roam was quite loud enough to travel ootkeeor around the world. They were like a colossal k’orpuh, lumbering across the ocean, enveloped in a shroud of scavengers.

Singing the Kelkemah eventually quieted the beasts. They roamed now in unison, entranced by the words, the hypnotic cadence. Kelkemah spoke to them in the rhythms of the sea and they listened. Even Likteek found himself drifting off at times, only to be bumped from behind by the next flank. He was tired and exhilarated at the same time and grateful for the experience.

Somehow the Song affected him deeply this time, though he knew most of it by heart—the rest of the kel was fully immersed in the drama. Somehow, despite the thousands and thousands of bodies surrounding him, he felt more alone than ever, just listening.

Then, suddenly, the high shrill voice of a solo singer cut through the deeper vocals of the kel. Likteek thought it was Pakirah, but he couldn’t be sure. Slowly, but surely, throughout the roam, Pakirah had assumed the role of a Leading Voice. She had been part of the Academy em’kel only a short time but already hers was a voice of wisdom. Her voice was at once strident and taut and penetrating at the same time, full of subtle undertones and overlaps, and in time, they began to carry the full weight of the melody of Kelkemah for much of the middle flanks.

Pakirah never strayed far from her trangkor, bringing the instrument to gatherings of em’kels, to meals, on roams, plucking a note here or there to make a point or emphasize a statement.

The instrument was part of her, another limb, only one that gave off the most delicate, yet melancholy notes. Likteek decided then and there he would get Pakirah to show him how to play

the trangkor. In their new home, in the distant seas of Urku, the melodies might be all they had left of home.

The Metah led the roam out of Skortish waters and across the breadth of the swift but narrow Orkn’tel current, a tributary of the Ork’lat. Almost immediately, the seas changed. The Ork’lat circulated warmth from the equator and the first tingling of the tropical currents were most welcome by the fatigued, benumbed vishtu.

The roam itself was now fifty beats wide at the head and nearly two hundred to the rear. It took hours for a message to travel that distance by word of mouth; there was no other way. It was impossible to focus the pulses of so many thousands of echobulbs and so the spoken word was the only reliable way of knowing anything.

A growing sense of anticipation had been building through the kelke for hours; even Likteek had sensed it. Something is happening up front…something is coming. The Metah will speak.

The Metah will hold council with the Kel’em. The Farpool and kel’vish’tu will be discussed.

Decisions will be made.

About time, Likteek thought to himself.

The Metah had been asleep in an emtopod drawn by twenty tillet when she was gently awakened by a young servling, who rode on the crest of the pod while Mokleeoh stirred and opened her eyes. She was exhausted from the roam and it was the first rest she had permitted herself. Momentous decisions were about to be made. She had wanted rest but sleep had been difficult.

When Mokleeoh saw the face of the servling, though she motioned for the girl to squeeze in beside her. The ‘ling did so, with exaggerated deference and care. She nestled until Mokleeoh had had enough. Then the Metah exited the emtopod and her shrill voice carried far and wide, as a great hush descended over the leading flanks of the roam. The word was quickly passed : be quiet, she speaks, listen for the voice. It took an hour for the entire roam to hear this.

Kelke, we must decide. The Ponkti have brought nothing but death to Seome. Our kel is dispersed—“ here there was a definite undercurrent of anger and menace—“so we must determine what is to be done. I have talked with the Kel’em, with all the em’kels…it has been decided that Omt’or will make kel’vish’tu. We will travel a great distance, in small groups, to the seas of a place called Urku. It’s the home of eekoti Chase. We have no other choice for us


Though it was weakened by distance and somewhat distorted in transmission, through thermals and sound channels, Mokleeoh’s songs could be detected even by Kloosee and Manklu, thousands of beats away, working feverishly with a small team to get the Farpool re-started.

Both stopped for a few moments, to listen to the Metah’s proclamation.

“Oot’keeor will have it themselves in a few hours,” Kloosee said. “The repeaters will give us everything.”

“I know…I’m just listening to her tone of voice,” Manklu told them. “She sounds…

determined…resigned, maybe…I’m hearing undertones of grit, resolute focus. Concentration too.”

“Manklu, get back to work…nobody can make out things like that from this distance.”

“Maybe you can’t, Kloos, but an old kip’t pilot learns early on how to listen. His life depends on it.”

Kloosee had no argument for that. It was usually best not to argue with veteran kip’t drivers anyway. They had usually seen and heard everything the seas had to say.

For many days, they worked long hours. Kloosee was everywhere, using the echopod eekoti Chase had recorded to guide the process… put this here, attach that there, plug this into that and I think these fit like this...only when fatigue set in and he could no longer keep his eyes open, did Kloosee relent and rest. He slept every night, fitfully, in the back of Manklu’s kip’t. But never more than a few hours and when he could no longer sit still, driven by the knowledge that so many kelke, indeed the Metah herself, were depending on him, he left the kip’t and sometimes roamed alone about the worksite, just watching.

They had almost completely disassembled the wavemaker that gave rise to the Farpool, to prevent it from coming under Ponkti control when word had come by repeater to stop and begin work to re-start the Farpool. After some confusion and a few choice words about the Metah’s orders, Manklu and Kloosee set to work again, gathering as many Omtorish at the site as they could.

First came the foundation pads, buried deeply in the seabed and supported by rock and anchors securing them to the hard limestone of the Likte plain. After the foundation pads were in place, anchors for mooring cables were set in place. Then the sections of the wavemaker’s outer shell and casing were towed by kip’ts and attached to the cables. Fasteners were a puzzle.

The Umans had left some but the Seomish didn’t like them or understand them. Instead, a paste mixed of korpuh blood and sand was used to secure the casing sections to the mooring cables.

“Very strong,” insisted one Omtorish engineer. “Flexible and tough…we use them for pal’penk trains…the animals can still maneuver but it gives them enough room to move with the currents.”

Kloosee had little choice to but to let the kelke with the real knowledge do their jobs.

After the casing sections had been towed into place and fastened to their moorings, the sections had to be joined together. More korpuh blood paste. Then came the chronotron pods, rounded up from their holding nets and positioned on top of the wavemaker, the part that rose above the surface. Here Kloosee, more accustomed to working in the Notwater, did much of the precision work, shoving and heaving the pods into their mounts and securing them with korpuh paste and an odd Orketish joint called seamother’s teeth. Not actually teeth, though Kloosee wondered, but composite hinged claws and grabbers that clenched opposing sides of a structure just like a mouth filled with teeth clenched its prey.

After many days of exhausting work, it was time for a brave crew to dive into the deepest part of the Likte Trench and retrieve the singularity engine itself.

Kloosee decided that he would lead the crew. To help him, he chose two others: a weaver named Kuktor and a technician named Yaktu. And right away, Kloosee saw that there would be problems. Kuktor and Yaktu couldn’t get along.

It started when the crew was staging a vast sling and float device. The sling was woven of tchinting fiber, Kuktor’s specialty. The Omtorish weaver was half-Ponkti and very protective, even defensive, of his work. Yaktu struggled with the fiber, trying to bend it far enough to form a knot of sorts, something to cinch up two ends and close a loop so the sling could be fastened to a float. The plan was to attach the sling ends to the singularity engine pallet and float it out of the trench, indeed all the way to the surface. There, Kloosee, clad in a lifesuit, would climb up onto the deck of the wavemaker, drag the pallet to the central core tube and deposit the engine in its bay there.

“This blasted fiber’s too tough,” Yaktu complained. “The weave’s too tight…I can’t bend it. If you’d done your job right, this wouldn’t be happening.”

“If you knew anything about tchin’ting,” retorted Kuktor, “you’d know where to make your bend. Nothing wrong with the fiber…it’s the joiner who doesn’t get it!”

The argument had been flaring for hours, until Yaktu couldn’t take it anymore. He dropped his end and went right at Kuktor and a full-fledged brawl ensued. Before Kloosee heard it and came as fast as he could, more had joined in. A cat fight of tumbling, slashing, stabbing bodies flashed before him. Grabbing several others, both Kloosee and Manklu waded in to the tussle.

Kloosee got a beak in the face and was slapped silly by someone’s tail. It took Manklu’s muscle, strong words, curses and determined efforts from others nearby to finally break up the fight.

The battling kelke separated reluctantly and hovered nearby, glaring at each other. Manklu stayed in the middle.

“That’s enough! Enough of this…all you two do is bicker and argue and fight. You want to come with me to the Notwater and see with your own eyes why we’re here? Our world’s falling apart. That light up there’s dying. The water’s getting colder, saltier. Stop this bitching and moaning and jabbing at each other…you’re not enemies. We’re all Omtorish here—“he pointed toward the Notwater. “How about a little shoo’kel, for once, huh? Now, let’s get back to work and get this job done.”

Little escapades like this happened every day.

The singularity engine was gingerly floated out of the trench and rose like a fistful of whirlpools up toward the surface. Manklu and Kloosee, along with Yaktu and Kuktor, helped guide the ascent, pulling and manipulating on steering cables, to keep the thing straight. Still fastened to its pallet, the engine couldn’t actually be seen for all the foam and froth its currents generated. Rising steadily, the engine looked like a big mobile water drain, currents and waves and white-hot steam bubbling in a stewpot of turbulence. It seemed to be sucking in all the water around them and Kloosee ordered all non-essential kelke to back off a good distance.

When the pallet broke the surface, it vented and hissed and crackled like a lightning bolt, churning the seas around it for dozens of meters. Yaktu had designed a hoist arrangement to haul the crate up onto the wavemaker deck and across its outer shell to the core tube at the apex of the huge dish-shaped structure. The maneuver took several hours but when the singularity engine was unhooked and slid off its pallet into the tube, Manklu, Kloosee and Yaktu all cheered, though Kloosee’s cheers were muffled from within his lifesuit.

The wormhole generator slid down roughly into its tube, still crackling, venting and hissing and was gone.

Now, to hook it all up, Kloosee told himself, and turn the thing on.

While precariously perched on the slope of the wavemaker deck, some twenty meters above the surface, Kloosee took a moment to study his surroundings.

It was clear, in comparison to his last trip topside, that the light level had dropped off considerably. Seome was always cloudy but this was more like twilight. The winds howled and the surf was rough, throwing ten-meter waves over the edge of the deck. Kloosee couldn’t see Seome’s sun through the gray scud but, if this was midday—and there was no way to tell, really

—then the amount of light trickling through had fallen off. He knew what eekoti Chase had told him…that the far enemy had done something to the light and it might not survive long. The starball weapon knocked stars off their normal sequence, sending them to their deaths, often by supernova if they were big enough.

And the effects of the damaged star-sun Sigma Albeth B on Seome were already well apparent to everyone.

Kloosee struggled to hold on to cleats and other projections on the deck. He heard a muffled shout. Manklu had come to the surface and was pointing through heavy surf. Kloosee looked.

It was a seamother, several in fact. Their slick gray-black humps floated like small islands, perhaps a few hundred meters away. And, as Kloosee watched, they made no movement at all.

Manklu dragged himself up to Kloosee’s level, near the apex, stumbling in his own lifesuit.

“They’re dead, both of them.” It seemed to be true. There was no apparent life in the beasts. “A sad time,” Kloosee’s voice came through the lifesuit repeater with emotion. “They are magnificent beasts, even if dangerous. Perhaps, once the Farpool is working, we can find a calf and take it through. If the Ponkti can do it, so can we. See how it does in the new oceans.

Pakirah would like that too…she could create more scentbulbs…listen to Puk’lek bellowing in new seas. She’d like that.”

Manklu thought the idea unlikely. The two of them clambered down off the wavemaker deck, submerged and returned to the work crew.

Re-building the wavemaker took several more days. There were more fights, insults, brawls and there were days when Kloosee felt like something between a referee and a harried mother.

But through it all, the wavemaker came together, the singularity engine ticked over in its core and, at last, the day came when the first startup test was planned. Everything seemed ready.

A control center of sorts had been constructed inside a small cavern, really a collapsed lava tube, just above Likte Trench. Cabling to the wavemaker was run and the machine was ready to be powered up. Kloosee drifted nervously about the control center, with his chosen startup crew, carefully selected to make sure no em’kel was slighted or insulted. He had become much more nuanced and sensitive to kel politics since leading the project.

Manklu was there too, along with Tamarek, longtime friend of Likteek.

The plan was to perform the powerup procedure that Kloosee had extracted from eekoti Chase’s echopod and carefully monitor the results. For safety’s sake, the rest of the crew had been ordered back several beats, in case the thing hiccupped or did something unexpected.

Kloosee gave the word. Power from a bank of eel-like, specially bred k’orpuh was applied.

The singularity engine was engaged. Then on the wavemaker deck several beats above them, on the surface, the chronotron pods began to turn.

For many minutes, as the vortexes spun up, the waters above Likte Trench grew turbulent, crashing and foaming and bubbling as great forces were slowly uncaged and released. The first vortex columns appeared shortly afterward and soon became white-hot, steaming caldrons as the pods jerked spacetime into their clutches and the waters flashed with immense, barely contained energies.

Manklu was exultant. “Pul’kel…” he whispered. “Our first whirlpools…we’ve done it!”

Just then, a herdsman popped into the control cavern with news of the results. “Lost our first tillet,” he told them. “She wandered into a pul’kel and vanished. It works…it works!”

“The big question is the main vortex,” Kloosee told Manklu. “The Farpool. I don’t know where it’ll form…or even if it’ll form.”

“We should send out scouts to look.”

“Good idea.”

A dozen scouts were rounded up and given the hazardous duty. Kloosee gathered them around the cavern entrance.

“The vortex fields are forming. But I don’t know if the Farpool itself has formed yet. We have to find it, see what it’s doing.”

“We should test the pul’kel first,” Manklu decided. “When the Farpool forms, send a test crew through to make sure it works.”

Kloosee thought that a good idea also, but there was a complication. “The Metah will have to approve. Let’s send a request by repeater, tell her what we recommend.”

“The vish’tu has already started,” Manklu said. “In a few days, this place will be swarming with kelke, thousands of them. I just hope she has a plan to organize this.”

A small team of scouts was formed to reconnoiter the vortex fields, to locate the largest and deepest whirlpool, on the assumption that it was or would soon become the Farpool. They set out, skirting several smallish whirlpools dancing over the top of the Trench like watery wraiths.

Currents were strong and confused; slipping through the tricky tides and waves and surges of the vortex fields took nimble swimming and strong flukes.

Yaktu had volunteered, along with a grower named Pelspot. Not to be outdone, Kuktor decided to help out. Anything Yaktu can do, I can too, he told the others. Reluctantly, Manklu approved, but warned them to behave. They cruised toward the vortex fields, nosing forward carefully, while back at the control cavern, Manklu and Kloosee composed a formal request to the Metah, asking for permission to send a test crew through the Farpool, once it had been located.

“There’s something strong up ahead,” said Kuktor. “Feel it…it’s already dragging us in.”

The three of them pulled hard to navigate through the battering of whirling columns of water, all of them spinoffs from the startup of the whirlpools. Each vortex reached out in turn, clutching at them, knocking themselves sideways, upside down. It was a tight squeeze,

“Watch out for that one!” yelled Yaktu. A massive tornado of water appeared out of nowhere. It seemed to split the sea top to bottom, twisting and corkscrewing like a thing alive.

Pelspot and Kuktor were too late. Each was caught in the whirlpool.

“I’m trapped!” Pelspot cried. He whipped one way, then another, stroked as hard as he could but it was no use. The vortex squeezed and pummeled him and pulled him steadily into its spinning maw.

Kuktor was no better off, though he was stronger. They were embedded in a forest of whirlpools, new ones forming left and right, appearing and disappearing in seconds, as the chronotron pods grabbed spacetime and yanked it. The whirlpools were an inevitable side effect of the wavemaker’s operation.

For a minute, Pelspot thought he would be able to pull free. He slammed his tail and armfins as hard as he could. Almost there…almost…but he couldn’t quite break free. He couldn’t relax either; with every breath, the whirlpool column pulled him closer.

Finally, the wormhole won and Pelspot disappeared in a flash into the core of the spinning, writhing tube. Seconds later, Kuktor vanished also.

Only Yaktu survived. Stunned, his heart pounding, he turned about and swam as hard as he could back toward the Trench and the control center in the cavern. He was out of breath and shaking when he arrived.

When Kloosee realized Pelspot and Kuktor were gone, “swallowed by opuh’te,” Yaktu forced out, between great gulps, he was disconsolate. Kloosee questioned Yaktu about what he had seen, where they had been, was this the Farpool? Yaktu shook like a scared pet, Kloosee thought, and had to be calmed down by others.

“At least, we know where the Farpool is now,” Manklu said.

“Maybe I should get a search party together,” Kloosee said. “Go look for them…they could still be trapped in the vortex fields somewhere.”

“Don’t bother,” Manklu said. “If it’s the Farpool, Pelspot and Kuktor are gone…who knows where.” He summoned a repeater from outside the cavern. His name was Skota.

“Take this message—“Manklu ordered, “and sing it out loud and clear. It’s got to get to the vish’tu, to the Metah. It’s critical that she approve a test mission through the Farpool. We can’t risk thousands of kelke going through without knowing what might happen. Now, go—"he swatted Skota on the fin, “send the message. Sing it loud and clear!”

The repeater helped himself to some nearby tongpod claws, then scooted out of the cavern and was gone.

Manklu turned to Kloosee. “You and I have another job, Kloos. Let’s find a kip’t we trust and make sure it’s modified to make it a lifeship. I don’t want to be falling through that big whirlpool out there in some rickety old contraption that might fall apart.”

The Metah’s approval came later that same day, by long-range ootkeeor and backed up by Skota himself, who returned hours later with the official words of Mokleeoh loh kel: Om’t.

“That’s it then,” Manklu said. “Get your gear together and let’s load up the kip’t. “

Kloosee was already stuffing a few holdpods with food and supplies. “We don’t know the exact location of the Farpool yet. We’ll have to be careful navigating the vortexes.”

Manklu scoffed. “How many mah have I been a kip’t pilot, Kloos? I’ve seen just about everything there is to see in these waters. We pulse for the strongest whirlpool…that has to be it.”

“The Farpool is different every time it lands. This one may not work the same way.”

Manklu was already on his way out of the cavern. “Leave the driving to me, Kloos. Let’s get going. The Metah and thousands of kelke will be here in a few days. You don’t want to disappoint them, do you?”

The precise location of the largest whirlpool, thought to be the Farpool, had not been established yet but Manklu was right. Kel’vish’tu was here and the waters around Likte would soon be swarming with Omtorish refugees. And there were still Ponkti nearby, occupying the Pillars of Shooki. Now, the specially equipped kip’t carefully approached the vortex field, with Manklu piloting, but Kloosee right behind him.

Manklu could even feel the Kloosee’s heart hammering away inside his chest.

This should be fun, he told himself. Then he swallowed a bit of nervous saliva rising in the back of his own throat.

Manklu was fighting the kip’t controls. “Tricky currents here, Kloos. It’s hard to steer in these—“

“Just feel for the big pull,” Kloosee told him. Like I really know what I’m doing. Still, he had become something of a celebrity lately; no one had ever been closer to eekoti Chase, unless it had been eekoti Angie. He figured he’d better act like he knew what he was doing, even if he didn’t. This will either be one small step for the Omtorish…or a complete disaster.

Feeling Kloosee’s heart jackhammering away right in the middle of his back, Manklu found himself wondering if they had figured out how to maneuver in this Farpool properly…the right angle of approach, the right speed…a mistake could send them thousands of years in the wrong

direction. Maybe not even into the seas of Urku…was that the right term now? They would soon find out.

“I’ve got it!” Manklu cried out. “Feel it…we’re being pulled in strongly. I can’t even steer this thing anymore.”

Kloosee did feel it. The kip’t rolled upside down and slammed both of them hard against the cockpit. Then the spinning and corkscrewing began.

Kloosee’s last thought, when the white flash exploded all around them, was: Kah! In the name of Shooki, I really hope this thing works!

Chapter 13

“Set your course by the stars, not by the lights of every passing ship.”

General Omar Bradley


Allied Convoy HX-242, en route to Bristol, England

The North Atlantic, 500 miles north of Bermuda

January 12, 1943

2200 hours (local)

Commander Wade McCluskey was frankly stunned into speechlessness at the sight all around them. The U.S.S. Superior had taken up her customary position ahead of the convoy’s leading edge by a thousand yards…only twenty minutes had passed since the sound man had called out several submerged contacts, likely U-boats. Now all hell had broken loose and McCluskey clung tightly to the bridge rail as the destroyer heeled hard to starboard to come about and chase down the closest contact.

Something exploded behind them and the wave of heat could felt be from a full mile astern.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” McCluskey murmured to his XO, Lieutenant Commander Leland.

Leland was squinting through binoculars astern of them. “Got to be the Pan Pennsylvania, Skipper…that’s her position, according to my chart. Dead amidships…she won’t last long in that inferno….”

Two miles astern of the Superior, along the southern edge of the convoy, the oil tanker burned like a funeral pyre, lofting thick black smoke into the night sky, now illuminated by

‘snowflake’ shells and tongues of reddish-orange flames licking their way up her funnels.

Already, the tanker was showing a pronounced list in the water.

McCluskey called down to the bridge. “Best distance to the last contact, Corky—“

The reply came immediately. “Two thousand yards, sir…bearing one one five, looks like.

All those explosions are making it—“

“I know, I know…do the best you can. Leland, depth charge pattern alpha…soon as we clear the convoy and run down that bearing. And get the hedgehogs ready too.” He watched the tanker burn fiercely. “I just hope somebody can scoop up survivors with their dip nets…if there are any survivors—“

“Aye, aye, sir—“The XO disappeared below to get instructions to the gun crews.

Just moments after Leland had left the bridge walk, McCluskey saw the first of the monsters. Already the night had turned into a hellish inferno—some kind of weather disturbance was sending dozens of waterspouts dancing across the waves now aflame with burning oil and screaming sailors. As if we don’t have enough trouble, he said sourly.

At first, he wasn’t sure he had seen the tentacles, or whatever they were, correctly. A shadow, maybe. A section of somebody’s gunwales, torn off by the explosion.

But then he saw them again, this time the reptilian head, the veined crest, the massive dorsals and powerful tail flukes. It was no whale or giant squid or octopus.

In all his years in the Navy, Wade McCluskey figured he had seen just about everything the seas of Earth had to show him, or so he thought. But this apparition hadn’t come from the seas of Earth.

He stared dumbfounded, transfixed, with a cold dead stone in his stomach, as the beast—for that’s all he could think of to describe the monster—lifted its hellish snout free of the flaming waves and rammed the sides of the freighter Akron, knocking her sideways through the water, making her heel hard to port, nearly to her gunwales, before she righted herself with a crash of waves and foam.

“Mother of God…it must be two hundred yards long—“he muttered, but there was no one else on the bridge walk to hear.

Only moments before, it had been just below them, all mouth and snout and black eyes. If it had chosen, it could have swallowed them whole. McCluskey tried to swallow too but his mouth had gone dry.

No more than three hundred yards separated the Superior’s port side from her reptilian head.

McCluskey could see each rib in the broad, veined crest that crowned its head; the crest shook with each stroke of her huge paddles. From nose to tail, the monster averaged maybe two or three hundred yards—this one seemed larger than that.

Caught in the illumination of exploding starshells, he could see its horned and spiked tail too, whipping back and forth like a wave. Its flanks were a rippling mass of silvery-white, mottled with gray and also with scars from innumerable battles it had fought. Blemishing the otherwise smooth skin were dozens of tiny, tube-shaped fish, symbionts who scavenged off the remains of the monster’s meals.

With a start, McCluskey realized there were more than one…in fact, he counted three, maybe four, nosing in and among the southern edge of the convoy.

Jim Leland shoved through the weather hatch and poked his head out. “Depth charges ready, Skipper. Hedgehog too. Stefans says the contact is just ahead, still there, but very faint.”

“Leland, what the hell is that? Am I seeing things?” McCluskey pointed to a huge black snout just butting into the side of Akron again , not four hundred yards abeam of them.

The XO squinted through the light of an explosion nearby… Pan Pennsylvania’s fuel stores cooking off. “Got to be some kind of whale, skipper, but I’ve never—‘

The 1MC crackled with a voice. “Surface contact…bearing zero eight five…two thousand yards starboard side—“

McCluskey trained his own binocs in that direction but there was too much smoke and flame.

“Could be a sub…come right, hard a starboard, bearing zero eight five…ahead flank—“

A moment later, the voice from inside the bridge came back. “Answering flank speed, sir!”

The Superior heeled hard right, nearly pegging her inclinometer, and McCluskey grabbed hold of a rail to keep from sliding off.

Just then, a great foaming wave rose up out of the sea and caught the destroyer amidships.

In the crash and spray of the wave, both McCluskey and Leland were knocked to their feet.

Leland struck his head on a stanchion and quickly lost consciousness.

For Commander Wade McCluskey, before the wave washed him completely off the bridge walk and into the flaming, roiling inferno of the sea, the black snout he had seen moments before materialized out of the spray like a child’s nightmare…all teeth and horns and spikes and swollen black tongue.

The monster smashed its massive head and forelimbs into the midships deck of the Superior and broke her back, splintering her hull frames, knocking her funnels askew. One of them toppled in an arc of fire and smoke into the sea, smashing the crewmen who had already been thrown from the ship.

The seamother then smacked Superior with her tail flukes and disappeared below the waves, leaving only the burning wreckage of a hull drifting slowly and aimlessly through the smoke.

McCluskey sank beneath the waves and flailed for something floating nearby. With a grunt, he realized it was a body. Beyond the hissing, foaming wreckage of Superior, over top of her upended hull, he caught a glint off something moving slowly through the water, a faint phosphorescent wake trailing the object.

He realized it was a periscope. And just beyond the scope, silhouetted by the flames licking up the sides of the rapidly capsizing Akron, the beast that had wrecked Superior surfaced just far enough for McCluskey to see the raked dorsal and armored skin of the leviathan, cruising headlong for yet another ship along the convoy’s southern row.

McCluskey stroked for a broken spar that was floating nearby and hoisted his oil-smeared body on top of it.

Nazi U-boats and sea serpents were systematically picking off the juiciest targets in the convoy.

What on God’s green earth was going on? No tactical instructor at the Academy had ever said anything like this could happen.

Chase clung to the lifeship controls for dear life as the little ship skittered and careened nearly out of control. The stop came fast, like hitting a brick wall at eighty miles an hour. There was a blinding light and a roaring rush of deceleration as the lifeship jetted out of the Farpool, throwing Chase and Angie hard against the cockpit windows. Caught in the whirlpool, Chase rammed the ship’s rudder hard over, while firing her jets to counteract the centrifugal force of the spin. For a few moments, they were both pinned sideways against the cockpit, until the force of the jets shoved them through the core of the whirlpool and out into calmer waters.

Angie breathed hard, wiping her face with her hands. She was about to throw up.

“What the hell was that--?”

Chase fought the lifeship controls to bring them into a stable attitude. “Thank God we came through that one…a rough ride, rougher than most. Hope I did the approach right…where the hell are we now?”

Angie clung to his back, almost choking him. Chase carefully peeled her fingers from his around his neck.

“You okay back there…you look a little green.”

“No, I’m not okay…you said this would be like a roller coaster…Chase, that was no roller coaster. I don’t feel so good…like I could—“

“Hold on, girl. Just hold on. Let me surface this craft and get some fresh air in the cockpit.”

Chase planed the lifeship up, honking at the sonic controls—he was beginning to get the hang of them, slowly, but surely—and the ship responded, rocking violently in a patch of turbulence. Beyond the cockpit, both of them heard subdued explosions, the tortured sound of metal bending, strange bellows and saw red-orange lights flickering.

The lifeship bobbed to the surface and Chase unlatched the canopy. Angie leaned out, heaving her guts over the side, gulping in gouts of fresh air, then heaving more.

That’s when they saw the freighter dead ahead erupt in a geyser of flame and smoke.

Holy crap! Angie… get back inside…we’ve got to get down! Get in now!” He reached around and physically dragged her back inside, then slammed the canopy down, chirping at the controls to order a crash dive.

The lifeship sank quickly and her jets pulsed as they rocked and slid their way deeper.

“Looks like we came through the Farpool right into a big battle,” Chase said grimly. “But this must be the right time…or near enough.”

Angie just wrapped her arms around her shoulders and shuddered miserably.

Chase cruised about beneath the battle, wincing at the sounds of explosions above them.

“Where are we…?” Angie asked weakly.

“Right in the middle of a war, I think,” Chase told her. “I tried to maneuver in the Farpool to put us about mid-1940s…World War II, I hope.”

“Why would you do that? Is this real…I mean--?”

“Oh, yeah, it’s real. I was here before…somehow the Ponkti—you don’t know them but they’re kind of the bad guys… Seomish bad guys…used the Farpool and wound up here.

They’re working with the Nazis…U-boats, torpedoes. Wow—“ he flinched as something big blew up just above them. The concussive shock wave nearly flipped the lifeship upside down.

“— that was close. I saw the Ponkti ships when I was here before…I came back…to see if our guys—Kloosee and his people—needed help.”

“This is all for real?”

“Quite real. Come on…let’s get away from this immediate area…before we get bombed or torpedoed.”

Chase drove them on, listening carefully to beeps and chirps from his controls. Angie cringed at each explosion and once, they nearly ran right into a sinking freighter, her bulkheads collapsing, steam venting from her sides and funnels. The wreckage drifted down right in front of them—she thought she saw bodies too but no, she couldn’t believe that…wouldn’t believe that.

“That’s a U-boat, I bet,” Chase muttered, as he swerved around a large sound contact dead ahead. “There must be half a dozen of them…they’re torpedoing the ships…Angie, we’re right in the middle of it.”

“You don’t have to sound so excited, Chase…I mean, people are dying here…aren’t they?

This all makes my head hurt. Take me back home.”

“We’d have to wait on the Farpool. It comes and goes…you have to find the right place and wait for it. Besides—“ he listened carefully to the sounds issuing from the dashboard of the ship.

“—unless, I’m mistaken, that’s a kip’t.”

“A what?”

“A little ship…kind of like this one. A Seomish ship…they have distinctive sounds, like a motorboat and someone humming, if you know what to listen for.”

“So what…can’t we go back, Chase? I don’t like this place.”

“So it may be Kloosee’s ship, that’s what. Or maybe the Ponkti. Let’s try to home on it—“: Angie wrapped her arms tighter around her shoulders. This was a really bad idea. “Let’s not…and say we did.”

For a few minutes, Chase went deeper and maneuvered the lifeship around drifting wreckage, burned bodies, what he thought was probably the bow of a U-boat prowling around the area and the deafening booms of depth charges above them.

Jeez, it must be chaos up there, he thought. He listened carefully, steering the little ship by sound, manipulating its controls by combinations of belches, grunts, chirps and clicks. You

could almost laugh at it if it weren’t for the fact that this was how the Seomish drove their craft.

They were people of sound. Their whole world depended on detecting and interpreting sound.

The motorboat humming grew louder and presently Chase found himself nose to nose with another ship. They circled each other warily until Chase heard a familiar honk on the speaker.

It was Kloosee. Chase almost kissed the instrument panel.

“Kloos, you old goat…where have you been?” Chase wanted to leave the lifeship but with Angie, the air pocket would collapse and her gear might not work right at this depth. He settled for the sound channel, adjusting his own echopod to tune Kloosee’s voice better.

“I have Manklu with me, eekoti Chase. We just came through the Farpool.”

“So did we. I have Angie… eekoti Angie, with me. What’s going on around here?”

The two ships came to all stop and drifted together on the currents. With all the noise and explosions above them, the sound comms worked better when the ships were close together.

“We tracked a Ponkti kip’t nearby,” Kloosee was saying. “Right after we came through.

The Tailless are fighting each other again…and the Ponkti are helping one side. Chase, you don’t know this but the Tailless gave some new weapons to the Ponkti…they used them against Omsh’pont. The city was destroyed…thousands of kelke died…the Metah ordered an evacuation.”

What!? Omsh’pont…destroyed…what kind of weapon?”

“It was called tor-pedoh…like a large rigid k’orpuh, like a snake. There were several and they destroyed most of the city.”

“What happened to the Metah…did she make it? Likteek? Your family…whatever their name was--?”

“Putektu…most got out. The Metah led thousands of –“ here the echopod chirped and gurgled for a moment, trying to translate something. “.. re…fugees, is the word, I think. They went south, to Sk’ort.”

Chase tried to remember what he had learned about Seomish geography. “The warm seas, right? So they’re camped out with the Skortish?”

“They were. But the Skortish ran them out. Eekoti Chase, the situation’s very serious.

Mokleeoh has decreed kel’vish’tu…the great migration is about to start….”

“What… now? You’re kidding…we’re not ready—I mean, shouldn’t there be some kind of planning--?”

Kloosee’s voice seemed strained. “Manklu and I re-started the Farpool somehow. We’re on a test mission, to make sure everything works, that we can reliably travel through the Farpool to the right time and place…your world, eekoti Chase. This world…Urku, we’ve begun to call it.

That’s where Mokleeoh is leading all the refugees…there are thousands.”

“Coming here…not to this time, I hope. Kloos, there’s a war on…a big war.”

“To your time, eekoti Chase…we came here, on our test mission, to help fight the Ponkti…

so they don’t mess up everything for all of us.”

Now Angie interjected a thought. “Chase, this is insane. Is this really happening?

Thousands of fish people coming here--?”

“Apparently, if Kloosee’s right. Not to this time, but hopefully to our time…yours and mine. Actually—“he sort of shrugged, but you could never tell it in the scales and armor of his outer skin—“—I’m not real sure what my time is anymore. Kloos, what can we do? Looks like this convoy is pretty much toast. The U-boats seem to have won this round. Are the Ponkti around here, now?”

“They are and they’re not alone, eekoti Chase,” Kloosee’s voice had taken on a shrill tone.

“They’ve brought seamothers with them…I don’t know how. Maybe as calves. But puk’lek are helping this battle…they’re destroying Tailless ships on their own…the Ponkti have raised them to help one side over the other.”

Chase gave that some thought. Nazis and seamothers? That was a bad combination. Very bad.

“Isn’t there anything you can do, Kloos. I remember when you thought-bonded with tillet some time ago. Couldn’t you do that with the seamothers?”

Kloosee darted back and forth, somewhat agitated. “I had thought of that. But puk’lek is so different, their minds are different. I’ve heard of it being done…but I’ve never done it myself.

There’s a risk—“

“We have to do something,” Chase said. “There’s a risk in doing nothing. We have to try.”

Kloosee pulsed Manklu. The old kip’t pilot agreed with Chase. “We came here to test the Farpool and fight the Ponkti. What happens if the Ponkti and their Tailless allies win this war?

Perhaps the seas of Urku aren’t so safe for us, for the kel’vish’tu. The Metah would want that.

All Omtorish would want that…we’ve nowhere else to go but here.”

Of course, Manklu was right. Chase was right. Even eekoti Angie, though she pulsed confused, seemed in agreement.

“Get back in your ship,” Kloosee said at last. “I’ll lead the way…it’s a day’s travel, maybe more. I’m still learning the seas of this world.”

So they headed off, away from the chaos of the battle, leaving the explosions and the flames and the dying sailors behind, and plunged deeper into the cold waters of the mid-Atlantic. The Ponkti base was in the lee of the Muir seamounts, a few dozen kilometers north of Bermuda.

Kloosee led them there in silence.

He had a lot to think about.

They crossed through the outer circumference of the vortex fields, encountering more turbulence and chaotic currents than Kloosee remembered.

“It must be another landing of the Farpool,” surmised Manklu. “Let’s go up and see—“

Kloosee steered them toward the surface. Behind them, Chase and Angie followed, not sure what was happening. Kloosee explained over the comm circuit.

“Manklu thinks all this turbulence is another coming of the Farpool. We’re going to investigate.”

“Just don’t get too close,” Chase remembered. “Or you may wind up someplace else.”

The two ships surfaced in the midst of a raging storm, with seas crashing in mountains of foam and spray overhead. Lightning cracked and veined the sky. Winds howled. And though the flicker of continuous lightning, they all saw the spouts in the distance, dancing and twisting across the wavetops like gray ropes.

They wallowed and heaved in the boiling sea for a moment, and Angie was quickly seasick, throwing up several times into the floor of the little kip’t. But Chase could offer only distracted concern, as they all saw the throbbing orb of bright white light lift away from the sea and arc heavenward along the waterspout like a rocket ascending into space.

“It’s a lifeship!” Kloosee shouted. “It must be!”

“Probably Ponkti,” Manklu said. “Heading home. Who would be onboard?”

“No way to tell,” Kloosee said.

They watched the orb of light flicker and dim and then it was gone, riding the rope of the waterspout that was the Farpool until it was no longer visible.

Chase had a bad feeling about this unholy alliance. Kloosee eventually submerged his own ship and resumed course for the Ponkti base. Chase gladly followed.

On the kip’t sounders, the Muir seamounts echoed back strong and unmistakable. Kloosee slowed down as they approached, reading the echoes carefully. Behind him, Chase did the same.

The Ponkti had chosen a seamount, a flat-topped guyot that the Tailless would have known as the Muir Seamounts, just northeast of the Bermuda Platform. A narrow range of underwater mountains, each topped with a shield-shaped plateau several thousand meters below the surface, the seamounts offered a variety of terrain, niches, crevices and caves to build a base of operations. Though there was plenty of surface traffic overhead and the underwater range was noisy and turbulent, there was little underwater traffic, save for the odd species that inhabited these waters…Kloosee had learned from listening to their communications that the Tailless called some of these beasts ‘ whales’.

“Not so different from our own puk’lek,” he had surmised, though not as fast.

In the rocky folds of one seamount, the Ponkti had located a broad depression surrounded on all sides by the steep slopes of the mountain. Over this depression, they had erected a tchin’ting fiber net, to form an enclosure that would become the seamother hold. Numerous caves and hollows nearby would serve nicely as storage places for all the Ponkti gear, including their lifeship and the kip’ts.

“Anybody around?” Chase signaled over the ship-to-ship comm circuit. He maneuvered to stay behind Kloosee as the Omtorish crew settled to the seabed in a thick stand of sea grass.

“I’m pulsing a few nearby,” Kloosee reported. “Probably Ponkti. You know Loptoheen is here. That complicates matters. Loptoheen’s naturally suspicious.”

“I would be too,” retorted Manklu, “if I spent as much time with their Metah Lektereenah.”

The two kip’ts nestled out of sight for a few minutes.

“I have to get as close as I can to the seamothers,” Kloosee said. “The thought-bond is short range. I should try to get right next to that netting. And I need to be undisturbed too.”

“I’ll keep the dirty ‘penk away from you,” Manklu growled.

“We don’t need to start a fight, Manklu…just distract the Ponkti or draw their attention away from the hold.”

“I’ll think of something.”

“Uh, guys…” it was Chase, “we have a bit of a problem here. I just checked Angie’s air gauge. Her air supply’s low. I need to get her to the surface pretty soon…to re-charge. Get more air.”

Kloosee reminded Chase of the flasks along the interior of the kip’t canopy. “You can get air from them, remember?”

Chase had forgotten. Along the seal of the canopy were a ring of small flasks that looked like miniature faces, complete with puckered lips. All you had to do was attach your regulator to one of the lips—it was like kissing a fish—and air could flow into Angie’s tanks. “I’ll try it, Kloos. Give us a few minutes.”

“Chase, this doesn’t feel right…can’t we just leave now?” Angie’s voice, coming through the echopod, was unmistakably strained and anxious.

Chase was already manipulating her regulator to fit onto one of the flask lips. “Not now.

We need to lie still…let Kloosee do his thing. I’ve seen this thought-bond at work…it’s

amazing. If it works, the seamothers will no longer obey the Ponkti. They no longer help the Nazis.”

Angie sank back in her seat forlornly. “I should have ignored you at the hospital…let one of the other Red Cross volunteers handle your family.”

“Shhh…give me your regulator…it’s okay…just hold your breath—“

While Chase and Angie refilled her tanks, Kloosee and Manklu quietly, cautiously, eased out of their kip’t and wriggled through the tufts of sea grass, closer and closer to the seamother hold. Their advance was partially masked by the sound of bleating and thrashing inside the pen.

The two calves inside were rambunctious and pressed at every seam of the netting, trying to find a way out.

This should be fun, Kloosee told himself. I’ve never done this with puk’lek before.

There were several Ponkti circling the hold. Manklu pulsed.

“I don’t recognize either of them. I’ll go back to the kip’t and come by, drive right by the hold. That should attract their attention. If they follow me, you’ll have your chance.”

Kloosee could think of no better idea. “Just be careful.”

Manklu sneered back. “What…you think I was born a midling just yesterday? Kloos, I’ve dealt with Ponkti for many mah, since long before you were born. You do your part and I’ll make life interesting for the Ponkti.”

He disappeared back into the thick sea grass. Moments later, the faint whoosh of the kip’t’s jets could be heard. As Kloosee watched and pulsed, the Ponkti immediately darted off to investigate the noise.

When they were gone and out of sight, Kloosee screwed up his courage and approached the pen.

I’m half-puk’lek myself…I know how these animals think. “Okay, here goes….”

Think as the seamother would think. Yes. Now, comes the scent, the slightly salty water of the Orkn’tel. Very pungent, you could sniff it even on the Omtorish side of the Serpentines. The boundary seas were always shifting, weren’t they?

But first you have to reach. You have to find the current. Great Ork’lat runs in our veins, swift and pure. The world is only a tributary.

Think as the seamother would think.

Patience. The Ork’lat is eternal, after all. Place a finished potu pearl in the Current of all Currents. Let it drift and think no more of it. When the time is right, when Ork’lat wills it, the potu will come home. Pulse alertly! It comes from the other direction. The same pearl, untarnished by outkel odors, untouched and undiverted, the same pearl has ridden all the rivers of the world. Ork’lat protects it. Ork’lat brings it home.

Think as the seamother thinks.

Tell me: do you ever tire of roaming in the boundary seas? Repeaters are so restless. They need so much t’shoo, but that’s wrong. No! Smother that. It’s not as we think. Love is our tradition. Ke’shoo for all, kelke or not. Can you pulse the smoothest echoes, and let all the rest be stilled? That is Ke’shoo. Pulsing for the tender, for the delicate, for the sublime. Pulsing for the heart.

Think as the seamother would think.

Have you ever sniffed raw potu? No current ever brought a more elegant, more glorious scent. That is the scent of this kel. Reeking of potu, that is Ork’et. The measure of things. The prize, the treasure, the vortex of azhpuh’te. The center around which all revolves. Shooki carved us from potu, cleaved a living being from the gemstone itself and named her Ork’et, the

Daughter. And even today, in the dim light of glowfish, Orketish skin flashes with the alabaster luster of the pearl.

Think as—

Who’s there?

Patience. Self is a piece of Noobit keeoh. Self pulse his pulses, hear his echoes, scent his smells.

--drifting with no feeling; it’s a ticklish touch you have—

Is this Noobit? My bondmaster? Koo’shet fails this one.

I am bondmaster. Listen to me…I am…am bondmaster…you hurt me. What is that? You ache for scent? Is that it? I feel lost. Sore.

Kip’tscent is gone, where is kip’tscent? Self gulps need for bondmaster. This one sniffs no kip’tscent.

Kip’tscent is here. Listen to me. I am bondmaster. Kip’tscent is trapped. Mah’jeet bloom has kip’tscent. You can sniff. You can help. I will open the net….

Self gulps no bondmaster. Koo’shet weak. Hurtsting. Hurtsting. No bondmaster.

Listen to me. You must help. Kip’tscent is in danger.

Noobit binds self to kip’tscent.

Self can help free kip’tscent. Self must leave the netting and find kip’tscent. Kip’tscent will fade, disperse. You must stop it. You must come out—


No, don’t fade. Stay. I am bondmaster. Don’t leave us, kah, don’t leave us now.

Self gulps bad koo’shet. The hurtsting.

Listen to me. Self? Kip’tscent will end. Kip’tscent will die. Help us. Bondmaster will die.


Yes. Noobit knows. Ask Noobit. If kip’tscent dies, self will die. Kip’tscent is trapped in .

Self must recover it, quickly. Before it ends….

Self will die.

--I have no words for this feeling—

Self bound to kip’tscent.

--it is like being hollow, all my blood rushing out—


--like the lash of a thousand prods, ripping at me—

Self? Self!

--like the ertleg’s claw raking me from inside, like the scalding—

Something heavy slammed into the side of the netting, jolting it hard.

Kloosee nosed around the netting until at last he found the seam. He worked it with his beak, bit by bit loosening it. The seamothers pressed with their noses from the other side.

Presently, a seam opened, just a crack.

And that was all that was needed.

Listen to me. Noobit…hurtsting will end…come free…now push…push hard….

In a flash, the seamother’s head and beak were outside the net, snapping and biting at Kloosee. Startled, he backed off quickly, deciding to bury himself back in the sea grass tufts, out of sight. Behind him, he heard the bellowing, the snapping of teeth, the thrashing as both calves slammed the netting seam again and again.

In moments, they were out of the hold, and free. With loud honks and bleats, they shook themselves vigorously, flexing and whipping their tails, then stroked and paddled upward, toward the surface.

I hope Manklu’s not up there, Kloosee told himself.

That’s when the Ponkti came back.

“Hey, this air tastes funny,” Angie was saying. She squirmed around to give Chase more room. Inside the cockpit, Chase went from one air flask to another, squeezing its ‘cheeks’ and fitting Angie’s air regulator over each pair of ‘lips.’ Air was flowing, Angie had said, but not much. And it was cold and tasted odd.

“Just breathe normally…I think there’s enough here to keep you going. If not, we’ll surface and re-charge up there—“ he stopped in mid-sentence, hearing the loud bellowing of the escaping seamothers. “—what the hell—“Chase listened for a moment, checked the instruments.

“That sounds like—hey, maybe Kloosee and Manklu were able to release ‘em…that would be cool…Angie, you’ve got to see this—“ He started to lift the canopy.

“No, Chase, don’t…don’t lift—“ but it was too late. Cold, dense water flooded into the cockpit and Angie shivered. “My ears—“

Chase was intrigued with the noise of the seamothers…and there was something else out there. A deafening BOOM! shook the waters, followed by a concussive series of shock waves that nearly flipped the lifeship upside down. Angie found herself nearly swept right out of the cockpit.

“Jesus! Angie, I know what that is!”

“Chase, shut the canopy! My ears---“ a thin stream of blood was already drifting away in clumps from her face.

Chase looked back. “Angie, I’ve got to see what’s going on! That was a sound grenade.

Maybe the Ponkti came back. Kloosee needs help--!”

He pulled the lifeship canopy down and motioned for Angie to stay put. She was rocking from side to side, her ears possibly ruptured from the pressure, her regulator still hooked up to one of the air flasks. Then he darted off and was gone.

Angie shivered. Hold it together, girl…hold it together. You can do this…breathe normally, in and out, in and out—

Chase felt another BOOM! split the water and a rough series of waves upended him and turned him sideways. No doubt about it. Sound grenades! There was some kind of battle going on.

He stroked and pulled as hard as he could for the sound of brawl.

The water around the base of the seamount swirled with crazy currents and Chase found himself fighting and clawing to make any headway.

He tried out his echopod, not sure how smart it might be to give up his position.

“Kloosee! Manklu? You there? You around here…?”

There was a scratchy sort of bleep and click and Chase homed on that. He could feel a tingling in his arms and knew prods were being used, so he backed off a bit.

That’s when he ran head-on into the body.

It was Manklu, drifting lifeless and still, his sides blackened with prod strikes, blood seeping out from his gills and head. It was clear a forepaddle was broken, from the impossible angle it hung back. Part of a dorsal had been chewed off.

Chase was so startled he thrashed about in panic for a moment. Easy, boy, get a grip. He gave the corpse a wide berth.

“Kloos, where are you—“

His eyes stung from something in the water and then a blinding light erupted almost in his face.

Chase collided with something, a tail fluke and quickly realized he had stumbled right into a fight. Bodies flashed in front of him. Prods crackled in the water. Stunners blared painful acoustic waves and Chase was right in the middle of it all.

Kloosee dragged him away from the flying flukes and tails. He came right up to Chase’s face and that’s when Chase realized his friend was injured, badly injured.

Kloosee’s face was scarred and bleeding, his beak nearly ripped off. His eyes had been slammed and he was half blind, floating in a clump of his own blood. Behind Kloosee, tails and arms and fins slashed through the water and Kloosee took the full brunt of a heavy impact. He grunted, recoiled, whipped and slashed back.

Chase saw faces materialize out of the murk. Ponkti! There were three, no, four of them.

Manklu was dead. Kloosee was mortally injured. He had to do something.

Still they came on and now Chase reacted without thinking. He struck out with arms and legs and connected with something. The maneuver had slammed one of the Ponkti—it was Klindonok—in the side of his head, momentarily stunning him. Kloosee slipped free and flippered off to re-gather himself.

Chase was about to bury another fist in Klindonok’s beak when a bright light and a sizzling hiss swept through the water. His arms froze, right in mid-punch and he seemed stuck, frozen, paralyzed, unable to move. He could hear more blows hitting something behind him, beside him, but he couldn’t do anything about it.

It was like he’d become a statue. A prod! He’d been zapped by a prod.

He heard voices, and it wasn’t Kloosee, who was behind him, and moving up to ram somebody. Heads butted nearby. Grunts and ooofs sounded, followed by more prod zaps and then came the blood. Gouts and rivers and currents of blood. Somebody had died.

A voice clicked and chirped. Chase’s echopod had been damaged. It squeaked, then wormed out “… shkreeah…his tail…let’s…come… zzzhhh…to the pen….”

Hands grabbed his legs. Chase tried to kick and flail, but nothing worked. He was paralyzed. The hands dragged him backward through the water.

“Kloos—“ he croaked out, but it was weak and in the melee, he wasn’t sure anybody heard him. “Kloos, they’re pulling me—“

He heard more blows and grunts and there were flashes of light and hisses and a few muted BOOMs but gradually they died off.

Am I losing consciousness? The sounds became muted, further away now. He had been dragged and carried for some distance—he didn’t know how far--but he no longer heard the sounds of bodies slamming into each other, or prods zapping, or stunners crackling.

With only a dim and failing sense of where or who he was, Chase felt hands forcing him into some kind of small enclosure, maybe a cave or a hollow, maybe in the side of the seamount. He wanted to resist but he couldn’t. He couldn’t even cry out. Nothing worked.

Mercifully, the black tunnel of sleep washed over him and he had no more thoughts.

Kloosee knew he had badly hurt. Unable to maneuver himself, unable to prevent more prod zaps and fists and tail slaps and beak spears, he had played dead and let the currents that swirled about the base of the seamount carry him off, enveloped in a cloud of his own blood.

The sounds of the battle died off and he chanced a quick pulse. There! There was something there, below him, buried in all that sea grass. The echo came back quick…something hard.

He stroked gently, pulling out of the currents, and pulsed again, to get a better bearing. He closed the gap and was startled to come up on the tailplane of a lifeship, its nose buried in the muck. Someone was inside, flailing about, enmeshed in some kind of tubing, an explosion of bubbles making it impossible to pulse any detail.

Eekoti Chase?

Kloosee nosed about the canopy of the ship, found the latches and lifted.

That’s when he realized it was eekoti Angie.

The first thing he had to do was calm the creature down. She was entangled in her own breathing apparatus, sucking and venting into the water in a panic. Kloosee pulled himself awkwardly inside and secured the canopy.

Then he stroked her head trying to calm her down. It took a few minutes, but eventually she stopped whirling and flapping and floundering about the cramped confines of the cockpit. One of her arms struck Kloosee right on his injured beak. He recoiled in excruciating pain and backed off.

Eekoti Angie, it’s me…it’s Kloosee.” He saw the echopod floating behind her head, and reached for it, earning another blow on his beak. “Angie…stop…quit hitting me!” He took the echopod and made some adjustments, then—to give her deadly hands something to do besides slap him in the face—he forced the device into her fingers and made her hold on to the pod.

Being able to grip something seemed to calm her down further.

Kloosee spoke slowly, listening to the sound of his voice as it issued from the echopod, hopefully translated into something the Tailless female could understand.

“Eekoti Angie, it’s me. Kloosee….”

Her voice was thin…and scared. “Who? I don’t know any Kurt…what the hell’s going on…where’s Chase?”

“No Kurt…Kloosee…you—“ then he realized the full import of something eekoti Chase had told him. This was a different time stream. In this time stream, he and Angie hadn’t ridden the Farpool to Seome yet. Angie knew nothing of Omt’or or Ponk’et…or the kel’vish’tu or seamothers. She was just a Tailless female of Urku…alone, scared, knowing nothing, only wanting to go home. She was home. But it was the wrong time.

Kloosee knew he didn’t have long…his insides ached. Blood still issued from his gills in a steady stream. If he didn’t get to a healer…and soon—

“I don’t know where Chase is…the Ponkti may have him. He was stunned…I think they carried him off.”

“Ponk…Ponkti…what’s that, some kind of tuna-fish? What have you done with Chase? If somebody has him, we should go help. Like, you know…do a rescue.”

Kloosee figured he had lost more blood than he realized. He wasn’t thinking straight. His eyes were swimming and blurry. He wasn’t pulsing straight and Angie, in all her fluttering and hand wringing, wasn’t helping.

“Eekoti Angie, we need help. The Ponkti have Chase. I’m sure of it. We have to go back


“Back? Back where?”

“Through opuh’te…through the Farpool. Back to my world…to get help.”

“What! You can’t be serious…take me home! Right now!”

Kloosee dabbed at the wounds around his face and beak and gills. “Eekoti Angie, I’m getting weaker. I’m losing blood—I can’t stop it. I need help…this is the only way.”

Angie squirmed a bit in the back seat. “So where is this Farpool thing? What is this Farpool thing?”

Kloosee tried to explain about the phenomena. “I don’t know where it is, exactly. We pulse for vortexes, whirlpools. The one that’s the strongest, the most intense, that’s the Farpool.”

“Where does it take us, if we go in?”

Kloosee answered carefully. “Home, I hope. Except that home isn’t what it used to be.”

“What about Chase…we can’t just leave him.”

“I don’t know where the Ponkti have taken eekoti Chase…and we’re outnumbered anyway.

I’ve got to warn the kelke…our people…that they should not come through…not yet. With the Ponkti and their Tailless allies, it’s not safe.”

Angie didn’t know what to say. Sea serpents. Nazis. Whirlpools. It made her head hurt just to think about it. Working with patients in the hospital, even in ICU, was way better than this.

It was Chase who got me into this.

She occurred to her, with a shiver, that maybe Chase needed her to get them out of this mess.

Angie said nothing further, but sulked in the rear seat while Kloosee hunted about for what he said were opuh’te, whirlpools, indicating by their number and strength that the Farpool was near. She couldn’t see a thing, and only felt Kloosee’s scaly presence ahead of her. There were all kinds of beeps and boops and squinks issuing front the front panel and Kloosee himself made odd honks and bleeps from time to time. None of it made any sense but then Angie remembered that Chase had said these odd creatures controlled their gear with sounds.

Kind of like a dog, she surmised. Then when the little ship began to shimmy and shudder in tricky cross-currents, she felt her heart start racing.

Just breathe normally, she told herself. But it didn’t really work.

Kloosee’s voice crackled through the translator, with obvious tension and excitement.

“This may be it, eekoti Angie. Hold on—“

Angie had drifted off into a light doze when a faint tug on the side of the craft startled her awake.

“Eekoti Angie…wake up. Something’s happening—“

She stirred. “What is it?”

“I don’t know, but it feels like we’re moving sideways.” Kloosee plastered his beak to the porthole, trying to make something out. “It’s silty out there. Dark too. Deeper water. You feel that?”

Some kind of force was pushing them sideways in the water. At the same time, the compartment picked up a light shuddering vibration, gyrating like a top at the end of a string.

“Yeah…what’s happening?”

“I think we’re on the edge of the outer vortex…the water’s all rushing sideways, dirt, pieces of things…I can’t really make it out.”

“God, I hope it’s not a spout.”

The force began to increase, a centrifugal force that soon shoved them to one side of the compartment and pressed them hard against the walls. Worse, the compartment began a slow roll, a rotation that didn’t remain slow for long, but picked up rate at a steady clip.

Soon, they were spinning enough to become disoriented and dizzy.

“Kloos—is that your name?…my stomach…I don’t feel so—“

Angie’s words were suddenly lost in a bright flash of light, a searing, painfully white strobing light that flooded the compartment and blinded them both.

Ow…I can’t see—“

The spin kept accelerating and moments later, Angie passed out. In front of her, Kloosee felt cold, weak, life passing away. He soon slumped forward, over the controls.

On the surface, stragglers at the western edge of the shattered convoy HX-242 were treated to an incredible sight across the ocean, just before dawn. Backlit with the orange glow of sunrise to the east, a thin ropy waterspout formed several miles southeast of the destroyer screen. As the spout danced and skipped across the waves, a bright pulse of light emerged from the sea and vaulted heavenward along the length of the spout, followed by a series of light pulses, as if the spout were sucking buckets of light right out of the ocean.

The light pulses disappeared into low-hanging clouds and vanished, leaving only a faint iridescent flicker, like a silent lightning discharge.

Moments later, the waterspout collapsed into the sea and the ocean returned to its restless heaving.

Unknown to the surviving sailors of Convoy HX-242, Kloosee ank kel: Om’t and Angie Gilliam had just been catapulted six thousand light years across the Galaxy and several hundred years into the future.

Nine years before she was catapulted into the Farpool, Angie Gilliam had been riding her hoverbike along Grove Street in Scotland Beach, with several friends including Sissy Heinz, coming back from a visit with some cute boys outside Apalachee High, when the bike hit a pothole in the highway. Angie lost control and somersaulted over the handlebars. When she thought about this later, she realized just how much time had slowed down in those few airborne seconds. Like her Mom always said: “It’s not the fall that hurts, it’s the sudden stop at the end.”

So she had been airborne and basically weightless for a few seconds—not uncomfortably so

—then her tumbling body had slammed into the ground inside a culvert adjoining the street.

Days later, when Angie could finally talk about the experience, she would mention that going through the Farpool was like that: moments of peaceful weightlessness, almost a dreamlike quality, except for the bright strobing lights outside the porthole and then the sudden stop.

It was like having a horse kick the crap out of you. Or maybe driving your bike headfirst into a brick wall at thirty miles an hour.

The lifeship shuddered and hurtled out of the Farpool in a flash of light, a roaring rush of deceleration, knocking Kloosee and Angie hard against the cockpit windows. Still trapped in the vortex, natural forces rammed the ship’s rudder hard over, while her jets fired automatically to counteract the residual force of the spin. For a moment, they were both pinned sideways against the cockpit, until the force of the jets shot them through the core of the whirlpool and out into calmer waters.

That’s when Angie screamed for she had realized that the creature in front of her, who went by the strange name of Kloosee, had died.

OH MY GOD!!—“she squirmed frantically, sucking hard on her mouthpiece, flailing frantically to get out, get away, from the lifeship.

The ship rolled and tumbled for a few moments, then somehow righted itself. The shimmies and shakes ended and the ship coursed steadily forward, where Angie had no idea. She couldn’t see a thing.

Then she heard something. Forms and shapes passed by the cockpit. Then faces, bizarre faces, with beaks and teeth and curious eyes.

Angie passed out.

When she came too, something was beeping. No it wasn’t. It was chirping. Then clicking and whispering and more clicking. It was the echopod. Angie raised the little pod to her ear and heard…something.


Something about air. With a start, she checked her air gauge and nearly fainted. It was down to about ten minutes.

OHMYGOD…she started to panic, then Chase’s words came to her mind: Don’t panic.

Never panic in the water. Panic is the enemy of life.

She calmed herself down and then the words out of the echopod hit home.

Air. Something about air.

Cautiously, she pulled her mask up and pulled out the mouthpiece. There was air in the cockpit. It smelled and tasted metallic, brassy, with some indefinable odors, almost like—

But it was breathable. It was air.

Gratefully, she took a few deep lungfulls and noticed the faces again. There seemed to be dozens, maybe scores, leering at her through the canopy of the ship’s cockpit, pressed up against the Perspex. Odd faces, almost like dolphins, but with more…character. That was the only word that came to mind. Beaks and slightly bemused eyes, with almost grandfatherly crinkles around them. A sort half-smile. Like a knowing smile.

She laughed a little and waved at them, pointing to her nose, her face.

“I can breathe. Thank you…uh, where am I?”

One face seemed especially prominent, maneuvering and jostling with the others to maintain its position.

“… kkklllkkkqq…I…Koktek lu: kel Om’t…you zzzhhh…understand me—“

It was the same voice. When she studied the faces, one seemed to be the source of the words, perhaps an older male. It even had fingers on his forepaddles…how weird!

A bit shyly, not sure, Angie spoke back.

“Is that you speaking…Mr….uh, Koktek?”


“I kind of understand you…where am I? What is this place?”

The next few minutes were a blur of incredible, mostly unbelievable words that made Angie think back to when her Mom read fairy tales to her each night before putting Angie to bed.

Koktek was the principle speaker. The people were called Omtorish. There were thousands of them around her little ship, for the Farpool had deposited her and Kloos—

whateverhisnamewas—right in the middle of gathering. A refugee camp.

“… sshhh…we come…Urku…your world…we travel Farpool, eekoti Angie—“

By listening carefully and piecing together scraps of what she could understand, Angie learned that Kloosee had died of his injuries in the trip. The Omtorish had removed his body and had left Angie inside, as the lifeship could be sealed and pressurized with air.

The other words made her blood run cold. Koktek had indicated, haltingly, in bitten off words and unintelligible chirps from the echopod, that all the Omtorish—he admitted there were thousands nearby—would be traveling through the Farpool soon, in small groups. And they were immigrating to Earth, to the oceans of Earth.

Angie’s head spun when she finally understood that. “You’re telling me, Mr. Koktek, that all of you are coming to Earth. How many are you…how could this happen?”

Koktek’s eyes blinked, almost in sorrow, she thought. “We are thousands… survivors of Ponkti assault on our kel. Our waters and…ssszzzhhh…our cities destroyed were—“

Hearing the word ‘Ponkti,’ reminded Angie that Chase had used the same term. She soon understood that the Ponkti were another kel, another water clan or tribe, and mortal enemies of the Omtorish. It was Ponkti travelers who were helping the Nazis, Chase had said.

Angie described all this to Koktek. “Your people fought them in the oceans, while there was some kind of attack above us. Submarines, bombs, all that. Chase and his friends, I guess your people, fought back. The Ponk…Ponkti, is it?…killed one. I guess Kloosee was injured, or wounded. They got Chase. That’s why we came here. I need help…you’ve got to help me rescue Chase. He’s like a prisoner…a hostage…kind of a POW, I guess…please, Mr. Koktek.”

At this, Koktek’s face disappeared for a moment, but returned, now with several more faces.

Others were shoved away to make room. More jostling and some honks and head butts, then it was just Koktek and two others.

“… eekoti Angie…say…you…zzhhzzhh…there fight is…Ponkti and Omtorish? Ponkti allies…with Tailless…?”

“Why do you call me eekoti…my name’s Angie Gilliam.”

Koktek explained that it was a sort of honorific…essentially, Angie understood it sort of meant ‘outsider.” And even stranger: Koktek insisted she had been to Seome---for that was the name of the world—before. It had been another time.

Angie had trouble getting her head around that. Yeah, Chase had mentioned something about other time streams but then Chase was a beach bum and said a lot of things.

“I don’t know about that. But my driver—this Kloosee fellow—said we had to come here and warn you. Don’t come yet. Don’t immigrate. Don’t come to Earth…Chase said the Ponkti had to be defeated...does that make any sense? Could someone explain all this to me? Plus I’m cold and wet and kind of hungry too, by the way. Got any nachos?”

Koktek seemed to be conferring with his associates. They squawked and clicked and chirped and bellowed at each other. The echopod tried to keep up, without much success.


“Tchee’lum…Ponkti ship…”

“Eekoti kee’too…lifesuit…we get…”

Finally Koktek’s face reappeared, his beak smushed up against the canopy, distorting his face. Angie thought to laugh but smothered it. In another time and place, she could have imagined all of this as one big cartoon.

Eekoti Angie…before come you…another ship came…Ponkti ship…just before you…there was Tailless aboard…”

Angie was beginning to be able to pick and puzzle meaning out of the scraps of words and buzzes she was hearing from the echopod. “Chase mentioned something…maybe it’s important.

There was a German…an officer, traveling with the Ponkti. Maybe he came through this Farpool too.”

Koktek seemed to think the idea had merit. “…to Metah, we take you…the kee’too…

lifesuit…we make and fit…wear you this…kkklllnnnggg—“ From somewhere behind Koktek’s head, hands produced something that vaguely resembled an armored suit, not unlike Chase’s outer skin, all snaky and reptilian and really creepy.

“You want me to get into that…you want me to wear that?”

Koktek indicated that was the idea. “Eekoti Angie…we to Notwater go…get into ke’too.”

At that moment, Angie felt the little ship being pulled, being towed. She was in motion now, heading upward. As she ascended, she caught glimpses of an enormous assembly of these creatures—people—swimming and schooling and cruising about. Koktek had said this was some kind of refugee camp. Or a way station for immigrants. There had to be hundreds, maybe thousands. The sea was thick with life here.

And they were all coming to Earth…through the very same thing that had propelled her here.

Angie sank back in her seat and shut her eyes.

God, just get me back to Scotland Beach, please, pretty please.

The ship surfaced into what seemed like night, a stormy night at that. Foaming waves crashed over the canopy. Lightning crackled in veins across the sky. The ship rolled and careened and bucked like a young colt. Angie got seasick quickly and up came the toast and yogurt she’d had for breakfast. Moments later, she saw faces again…she wasn’t sure if it was Mr. Koktek or who exactly.

And the canopy slid back.

The blast of freezing air made her shiver and she was quickly drenched in the frigid water.

The face reappeared and tossed in the suit. She understood that somehow, some way, she was to get into the suit. The canopy quickly slid shut and she was alone again, bouncing around like a ping-pong ball, a ping-pong ball with the dry heaves.

“I think I’m going to pass out—“she muttered. She felt the ship descending now; they had been at the surface only long enough for the creatures to toss in the suit. Mr. Koktek had called it kee’too. The little translator pod had called it a lifesuit.

To Angie, it looked like dried alligator skin. Oh, well, what have I got to lose? Bit by bit, she squirmed and tugged the suit up and around her, not really understanding how thing attached or fastened, but the suit almost seemed to have a mind of its own. A chilling thought came to mind: what if it did? What if it was alive?

No, girl, don’t go there. Eventually, the suit was on and seemed secure.

Meanwhile, the ship had descended back into the depths and she couldn’t really see anything. Shadows and ghosts flitted by the canopy, just shapes really. Silvery gray, mottled, streaks of tan and brown, a splash of black here and there. The sea really was alive. If Mr.

Koktek was right, this ‘way station’ was jammed with potential commuters.

She couldn’t begin to understand any of this.

At length, the canopy opened slowly. Water rushed in, cold, high pressure water. Angie fought back the coppery taste of panic in her throat. The water soon filled the cockpit but she found she could breathe and the water didn’t seem so cold, after awhile. Slowly, reluctantly, she began to relax.

A new face appeared at the edge of the ship cockpit. It was clearly older. She could see wrinkles and some discoloration around its beak.

“…shkkreeah…name Likteek…Kelk’too…you say Academy…you zzzhhh…come…meet Metah….”

After a bit of back and forth, Angie understood that this Likteek fellow wanted her to come with him. They were meeting Metah, whoever that was.

“I need help, Mr. Likteek. Chase is in trouble. I need to get a rescue going, somehow—“

“… eekoti Chase…Metah helps…you come….”

Likteek and another creature reached in and helped Angie out. They wrestled her around so that she was supported between them. The three of them set off.

It was an exhilarating experience, despite being so weird. The creatures were natural swimmers and Angie herself was no slouch in the pool. But they cruised like a rocket through the water, passing and bumping and nudging scores of bodies and faces, undulating and corkscrewing their way along for nearly twenty minutes. Finally, Likteek and his assistant deposited Angie, in her alligator suit, outside a small cave opening. They had arrived at a small mound or hill, topped with a gently undulating fringe of sea grass and an orange barrier of coral, twisted and bent into bizarre and fantastic shapes.

Inside the cave opening, a small group of creatures hovered around a central pedestal of more coral. The pedestal looked like deer’s antlers to Angie. Above the pedestal, a single creature rested lightly, stuffing its face with tufts of fiber of some kind. Angie blinked hard. It was the first time she had been able to see the anatomy of one of these creatures in clear water…

the six fingers on its forepaddles gave her a start.

The creature in the center was speaking. Angie heard only clicks and gibberish in her ears.

Evidently, the suit could translate too but it wasn’t doing a good job of it. Angie tried shrugging, then just blurted out she couldn’t understand.

At that, Likteek reached over and made some adjustments to something on the back of her suit helmet. Immediately, the speech was clearer, though still laced with static, clicks, grunts and whistles.

In time, Angie understood that the creature above the pedestal, around whom all others seemed subservient and a little fawning, was called the Metah.

The Metah was speaking. “…eekoti Chase…you are same Tailless…we saw another lifeship…it landed among Ponkti…”

“Yes,” Angie pleaded. “Yes, Chase…he’s a prisoner. The Ponk…Ponkti…they’ve got him.

Rescue…we need a rescue force, marines or something to get him out. Can you help me?”

Now Likteek came into the cave and bumped aside several underlings, nosing his way to the front. He drifted alongside Angie. “…Metah…zzzhhh…there were reports…sightings…another ship came through…not kkkllqq…confirmed…but could have landed among Ponkti. On ootkeeor…repeaters say another Tailless…Urku traveler—“

Without knowing why, Angie was beginning to pick up more and more of the scraps and snatches of words. My God, I’m beginning to understand these fish. She didn’t know about the adaptive nature of the echopod in her suit.

“I don’t know about all that…just help Chase. We have to go back to ….Earth…to where I came from.”

Now, the Metah’s eyes squinted in an almost grandmotherly look of bemused tolerance.

Eekoti Angie…zzkkllkkqq…we cannot kel’vish’tu…not in great number. The Ponkti occupy these waters.”

Likteek added, “If reports are true, the Ponkti have Tailless help…perhaps…like tor’pedoh…new weapons. We have to push Ponkti out of these waters…so immigration can begin.”

Angie listened to the translation. Immigration. Kel’vish’tu. Ponkti. Tailless. Different time streams. She wasn’t sure what she was hearing. Only that Chase needed help and somehow these talking fish could provide that help.

“Are you really, coming to Earth? Like emigrating…all of you?”

The Metah came down from her coral bed and faced Angie, beak to snout. The translating pod chirped.

We call kel’vish’tu…like a great roam….our home destroyed…Ponkti and Tailless weapon…and Great Light Above…becomes dimmer…Seome is finished.”

Likteek seemed able to explain better and gave Angie a quick rundown on what eekoti Chase had told them…the Uman base, the Time Twister, the Farpool, and the far enemy who had poisoned the sun.

Now, time is short, eekoti Angie. We must drive the Ponkti from these waters to use the Farpool. But the Ponkti have help, your kel, kelke from Urku…they bring new weapons. We can’t fight these weapons.”

“You must mean the Nazis,” Angie decided. “But isn’t that a different time stream? You’re not coming into that time stream are you? The war and all….”

Likteek went on. “The Ponkti wish to…zzzhhhmmm…control Farpool, is how eekoti Chase says it. Ponkti interfere with Farpool, damage Farpool. We can’t control. We must defeat Ponkti here in these waters to use the Farpool…make sure all our kelke can get through”

“Thousands of you coming to Earth, even in the oceans…I’m not sure how well that’ll go over…have you talked with anybody, like the UN or somebody?”

Eekoti Angie, time is short. We have no choice. Kel’vish’tu is here…now. If we don’t or can’t use Farpool, Omt’or is finished. And if Great Light Above goes dark, all are finished, even the Ponkti. Kel’vish’tu must happen…and soon.”

Angie swallowed hard. Girl, how the hell do you get into these things? Here I am a refugee from Earth, from another time and place, marooned on this Sea World of a doomed planet and surrounded by thousands of frightened fish and I’m just trying to free Chase from being a hostage…or becoming fish sticks for somebody.

Kloosee had said something about this big emigration. He had told her the Ponkti fish had to be defeated and their alliance with the Nazis severed before the big crowds could come barreling through that whirlpool. Now the Queen here was saying they couldn’t wait.

What the hell am I supposed to do? I’m seventeen. I’m a junior at Apalachee High. I do track and field stuff and I volunteer at the hospital.

But Angie didn’t have long to ponder her situation for at that moment, several more creatures wormed their way into the cave. Angie didn’t know it, but both were repeaters and scouts, and they had come from the Omtorish perimeter guard, with news of the Ponkti’s latest moves.

Angie heard only snatches of words but her throat went dry when she realized what they were saying.

“…moving in force…”

“Affectionate Metah…new weapons…possibly—“

“Is it…tor’pedoh again?”

“Sounders speak of a great Tailless warrior.”

The Metah shooed everybody out of her cave. Likteek and another creature took Angie by the arms and pulled her along.

“Where are we going…what about Chase? What’s happening?”

Likteek was grim. “Eekoti Angie, we must hide you. The Ponkti are moving to attack and we’re organizing our defense. If we can’t beat them back…kel’vish’tu may not come…we may already be too late—“

Chapter 14

“A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm.”

Henrik Ibsen


Likte Island, the Omt’orkel Sea

Time: 783.0, Epoch of Tekpotu

The Omtorish took Angie to a small hollow in the lee of the island, a defile in the seabed buffeted by tricky cross-currents, thick with sea grass and lava hillocks, with small chunks of ice drifting by like a blizzard of ice cubes. Though she didn’t know it, the Omtorish wanted to protect eekoti Angie, their best link to eekoti Chase, from any harm the Ponkti might do.

There was something else Angie didn’t know: she wasn’t the only human on Seome.

Klindonok and Fregattenkapitan von Kleist came through the Farpool right into the middle of a battle between Ponkti forces and Omtorish kip’ts. Almost as soon as the rolling and shaking and corkscrewing ship settled down and shuddered its way through the inner vortex fields surrounding the Farpool, a deafening concussive BOOM! detonated in the water and the canopy buckled slightly under the load.

Klindonok steered them bow first into the shock wave and they rode out the buffeting waves for a few moments.

“What’s happening?” von Kleist yelled. His throat mike picked up the sound waves of his own voice and carried them up to Klindonok, even though the German officer still wore his breathing apparatus. His air gauge was low and he knew they’d have to find air soon.

Klindonok’s voice came back through the echopod, chirping and squeaking. The translator tried to keep up.

…sshhhkkkreaahh…attack…Omtorish…we have force at Lik’te…they surround….”

Von Kleist watched his air gauge dropping steadily toward zero. He figured the air left was maybe half an hour, maybe less. Somehow, they’d come through that crazy whirlpool—he’d said his final prayers, figuring death would come quick—only to land, if that was the word, in the middle of an ocean, in the middle of some kind of fight.

Keine U-boote hier, he muttered to himself. Then came more explosions, more shock waves and the little ship shook like a wet dog in a rainstorm.

Von Kleist still wasn’t sure where they were. Ostensibly another world, maybe…or another time. But these sea people— die seeleute—weren’t human. Intelligent, to be sure, but definitely not human. Maybe this was their world after all.

And they had come down in the midst of a big battle. Von Kleist could hear and feel distant explosions, see eruptions of light in the distance, flares and flashes of yellow orange light but that was all he could see. They were underwater—somewhere—and fighting for their life.

For as long as he could remember, Werner von Kleist had maintained the dream of captaining a great ship in battle on the sea.

Not exactly what I had in mind, but it’s a start, he told himself, as Klindonok twisted them back and forth, navigating battering waves and crackles of electricity discharging through the

water. For a moment, he felt his skin tingling and then he ducked as the current ball ripped across their bow and exploded directly in front in a flash of light. Klindonok swerved.

“…zzzhhh…kkklllqqq…Omtorish surround us…we go deeper—“

The little lifeship plunged bow first, her canopy crinkling and buckling under increasing pressure. Von Kleist felt his eardrums about to burst.

“Sir…Herr Schmidt… wie heissen sie?— sir, my ears…they hurt badly…my air…almost gone—“.

Down they went into cold, dark waters and the sounds of battle began to subside. Ghostly faces appeared on the canopy, with gaping maws, meter-long razors for teeth, fire-red eyes and von Kleist shivered, wincing at the growing pain in his ears. Klindonok leveled them off and slowed down.

The Ponkti reached a forepaddle behind, indicating some small flasks along the side of the rear cockpit. It was difficult to see in the dark but von Kleist shuddered when he realized the flasks looked like pudgy little faces, their lips pouted out into a sort of moue.

“Notwater…” Klindonok said. “Squeeze…zzzhhh…you attach…kkllqqq…breathe…”

Von Kleist’s head hurt so badly he could barely concentrate. “What…these…attach…attach what…oh—“ Then he understood. The faces were air sources—Notwater was how the pod had translated it. Somehow there was a way to—

He finagled and fumbled with his air hose and regulator until he managed to insert one end into the puckered lips of one flask. Not knowing what else to do, he pressed on its puffy cheeks.

Immediately, he felt the flow of air, cold and metallic, but air of some kind. Gratefully, he sucked in huge gulps, until his shakes had subsided and he could think more clearly.

Klindonok steered them on, unknown to von Kleist, driving them in a wide circle below and beyond the worst of the battle above. At the right moment, they would ascend and re-join the fray.

Using his throat mike, von Kleist asked the Ponkti pilot a question. “Mein Herr, what kind of weapons are being used here?”

Klindonok concentrated on studying his sonic displays, listening to the sounds of the fighting above, then answered.

“… zzzhhh…Omtorish sonic weapons…blinders…prods… kkllqq Ponkti occupy these waters…but surrounded we are…must help—“

Von Kleist realized there was little he could do. “You’re in command—“

Klindonok said nothing. Moments later, von Kleist could feel them ascending once again.

He knew the battleground was near when the water lit up with luminous discharges, like being inside a cloud when hit by lightning. For a brief second, von Kleist caught a terrifying glimpse of the carnage around them: bloated and blackened bodies of fish drifting along, shattered canopies torn off their ships, debris and wreckage everywhere, all backlit with the glow of electrical discharges and the fiery red flower petals of explosions going off nearby.

Von Kleist wondered if the same weapon would be useful in Doenitz’ U-boat force. The subs had their G7 torpedoes and plenty of deck guns, but the G7s were notoriously unreliable and with the Allies having taken the advantage across the North Atlantic with their new convoy tactics, their airplanes, their sound detection gear and depth charges, von Kleist knew that anything he could bring back to Berlin—assuming he could get back—would be well received.

Already he was aware that the seeleute possessed an intimate knowledge of sound, with their sonic grenades and then there were the blinders Klindonok had spoken off and the electrical discharges. Properly equipped and trained, with new tactics, the Kriegsmarine could seize the

initiative in the Atlantic and force the Allies to alter their convoy tactics…perhaps even turn the tide of the war itself.

All of this would be presented to the OKM by none other than Fregattenkapitan Werner von Kleist himself. They would undoubtedly be so grateful that no one would ever mention the Jaguar incident again and the whole sordid account would be forgotten, perhaps even expunged from his record.

Von Kleist had been given command of the torpedo boat Jaguar in the fall of 1940, assigned patrol duties in the Baltic. Jaguar and two other boats soon were involved in skirmishes with Soviet Navy ships around Kaliningrad and Danzig in the fall and winter of 1940. Von Kleist had distinguished himself with aggressive pursuit of a Soviet raider and Jaguar had quickly sunk two Russian ships outside Kaliningrad harbor in March 1941. But von Kleist had always been dogged by bad luck for Jaguar was later damaged severely in a collision with ice floes near Finnish coast at Turku. Von Kleist had been officially reprimanded, then transferred to shore duty at Bremerhaven for the duration of 1941. Later involved in planning for the invasion of Russia in 1942, he was transferred to the OKM in Berlin and promoted to Fregattenkapitan for staff duties. His staff duties and performance had been exemplary after the incident but the suspicion was still there, hiding just beneath the surface, hidden in hurried whispers in the corners, averted glances in the halls. Von Kleist yearned to be back onboard ship somewhere, preferably commanding a warship in battle.

Over the course of the next few hours, a standoff developed in the waters around Lik’te Island, between the remnants of the Ponkti intruders and the gathering multitude of Omtorish refugees. The Ponkti had been detailed from the force occupying the Pillars of Shooki.

Lektereenah, the Metah of Ponk’et, wanted to make sure the Ponkti weren’t slighted in using the Farpool. That and a budding alliance with the Tailless on Urku made access to the gateway critical and Lektereenah intended to make sure such access was well-protected.

“I won’t let Mokleeoh or the Omtorish monopolize everything,” she had said once to her vizier.

But the attempt to seize the approaches to the waters around Likte Island had not been well thought and the Ponkti were quickly outmanned. Omtorish by the thousands were pouring into the waters and the Ponkti soon found themselves surrounded and outgunned.

The details of the skirmishes were monitored closely by other kels as well for the Orketish, the Skortish and the Eepkostic knew that their world was doomed and that they too would have to leave.

Battles and engagements between the Omtorish and the Ponkti were brief but fierce encounters, the water sizzling from scores of prods discharging, while sonic weapons detonating and churning the ice floes made the refugee camps all but impossible to endure. The Omtorish commander was a veteran kip’t pilot named Krooz who had had many a run in with Ponkti prodsmen over the years, in his rounds as a sled driver. The Ponkti fought bravely and well and inflicted numerous casualties among the Omtorish but they were outnumbered and eventually overwhelmed.

Dozens surrendered to their attackers. Among them was something unexpected: a Tailless visitor from Urku itself…he gave his name as vonkleist…almost unpronounceable to the Omtorish troops. The Tailless prisoner and his kip’t driver were quickly secured and pressed into a holding pen near the bottom of small iceberg. The Tailless was understood to be a breather of Notwater for he wore a strange apparatus which enabled him to survive in the water.

From time to time, the apparatus had to be re-charged, for if the Tailless lost his breathing apparatus, it became apparent he would die. This didn’t overly bother the Omtorish, who had lost many brave warriors in the skirmishes, but word had come down from the court of the Mokleeoh that the Tailless prisoner was to be kept alive and brought before the Metah herself.

Mokleeoh brushed off a pair of midlings languidly brushing her back when both Tailless eekoti were brought in. The Metah and her court had set up in the underhollow of a drifting iceberg, only a few beats from the outer vortex fields of the wavemaker, the outer perimeter of the waters that formed the ‘landing zone’ of the Farpool.

Eekoti vonkleist and eekoti Angie were escorted before the Metah, who munched thoughtfully on gisu pods from slings maintained by a pair of young servlings. Nothing was offered to the Tailless.

Mokleeoh’s main concern was getting the Emigration going, in lifeships that could carry ten, and in making sure the seas of Earth were survivable for the Seomish. Other kels (the Eepkos and the Skort and the Orketish) had sent representatives to negotiate passage through the Farpool. There were arguments, threats, promises. Mokleeoh knew she was sitting on an explosive situation.

The privy councilor to the Metah was also there, one Encolenia mek’t. She represented the Metah and her council.

Eekoti Angie was encased in a reptilian-looking lifesuit, plenty of air and fairly well insulated from the freezing cold waters. Eekoti vonkleist was shivering uncontrollably, clad only in a strange enclosure festooned with tubes and belts and tanks. His face was hidden behind a mask.

Angie begged Mokleeoh for consideration. “Chase… eekoti Chase…is being held prisoner…by the Germans,” she said into her echopod. The pod accepted her words and translated them into the squeaks and clicks and honks and grunts which formed the Seomish tongue. “I can’t explain how or where…Chase said it was another time stream…I don’t know about that. But he needs help. Kloosee—before he—“here Angie choked a moment, seeing in her mind’s eye the battered body of her kip’t driver—“ Kloosee said you could help. Please help me get Chase back…you’ve got to help…a rescue force, something….” Even translated through the echopod, her words carried a tone of desperation that stirred others surrounding the Metah.

The Metah directed a nearby servling to furnish an echopod to eekoti vonkleist. The German pressed the device against his throat, as the Ponkti had shown him.

“Your Majesty… Eure Majestat…I’m just a visitor. My people are at war…just like here, it seems. Our enemies try to strangle us…bend us to their will…make slaves of us. I see this on your world too…my friends, the Ponk…Ponkti, is it?... tell me they live under threat as well…so I—“

Here Mokleeoh cut vonkleist off with a sharp slap of her forepaddle. “Kah! That’s nonsense. Nobody makes slaves of the Ponkti…they’re predators…like the kark…like the puk’lek, always taking, always stealing, never giving…Ponkti have no shoo’kel…just pulse one, Tailless! All bubbles and confusion…they don’t know what they want…except what you have.

They’re takers…”

Von Kleist was startled at her outburst. Who was this crotchety female? His captors had implied she was the leader…like the fuhrer of these fish.

“Majesty…we made an alliance with the Ponkti…we didn’t know of others. They appeared in our oceans…some kind of gateway in space… anderer planeten, dieser planet, I suppose.

They showed weapons, they offered help, we were desperate, we were losing battles, too many

enemy ships getting through…what were we supposed to do? The Ponkti helped us, gave us new weapons to defend ourselves.”

Angie couldn’t be quiet. “Metah…my world is so not like that. I know my history…this man is a Nazi… they were the slavers…they killed millions, just for being different—“

Mokleeoh’s main concern was how this alliance would affect conditions on Urku. “Quiet…

e ekoti…both of you… kel’vish’tu is coming. This great conflict on Urku…will it affect us? The great roam will bring thousands to the seas of Urku.”

Von Kleist looked about at all the creatures surrounding him. He figured this was likely a dream. He’d gone down with his ship and died and this was some kind of afterlife.

“My people…Germany—are surrounded by enemies. They want to crush us out of existence…we’re a threat to them. To keep that from happening, we struck out. Germans are just trying to make room for ourselves. The Allies want to enslave us. Make us a colony.

That’s why we fight.”

While Mokleeoh considered that, Angie blurted out, “But that’s bullshit, pardon me. This guy’s a Nazi…a really bad guy. They murdered millions, enslaved millions. I don’t know about all this Farpool and time stream stuff but you don’t want to wind up in his time zone, that’s for sure.”

The Metah’s face seemed engrossed in thought, as if she were pondering many possibilities.

“Eekoti Chase has told us that, when we use the Farpool, we have to be careful. If travelers aren’t careful, they end up in the wrong time and place…he said it was very sensitive. That’s why I don’t want the Ponkti operating the Farpool. Lektereenah thinks we just want to monopolize the Farpool. She’s convinced some of the other kels of this. But it’s not true. We want to make sure it’s operated right, that it isn’t damaged, or even destroyed.” Mokleeoh moved to where she faced both von Kleist and Angie, beak to face. “The kels are coming to Urku…make no mistake. Our world is doomed. Shooki tells us that the end times will come.

Ak’loosh is here and we must leave. We’ve sent many explorers to Urku—to your world—to see if the waters are suitable. Now, we can wait no longer. We must begin and soon.”

Angie swallowed hard at her words. Thousands of intelligent fish landing in Earth’s oceans…questions might be asked. “Your Majesty, my world isn’t like this one. Yeah, we have oceans and my people live on land, but there are lots of people who might not want a new intelligent race living in our seas. There could be conflicts. I’m pretty sure there will be.”

“As long as your people realize Germany’s legitimate aspirations ,” von Kleist added.

Mokleeoh brushed them both off. “We have no choice. There is no other possibility. If we don’t leave, we die. And to ensure we can all leave in time, someone has to be in charge. I’m forming a special force of kelke, combined Omtorish, Skortish and Orketish, to travel through the Farpool, to eekoti vonkleist’s time to defeat and destroy the Ponkti there. We cannot let Lektereenah’s misguided fears contaminate our new world.”

Your new world? Angie thought. What about us? But she didn’t say that. The truth was the Metah’s plan offered her the best chance to get back to her own time and place. “Don’t forget Chase…the bad guys have him prisoner right now. You’ve got to free him…before they do something really bad—“

Von Kleist appeared incensed. “My people aren’t animals, young lady. We’re at war and your people are trying to exterminate us.”

“That’s not true and you know—“

But Angie’s retort was interrupted by the sudden appearance of two Omtorish repeaters, out of breath and heaving in great gulps of water. They were escorted by court prodsmen to the Metah. One of them—he gave his name as Klaklik—had an urgent message.

“Affectionate Metah, the ootkeeor is alive today. The sound channel sings with danger…it’s the Ponkti again.”

Mokleeoh turned away from von Kleist and Angie. “What about the Ponkti?”

Klaklik sang out the verses he’d heard on the sound channel. “They come from many beats away, covering all the channels. It’s Lektereenah singing today. She’s making threats again.

Her voice is strong, filled with anger and determination…I’ve never heard anything like it before. She’s sending a large force here, to the waters around Lik’te. Her words: ‘ I will force Omt’or and any other kels to accept Ponkti sovereignty over the Farpool. Our people are in jeopardy. We come to make things right, the way Shooki intended.’ Honorable Metah, the sound channels are noisy…it’s a very large force…all the repeaters agree. Hundreds are coming. They sing of war and destruction…chants of death and the Great Wave. Final currents…” Klaklik shuddered. “I couldn’t listen any more…I had to come here and get the word out.”

Mokleeoh had heard enough. To her Privy Councilor Oncolenia, she said, “Gather my staff.

We must organize our defenses.” To von Kleist and Angie, she said, “It seems that a decisive battle cannot be avoided. And I still want a special force to go through the Farpool…we’ll battle Ponkti here and on Urku, if we have to.”

Seconds later, the first of the feared tor’pedoh weapons slammed into sanctuaries and camps nearby. The explosion and shock wave was deafening and the Metah’s staff scattered for cover.

Prodsmen shielded Mokleeoh and sheparded her out of the makeshift camp to a hollow nearby, covering her and the privy councilor with their own bodies. Shards of ice flew through the water as bergs above them disintegrated. Angie and von Kleist were quickly sheparded into a nearby kip’t, which was quickly sealed and pressurized with air, then driven to a better protected location, this one a rocky defile below a ledge nearby, surmounted by shattered beds of white coral in fantastic shapes and forms.

Huddled together, shielded by Omtorish stunners and prodsmen, Angie and von Kleist could only shiver and shake in the freezing air inside the kip’t and hope the concussive shock waves would subside.

“It was you Nazis that did this,” Angie muttered to von Kleist, not sure if the German could even hear her. “You and your murderers brought your war all the way to this world…now look what’s happened.”

Von Kleist heard Angie’s words. But he couldn’t concentrate enough to reply; blood was already pouring out of his left ear….maybe an eardrum…or worse.

Werner von Kleist mumbled something back but his words bubbled out into nothing.

All about them, panic had set in. Kelke squealed and clicked and honked in terror and the seas were alive with blood and entrails, punctuated by more explosions and the sizzle of prods going off.

Von Kleist had come to Seome to learn how the Ponkti fought their wars, maybe to find something the Kriegsmarine could use against the Allies.

Now he wasn’t so sure it had been a great idea.

For hour upon unending hour, Von Kleist and Angie huddled in the little ship where they had been stuffed, listening, wincing at the sounds of destruction all around them. Angie found

her teeth hurt, whether from the cold or the pressure or the shock waves, she wasn’t sure. The German seemed semi-conscious at best.

They glared at each other. Finally, von Kleist seemed to gain some renewed strength.

Fraulein, I’m not a monster. I’m an officer of the Kriegsmarine. I’m here for my country.”

Angie had partially dozed off but came awake at the German’s words. “You’re all murderers, every one of you. Look what you’ve done. Chase said the Ponkti—I’m not really sure who they are—have been helping you sink ships, with your subs and all. And these people talk about torpedoes…did you give them those as well? What’s the matter with you?”

Von Kleist withered under Angie’s tongue. “Young lady, don’t speak to me like that. You don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s war and in war, people die. We’re fighting for our lives. You are American, I assume?”

“Born and bred. Florida girl through and through. I guess you’re some kind of Nazi, huh?”

Von Kleist sniffed, wincing as another deafening shock wave rolled through. The kip’t had been parked and partially buried on the seabed in a hillock of mud, surmounted by the sharp teeth of underlying ice stalactites hanging down from drifting bergs above.

“I’m not a member of the party, if that’s what you mean. National Socialism doesn’t appeal to me…I just a patriot…for Germany.”

“And I’m a member of the Apalachee High track and cross-country team. Why are you here anyway?”

Von Kleist gave that some thought. “I wanted to see how these--er, people—fought their wars. I thought they might be able to teach us new tactics. And they have weapons we could use…these sound grenades, for example. And those electric wands…prods, I believe they’re called. Have you been here before?”

Angie shook her head. There wasn’t much room inside the cockpit and the air was dense and cold. The German smelled like onions. Or maybe potatoes.

“I’m not sure where here is. My boyfriend—Chase—says we’re on a water world…nothing but ocean. We came here by that Farpool thing.”

Von Kleist smiled faintly, rubbing his head. Angie had noticed he had a gray white buzz cut, with sandy gray sideburns, thinning on top. He had a face like a shovel blade, hard and angular. Even inside the cramped confines of the kip’t he carried himself with an erect bearing that practically screamed SOLDIER!

“Ah, yes…like a carnival ride. There is one in Berlin…the Tiergarten. This one is better.

Die kinder…the children will love it.”

“You’ve killed so many people, sir. We studied that big war in History class…saw the vids, read the stories…it’s horrible… was horrible.”

Now Von Kleist seemed confused. “You speak as if the war is past…we’re still fighting, I can assure you. What time…I don’t understand this at all—“

“Oh, that…” Angie half smiled. “Yeah, it’s weird, isn’t it? Kind of cool. Chase says this Farpool thing puts you in faraway places…and times, too. I didn’t believe it…until now. Chase has been known to tell tales. But with this…” she just shook her head. “Either I’m dreaming or Chase’s right…we’re not in Scotland Beach anymore.”

“Or Bremerhaven,” added von Kleist. “Then, Fraulein, you must be…of another time, perhaps? This is so strange.”

“Tell me about it—“she stopped when more explosions rocked the little ship. “Sounds pretty bad out there. These people are dying. Some kind of war here too. And you’re helping them kill each other.”

“They help us too. My people are dying as well.”

“What about all those people on the ships you’re sinking. Don’t they deserve to live?

They’ve got families, wives, kids, I’ll bet.”

Von Kleist turned grim. “War is like that, young lady. Whether it’s fought in our seas or here, people die. They die because they believe in what they’re fighting for and they’re willing to die for it.”

“But you don’t have to help them.”

“They helped us. We have an agreement.”

“I’m sorry they’re killing each other—“ here, both of them heard and felt the sounds of a great struggle nearby. Bodies flashed in and out of view. The water sizzled and crackled.

Flashes of light were followed by concussive detonations and ear-splitting shrieks made their ears throb. Something bumped the kip’t and both Angie and von Kleist shrank back and held their breath. If the canopy were cracked, if the seals gave way—

Von Kleist had always wondered what the life of a U-boat crew was like. Hours, maybe days of monotonous boredom, punctuated by the thrill of stalking a target. The big game, hunter and prey. The gunfire. The torpedoes. The satisfaction of hearing a freighter or better still, an enemy destroyer, slipping beneath the waves, her boilers exploding, her bulkheads collapsing.

And the depth charges. The double click-click. The explosion. The shock waves and the water spewing everywhere…men screaming, slamming wrenches and wooden shims, trying to stanch the floods…knowing a watery grave awaited them if they couldn’t stop the leaks.

“It must have been like this,” he muttered. His stomach was practically in his mouth, waiting for yet another explosion, something else to bump against them. They couldn’t see anything outside the canopy.

“Like what?”

Von Kleist didn’t at first realize he’d been talking out loud. “I was just thinking…about our U-boat crews. What they have to go through…it must be like this, with all the shock waves and explosions, not knowing, if—“

Angie just shuddered and wrapped her arms around her shoulders. “I suppose. Really, you should be ashamed of yourself. Giving these poor creatures even bigger weapons to fight with.”

“They sent serpents into our seas…have you seen them? Fearsome beasts…they can sink ships by themselves. Torpedoes not needed.”

“Chase told me you gave torpedoes to these creatures…you changed everything. Now they can kill each other in even greater numbers, destroy whole cities. All, thanks to you.”

Von Kleist studied the American girl closely. She was so young, a child, really, with short dark brown hair, and lighter highlights. Angie always kept her hair short, in a page-boy cut.

One wave of hair was forever dropping down over her right eye. She had perky little curls at her ears. Chase Meyer calls her hair a ‘bowl cut,’ which never pleased Angie. But she did like it short.

“We have had some trouble with our G7 torpedo…I’m surprised that they are working here as well as they are.”

“What do you mean, exactly?”

“Just this: the G7 maintains its depth and sets its proximity fuse magnetically. Sometimes, that fails and the torpedo goes astray. It wouldn’t be hard to deflect them…we actually studied that in the OKM labs in Bremerhaven…torpedo countermeasures. But it’s not reliable. I know this because I’ve been with the Marinewaffenamt—Naval Weapons--for the last year.”

Angie shook her head. “I don’t understand…you’re saying the torpedoes can be deflected somehow?”

Ja, we did this in trials. Experiments. A strong enough magnetic field around the target will almost always deflect the G7…but I shouldn’t be saying this to you. The enemy must never know this.”

“You’ve got to do this…right now. These creatures are killing each other with your weapons.”

Von Kleist pressed his mask up against the canopy. “I don’t see or hear anything now…

maybe the fight’s over.”

Angie just wished she was back home.

There came a scraping sound and several faces—beaks—appeared at the canopy. Angie recoiled while the German pressed his mike against his throat, hoping to be understood, gesturing at the faces.

“What’s going on? Can we get out of here?”

The faces said nothing but soon the kip’t began moving.

“We’re being towed,” von Kleist decided.

It was true. The kip’t had been secured to another craft and the two ships were ascending; you could tell as the light level changed. Both von Kleist and Angie pressed their faces as close to the canopy as they could.

Battered, bruised and bloodied bodies seemed to be floating everywhere about them.

Several times, they bumped or collided with floating corpses. Angie couldn’t tell if the bodies were those killed in the fight, but von Kleist thought it likely.

“They were firing off electrical and sonic weapons left and right,” he said. “Certainly there must have been casualties.”

Finally, they reached the surface and bounced among heavy waves. The sky was dark, twilight, veined with lightning and fast moving cloudy scud. Rain and wind lashed the ship as it bobbed and rolled in the surf.

“Why did they bring us to the surface?” von Kleist asked.

The answer came when the echopod attached to his belt went off.

“…shkreeah…ke’too…lifesuit…wear you…zzzhhh…”

Angie saw the garment first. A suit or skin, similar to the outfit she was wearing, had been attached to the edge of the kip’t, the starboard side. What they had mistaken for a body entangled with the ship was actually what the Seomish called a lifesuit.

“It’s like what I’m wearing,” Angie told him. “Evidently, they want you to put this on.”

Von Kleist seemed skeptical. “How would I—“

“They must have brought us to the surface so we could open up the ship, pull the suit in.”

They did that, struggling against the winds and waves, but finally managed to drag the gear inside. Von Kleist examined the scaly armor and unusual fibrous outer membrane of the suit.

“What is this made of?”

“I don’t know. But you’re supposed to put it on. Looks like they want us to be able to leave this little canoe.”

So, von Kleist put the thing on. In the cramped confines of the cockpit, it took nearly an hour, with both of them guessing how things attached and sealed. Finally, Angie pronounced the effort successful.

“You look like a frog on steroids.”

Von Kleist’s voice was muffled, until the two of them figured out there was an echopod embedded in the head enclosure—the helmet.

That’s when they felt the kip’t submerging. They were under tow again. This time, the little ship dove deeper and the waters turned completely black and opaque, save for occasional splatters of garish faces and gaping maws against the canopy.

They traveled for many minutes, then the kip’t stopped. The canopy was slowly unsealed and popped open. Faces with beaks appeared. Angie and von Kleist were motioned out, then escorted by a small squad of prodsmen. They traveled through a small forest of ice stalactites to a hollow beneath a huge berg. Both Angie and von Kleist held their breath the water was so cold, but at least they could breathe.

Faces appeared like wraiths all around them as they went along.

“There must be thousands of these creatures around here,” von Kleist muttered.

The two of them were brought before the Metah, Mokleeoh loh, once again. This time, the Metah seemed grim, determined, her face a hard edge.

“We have beaten off the Ponkti assault,” Mokleeoh told them. “Thanks to Vekran here and his prodsmen and stunners.” The Metah indicated another person beside and behind her…a muscular, scarred soldier with a perpetual scowl. He wore some kind of bandages around his face and fins. “Hundreds died. But Lektereenah won’t have her way. And her new weapons are still no match for our defenders.”

Angie nudged von Kleist. Her eyes met his: the torpedoes…the magnetsyou said you would….

“Uh…Your Majesty…Fuhrer…about the torpedoes—“

Mokleeoh made a face. “Infernal weapons…we must put a stop to this alliance with the Ponkti…or kel’vish’tu will never happen. We’ll destroy ourselves before the emigration even starts…what about these tor’pedoh?”

“There is a way to defeat them—“The German went on to explain how the proximity fuse and the G7’s depth-keeping feature could be defeated by strong magnetic fields around the target.

Vekran, chief of the prodsmen, seemed to understand. “It’s like the k’orpuh, Affectionate Metah. The snake creates electrical current. We can adapt the k’orpuh to do what the Tailless speaks of.”

Discussions followed for a few minutes, then Mokleeoh made up her mind. “Vekran, make it so. I want to show Lektereenah that even her greatest weapons can’t work. We must all work together to begin the Emigration.”

“What about Chase… eekoti Chase, Your Majesty?” Angie blurted out. “He’s still being held hostage by these Ponkti creatures…on Earth…on my world.”

Mokleeoh was thoughtful. With a sharp slap of her tail, she cruised about the icy hollow, nosing into niches and crevices, sniffing and smelling…and thinking. She always thought best when roaming but there was too much to do.

Eekoti Chase is vital to us…as are you, eekoti Angie,” the Metah said. “The Ponkti threaten us here and on Urku…we’ll have to defeat them in both places. Vekran, assign a small squad of special prodsmen—your best—to travel the Farpool. Take this eekoti with you—she indicated von Kleist, “and return to his waters. Free eekoti Chase and make sure the Ponkti pose no threat. We must begin kel’vish’tu immediately…there can be no more interference. Shooki is taking this world from us and bids us find another.”

“My world—“ Angie said. She looked at von Kleist. “— our world. People aren’t going to like that, Your Majesty. A lot of questions will be asked.”

“That’s why you will stay here…for the time being,” Mokleeoh decided. “You will work with Likteek and our Academy. You will help work out a way for us to complete kel’vish’tu, so the emigration is done, so there are no conflicts, no misunderstandings. We have enough of that here…I don’t want to bring it to Urku.”

Von Kleist spoke up. “There is war on back home, Your Majesty. If you come, you’ll be coming right into the middle of a great conflict.”

“Then you will accompany Vekran’s prodsmen, eekoti vonkleist. Make them understand that the conflicts must stop. The Tailless are so different from us. Among the kels, there are always misunderstandings, arguments, sometimes conflict, as you have seen. With the kelke of Urku, we have to make them understand that we come as neighbors, as family, as people in need of a new home. Eekoti Angie, eekoti Chase, you…will be our ambassadors in this effort.”

“You mean I’m not going home…you can’t—“

Mokleeoh shushed her. “Enough, eekoti Angie. In time, you will return, with me and Oncolenia and my court. First, we learn…from you.”

And so it was decided: von Kleist would ride back to Earth, via the Farpool, with a special squad commanded by Vekran himself. Much hope was placed on his ability to convince the kelke of Urku that new neighbors were coming and conflict among themselves was pointless.

Von Kleist wasn’t sure if anything like what the Metah wanted could be done.

She hasn’t dealt with the OKM staff in Berlin, the blockheads. But he said nothing. And somehow, some way, he still hoped to take a sample of some of Vekran’s weapons—the prods, the sound grenades, the stunners and suppressors, even perhaps a seamother.

Angie was disconsolate.

The Omtorish set about attending to their dead, allowing the surviving Ponkti to do likewise, while Likteek and his Academy scientists worked with von Kleist to develop, test and deploy a magnetic deflector system to make Lektereenah’s tor’pedohs miss their targets.

When the system was in place, surrounding the vast encampment of Omtorish refugees that occupied the waters around Likte Island, all that remained was to wait for the next appearance of the Farpool. Studies of the vortex fields said it should come in a few days.

When it did, the Omtorish squad of prodsmen, commanded by Vekran, with von Kleist riding along, rode several lifeships through the gateway, back to 1943 Earth, back to their soon-to-be new home, back to Urku and the great war still raging across the globe.

Chapter 15

“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.”

Louisa May Alcott


The North Atlantic, near Bermuda

January 20, 1943

2130 hours (local)

The Omtorish squad of lifeships landed successfully in the midst of a wintry gale, in the north Atlantic, a few hundred kilometers from the seamother hold at Muir seamount. Werner von Kleist nearly threw up. The spinning, corkscrewing ride through the Farpool had made him dizzy, nauseated, red-faced. It was like riding down the Totenschliess in a barrel, with bright lights going off.

There were two ships, each filled with Omtorish troopers. Von Kleist rode in the back of one piloted by Vekran, with Toktek in the middle. The talking fish had said Toktek was a thought-bond specialist. Both ships were well armed.

Once von Kleist gathered his senses, he had a question.

“How do you control this thing? How do control where you come out?”

Vekran was busy driving the ship, trying to steer them beyond the vortex fields into calmer waters, so Toktek answered. Von Kleist’s echopod chirped with his words.

“We do as eekoti Chase instructed us…controlling the kip’t is difficult…easy to mistake.”

Eekoti Chase…that’s the American boy? The one who looks like a lizard?”

“Yes, he is the one. Among our kelke, he and Kloosee are most experienced at traveling through the opuh’te…what you call the Farpool.”

Von Kleist was thinking. Somehow, the Kriegsmarine had to be made aware of this phenomenon.

“This is such a small ship…what kind of weapons do you carry?”

The kip’t was descending steadily as they talked, with Vekran concentrating on the chirps and squawks and beeps coming from his control panel. Von Kleist saw no displays. Control was by sound and scent alone.

“We carry the usual array of weapons…blinders, suppressors, prods. I’m trained by Manklu himself in close-quarters prod tactics.”

Von Kleist had become more and more impressed with the skills and equipment of these talking fish.

Surely, there are things here the Kriegsmarine can use, he told himself. Devices and tactics the Americans and the English would have no defense for.

The squad of ships cruised for the better part of a day, with Vekran slowly getting used to the strange scents and sounds of the north Atlantic. Through questions and his own knowledge, von Kleist determined that the target was near Bermuda.

“I follow the trail of puk’lek,” Vekran admitted. “The scent is unique…there are no others like her in these waters.”

And so, with only a few diversions and wrong turns, the squad steadily homed on the seamother hold near the Muir seamount.

Von Kleist was dozing when he awoke suddenly, startled awake by a strange rattling inside the little ship.

“What is it? What’s going on?”

Toktek was concentrating on the stream of whistles and clicks emanating from the control panel, while Vekran steered.

“Ponkti kip’ts…at least two of them…maybe ten beats away. We’ll have to approach from another bearing.”

Von Kleist came fully awake and figured he ought to be paying attention. Though he had spent little time aboard the U-boats, here was an exercise in underwater stealth and assault that could teach many lessons if properly studied.

“There is a great mountain…we say too’tenk in our words…nearby. Vekran is maneuvering to approach the target from another direction…using too’tenk as a shield.”

Maneuvering went on in silence for several minutes, as Vekran and Toktek studied and listened to the echoes from the kip’t’s sounding. Von Kleist knew the Kriegsmarine’s knowledge of how sound traveled underwater was sparse but these creatures were naturals at it.

He was impressed, wondering what would happen when the enemy was finally engaged. Muhler and other U-boat captains had regaled him with stories of burning convoys many times.

Then, a loud BOOM! crackled nearby and the little ship rolled, shimmying and shuddering like a wet dog. Sonic grenade! It had detonated nearby…like depth charges, von Kleist realized…only not really an explosive. The creatures knew how to concentrate and detonate water itself.

“They’re coming…zzzhhh…out,” growled Vekran. “Flushed from their nest…two Ponkti ships…probably with prods…lay down a suppressor screen, Toktek!”

Toktek finagled with something along the side of the cockpit. It looked like a drum head, a membrane stretched tightly over an opening. Toktek uttered a stream of guttural grunts and the drumhead vibrated in response. Seconds later, an ear-splitting screech projected out into the water, blinding the enemy’s ears. At the same time, Vekran chirped at more controls and a swarm of small projectiles punched out from the bottom of the kip’t hull, spinning and foaming and hissing madly.

Some kind of countermeasures, von Kleist realized.

A shape flashed by the canopy. Instantly, the water sizzled and crackled and von Kleist felt the charge course right through the little ship. He was momentarily paralyzed…his teeth felt like they would fly right out of his mouth—but it passed.

“Prods!’ Toktek cried. “They passed behind us—“

“Suppressor fire now!” Vekran shouted.

Toktek did something else with the sound controls and the screech increased in intensity.

Von Kleist held his ears—hard to do in his reptilian lifesuit—the shriek was like knives cutting right into his skull, but it subsided quickly enough.

Back and forth the battle went. The Omtorish ships circled the seamother hold, using the craggy folds of the seamount as shielding, while the Ponkti ships lashed out, zapping with prods when anyone came near.

“We’ve got to flush them out!” Toktek said. “Maybe a diversion—“

A series of chirps and whistles ensued, with Vekran communicating some maneuver to the other ship. Suddenly, Vekran swung the kip’t hard over and they dove sharply for the seabed, passing close to one of the Ponkti ships, itself cocooned in a crevice. The Ponkti scooted out to engage and at that moment, Toktek lay down a suppressor field of sound, while Vekran

discharged his own prods. He caught the Ponkti amidships and blew off its canopy, stunning the occupants. Now out of control, the Ponkti rolled over, drifting right into the side of the mountain. Its nose crumpled and it hung up on an outcrop of volcanic tuff, wobbling in the currents like a dead whale.

Beyond the immediate engagement zone, a low rumbling bellow could be heard.

“Puk’lek!” Toktek murmured. “They’re nervous…trying to get out. We’ve got to get there so I can thought-bond…before they escape.”

But there was still one Ponkti ship left and it appeared suddenly right above them.

Vekran gunned his jets and the kip’t scooted out from below the Ponkti.

“I’ll circle around—“he talked to the other Omtorish lifeship, this one piloted by Meklo.

“Come from your position…see if we can pin him against the mountain—“

A chorus of squeaks erupted from the comm and Vekran swung them around.

“Toktek, get the prods ready…I’ll make a pass.”

Ahead of von Kleist, the prodsman made his weapon ready, inserting the nub of the thing into a small port along the side of the cockpit.

“Prod charged and ready!”

“Here we go—“

Von Kleist held on as a sharp final turn was made. Vekran and Meklo coordinated their approach to arrive at the very same time.

When the impact came, both Omtorish kip’ts had rammed the Ponkti ship and discharged prods at the same time. The effect was devastating.

The Ponkti ship spun nearly upside down and went suddenly adrift, settling slowly to the seabed below. Von Kleist peered out the canopy but all he could see was foaming, churning water. The shadowy bulk of the seamount nearby was a presence more felt than seen.

Vekran made another abrupt turn in the kip’t—von Kleist was surprised how maneuverable and fast the craft was, thinking the Kriegsmarine could surely use a fleet of these—and hovered above the Ponkti craft as it settled to the bottom. The second Omtorish ship followed.

“Get your prod ready,” Vekran ordered Toktek. “Let’s see who we’ve caught—“

The canopy slid back and von Kleist was immediately slapped with the cold, frigid North Atlantic water. The Omtorish lifesuit helped but it was like floating on top of an iceberg. And he couldn’t see anything. He decided to stay in the cockpit.

The Omtorish found a surprise when they forced open the Ponkti kip’t.

Loptoheen…and an unfamiliar face--” Vekran shoved the canopy back and waved his own prod right in the beak of the Ponkti tuk master. “An unexpected pleasure---get out.”

Loptoheen glared back at the Omtorish. He could pulse the satisfaction in their guts…but he couldn’t do much else. “I can’t. I’m paralyzed…that prod—“

The other Ponkti was Kolom. He too had been hit with the discharge from the Omtorish prods and was effectively paralyzed.

“Help them out,” Vekran directed. The Omtorish lifted their Ponkti prisoners up and out and maneuvered them like sleeping pal’penk toward a narrow hollow at the base of the mountain. Streams of bubbles issued from a small magma vent nearby and long, white tubeworms whipped back and forth slowly in the local currents. Kolom and Loptoheen were secured in the hollow and held at bay with prods.

“Seeing all the sights of our new home waters, eh?” Vekran asked. “The Ponk’el Sea not big enough for you, is that it?”

Loptoheen glared back. “This is temporary. We’ve already got allies here…Tailless allies.

You Omtorish will be like pack animals in this world. The Tailless have new weapons and new ways of doing things, ways you would never dream of. In these waters, the Ponkti will be supreme.”

“Just like you are now,” Vekran chided. “I have orders from Mokleeoh loh kel: Om’t and they’re pretty specific. ‘Make sure the Ponkti don’t mess everything up for the other kels.’ You may have tor’pedoh and you may have destroyed Omsh’pont, but in these waters, the Ponkti will only be one kel…and not a very important one at that. Now, what have you done with eekoti Chase?”

Before Loptoheen could answer, a deep bellow rumbled through the waters. A small pod of seamothers was still pinned into a hold several beats away, around the perimeter of the seamount.

“Ah,” said Vekran, “I hear your friends now. How many are there, Loptoheen? “

The Ponkti seethed. The paralysis seemed to be wearing off… if only I could get my fingers to work…”Soon they’ll be an entire herd…a Ponkti herd, under our control.”

Vekran knew they had to do something and quickly. “Toktek, get over to that hold…it can’t be far away. Use your thoughtbond…try to calm them down, so we can release them.”

“At once, Vekran.” The Omtorish prodsmen departed swiftly, flippering off into the murk, and was gone.

“Now, tell me again, old Loptoheen, before I smash that grizzled beak of yours, where you’re keeping eekoti Chase.”

Vekran found Chase stuffed in a small cave, secured with tough tchin’ting fiber, not far from the seamother pens. The eekoti seemed none the worse for wear.

“I thought nobody would ever come---that stuff is really strong…I couldn’t pull it away from the opening.”

Vekran made sure the eekoti was okay, pulsing him up and down. Nothing but happy bubbles, echoes of relief. “I’m not surprised. The Ponkti invented tchin’ting. A seamother would have trouble breaking free. Come…back to the kip’t.”

On the way back, Vekran and Chase diverted to the seamother hold to see how Toktek was doing. Inside the hold, three calves circled restlessly, thrashing and bellowing and nudging their crested heads against the fibrous nets holding them in. Just outside, Toktek was deep in concentration, no doubt already linked with one of the creatures. Indeed, as they watched, the larger calf had already stopped thrashing and started to drift aimlessly about.

“Toktek speaks their language,” Vekran observed. “They think he’s one of them. In time, he’ll have all three licking his fins. Come on.”

Approaching the Ponkti kip’t, where Loptoheen and Kolom were still held by Meklo and the rest of the Omtorish squad, both Vekran and Chase heard the distant rumble of engines, human ships on the surface, dozens, maybe scores of them.

“It’s a convoy,” Chase realized. He explained to Vekran. “The Tail…er, the humans have surface ships, big kip’ts, that travel together in packs, like seamothers. They carry cargo. The Germans are trying to sink them all. And the Ponkti have been helping.

Vekran was grim. “The Tailless fight each other just as we do. If we don’t stop the Ponkti, the waters of Urku will be most unwelcome to our kels.”

“The Ponkti gave them weapons…and used those seamothers. Humans don’t have any defenses for that.”

Vekran found Loptoheen and Kolom still paralyzed. To Meklo, he said, “Leave them that way. It’ll be easier to transport them back.”

“There’s something else, Vekran…inside the Ponkti kip’t.” Meklo produced a small device that was beeping and flashing. It was shaped like a human fist, but smaller. “Some kind of signaling device.”

Vekran took it to Loptoheen, who glowered back at all of them. “What is this thing?”

At first, Loptoheen said nothing. It was von Kleist, held by several Omtorish prodsmen nearby, who explained.

“That’s how we communicate with these creatures…people. We tap on the keys and some kind of signal goes out. They receive it and know we want to meet.”

Chase asked to see the device. Meklo handed it over.

“This is similar to what the Umans used…at Kinlok. When they wanted to talk, they signaled with something like this and we surfaced and met with them.”

Vekran seemed skeptical. “It’s doing something now.”

Von Kleist said, “Ja…it means one of my colleagues at Bremerhaven or St. Nazaire wants to talk…with this one.” He indicated Loptoheen.

“And where are these places?”

Loptoheen, still paralyzed, scoffed. “Thousands of beats away. You’ll never find it.”

Vekran came back, “Don’t be so sure, kelke. We should be able to follow this to its source.

Meklo, stay here with these ‘penk and the seamothers. Eekoti Chase and the rest of us, eekoti vonkleist too, will investigate.”

The Omtorish team split into two groups. One stayed behind to ensure that the seamothers were released in good condition…and did no more harm. Toktet was having some success with the thought-bonding and all three calves had calmed down and seemed more pliable. Meklo would also ensure that Loptoheen and the Ponkti prisoners were well secured…and pulsed for any more intelligence they might provide.

Vekran, Chase and von Kleist piled into a single kip’t and headed east, following the faint but unmistakable beeps of the signaler.

The trip took several days and Vekran brought the ship to a stop just outside the small bay at the submarine pens of St. Nazaire. Von Kleist provided a brief description of the facility.

“Slip Number Four is where we most often meet with the creatures…er, the Ponkti. All the slips are enclosed spaces, sheltering the U-boats from air attack. The Allies pound us almost every day now.”

Vekran eased into the narrow slip and surfaced.

There was no U-boat tied up in the slip so the space was open. Tailless scurried along catwalks and wharves on three sides, shouting, pointing, gesturing.

With Vekran’s permission, von Kleist popped the hatch and stepped onto the nearby divers’


Achtung! We came on the signal… wer hat das signal geshickt? Who sent the signal, bitte?”

Strosstrupe marines and dock workers scrambled at the sight. There was a commotion around one shop…the radio shop, von Kleist realized…and several men emerged. Dockmaster Wegener saw von Kleist just climbing out of the kip’t and hailed him.

Fregattenkapitan von Kleist…you’re back…we’re glad you’ve returned….the flotilla—“

But his words were quickly squashed by the other man. As von Kleist climbed up onto the dock, Seventh Flotilla commander Freiburg scowled down.

Freiburg was white-haired, with a white stubble of a beard and haunted brown eyes set in a skeleton’s face. In another time and place, he might have been mistaken for a hospital escapee…

or one of those wretched refugees always clogging up the roads in front of the Wehrmacht. But he was in fact commanding officer of the Seventh U-boat Flotilla. Von Kleist had to step carefully around Freiburg, even with his OKM credentials.

Freiburg stuck his chin out. “You got the signal…you brought our allies? There’s a convoy moving north of Bermuda as we speak…our boats are having a hell of a time with them. What’s happened to our help?”

Von Kleist looked back at Chase, just now climbing up to the dock, and to Vekran, still inside the kip’t cockpit. He had closed the canopy.

“Kapitan…there have been some changes…perhaps I should—“

But Freiburg was in no mood for excuses. “We have an agreement, nicht wahr? When a convoy comes out and we know the route and the destination, we put that information out and your friends here help us out…send out their dragons and their sound guns and blinders. My U-boats are taking hell from airplanes and depth charges. Most of the convoy will probably get through. How can we win this war if the convoys get through!”

Von Kleist swallowed hard and slowly, bit by bit, began a halting explanation of what had happened to the Ponkti.

Freiburg glowered and his emaciated face acquired a sickly red color. His eyes narrowed and the bristles of his stubble seemed on end.

“Kapitan von Kleist, this is unacceptable. We had an agreement. If I can’t trust anyone from OKM, any gorilla from Berlin to do their job, what chance do—“

Here, Chase found it expedient to speak up. The incongruity of a Florida teen-aged beach bum addressing a U-boat commander never occurred to him.

“Uh, sir…I know this may be confusing but the Ponkti are enemies. Our enemies…I mean enemies to the Omtorish…” he indicated Vekran still inside the kip’t, now floating alongside the dive platform. “See there are a whole bunch of them coming here, well not here, exactly, but to the oceans…in my time, that is…that’s 2117, sir—“

It was clear from the expressions on Freiburg and Wegener’s face that the Nazis were confused by the change. Chase tried to explain how the Omtorish had come through the Farpool and rounded up the Ponkti to make the gateway safer for the kel’vish’tu hordes still to come.

But it was evident that Freiburg had only one concern.

“The convoys…that’s most important now. Too many ships are getting through. You…or your comrades said you could help…you were helping—“

Von Kleist squirmed a bit uncomfortably. He knew he was in a ticklish situation, having become somewhat sympathetic to the Seomish and their plight but wanting the Kriegsmarine to continue carrying the fight to the Allies at sea.

Kapitan, the situation is rather more complicated now…I’ve been to their world…I’ve seen their ships and weapons…trust me, they have weapons that we need. We should put this misunderstanding behind us…I’m sure we can work out another agreement. An officer exchange, perhaps…we send specialists to their world and they send their officers here. They have technology you wouldn’t—“

“Von Kleist, you idiot! What world are you talking about? The convoys are getting through…that’s all that matters.”

“Sir, these…er, people, could be great allies of the Reich. They can help us in our fight with the British and the Americans.”

“They should be helping us now, Kleist. We’re in a big fight right now, a fight for our lives. And what of these worlds anyway? What is this gateway…this Pool you speak of?”

Von Kleist looked helplessly over at Chase. “Perhaps you could explain?”

Chase felt now keenly just how different he was from the Germans. Jeez, I’m not human and I’m not Seomish…what the hell am I?

“Sir, all these whirlpools and water spouts you’ve been seeing in the ocean are actually wormholes in space.”

Enschuldigen sie,” muttered Freiburg. “Pardon me…what are these wormholes, bitte?”

Chase said, “Well, I’m no astronomer, but they’re like gateways…to other places and times.

Kind of like a road. The Farpool—that’s the biggest one, the one we use—lets travelers go back and forth between Earth and Seome.”

“Seome? Was ist this Seome?”

“Eh, it’s like another world. A long way from here—“Chase could see Freiburg’s eyebrows lifting millimeter by millimeter. “Your Captain von Kleist here has already traveled via the Farpool to Seome and back—“

Von Kleist confirmed what Chase was saying. “Ja, das stimmt…it’s true. I’ve seen it myself, Kapitan…truly, it is so. This Pool is like our autobahn.”

Freiburg looked skeptical as Chase went on. “Once I was human, same as you. I know I don’t look like it now but this is kind of like a suit. It lets me survive on Seome, underwater—

their whole civilization is underwater.”

“Atlantis--?” Freiburg theorized.

“Not quite. See, when I went there the first time, that was several years ago—er, in my time, that is—I went through a procedure. It’s called em’took. Kind of a modification…to make me look like this. “

Freiburg was increasingly convinced this was all some kind of stunt. “Kleist, are these people from the circus? Is this a stunt?”

Von Kleist hurriedly shook his head. “No, sir…no stunt. These people have helped us stop several convoys, with their sea creatures and their sound weapons. They have technology we can use…weapons that the Allies have never seen or heard of. It could change the whole course of the war.”

Chase added, “There’s something else you should know, sir. Their world—Seome—is doomed. Your captain here has seen it himself. Many people are going to use the Farpool to emigrate to Earth, even as I speak, they’re coming. Soon, thousands of kelke will fill your oceans. And they’ll put a stop to this war…it’s damaging the oceans.”

Von Kleist verified everything that Chase had said.

It was clear that Freiburg was stunned and increasingly angry at the news. “Perhaps Kapitan von Kleist has turned into a spy…. or a traitor to the Reich. I must investigate this further.

Perhaps it is possible to send additional representatives through this Pool. To gain even more weapons and learn what we can…Kleist, what do you think? Perhaps taking along some observers from Berlin, from the OKM, even the Admiral’s staff…just to be sure?”

Von Kleist knew he couldn’t say no. “Jawohl, Kapitan. I’ll try to organize another trip…

but we need ships like this young sailor has…special ships to go through the gateway. And the other world is doomed, as Herr Chase indicated…their sun is dying. I’ve seen it. Such a trip would have to be made soon.”

“Then you’d best get started, Kleist. I want proof this is real…bring me back more weapons my U-boats can use. Men are dying out there—“ Freiburg waved beyond the end of the

submarine pens, to the open sea. “They need help dealing with the damnable Allies…we need help.”

“These people can be our best allies,” von Kleist said.

“That’s not exactly true,” Chase countered. “There are conflicts on Seome, just like here.

The Ponkti and the Omtorish are at each other’s throats. We’re just trying to keep the conflict from coming here, from destroying the Farpool and preventing the emigration. “

Freiburg was set to reply, but the unmistakable sound of a diving airplane suddenly erupted from somewhere above. Seconds later, a terrific series of explosions rippled across the roof of the bunker, sending shards of metal and concrete chips flying like bullets. Chase ducked, then dove headfirst into the water. Von Kleist, Freiburg and the marines scattered, running wildly from cover, under benches, inside shops, anywhere they could find.

More planes swept across St. Nazaire. The RAF had come calling, with Lancaster and Halifax bombers, and bunker-buster bombs were sweeping deafening shock waves and acrid smoke across the waters of the slip. One bomb exploded just outside the pen, raking the walls with shrapnel.

Chase stroked for the kip’t and quickly slid back the canopy, dragging himself inside . “Get out of here, Vekran! Now! It’s an attack!”

The Omtorish kip’t pilot needed no further encouragement. Immediately, he dove to the bottom of the slip and scooted out into the bay, hugging the seabed as more bombs rained down and RAF aircraft strafed the base in pass after pass, low and screaming across the tops of the bunkers barely a hundred feet above.

The little kip’t rocked and rolled from the shock waves of the explosions but as they sped out into deeper water, the craft settled down and Vekran put them on a heading back toward the Muir seamount, letting the kip’t sniff its way onto the scent trail that the Ponkti had followed to and from St. Nazaire.

Both of them were quiet for a long time.

Finally, Vekran spoke up. “We should check on Toktet, eekoti Chase. Make sure he’s got the seamothers under control…or maybe he’s already released them. It seems like the Tailless fight as we do. Kel against kel.”

“They— we—don’t have kels, Vekran…not exactly. We call ours nations. But they do fight. Especially in this time period. I just hope when kelke start coming through the Farpool, they don’t come here. They should come to my time…it’s like two centuries later.”

“I’m sure the Metah will advise the kip’t pilots of that. We may start seeing kel’vish’tu any time now. The first ships may already be here.”

Chase was thoughtful. “Maybe. But the Farpool is tricky. You have to be careful…it’s sensitive. The wrong moves, the wrong inputs, the wrong maneuvers and you could wind up who knows where…here, ten thousand years ago, ten thousand years from now. That’s what worries me. Your people could wind up scattered all over Earth and Earth history. My world, Vekran—I guess you call it Urku—has been a pretty violent place over the centuries. It could really be a disaster.”

“Then we must make sure the Metah knows this. Our original mission is done now…we’ve got the Ponkti under control…don’t you think?”

“Vekran, let’s get to the Farpool as fast as we can. I want to be there for the next ‘landing.’”

Vekran seemed to understand. “It is eekoti Angie you wish to see, is that not so?”

Chase smiled ruefully. “You pulse me well, friend Vekran. I want to see Angie real bad.

The two of us—we’re like—“ What, exactly? Was there even a word for it? Not lovers,

precisely. Friends, maybe….but more than that. Steadies? Chase suddenly felt an intense longing to be with her…to smell her hair, check out her long track-star legs and that cute butt.

Just joke around with her. “Vekran…you say in Seomish kee’shoo and ke’lee…love and life.

That’s what Angie is to me. I’ve got to see her again, bring her home…our home.”

Vekran said, “I pulse happy bubbles inside when you speak of eekoti Angie. Hold on, eekoti Chase, I’ll make the kip’t to go top speed.”

And the two of them plunged ahead through the cold north Atlantic waters, bearing on the seamother hold, the Ponkti base and Bermuda…bearing on the next landing of the Farpool, still thousands of beats away.

Chapter 16

“A ship in port is safe but that’s not what ships are built for.”

Grace Hopper


Likte Island, the Omt’orkel Sea

Time 784.0, Epoch of Tekpotu

Chase and Vekran came through the Farpool in good shape and journeyed from the landing zone through the vortex fields to the temporary refugee city of Omtorish, Skortish and Orketish kelke, tens of thousands schooling and roaming and milling about, awaiting word from the Metah to begin kel’vish’tu. The great exodus was just about to get underway, but word had come from official repeaters that Mokleeoh would address the kelke with official words and songs shortly. Excitement was building throughout the camps in anticipation.

Vekran drove the kip’t north into the seas around Likte Island and both of them were frankly amazed at the size and the scale of the refugee hordes. For as far as they could pulse in every direction, from the seabed all the way up the slopes of the seamount that was Likte, at every depth, pods gathered in swarms large and small. It was as if the sea were a churning, heaving, living mass, and the noise was deafening, with the combined voices and songs of thousands blended together, sometimes in harmony as new songs were passed around, sometimes in discord as arguments and not a few fights broke out.

Chase was stunned. “I’ve never seen or heard such a racket. It’s like downtown Scotland Beach on New Year’s Eve…only a million times bigger.”

Vekran noted how the shape and slope of Likte resembled the Muir seamount on Urku, where the Ponkti had set up their base and seamother hold. “It’ll take a long time for this mass of kelke to make it through the Farpool,” he decided.

“That’s what worries me,” Chase admitted. “The Farpool is so tricky, even finicky. One wrong move, one slip-up and you wind up someplace else from where you were going. I’m still not sure the Omtorish know where they’re headed and I’ve got doubts that all of them will get there.”

Vekran slowed the kip’t down, maneuvering carefully between knots of kelke roaming about and temporary floating kel-tents drifting about like clouds of jelly-fish. “You recommended to the Metah that the Omtorish come to your time and place, didn’t you?”

“Only because I know it well. But I’m not sure what humans will do when they figure out that thousands of new immigrants are coming to their oceans. That’s another thing that worries me. My people—the Tailless—aren’t known for being especially hospitable to newcomers.

Especially if they’re different. Millions have died in wars over things like that.”

“The worst thing,” said Vekran, “would be to bring our own disputes and conflicts to your world. We should leave them here.”

“I’m betting that won’t happen,” Chase said. “Where are we headed anyway? I want to find eekoti Angie.”

“I’m trying to locate the Kel’em, the Metah and her court. Let’s ask around—“

So they stopped from time to time, asked directions, went cruising off on wrong tangents, circled back and finally, after several hours, came to a cluster of floating pod-like kel-tents, tethered to an outcrop of volcanic tuff near the underwater summit of Likte. It was turbulent and choppy at the top, with cross-currents mixing and clashing across the face of the seamount. The surface and the Notwater beyond were only a few dozen beats above. A well-armed squad of prodsmen surrounded the gathering.

They ran into Likteek and much of the Academy outside the cluster of tents. The scientist was disturbed about something and it showed when you pulsed him; his gut was all roiled and seething and everybody else gave him a wide berth.

“It’s chaos, I’m telling you,” he muttered to Chase and Vekran and anybody else who would listen. Both helped themselves to a long vine of hanging fruit, stretched across the opening into the Kel’em’s quarters: tong’pod, gisu, scapet. Both were famished and smacked loudly while Likteek circled in agitation, ranting and raving. “Pure chaos. It’ll be a miracle of Shooki if any of us get through the Farpool alive, if it even returns.”

Chase said, ‘What gives, old Likteek?”

The chief of the Academy was practically inconsolable. He flippered about the cramped confines of the small pod, running into things. “I told the Metah, all of them, really, that we need ships. Kip’ts. Hundreds of them. They can’t just go piling into the Farpool in one big mass…

that’s crazy. Who knows where anyone will wind up? And the Farpool is showing signs of instability lately. It’s not appearing on the same schedule as before…we may need to adjust the wavemaker…tweak something. Chase, you may have to oversee that.”

Chase was trying to imagine what exactly would need adjusting. He had the Umans’

echopod of how to setup and operate the wavemaker that created the Farpool and its daughter vortexes. But that didn’t mean he really understood it. Likteek just thought he did.

“I’m not sure you have much more time, Likteek,” Chase said. “Your sun’s dying…fast.

You’re going to have to start sending people through soon, in the next few days, in any kind of ship they can cobble together.”

Kah, “ spat Likteek, “they won’t listen…to me, anyway. I’m just an old eccentric. But you…they’ll listen to you.”

“I’ll do what I can.” Chase and Vekran looked at each other. Both had gisu entrails dribbling out of their mouths. Chase shrugged. Some expert I am, huh?

Likteek went on. “That’s not all. The Ponkti are still making trouble.”

Vekran stopped chewing immediately. “Trouble? How? Where?”

Likteek finally stopped his restless circling and just floated, weary and spent. “Even in the midst of the kel’vish’tu, Omtorish and Ponkti are skirmishing nearby, in and around Likte here and along the Serpentines and the Omt’orkel Sea. Dozens of fights have broken out. Omtorish and Ponkti are like pal’penk and tillet…they don’t mix well. This is a distraction we don’t need…really, something should be done. The Metah’s got prodsmen and suppressors and stunners out everywhere, but they have enough to do just trying to keep order here… eekoti Chase, it’s just chaos. Total chaos.”

“Okay, okay…. it’ll be all right.” Chase tried to calm the irascible scientist down.

“Anybody know where eekoti Angie is? I’d like to see her. Is she still here?”

“I think she’s still with the Metah...or maybe with the rest of the Kel’em. The Council’s trying to make decisions but with all this—“ Likteek spread his paddles in despair.

“I’m going to see the Metah,” Chase decided. He stroked away, followed the thickest crowds and finally came to the circle of prodsmen surrounding the Metah’s tent.

“I’d like to have an audience,” he announced.

The chief prodsman came by. He was a huge, muscular soldier, with a forest of scars all over his face and fins.

“The Metah sees no one like this,” he said firmly. “Show some respect here, eekoti. I pulse only turmoil inside you…that’s no way to present yourself before the Kel’em.”

Blast this pulsing, Chase thought. I’ll never get used to this…looking inside someone else.

“I’m sorry…I’ll try to be more…” what was the word? Shoo’kel?—“sedate. Litorkel ge, my friend. Peace be with you.”

He circled away from the guard post and came back, noting how closely the prodsmen pulsed him up and down. Finally, they were satisfied.

“Follow me,” one said. Together, they stroked deeper into the compound.

The Metah’s tent was a rickety covering, flapping in the currents, but thick with kelke floating nearby, all seeking petitions and answers. The prodsman shoved his way through the crowd, with Chase right behind, and consulted briefly with the privy councilor, Oncolenia, who argued briefly, then motioned them on.

Mokleeoh was hovering over a small bed of coral that served as a sort of portable throne.

Chase realized they had brought the coral bed all the way from Omsh’pont.

Mokleeoh’s eyes brightened as Chase was presented. The prodsman discreetly withdrew but Chase saw the ring of more prodsmen just beyond the coral bed. They were never very far from the Metah. Servlings swirled to and fro, some brushing her skin and fins, others feeding her from small baskets.

Eekoti Chase…I’m glad you returned safely. The Farpool works well for you.”

“Affectionate Metah, the Farpool is tricky to operate. I came to tell you that you must be careful, deliberate, in using it. Mistakes will send travelers to other places, the wrong places.”

Mokleeoh brushed away her servlings. “Kah, we no longer have time to debate the details.

Kel’vish’tu is here. Unfortunately, Omtorish and Ponkti are still skirmishing around the island. I have a mission for you, eekoti Chase. A very important mission.”

“Yes, Metah, anything. I want to help.”

Mokleeoh came closer and Chase could sense the tension in her body.

Maybe I am getting used to this pulsing, he decided. It was startling how much he could tell just by listening to the throb of her heart, the gurgle of her stomach, the creak of her joints. He didn’t even have words for most of it.

“You will lead a delegation to the Ponkti. I’ll send along Likteek as well as some prodsmen.

You may pick another as well. We’re proposing a truce. I’m sure Lektereenah is here: I can sense her. Omt’or wishes there to peace— shoo’kel—in the waters now. The exodus starts in a few days. The kels have to cooperate.” Here, Mokleeoh’s voice changed timbre. “If we don’t, we won’t get our people through the Farpool before ak’loosh is upon us. Shooki tells us of the great wave, the End Times. These times are near, eekoti Chase, very near. It’s a matter of survival now, for all of us. We can’t keep arguing and fighting each other. The other kels, the other metahs are in agreement. Only the Ponkti resist what must happen. Chase, it’s your mission to make them pulse reason.”

Chase swallowed hard. Jeez, this was one hell of a homework assignment. “Metah, perhaps I’m not the best person for this…I’m eekoti, like you say. An outsider. I don’t pulse well. I don’t even know where I am half the time.”

“Nonsense. You are the only one for this. All kelke trust you…do you know why this is so?”

“No, Metah. Not really.”

“Because you are eekoti. You’re not of any kel. You have no ties to any clan. No loyalties here. No real family here. The other kels have no suspicions about you.” Mokleeoh chuckled.

“You can’t even hide your insides very well…you’re so easy to pulse, Chase, a child could do it.

All who know you know what and who you are…you don’t hide anything. You can’t hide anything. And it helps that you are of Urku…you come from where we are going. If we ever get there.”

Chase knew deep down inside that everything Mokleeoh said was true. He had no answer except:

“Affectionate Metah, I’ll do my best. It’s all I can do. But I do have a kind of special request.”

“What is your request?”

“I want to find Angie… eekoti Angie. She must be here. I want to see her and be with her again. We’re like—“now what could he say? Lovers? Girlfriend and boyfriend? Best buds?

The Seomish didn’t even have a word for what they were. “…I guess we’re like mates, if you understand what I’m saying.”

Mokleeoh chuckled again. “Eekoti Chase, it is so easy to pulse what you mean, though words may fail you. Your heart speaks all I need to know. And, truthfully, eekoti Angie is near.

I’ll send for her—“The Metah barked out a series of guttural commands, a stream of squeaks and clicks and whistles that Chase’s echopod could barely translate. The Privy Councilor acknowledged her orders.

“Yes…at once, Honorable Metah.” Oncolenia disappeared into the crowd beyond the tent.

Several prodsmen went with her.

Chase turned back to Mokleeoh. “Metah, my world is in conflict…at least in some time streams. The Ponkti have allied themselves with one nation…one kel, if you like. But I come from a different time stream. I know from our history that the Ponkti’s allies will be defeated.

Still, I’m concerned that the alliance may damage other time streams. The alliance needs to be ended, somehow. I don’t know how.”

Mokleeoh said, “This we already know. You have helped in this matter before and we will need more help. Likteek and the Academy have told me of this conflict. But we must put first things first. I must get my people, all the kelke of Omt’or, away from this world. The waters will die soon and we will die as well if we don’t leave. I must get my people safely to Urku before it’s too late. When that is done, then we will worry about the conflicts of your world.”

There was a commotion outside the tent. Two prodsmen appeared, along with Likteek.

Between them was a creature that looked like something from a bad science fiction movie. With a start, Chase realized it was Angie, in a lifesuit.

He swam to her and they embraced…two frogs on steroids, hugging each other. Their echopods crackled and chirped, before settling down to intelligible speech.

“Chase, is that really you…my God, you’re so ugly…but I’m so glad to—“

“Angie, it is me…and you look like a deformed gator yourself…are you all right? Can you breathe okay?”

She nodded yes, though nodding was hard to see inside the lifesuit, which closely resembled the em’took skin Chase was encased in.

“Yes, yes, yes…I’m okay. They gave me this suit…jeez, it itches like crazy…I think there are fleas or something in here, but I can breathe. I’m okay. I just want to go home…take me home, Chase.”

Chase gently explained what the Metah had assigned him to do. “Angie, we’ve got to help these people. We have to.”

“Chase, what can you do? You’re just one person…you’re not even like these, er, people.”

The teenagers talked with Mokleeoh and Oncolenia for several more minutes. Finally the Metah ordered a kip’t and a squad of prodsmen be made available.

“We’ve put out a request for a truce…it’s all over ootkeeor now. The sound channel will carry it…Lektereenah will hear it. As soon as she responds, you’ll be on your way.”

Chase and Angie looked at each other. “Not exactly like grabbing a soda at Citrus Grove, huh?”

Angie just sighed, but inside her lifesuit, no one could tell.

A few hours later, a burly prodsman named Denko came to Chase and Angie, who were holed up in Likteek’s tent on the edge of the camp. The Academy em’kel had set up near the underwater summit of the Likte seamount, the tents fastened down tight in stiff cross-currents across the plateau.

Denkto was large and muscular, his fins scarred from a lifetime of fighting and bad decisions.

“The Metah has given the order to depart, eekoti Chase. Both of you. My kip’t is outside.

There will be three ships. The Ponkti have granted us safe passage through their lines.”

“Where are we going exactly?” Chase had spent some time around Likte when the Umans pulled out of their base at Kinlok and he’d helped rebuild the wavemaker to get the Farpool going again.

Denko sniffed. “Other side of Likte…there are some small lava tubes on the seabed and big floating sheets of mah’jeet…the Ponkti have established a base there. We’ll have to navigate the mah’jeet carefully…my kip’ts have been through a lot and the seals are worn.”

Chase looked over at Angie, realizing that in this time period, she had never encountered mah’jeet swarms…that was still to come. “Okay…I guess we’re ready.”

They boarded the kip’ts, Angie and Chase in the lead with Denko driving, and two ships on either side. A faint but continuous whistle issued from all three ships—the sonic identifier of a negotiating team, Denko told them. They headed off and soon had made their way completely around the seamount, tacking against the Pom’tor Current and crossing a low range of hills.

After traveling maybe half an hour, Denko sounded ahead and announced, “Mah’jeet coming. We’ll have to slow down, sound for the gap the Ponkti have created. I don’t want to go plowing into these bastards at full speed.”

Soon enough, the Omtorish kip’ts nosed their way into a dense dark forest of mah’jeet, just puttering ahead, while all about them, the purple strings of their tentacles streamed and dragged across the canopy. Rivulets of toxic blood oozed out and ran in tiny dribbles across the portholes. Angie shuddered at the sight.

“My God, what are these things?”

They billowed out of the mountains, staining the sea a deep crimson, swelling like a wave across the crests of the hills. It was as if the oceans had shuddered, and shaken trillions of dirt clods loose. The swarm spanned the whole of Likte’s outthrust slopes, for as far as they could pulse in either direction.

“It’s a full bloom of them! The Ponkti gave us bad directions, the bastards—“Denko cried.

He re-fired the jets, to back them out before they drifted into the middle of it, but he had waited

too long. Piloting the kip’t had distracted him and now the jets were getting clogged. They sputtered and died off noisily.

Their own momentum was carrying them into the very heart of the bloom. Already, streaks of crimson had splattered the bubble of the cockpit. Frantically, Denko flushed the intakes with water from inside, then shut them tight. That helped to expel any of the creatures that might have drifted into the circulator. But they were closed off from a fresh source of water now; the supply in the cockpit was litor’kel and useable, but it wouldn’t take long for it to foul, with the circulator off. Three people would deplete it in less than a day, even if two of them were breathing Notwater.

He had almost no propulsion now. They were at the mercy of whatever stray current might come along and it seemed they could not avoid drifting deeper into the bloom. There was an agonized silence—and the scent of helplessness—as the kip’ts went deeper and deeper. Soon, the veil had been drawn. Mah’jeet crushed against them, crinkling, scraping, grinding, the weight of trillions upon trillions of them squeezing the cockpit, bleeding their deadly purple toxin in rivulets over the bubble.

They were trapped in a sea of death. The slightest leak would be fatal and Chase and Angie both soon imagined scores of them. Every thump and hiss and click and whistle of the kip’t was magnified, the sound reflected off the mah’jeet veil back into the little craft.

Denko listened, dreading what he knew had to come, avoiding the frightened stares of his human passengers. How big the bloom was he couldn’t say. It might reach for hundreds of beats, maybe thousands of beats, along the spine of Likte and her daughter hills. It might be only a local upwelling, a result of the seething volcanoes to the south. He forced himself to remain calm, to hear none of the sounds that played around them. It was critical that he recall what he knew about the creatures. If he could distract Chase and Angie from their worrying too, they would all have a much better chance to survive.

unicellular microscopic organisms… he told Angie, sounding to his own ears like an encyclopedia… the mah’jeet cluster in vast fields in equatorial waters, often near active ve’skort, where they can feed on rising columns of mineral-rich water…

Angie spoke into her echopod, folding her hands around Chase’s as they both clutched the device. “Are they dangerous?”

Denko was watching the spreading purple stain slowly envelop the cockpit bubble…

mah’jeet are mildly irritating to most Seomish in small numbers…but they tend to swarm…in large numbers, they are deadly…

He told them through the echopod that the toxin worked on the nervous system. It could cause convulsions, breathing difficulties, heart attacks and finally death. In these concentrations, the slightest exposure to the toxin that oozed outside the cockpit would kill them in minutes, if not sooner.

They drifted helplessly for a while, as Denko worked to get something, anything, out of their propulsors, to no avail. Just when he himself was beginning to panic, swearing under his breath at the treachery of the Ponkti, he felt a slight bump against the side of the ship. A form cruised past them, then another. The sounders bleeped. Then a voice came over the repeater channel.

It had a Ponkti accent.

“Unknown kip’t, shut off your propulsors at once! Retract fins and planes…we will tow you!”

There came a scraping sound below and more shapes and forms materialized outside the canopy, fragments that came and went before they could be identified. Moments later, they all

felt the tug of momentum…they were being towed. The kip’t shuddered and shimmied for a moment, as it eased through the thick stew of mah’jeet, but soon settled down into a steady thrumming cruise.

Denko hoped his other two kip’ts were also being towed.

In time, the mah’jeet field lessened, as if a veil were being parted, and they were free, in open water. Ahead, barely visible at the end of a long tow line, another ship, could be seen.

The rear of the Ponkti kip’t kicked and undulated like a powerful scapet’s tail as it dragged them on.

They passed a sharply peaked hill blistered with brownish-black mounds—tillet droppings, Denko told them—before slowing to a stop on the other side. There, all around them, the Ponkti encampment was laid out—tents and pods and crude lean-to’s drifting about in cold, brackish waters downstream of the Likte summit.

They were towed into the middle of the camp and stopped. All three Omtorish kip’ts were quickly surrounded by Ponkti prodsmen and stunners.

Denko, Chase and Angie were ordered out of their ship, and gathered with the others into a small convoy. They were then marched deeper into the swarming, schooling mass of Ponkti, to a gathering of pods hanging like grapes on a trellis from floats suspended down from the surface.

The Ponkti Metah, Lektereenah kim, was inside one. Denko, Chase and Angie were shown in.

Lektereenah was younger than Mokleeoh, that was plain to see. She was a small, compact female, silvery white on the bottom, with the characteristic V-notch in her flukes that Chase had long ago learned to look for, long, delicate fingers, short, petite beak, a churning, turbulent gas bladder.

She could not stay still but circled the confines of the pod restlessly.

“Mokleeoh said you would come to discuss terms. What terms? Are we your midlings…

your children now? Scraps of gisu for the young…that’s what we are to you…that’s why you’ve come.” Lektereenah paused in her ceaseless roaming and glared at the three of them. “Ponkti will serve no one. We have pride and dignity, just like any kel. And we will have our place in the new world, just as Omt’or does.”

Chase looked at Denko for some kind of lead. The kip’t pilot was still, didn’t return his glance.

Guess I’m on my own now. Florida beach bum and surfer dude now becomes intergalactic diplomat. Mr. Winans’ Algebra class never went over any of this.

“Uh…your Majesty…Affectionate Metah…the Metah of Omt’or wants a truce. She—we, that is, the Omtorish, just want peace so we can all get away from Seome safely. You know, the world’s dying—“

Lektereenah spat. “No thanks to you…come here, eekoti. I want a sniff—“

Chase found himself bumped hard from behind by a Ponkti prodsman. By signal, he indicated Chase should approach the Metah. Cautiously, Chase did.

Lektereenah suddenly grabbed him by the arms and pulled him into her embrace. Face to beak, he stared into her fierce eyes, as she sniffed him up and down, even tasting the skin of his em’took armor. A look of disgust came over her face.

Kah! What is that…tastes like pal’penk hide…I know you are not Omtorish… eekoti Chase, what exactly are you?”

“Just a visitor, Metah…from a faraway place. The Omtorish call it Urku.”

“Ah, yes, the world we go to… Urku…sounds remote. What’s it like on Urku? Are there monsters on Urku? Puk’lek…tillet…mah’jeet--?”

“Seamothers…there are some…actually, your own people brought them.”

This made Lektereenah mad and she slapped water in Chase’s face, abruptly pushing him away. Chase went back to float alongside Angie.

“We did what we had to, eekoti,” she seethed. “Ponk’et deserves the same as any kel. It’s not for Omt’or to decide what we will do or where we will go. The Ponkti will decide that.”

“Metah, the Metah of Omt’or has told me to offer you this: full participation in all the planning for operating the Farpool and organizing the exodus…if you’ll cease your attacks against her people. She only wants to make sure the Farpool is available for everyone, so that everyone can get away in time.”

Lektereenah scoffed. “And I should believe anything Mokleeoh says? How many mah have the Omtorish tried to have everything their own way… eekoti, they think we’re animals, that we live in caves, that we’re savages.”

Jeez, this is worse than what happens in the schoolyard. “Affectionate Metah, maybe now’s the time to put all that behind and look ahead.”

Despite her skepticism, Lektereenah was intrigued. Perhaps some good could come of a temporary alliance with the Omtorish. Even the seamothers let scapet cling to their hides and eat scraps of their meals. But we deserve more than scraps.

“Ponk’et will be a full partner in the kel’vish’tu…only that is acceptable.”

Chase decided her response would have to do. “Your Majesty, I believe that’s what the Metah of Omt’or has in mind.”

“I have one more request, eekoti. As a show of good faith, send the High Priestess of the mekli to meet with us and bless this undertaking. Bless the cooperation of the kels. Then we’ll know what Shooki plans for us. This is not negotiable.”

Chase promised he would convey the request to the Omtorish. He and Angie were escorted back to Denko and the kip’t. They were allowed to cruise off unmolested and headed back to the Omtorish camp.

Lektereenah summoned her Kel’em to gather around her. The leaders of the Ponkti em’kels drifted in and paid their respects, nuzzling and rubbing Lektereenah with their beaks and fins.

Klindonok was summoned too.

“Enough…we must talk.” She explained the offer from Mokleeoh that Chase had just conveyed. “The mekli are coming. Supposedly they will bless this cooperation, but I don’t trust Mokleeoh. Klindonok, assemble a small force, no more than five or six. Go back through the Farpool when it returns. Find our people and starting making preparations near this base you’ve built. I want a settlement suitable for our travelers all ready for when kel’vish’tu begins. I’m not waiting on the Omtorish to decide where we’ll be living.”

Klindonok swallowed hard at the prospect. Loptoheen needs to handle this, but he didn’t say that. “Metah, we’ll need more than five or six. We’ll need surveyors, sounders, builders and weavers—“

Lektereenah cut him off. “Just find suitable waters for us…and build protective shielding around it. I want Ponk’et to have the best places. Use your own judgement…” she stifled a sly smile at something “—and tell Loptoheen he is to help as well.”

“And what of our Tailless allies…?”

Lektereenah thought. “Eekoti Chase tells me this alliance occurs in a different time and place…check with Loptoheen to see if this time and place is suitable for us. Maybe it would be better to live separately from the Omtorish…and the other kels. See to it.”

Klindonok bowed and ritually kissed her fins. “At once, Honorable Metah.”

Mokleeoh loh agreed with Lektereenah’s demand that the mekli priestesses bless the cooperation of the kels and the entire kel’vish’tu. She ordered Oncolenia, her Privy Councilor, to summon the High Priestess, who appeared in the Metah’s tent a short time later.

“Go to the Ponkti, Priestess. Assure them we mean no ill will toward them. Lektereenah’s certain we mean to destroy the Ponkti but nothing could be further from the truth. Lektereenah has to pulse that.”

The High Priestess was a dainty and diminutive creature, her skin almost porcelain and unblemished. “Affectionate Metah, Shooki demands that we keep good shoo’kel, that our minds and hearts be stable, clear and calm at all times. I pulse that is not so with you—perhaps the mekli can help in this?”

Always shook’kel, Mokleeoh thought. “Mekli, these are difficult days, you know this.

Ak’loosh seems to be upon us…the great wave is near, we all feel it, we can hear it, sense it. We have to focus now, focus on what’s most critical. If we don’t, we won’t survive. To get all kelke, from every kel that’s here, into and through the Farpool before ak’loosh comes will take a great effort. I’m not sure we can do it. I am sure we won’t do it if we continue to argue and fight among ourselves.”

The mekli agreed. “Truly, this is so. Our great god Shooki looks after us at all times. But we must listen, pulse deeply and truly, to hear his words and thoughts.”

Now Mokleeoh got to the heart of the matter. “I want your blessing for kel’vish’tu. Mekli, I want you to convey this to Lektereenah. The Ponkti are so suspicious, so sensitive, so—“ here Mokleeoh was at a loss for words, “—so filled with anger and rage, that they’re disturbing everything, they’re making it difficult to get this effort organized. They fight us at every turn, question everything we do, assume the worst and scheme behind our tails to thwart every good intention. This has to stop. If it doesn’t, we‘ll still be here when the great wave comes and the Light goes out and all is dark.”

The mekli dipped her beak, extracted a small pod from a side pouch and offered it to Mokleeoh, who took the thing. It was a scent bulb, a very ancient one.

“It’s from the Caves of the Harmonies, Metah. One of our oldest. The bulb carries the scents of the First Daughters, including your own Omt’or, Second Daughter of Shooki himself.

Sniff it—“

Mokleeoh did that. The scent was faint, but redolent of seamother hide, old and musty seamother hide. And there had been some kind of fight…the perspiration residue was still there, after how many thousands of mah?

“Incredible,” Mokleeoh breathed. “Is this really--?”

“Yes, dear one. The seamothers were young then, pets of Shooki himself. If you smell this one and related bulbs, you can’t help but understand how loving Shooki was, how he was so disturbed when there was conflict. Shoo’kel—clean and calm water—that was his dream and his command to us. Anything that disturbs shoo’kel is bad.” Now, the mekli turned stern and resolute. “Metah, the seamothers do not approve of this conflict. The ancient scents don’t lie.

Shooki told us, in the Echopods of the First Times, that ak’loosh would come. A great wave

would roll through the waters and all kels would be destroyed. So, it is true. Kel’vish’tu must come. We must leave this world…and live again in distant waters. It is foreseen.”

“Then go to Lektereenah. Go to the Ponkti. Tell them this. The End Days are at hand.”

“As you wish, Affectionate Metah. If your people could escort us to the Ponkti camp, I will surely make this argument to Lektereenah.”

Mokleeoh summoned a squad of prodsmen and dispatched them with the mekli at once. To the lead prodsmen, she added, “See that the mekli get through. Or don’t come back.”

The official roam took off and Mokleeoh watched them disappear through the floating, drifting icebergs and calves. But she didn’t have long to ponder the mission for Oncolenia came to her straight away and announced more visitors and petitioners just outside her tent.

Eekoti Chase and eekoti Angie are there as well, Metah. They’ve requested an audience.”

This made Mokleeoh stop her ceaseless roaming about the tent. She looked up sharply.

“Send them in at once.”

“But Metah, there are others in the line—“

“I don’t care about their position in the line. Send them in.”

“At once, Metah.”

Moments later, Chase and Angie drifted in, accompanied by two prodsmen and Oncolenia, who withdrew discreetly into a far corner of the tent, her hands nervously flexing and unflexing.

Eekotis, welcome, welcome… litorkel ge. I have a new mission for you.”

Chase didn’t like the sound of that. He was still technically free-bound to the Metah. Arm of the Metah, was how it had been described to him. Compelled by honor and courtesy to do the Metah’s bidding, no matter how distasteful. He valued his friendships among the Omtorish but he was also acutely aware of how really different he was, half-human, half-Seomish. Could such a bond really be enforced? He’d never tested that idea before. And now didn’t seem like the time to start.

“Yes, Metah, of course.” He felt Angie squeeze his arm through her lifesuit. It was a warning that didn’t need words. It said simply: get me the hell out of here, before I break something.

Mokleeoh came right up to their faces, pulsed both of them deeply and shrank back, surprised. “Eekoti Chase, you’re upset. Something disturbs you. What is it…tell me?”

Chase indicated all the commotion outside the tent, dozens of kelke clicking and squeaking and jostling…the camp was like that. Restless and nervous, thousands of kelke, Omtorish, Ponkti, Eep’kostic and Skortish, nobody could be still. Seomish were like that—all the kels were, really—constantly in motion, constantly yammering and arguing with each other, chattering, shouting, snapping and barking. This time was different however. The chattering had risen in volume and pitch, bespeaking an anxious people, unsure of themselves and unsure where they were going.

“All of this…it kind of makes me nervous. I guess I’ve been here long enough, to know what shoo’kel means. This isn’t it.”

“No, it isn’t,” Mokleeoh admitted. “But there is an important mission for you, and for eekoti Angie as well. I want you to go back through the Farpool—“ here Angie’s heart skipped a beat, was it really going to finally happen?—“ and prepare the waters for us, for Omt’or.

Lektereenah already has done this for Ponk’et. The other kels are planning likewise. A form of reconnaissance mission. A scouting expedition. Omt’or will need compatible waters, suitable for our kel, and our people. You know the waters of Urku better than anyone.”

Chase seemed at a loss for words. “Metah, I—“how could he say this? Could he say this?

“—I am not the right person for this. I’m not Seomish. I’m not even human anymore…Tailless.

I don’t know what I am. But I know this: there are better people for this mission than me.”

“That is nonsense,” Mokleeoh said. “The kelke respect you. It’s because you’re not of the kels that they respect you. You have no natural ties to anyone. And…. you are eekoti. Of Urku.

The kelke of Omt’or will listen to you. This is your mission, eekoti Chase. Remember your bonding.”

That was the problem. He did remember the bonding, all too well.

“Then I have to do what is needed,” he finally said. What more could you say? The Omtorish had adopted him as one of his own. He thought of them as a sort of extended family.

In ways he couldn’t always describe, they gave him love he hadn’t gotten from home.

“Find Likteek,” Mokleeoh went on. “He will see that you are well equipped for this journey. Take eekoti Angie with you—“here Angie silently pumped a fist Yes! “And take this

—“she handed Chase an echopod. “It has my instructions, and details from the meetings and roams of the Kel’em. It describes what the kelke want their new home to look like. Make preparations according to these words and send a signal back.” Mokleeoh came up and briefly nuzzled Chase around the face, an Omtorish custom he hadn’t quite gotten used to. “And hurry, eekoti Chase. The mekli are right. We don’t have much time here—“

“At once, Affectionate Metah.”

Mokleeoh issued a string of sharp commands to her Privy Councilor Oncolenia and her prodsmen. “See that they make it to the Academy tent, to Likteek. They are bound to the Metah and their mission is critical.”

“Of course, Honorable Metah,” answered the chief prodsmen.

Chase and Angie were quickly escorted out of the tent and off into the swirling maelstrom of the camp waters.

At the next appearance of the Farpool, two lifeships entered the vortex and made transit.

One was a ship piloted by Chase, bearing Angie as well. Chase was a veteran traveler of the gateway and manipulated and maneuvered their ship to put them into Earth waters in the middle of May in the year 2115, a trip he had made numerous times. Really, it was a simple matter of knowing just how to rock and roll, not unlike slamming jam with the Croc Boys on a gig at some high school near Scotland Beach. Twist this way, twist that way, give it a big shake, roll left, roll right and voila! You’re splashing down like an astronaut in the middle of the ocean.

They made the trip in less than the blink of eye. And best of all: Angie only threw up once during the whole time.

The second lifeship headed in a different direction, to a different time stream. This ship bore Klindonok and two other Ponkti kelke, on a mission from the Metah of Ponk’et, Lektereenah kim. Their destination was the spare Ponkti base near the Muir seamount, north of Bermuda in early February 1943. Because Klindonok was not quite as skilled in maneuvering through the Farpool as Chase, the Ponkti landed somewhat off course, still in the Atlantic Ocean, but a few weeks after they had planned to touchdown.

There were still subtle aspects of riding through the gateway that eluded the Ponkti and the differences in timekeeping between Urku and Seome had long bedeviled them.

Still they had a mission.

However, owing to errors in Farpool navigation, Klindonok had managed to put the Ponkti ship down right in the middle of a fierce battle several hundred miles northeast of their target.

Kah! What’s happening?” yelled Klindonok as deafening BOOMS! rattled the ship. They rolled and corkscrewed several times in the shock waves and turbulence before Klindonok could regain control. His two passengers, Pelspo and Vang, held on as best they could as depth charges went off all around them. “The sounder’s going crazy…must be a Tailless kip’t!”

Vang felt sick and dizzy. “Get us out of here!”

“I’m trying, I’m trying…but the shock waves are too strong…we’re still caught in the vortex fields too. Maybe, if I—“

The Ponkti ship had touched down in the middle of wolf pack attack on an Allied convoy.

This time there were no seamothers. Loptoheen and the other Ponkti were supposed to be helping their Tailless allies but there seemed to be no sign of them. And the Tailless had improved weapons of their own…Klindonok rolled the words around in his mouth. Something called ASDIC. And exploding things called hedgehogs.

Klindonok finally managed to turn and dodge and dive out from under the worst of the explosions and turbulence, seeking deeper water.

“Got to find Loptoheen,” he muttered, wrestling with the controls. They had already lost one of their jets and Klindonok had to hold strong rudder to keep them stable. “I’ll head for the seamother pen. Lektereenah wants us to make the area ready for the tu’kel’ke. They’re coming soon, thousands of them. There’s nothing more we can do here…we have one blinder and a few stunners…the Tailless will have to fight this battle themselves.”

“They won’t be happy about that,” observed Pelspo.

The kip’t cruised silently through cold dark waters, across the Mid-Atlantic Rift and homed on the residual scents of the seamother hold, still a thousand beats away.

Fifty beats behind the Ponkti ship, the U-115 nosed cautiously through debris-filled waters, silently stalking an American destroyer that had peeled off from escort duty several hours before and nearly rammed the submarine before she had made a crash dive and leveled off at fifty meters.

Fregattenkapitan Werner von Kleist stood off to one side in the control room, while the boat prosecuted a submerged approach and attack on the American ship that had been harassing them for half a day.

Korvettenkapitan Horst Muhler, skipper of the U-115, figured this was about as good a shot as they were going to get. The U-115 had been stalking the rear of the convoy—intercepts had termed it SC-122—for two days now, just trying to evade a few scattered escorts and maneuver in close for a quick snapshot from her forward tubes. Already they had closed enough to one juicy target for Muhler to risk raising the periscope for a quick look and bearing before final target calculations were made.

“Raise periscope,” he commanded. The boat’s conning tower shuddered as the ‘scope hissed up her sealed tube and poked just above the light swells rocking the ocean surface.

Muhler turned his greasy cap backwards and affixed tired eyes to the rubber eyepiece, silently mouthing the markings emblazoned on the forehull of the destroyer, now barely half a kilometer away, early morning sun glinting off her funnels.

DDE-233 was lettered prominently on her bow .

“Range, five hundred fifty meters,” he called out. “Angle on the bow twenty-two degrees.

Make tubes one and two ready.”

Standing behind Muhler was the First Watch Officer, Joachim Wechsler. Voices called out from somewhere forward.

Wechsler reported. “Tubes one and two ready.”

“Set your angle and fire.”

The firing command was given and the U-115 porpoised a little as the first G7 torpedo slipped out of her tube, motoring away on high-pitched screws.

“Watch your buoyancy, Eins WO. Flood four and five. And give me the count.”

The boat trimmed out the loss of the torpedo’s weight. Wechsler checked his stopwatch, counting down the seconds. The time seemed to last an eternity, then….


The explosion sent shock waves that shook the boat. A great cheer erupted in the control room.

“Sound man, what do you hear?”

The sound man turned at his desk, holding ear phones tight against his head, his eyes shut to concentrate. It was Genzbach, fresh out of the training flotilla at Trondheim, head full of black hair and a cockeyed grin on his face. “Bulkheads collapsing, Kapitan. Boilers crumpling…I hear the steam hissing…she’s going down fast.”

“Stupid Americans,” Muhler decided. “She should have finished us off when she had the chance. They never learn. Helm, plane up to periscope depth…I want to take a look.”

The U-115 rose slightly and leveled off a few dozen meters below the choppy surface of the Atlantic. Above, it was still dark, early morning, but the horizon was aflame with a red-orange glow. Muhler rotated the scope, seeing boats and arms and men adrift, while the sea surface burned with flaming oil patches. Beyond, backlit in the glow, more funnels, more freighters and tankers, more targets.

“Surface the boat,” Muhler commanded. “Gun crews, standby. We’ll make our next attack on the surface with our eighty-eights.”

Muhler, Wechsler, von Kleist and the rest of the control room crew hung on as the planesmen made a smart up-angle maneuver to bring the U-115 to the surface. Topside, the water was choppy, slick with burning and dying men floundering in the freezing water.

For the next four hours, Muhler and the U-115 prowled among the hapless tankers and freighters of SC-122 like a wolf in the sheep pen, picking off several with close-in torpedo shots…four hits in four tries!--, then finishing off two more with her deck guns. The last one had been the tanker Harriston, so fully riddled with eighty-eight millimeter fire that her superstructure burst into flames, setting off her interior fuel tanks in a terrific, sky-scraping explosion that blew her hull completely apart. Flaming debris rained down on the Atlantic for ten minutes after that.

“Secure the deck!” Muhler announced over the voice pipe. “Eins WO, prepare to dive.

Sound man, what contacts do you have?”

Genzbach concentrated on his signals, adjusting knobs, adjusting his earphones. “Mostly bulkheads collapsing, explosions, boilers erupting. But Kapitan, there was something before—“

It was the quaver in Genzbach’s voice, an uncertain lilt—he was practically a boy, barely a year out of the Marineschule Murwik –that caught Muhler’s attention. The Kapitan came over.

“What is it? What did you hear?”

Genzbach looked up. “Perhaps another sub…there was a faint kind of whooshing sound…

while we were maneuvering, mostly astern, I think. I heard it several times. Unlike anything I’ve ever heard. Maybe sea life, Kapitan. “

“Bearing, Genzie. What was the bearing and range?”

“Hard to say, sir. It came and went. It sounded like air or water rushing, like you hear when a faucet going in the next room.”

“Okay, sound man, okay.” He patted Genzbach on the shoulder and glanced over at von Kleist. “Maybe it was just a few dolphins humping…or maybe it was Kapitan von Kleist’s friends. Where are they anyway? We need their weapons. It’s been a little too exciting around here. Just keep listening on those earphones. Any destroyers, any escorts come our way, I want to know immediately.”

“Yes, sir, Kapitan, of course.”

Von Kleist was pale from the strain of the depth charging and the assault. “The Ponkti are here…I’m sure of that. They’ll show up.”

The deck inclined as U-115 slid beneath the waves, turning east to exit the low hills and sinuous ridges of the east Bermuda Rise. Muhler checked with the Obersteuermann, Breightmann, on their course.

“Steer east, make it heading zero eight five. Set turns for eight knots. We’ll go an hour or so this way, check contacts, then surface again if she’s clear topside.”

“Zero eight five, aye Kapitan,” repeated Breightmann. He bent to his plot board and quickly penciled in their new course and speed.

Muhler left the conn in the hands of the Eins WO, Wechsler, and headed aft to his stateroom, itself little more than a closet with a curtain shielding it from the corridor. He plopped into his bunk, pinched his eyes shut and tried to relax.

No escorts. Five ships sunk. It hadn’t been easy, this engagement. The Allies were learning quickly and with their ASDIC and hedgehogs and aircraft, in the hands of a rookie skipper, a U-boat’s life could be measured in hours on days like this. They still had two torpedoes left, but Muhler wanted to save those for defense against more destroyers if any were encountered. That was just good tactics, he told himself, though there were some at the OKM

who didn’t see it that way, the worthless paper pushers. Muhler snorted.

Happy time, indeed.

A knock rapped on the door frame and a face pushed open the curtain. It was von Kleist.

Muhler motioned him in, though the stateroom was barely big enough for one man.

“Our friends seemed to have deserted us,” Muhler rasped, through blue cigarette smoke as he pulled hard on his last Eckstein. “We could have used their sound weapons…and especially the drachen…the monsters. Where are they? I thought we had an agreement.”

“You haven’t see what I’ve seen, Muhler. These creatures fight like we do. There’s a kind of war going on up there, on their world. One side gets the upper hand, then the other side.

Right now, our side is being pushed back. That’s why we don’t have drachen.”

Muhler closed his eyes again and tried to relax. The strain of endless months of patrol was wearing on him. The headaches were coming back, too, worse than ever. “Kleist, maybe we should—“ but his words were interrupted by the Eins WO, Wechsler, who stuck his head in around the curtain.

“Kapitan! Gensie’s got a contact, a single contact. Could be a freighter.”

Muhler sat up so abruptly that he banged his head on a shelf. “Ahh…maybe a straggler, ja?

Separated from the convoys.” He swung his feet around and got up, pushing past von Kleist, heading to the control room. “Gensie, what’s the bearing?”

Genzback checked his instrument, turned a few dials, trying to localize the strongest part of the echo. “Best estimate is one five five degrees, Kapitan…almost due south of us.”

Muhler thought for a minute, studying the plots and charts. “Nothing else?”

“Nothing, sir.”

“Eins WO, surface the ship. It’s almost night up there…we’ll try a surface attack. Deck detail, stand ready. We’ll use the eighty-eights.”

The U-115 planed smartly upward and soon breached the surface. Ten-foot swells rolled the boat like a sick porpoise and the light level was fading fast, with late afternoon sun streaming down from behind thickening clouds.

Ten thousand feet above and two miles west of the surfacing U-boat, Pete Leventhal was about to bite into a peanut butter sandwich when one of Lucy Goosey’s rear gunners called out.

It was Burgstaler, the kid from Iowa.

Yo! Surface contact…three o’clock, off the starboard wing. Maybe three miles…I see a wake.”

Levanthal nearly dropped his sandwich. “Sub, Burgie…is it a sub?”

“Look like it, sir, just popped up too.”

Leventhal saw it himself. A periscope wake trailing a stream of phosphorescent water, accentuated by the angle of the sun. “Could be a U-boat, Gibby…we heard of several harassing that convoy.”

Gibbs, the co-pilot, fetched his binocs and took a look. “Could be, Skipper. I say we take a look.”

“Amen to that…I’d love to bag a boat about now. Inform Prom Queen we’ll be making the turn in ten seconds.”

The two B-24 Liberators, Lucy Goosey and Prom Queen, banked hard right and dropped down for a look-see. For the moment, the sub didn’t react but continued cruising through heavy surf on a northwesterly heading. Sure enough, it was Gibbs who spotted the funnels of the freighter just darkening the horizon.

“There’s where she’s heading…one of the stragglers. Got to be a U-boat.”

“I’ve seen all I need to see. Jack, how many hundred-pounders we still got?”

The bombardier checked. “Four, Skipper. Two each side. Plus all gunners have full magazines and spares.”

“We’ll make an aiming pass first,” Levanthal decided, “then swing around for a run. Pilot to crew, listen up: this is an aiming pass first. Keep your eyes open…these buggers have serious deck guns. Then we’ll drop our ordnance and light ‘em up. Keep on your toes.”

“She’s diving, Pete…diving now!’ Gibbs pointed out.

“Okay, screw the aiming pass! Arm the bombs. We’re going in now. Advise Prom Queen to get behind us…she can finish ‘em off after us.”

The two B-24s maneuvered to an in-trail approach and headed down. It was quickly evident that the U-boat had spotted them and was crash-diving as fast as she could. Already her forward deck was awash and her conning tower was half underwater.

The run lasted only thirty seconds and both Lucy Goosey and Prom Queen expended the remainder of their hundred-pounders, splashing all their ordnance nearly on top of the U-115’s hull.

Explosions geysered the water. The last two bombs detonated scant feet off the hull and stove in her aft hull plates, damaging her engine room and main prop shaft. Immediately water began pouring into the engine room, quickly drowning most of the engine room crew. The second bomb tore open a jagged hole below the conning tower, and more water began thundering into the control room.

Muhler, Wechsler, Genzback and von Kleist shouted and struggled against the wall of water that was now pouring into the U-115, flooding all spaces, quickly engulfing everything along the main corridor of the boat. Tons of cold seawater overcame all ballast and air in her tanks and made the boat stern heavy, too heavy to control. She rolled in heavy swells and began sinking stern first, sliding below the foaming waves, even as the B-24s raked the area with 20mm machine gun fire. Rounds spanged off the top of the hull and the bow as she lifted out of the water like a cork, then slowly, but steadily backed down into the waves.

“One more pass!” Levanthal commanded. Lucy Goosey roared over the nearly flooded deck of the sub and banked sharply left to come around again, Prom Queen banking left, right behind her. When both bombers had leveled out for another run, the U-115 was gone, leaving behind only a slick patch of oil, some debris and a bathtub swirl in the foaming waves.

“We did it!” shouted Gibbs, pumping a fist. “Got her!”

“Ring it up!” exulted Levanthal. “We’ll paint another stripe on Lucy when we get back to base!”

Just then, Levanthal’s headset chirped. It was Prom Queen calling on C-band. Swanson was the pilot, but it was the quaver in his voice that got Leventhal’s attention.

Lucy, look off to your port…on the horizon. What the hell is that?”

Levanthal looked. At first, he didn’t see anything but clouds, unusual looking clouds, streaming down from a bright cone of sunlight above. But there was something—“

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph…a waterspout…several of them!”

Gibbs looked too. “My God, never saw that before—“

The northwest horizon was nearly in shadow, which accentuated the ropy outlines of the spouts even more. Oddly, the vortexes were illuminated, like ribbons of light dangling down from heaven, dancing across the wavetops. One spout was thicker and brighter than the rest.

Pulses of light coursed along the length of the column, lifting from the sea, rising up into the clouds, then more pulses descended from the same clouds and headed down to the surface.

“What are those lights?” Gibbs asked.

“I don’t know,” Levanthal said, “but we’re not waiting around to find out. Let’s get the hell out of here. We bagged one boat already and we’re almost bingo on fuel. Let’s get back to Norfolk before anything else happens.”

As one, Lucy Goosey and Prom Queen made a tight left-hand bank and ascended to twelve thousand feet, best cruising altitude for the run back to base…now several hours away at best.

From the cockpit, Roy Gibbs continued to marvel at the apparition of the lighted waterspouts dancing across the horizon. In time, the spouts disappeared and the clouds closed in and there was nothing left to see.

“Gone?” Levanthal asked, wiping peanut butter from his lips with an oily rag he’d commandeered from the Navigator station at his feet.

“Must have been weather…maybe some kind of St. Elmo’s fire thing, I guess.”

Gibbs and Levanthal settled back in their seats as their twin Pratt and Whitneys droned on, bearing both aircraft along heading two six five degrees, back to Norfolk, back to home base and a few well-deserved beers at the O club.

Miles behind the bombers and several hundred feet below the surface, still raining debris and swollen bodies from the remnants of the U-115, the Ponkti lifeship bearing Klindonok, Pelspo and Vang emerged from the Farpool and shimmied its way through the outer vortex fields into calmer water. Klindonok probed and hunted around for awhile, sniffing and listening with the kip’t’s sounders until the unmistakable trail of seamother hide emerged. He steered them

onto that heading and set the jets to a steady thrust level. They descended into deeper water and settled onto their course.

None of them said much. What was there to say? Lektereenah’s orders were clear: find Loptoheen and the other Ponkti scouts, drive off any Omtorish from the area, reconnoiter the seas of this strange world of Urku and make preparations for a new Ponk’t, a new home for the kel.

Klindonok was glad Pelspo and Vang were asleep behind him. His own insides were churning.

Loptoheen will know what to do. Loptoheen will know how to follow the Metah’s orders.

Lektereenah was hard to pulse sometimes. She was volatile, emotional, prone to fits of rage and outbursts and sudden snap decisions. You never knew where you stood with Lektereenah and Klindonok shuddered whenever he was in her presence. It was like cruising over the ve’skort, never knowing whether the volcanoes would blow or not.

Sabotage or attack, I don’t care, the Metah had said. Just make sure the Omtorish don’t interfere.

It was what the Omtorish liked to call a free-bond, though there was nothing free about it.

Accomplish the Metah’s wishes…or die in the process.

The very thought made something stick in Klindonok’s throat. He ‘d rather be just about anywhere but here…on this God-forsaken place of war and foul waters that the Omtorish eekoti called Earth. Urku sounded better.

And he knew that time was critically short, that they would have to hurry, as the first Ponkti contingent of immigrants, the first tu’kel’ke, was due to arrive by Farpool any day.

Chapter 17

“No captain can do wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy.”

Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson


Cape Hatteras, North Carolina

February 2, 1943

0600 hours

The arrival of the opening wave of Ponkti and Skortish kel’ke immigrants on Earth was witnessed first by Coast Guard auxiliary and ship spotter Luke Wilkins, just now beginning his day shift atop the striped tower of the famous lighthouse in a special spotting station, which he occupied for eight hours every day, day after unending day, days just like this one.

As Wilkins began his early morning shift, wrapping his hands around the mug of coffee, he spotted a large waterspout, just a few miles off the coast. It persisted for a few minutes, then disappeared.

Wilkins pulled out his log book and noted several oddities about the spout, not the least of which was the fact that it was visible at all, in the freezing cold early morning dark of the morning. He had first noticed a strange flicker of light on the horizon, then when the light coalesced into a ropy kind of column and went dancing across the wavetops near the horizon, he checked the contents of his coffee and wondered if maybe Muriel had put something in the beans.

The spout lasted for awhile, and looked for all the world like a flickering searchlight beam—

a thought that had occurred to him since the Coast Guard was known to patrol the shoreline at these hours, especially when looking for boats or mariners in distress. Sometimes they shone bright searchlights down from low-flying planes, but he had heard nothing and seen nothing on the boards that morning when he’d stopped by the stationhouse a few miles up the beach.

And there was something else strange. It was as if the spout were a living thing, with pulses of light coursing up and down its length, like the thing was swallowing light or scooping it up from the ocean.

Very strange indeed but then the ocean and the sky sometimes played tricks on your eyes at this time of day…not quite night, not quite day. He logged the sighting and went back to his routine for awhile.

An hour later, the pale daub of butter that was the winter sun had risen and struck a pearlescent glow through low hanging clouds. There was a touch of fog drifting onshore, and that’s when Wilkins saw the walkers on the beach.

There seemed to be four of them, materializing out of the fog, trudging up through the surf onto the beach, strangely attired, he noted. He pulled out his binoculars and made ready to notify Beach Patrol.

Luke Wilkins adjusted the binocs and then his throat went dry. The walkers were clad in some kind of strange gear---the strangest getup he had ever seen, something of a cross between alligator skin and medieval armor. They bore some kind of gear in their hands and walked with

an oddly stiff, almost mechanical gait. He studied them for a few moments as they came fully up onto the beach sand, then started off toward the north, toward the inlet.

That’s when it hit him. Frogmen. German frogmen had come to Hatteras.

Wilkins felt his heart racing as he dialed up Beach Patrol, south division, drumming his fingers impatiently on the chart table.

“Luana…is that you--?” he shouted into the receiver when he heard the first scratches and whistles. “Luana…listen up! We got frogmen on the beach, just south of the lighthouse…just came up out of the water. Four of ‘em! They got weapons, some kind of crazy gear—“

“Now, Luke…don’t be funnin’ me this early in the morning—“

Wilkins shouted. “Luana, you sleepy old slut, will you listen for once…get a hold of Lieutenant Irvine. He should be in. They’d better send some patrolmen soon…these characters are heading north, toward the inlet. I can just barely see ‘em now in all this fog.”

“Oh, Luke, now don’t get yourself into such a dither…really, German frogmen…Muriel put something in that oatmeal of yours this morning…?”

“Hurry up, will you?”

“I’m dialing…I’m dialing….”

The call was put through and inside of ten minutes, a squad from Orange Sector came strolling down Hatteras Beach from the stationhouse a few miles north. Two patrolmen were accompanied by two dogs, Wilkins noted, probably Roscoe and Major. As he watched, he saw the patrolmen slow down, then the two dogs started barking and straining at their leashes. The patrolmen held them back as they approached the walkers, then the dogs were let free. They bounded madly toward the intruders, barking and snapping as they went.

A strong light went off, followed by a deafening BOOM! It came again, the light and the BOOM! The dogs stopped in their tracks and squealed as if the sound had injured them. Up the beach, the two patrolmen had been knocked to their knees by the concussion, but got up. One of the dogs—it looked like Major—regained his senses and went after the walkers. And now there were more than two…Wilkins stared dumbfounded as more figures emerged from the waves, at least half a dozen, all clad in the same strange gear, armored gator skin was what it looked like.

Down on the beach at the tide line, Seaman Barnes dragged himself to a sitting position and saw the shadowy shapes emerging from the sea. The first two walkers were coming his way and he poked at Seaman Effinger with his boot. Effinger had fallen hard, wet sand all over his pea coat, and mumbled something.

“Eff…Eff, get up…get your gun up…they’re coming toward us--!”

Effinger hoisted himself up on one elbow, saw the ghostly shapes growing larger and quickly pulled up his Reising SMG, sighting in on the nearest one.

“Jesus Christ, what kind of divers are they?”

Halt!” yelled Barnes, now sighting in his own Reising on the nearest target. “Hands up now!”

The walkers kept coming and easily brushed off the dogs, who circled, snarling and snapping until the light went off again. Both Roscoe and Major crumpled to their sides and whimpered, legs kicking spasmodically.

Barnes fired, a quick burst from his 20-round magazine, zipping a line of .45 caliber death across the sand. He was pretty sure he’d hit the nearest target, but he didn’t react at first, reaching for something on a belt, then slowly dropped to his knees, wobbling a bit, before pitching face first into the sand. His partner spun sideways and fell heavily, as both Barnes and Effinger unloaded their clips.

Both patrolmen saw the other divers trudging up through the surf and changed out their clips, spraying rounds across the beach as fast as they could fire and re-load. A few went down, but some didn’t. The big light flashed again and some kind of concussive shock wave rolled across the dunes. The patrolmen were knocked onto their butts, nearly out of breath.

“Get the station…we need backup now!” yelled Barnes. He got to his knees, groped for another clip and found none. Effinger was still firing, to some effect.

In the foggy dawn light, it was hard to assess the situation from the lighthouse. Luke Wilkins had seen the beach patrolmen go down several times and the dogs attack and retreat several times.

How many more frogmen were there? Already he could count six…eight…maybe more.

“We’re gonna need Army out here,” he figured. He got on the phone, dialed up the Army station at Nags Head and spoke with a Sergeant Brooks. Within ten minutes, a platoon of infantry from the 406th had loaded onto two deuce-and-a-quarter trucks and were heading south through the pre-dawn twilight and fog along Highway 12 toward the lighthouse.

Offshore, Tek la kel: Ponk’et headed up the combined Ponkti and Skortish scout force. He ordered everybody off the beach—already they’d suffered several casualties from the Tailless weapons—to regroup in deeper water, beyond the sand shoals that made these waters so treacherous.

P’omorte water,” he told one of the Ponkti scouts. “Turbid and rough…not for my taste is this crap.”

The scout…a young stunner named Bikloo—circled restlessly while the rest of the force assembled. “What about our injured? We can’t just leave them to the mercies of the Tailless scum.”

Tek la was mindful of the Metah Lektereenah’s charge: reconnaissance and support. The force was charged with locating the earlier travelers, assisting them as needed and beginning preparations for a new home for the Ponkti immigrants who would be coming through the Farpool any day now.

“We’re not leaving anybody, Bikloo but we’ve got to be smart about this. The Tailless have weapons we’re not prepared for. Our job is to find our comrades and get a new home started…

but these dreadful waters make me wish for the P’omtel Current and the scents of home.” He realized most of the force was there. “Tel’pyt, anything yet? You pulse or sniff anything familiar out there?”

Tel’pyt checked his instruments. “These waters are so strange, Tek la. Everything’s all mixed up—“

“Get used to it…this is going to be your new home.”

“There is something…very faint—“

“What is it?”

Tel’pyt adjusted his instruments, amplifying the long-range scent signals. “There…it sniffs like seamother, Tek la. In fact, I’m getting both sound and scent residuals…thousands of beats away—“he indicated with a forepaddle which direction, “very faint, but definitely puk’lek.

Perhaps more than one.”

“That must be where our comrades set up their base, and the seamother hold. We’d better head in that direction.”

Bikloo reminded him of their fallen comrades on the beach above. “We have wounded.”

“So we do. Bikloo, you and Kokte take a detail into the Notwater. Make sure your lifesuits are well protected…add extra layers of armor…those Tailless projectiles have great penetrating

power. In fact, lay down a stun field first, blinders and suppressors. When that’s done, get up there and bring our wounded down. We’ll treat them as best we can, then lash them to the kip’ts so we can move out.”

“At once, Tek la.” The small detail headed up to the surface while the rest of the scouts assembled their gear and made the kip’ts ready.

Tek la roamed about the impromptu camp, perched as it was in the brow of several sand shoals, not more than thirty feet down. The waters were cold like the Ponk’el Sea but much too salty and filled with silt.

How could anyone survive here? he wondered. Let’s hope the others have a better place for us. He knew there was no going back now; Lektereenah was firm about that. Seome was doomed and this place—this Urku—would be their new home, for better or worse.

When the Ponkti and Skortish detail returned—one dead and two injured—Tek la let initial treatment of the wounded go on, then abruptly ordered the scout force to load up and be underway.

The small fleet of kip’ts nosed over the top of one sand shoal, briefly breaching the surface, to sporadic gunfire from Army and Coast Guard shore patrols, then nosed over into deeper water, shimmying across the Labrador Current beyond, passing a few beats from a large subsurface vessel—in fact, it was the U-187, prowling up and down the shallow bight offshore of Hatteras Lighthouse—and headed east by northeast, toward the faint traces of seamother scent still lingering in the waters north of Bermuda, north of the Muir seamount.

The waters above them churned with the sound of U.S. Navy destroyers stalking the U-boat, but the Ponkti and the Skortish paid no attention to that, focused as they were on scents and sounds of things more familiar…and wondering whether they would ever get used to the chaotic noise and cacophony of the Tailless seas of this world.

Chapter 18

“A man without a goal is like a ship without a rudder.”

Thomas Carlyle


The Western Atlantic, off the Georgia coast

May 15, 2115

1930 hours

Chase and Angie traveled with the first Omtorish immigrants through the Farpool and landed somewhere in the western Atlantic Ocean. It was as always, a bruising, crashing trip through the gateway and Chase’s first concern was to make sure that Angie was all right; she was in the back of the kip’t, behind a beefy Omtorish engineer named Tollo, with Chase driving the ship.

“You guys alive back there?” he asked, as he wrestled with the controls to stabilize the ship and get them out of the turbulence of the vortex fields as quickly as possible.

“I think I’m going to be sick,” Angie moaned. “Plus I hit my head on the canopy…there’s a big bump there.”

“Sure that’s not just your noggin?” Chase teased.

“Where are we?” Tollo asked. “What do your sounders say?”

Chase studied the board, honked and bleeped until he got the sound commands right, and took a breath. “If I could read these things better, I’d tell you.”

Tollo was sympathetic. “Eekoti Chase, you’re half-Omtorish now, you should be able to decipher what the instruments tell you.”

“Yeah, well, I wasn’t born with your sense of sound. I’ve still got eyes…I’m a visual kind of guy.”

“Down here, Urku or Seome, that won’t do you much good. Sniff and listen, that’s the Omtorish way.”

“Yeah, yeah…I know…best I can make out, the Farpool put us somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean…maybe near the Gulf Stream. We’ll have to snoop around, see if anything looks—I mean sounds or sniffs—familiar.”

In fact, five Omtorish kip’ts had come through the Farpool, among the first immigrants to the new world. All had become scattered in transit but steady sounding soon identified the ships to each other and they rendezvoused a little more than a hundred miles east of the Georgia coast.

It was Tollo who noticed an unusually heavy echo from a surface vessel not far away. He brought it to Chase’s attention.

Chase decided they had landed near a major traffic lane. The kip’ts stayed well clear of the sound for it was clear that the ship was large, slow-moving and moving west by southwest.

“Ever see a spout like that one?” cracked seaman’s mate Chet Quiner, the stiff wind nearly snatching the cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. “Friggin’ storm of spouts, if you ask me.”

Assistant engineer Newman Wesley—‘Noomie’ to his crewmates—shook his head and studied the swirling clouds uneasily. Noomie and Quiner had come topside for a smoke and a break before heading off to the mess hall for a quick bite, then off to their quarters to turn in.

“Never,” Noomie admitted. “Some kind of weather front I guess. Looks like it’s dying down now. Exec says we had to slow down and change course to stay out of the way. See how choppy the water is…maybe sea state five now. And what the hell are those shadows just below the surface?”

“Bottlenose dolphin,” Quiner decided. “Got to be. But I never saw dolphin do things like that. They almost look metallic…hey, maybe they’re some kind of sport sub…problem is now we’ll be late making port at Colonel’s Island.”

A hundred feet above and behind them in the ship’s wheelhouse, the Herald Norway’s exec was Herb Goldin, twenty-two years with the Norsk-Jameson Line, and veteran of dozens of trips through these waters, delivering high-priced autos and trucks for the high-falutin’ customers that shelled out several hundred thousand dollars for such things. The Herald Norway was a vehicle transporter with thousands of miles on her hull and she was due in at the Colonel’s Island docks in Brunswick before noon, as long as the weather and ship traffic cooperated.

The Captain, Lew Starnes, had just come into the bridge, concerned about the sudden change in course ordered by Goldin, who described the odd waterspout disturbance and how the sixty-thousand-ton ship had had to make a hard-left turn to avoid winding up right in the middle of the disturbance.

“Lew, if I hadn’t ordered a new heading, we would’ve had a spout right on our foredeck.

You can still see how those buggers really chewed up the water. I cut back the engines too, ordered ahead-half to make sure we could navigate this chop safely…we are top-heavy, you know.”

“Don’t remind me…I told the manifesting office about it but they just go over my head to HQ. Curt, you ever see anything like this around here?”

Curt Knopfler was the day-shift port pilot for the port of Brunswick. He shook his head, studied the chop with practiced eyes and sniffed. “Never. Oh, once in a while we get a little spout dropping down from low-hanging clouds, but not a dozen of them, not like this.”

“And what were those pulses of light going up and down the spouts anyway?” asked Goldin.

Knopfler was already checking Norway’s course data against his own dog-eared book of recommended headings and speed. Navigating into the channel at Brunswick was not for the faint of heart. “Lightning, I guess…some kind of electrical discharge. I’ll have to report it to Dispatch, so they’ll know why we’re running late.”

The Herald Norway continued on her approach heading into the channel, unaware and not really greatly concerned that a U.S. Navy 688-class fast attack submarine, the U.S.S. San Antonio, was cruising nearby, twenty miles out to sea at a depth of two hundred and fifty feet, asking the same questions.

“Conn, sonar…I have those contacts again—“said sonarman 1st class Evan Mitchell, tweaking dials on his processor display, while the ‘waterfall’ image shifted and expanded under his expert guidance.

The San Antonio’s captain, Commander Walt McAndrew, peeked up from the nav plot he was studying and got on the mike. “Same as before, Ev…you sure?”

“Positive, Skipper. Multiple contacts, very faint, but SAPS is reading it. Just can’t catalog it yet. I don’t think these buggers are in our library.”

“What’s the blade count?”

Mitchell tweaked more dials. “There is no blade count, sir, none that I can detect. Whatever these things are, they don’t operate like normal undersea craft. Maybe some kind of waterjet propulsion or something.”

McAndrew sighed. Never a dull moment around here. “Ok, Sonar, give me a bearing and I’ll try to work us in a little closer. We’ve got a boomer coming out in a couple of hours and we’re supposed to be sanitizing the area for their departure. Maybe our Russian or Chinese friends have cooked up something new.”

San Antonio had been on station for two days now, her mission to police the waters just north and east of Kings Bay when the next boomer, in this case a fleet ballistic missile submarine, emerged from her pen and headed into deeper waters to her assigned patrol station, the start of another sixty-day strategic deterrent patrol. The appearance of the strange undersea craft coinciding with the surface weather disturbance and the multiple waterspouts with flickering light pulses had spooked the intel guys onshore—bets had already been taken on the apparitions being some kind of newfangled Russian or even North Korean sub with electromagnetic weapons they wanted to try out on an American boomer.

McAndrew was determined that such interference, though nominally in international waters, wasn’t going to happen on his watch.

The San Antonio closed steadily on the contacts and her sonarman became more and more puzzled as they approached. Finally, McAndrew decided to go to the sonar ‘shack’ himself for a look-see.

“They’re on an east-northeast heading right now, sir…make it zero eight five degrees.

Depth is below us, about three hundred feet down…appears to be about five or six objects, definitely some kind of undersea craft.”

McAndrew studied the waterfall display. Even after hours and hours of classroom in sub school, he’d never been able to make much of the display. It always looked like some kind of psychedelic gibberish to him.

“And no blade count, no prop noises, nothing like that?”

“No, sir. In fact, it sounds like one continuous fart to me, sir, pardon my French.”

McAndrew rubbed week-old stubble on his chin. “If it was a single contact, a single ship, I’d say it’s some kind of research submersible maybe. But a whole fleet, five or six? That’s what doesn’t make sense. I’d better phone this in to SUBLANT, see if they want us to keep sanitizing or follow these jokers to wherever they’re going.”

The answer came an hour later, flash traffic direct from COMSUBLANT Norfolk himself: resume patrol mission…will assign Juneau to pursuit…provide best bearing to contact and return to station.

San Antonio went back to her police duties off Kings Bay.

U.S.S. Juneau had been conducting sonar tests south of Florida, along the Navy’s underwater acoustic range near the Bahamas when she received her new orders from SUBLANT: intercept and pursue detected unknown contacts. She turned about and made a speed run north, following the west Bahamas Channel until she had acquired the contacts herself, whereupon her captain, Commander Briscoe, ordered ahead-one quarter, half-quiet ops and the 688-class boat settled onto a pursuit heading several thousand yards behind the small fleet of strange craft.

They followed this heading for several days, eventually finding themselves approaching the steep escarpment of the Bermuda seamount and more unusual acoustic activity nearby.

Of course, Chase and Angie and the Omtorish were well aware that they were being tracked and followed by a large Tailless craft--” it’s called a submarine,” Chase had informed the Omtorish. There was some discussion of what this meant, but the Omtorish were more concerned with the familiar sounds and scents they had detected around the Muir seamounts nearby and they homed on those with the enthusiasm of weary travelers sensing familiar comforts ahead.

The trip east to the seamounts took several days. Chase and Angie rode with Tollo, with Chase and Tollo swapping piloting duties. Chase missed having Kloosee with him and said so to Angie, who just shuddered at her memory of how he had died. The small fleet of kip’ts was resolutely shadowed by the submarine and it took Chase to explain to the Omtorish what a

‘submarine’ was.

“It’s sort of like a big kip’t,” he told them. “Made out of some kind of metal.”

“How is it propelled?” Tollo asked.

“There’s a propeller that turns around in a circle, like a screw. Not a water jet, like this sled.”

Tollo thought. “How bizarre. Tailless have strange ideas.”

“They also have weapons…like the torpedoes that destroyed Omsh’pont,” Chase added.

“Then we must keep our distance from this craft.”

Something in Tollo’s words gave Chase a thought. The idea occurred to him that there might come a time when he would have to communicate with the submarine crew. He could think of no easy way to do that.

From behind him, Chase could feel Angie’s fingers tightening steadily on his sides. Finally, he said something.

“Ouch…stop pinching me, will you?”

“You can’t feel my fingers through that tough hide. Chase, am I ever going to get to go home?”

“Angie, you heard the Metah. We’ve got a mission. We’ve got to scout locations and get things ready for the first immigrants.”

You’ve got a mission. I’ve got a job and the hospital will fire me if I don’t show up or call or something. Can’t these…er, people, handle their own affairs? Why do you have to be involved…you’re not like them anyway.”

Tollo disagreed. “Eekoti Chase is respected by all the kels. His words and his actions carry much weight…as do yours, eekoti Angie.”

“I was just a visitor. I didn’t do anything. I don’t know anything. I’m not like you.”

“Ah… but you will be like us…in another time stream. This is what eekoti Chase tells us.

The Farpool changes time as well as location. In another time, you will be one of us.”

That’s what I don’t understand. And why do you have to be in the middle of all this, anyway? Your Dad’s going to need you when he gets home from the hospital. Why don’t you think about that, for once?”

“Angie…I—“ How could he explain this to her? He couldn’t explain it to himself. “It’s like when I’m here, with Tollo or Likteek or on Seome, I’m somebody. I amount to something.

Dad doesn’t see that…he doesn’t get that. Here, I’m not store clerk in a surf shop. I’m like…I don’t know, important. People pay attention. My opinions count. I’ve got ideas. Angie, these people, the Omtorish, really all the kels, I can help them. You can too. We can’t run from that.

And now, with the kel’vish’tu, the Emigration coming, they need our help more than ever.”

Angie took a deep breath and checked her air gauge. Still good for a few hours. “So there really are thousands of these…whatever they are...coming here? Pardon me, Tollo, I didn’t mean--to the oceans? To our oceans?”

“It’s already started. We’re among the first.”

Angie swallowed audibly and sat back. What have I gotten myself into now? Girl, you really know how to pick ‘em.

The Bermuda Platform was surrounded by rugged underwater mountains and seamounts, including the Muir seamount to the north, where earlier travelers from Seome, like the Ponkti, had fashioned a crude sort of base. The steep slopes of the escarpments were filled with all manner of crevices and crags, niches, folds, hollows and burrows, rising steeply from the seabed to form the island of Bermuda and assorted underwater plateaus surrounding the island in concentric rings.

With Tollo’s help, Chase homed on the scents and sounds of earlier occupation, notably residual seamother hide.

That’s when they ran into the remnants of a Ponkti force, still holed up in a bowl-shaped depression on the very edge of the northern seamount.

There came a deafening BOOM! and the kip’t rocked and nearly flipped over. Tollo was piloting at the moment and immediately put the little sled into a steep dive, taking cover behind some low hills on the seabed. The other kip’ts followed and the little fleet hunkered down as more concussive shock waves and blasts rolled through the waters. Silt lifted from the seabed in thick clouds and a small avalanche of mud began rolling down the slope right in front of them.

“Ponkti!” Tollo cried. “It’s got to be. We must be at the seamother pen we saw earlier, eekoti Chase…in that other time.”

Flashes of light erupted from somewhere beyond the low rise and more booms detonated off to their left and right.

Chase knew they had a repeater device on board. “Can we talk to them, Tollo? With the repeater…the oot’keeor thing? Tell them to stop…we can’t keep fighting each other right in the middle of the emigration.”

“We can try…it’s in that pouch behind you, Chase. Pull it out…I’ll signal the Ponkti…ask for a…oh, Chase, what is the word?”

“A ceasefire.”

“Yes, yes…hand me that—“ He took small egg-shaped pod and somehow attached it to the front panel, tweaking some controls on its side. Then he spoke normally, as the repeater broadcast his words out into the water. “Kel Ponk’et…ak’loosh ke stokk…hold your fire…we come to work together—“

For many minutes, as Tollo continued pleading with the defenders to come out peaceably and talk, Chase felt growing dismay over the persistence of ancient kel conflicts. How can they ever make it here and survive if they’re at each other’s throats all the time? “Don’t they know that the Metahs have already arranged a truce on Seome…that they’re cooperating in the kel’vish’tu?”

“I would say they do not know this, eekoti Chase. The Ponkti seem to like these waters.”

“Sure, why not? They brought seamother calves through the Farpool and raised them here.

This was their base when they were helping the Nazis…in another time. But this is now. There are no Nazis anymore…or U-boats.”

“There are still seamothers, though,” Tollo reported. “I’m picking up the scents of several…

nearby. Perhaps they think of these waters as home now.”

Seamothers. That realization gave Chase an idea. “How close are they?”

Tollo studied the echoes and the scent trail on his instruments. “Maybe a few dozen beats.

They seem to be schooling too, close together…very odd for puk’lek.”

“Tollo, I’ve got an idea…it may not work. Can you get us closer to the seamothers? Leave the other kip’ts here but work us in as close as you can. If I can still remember how to do the thoughtbond, I might be able to get the seamothers to help flush out the Ponkti. We’ll never be able to scout this area and get ready for the others while they’re setting off sound grenades all over the place.”

“That’s pretty risky, eekoti Chase. Puk’lek are unpredictable in Seomish waters…you know this. Here…in the seas of Urku, who knows what they might do?”

“We have to try something…get going, Tollo, while I try to remember the words.”

Against his better judgment, Tollo fired up their jets, after ordering all other kip’ts to stay concealed and protected. They jetted off, enduring more sound blasts, as Tollo homed on the nearest signal.

They encountered the beast just the other side of a small ravine, a moving mass of a mountain, a flesh mountain, her muscles rippling even in the dim light. Tollo stopped a beat away and made a slow orbit around the monster, as she bellowed and honked at them, lashing out with her claws and tail.

“Got to stay well clear of that tail,” Tollo said. “You’re not going out there, I hope.”

“I don’t know of any other way to do this.”

Angie protested. “Chase, don’t be an idiot. You don’t have to prove anything. That monster out there will eat you alive.”

“Angie, I have to get closer. The thoughtbond doesn’t have much range.”

Angie just sighed. “Why did I ever have any sympathy for you at the hospital?”

“Because I looked like a poor lost little boy…with surfer looks and a great bod?”

Angie groaned and Chase cranked open the canopy and slipped out.

He stroked a few minutes, trying to stay up-current of the seamother. From memory of the thoughtbond, he knew that the way to trigger it was to immerse himself as completely as possible in the scent of the beast, then to repeat the incantations until the first faint fingers of the bond were made. He’d done it before, but not often and not very well.

Sure never learned anything like this in Mr. Winan’s Geometry class, he told himself.

Just at a rock outcrop, he stopped. For the moment, the huge beast seemed not to have noticed him, content as she was to graze among some kind of seagrass growing on the other side of the outcrop. He shivered involuntarily; that dragon’s face with its bony ridges and her broad veined headcrest couldn’t be more than a few dozen yards away.

Chase settled quietly into a patch of seagrass and closed his eyes, trying to fill his em’took-

modified nostrils with her strong, gamey scent.

puk’lek…litor’kel rot…puk’lek ke’shoo’ge shkel’tet…puk’lek….

Chase murmured the words to himself, over and over again, a hypnotizing rhyme intended to still all other senses and give the seamother’s own low-frequency emissions a chance to be detected…he’d never really been sure that a human brain could make much of these emissions, though he had done this…sort of…before. Kloosee and Likteek had coached him on the technique before…it was just a matter of—

There. There was something there. A twitch. A faint whisper…had he imagined that?

Maybe a rock slide nearby.

No, definitely something there.

puk’lek…Then he felt a sharp pain in the back of his neck, then in his forehead. He opened his eyes, but he was still alone, buried in deep seagrass. A definite presence had entered his head, though.

What kind of thoughtbond did it take to influence a seamother?

She was of no kel and had never been trained, like the tillet or the pal’penk. The very idea of merging his own mind with so awesome a creature was unnerving. Chase wondered if making a thoughtbond with an elephant might be easier, but put that thought out of his mind.

From what Kloosee and his Omtorish friends had told him, puk’lek had inspired fascination and veneration in Seomish kels for generations.

You must concentrate, Longsee had once told him, when they had first started teaching Chase thoughtbond techniques. You must not panic. She is no more than a very large k’orpuh snake.


Think as the Omtorish would think.

Think as—

-- hunger


-- lunge and take


-- strip flesh and swallow—not enough—nibble there—the hole—the hole—

What is that…that taste? Bitter blood. Spiny skin—it’s makum. Barracuda. I want more.

-- chill water—hunger—hunger—there!—no food—probe more—probe more—so hungry—

fins itch—tail hurt—so hungry—there! Lunge and take—strip and swallow—

More makum?

-- best food—best food—more makum—probe more—probe more—

I see it now! I can see through—everything’s dark, turbid. You have slit-eyes. Look—

something gray. It’s ice. Ah, the pulse—I pulse—I hear now. The echoes—they’re too strong

—I can’t handle this….

What are you—too much pain! What are you doing? Hurt the nonself! Hurt it! Our makum! It belongs to us. Swing tail. Eeiioech! Again. Aieouchhh! The beak—no? The headcrest; use it. Now! Again! Again! Bloodtaste— onkelte. Again! Again! Again! See?

She dies. She dies. Water thick onkelte. Flesh scraps—you hungry? Lunge and take. Strip and swallow. Food is good. Food to self.

We prowl. Yes? We rest. Glide. Roam. Vishtu—that is wrong. I see the bottom. Cloaked with black silt. Rock columns. Smokers. They’re like fingers. Understand? No? I am kek’ot, part of you. Together we’re a weapon.

I hear the ice too. The jams scrape. They are tortured. Much pulse of ice. How far? I say too many beats to speak.

I must learn bodysense. Let me try—yes? That is the tail. So large, so heavy, so deadly. I feel the itch. Yes. Much discomfort. Between the spikes. How do—

-- scrape tail—rock and ice bigpulse—scrape tail--bigpulse breaks—soothe tail--

You drag tail across rock? Hurts to think of it. More bodysense. Nod back and forth.

Headcrest is not rigid. Only angry? I sense something—electric fields. Very weak. The rock under the silt—no k’orpuh?

-- kek’ot—kek’ot, fill self—hunger—hunger—probe more—

Not now, I want to explore. I feel the ache but we can wait. Yes, you pulse far. The rock is solid here. Jagged on top. The tail itch is annoying. Discomfort. Distracting. We will scrape tail. Beyond even. There is a hollow in the echo. Is that—is that…Notwater?

-- newbreath—kek’ot—

Newbreath. I like that. What is this extra membrane, near my gills? The Echopods called it


-- for newbreath—

If I suck—aieouchhhh! That was water. It almost choked me. What’s happening? You have nostrils here. Do I take Notwater—newbreath—through them? I must try this.

Let me extend these limbs fully. Kah, what a sight. An infinity of blue. I could pulse forver here but Notwater does not echo well. Kek’ot has been here before, did you know that?

Kek’ot is from Notwater, born and bred. You are not the only one to taste Notwater. I could live here, in this incredible world…what am I saying...I do live here…I did live here—

-- kek’ot, self weary—wetbreaths—more probe now—

I know. It is fatiguing. But later, later. I have to experience this.

What is this feeling of heaviness? It is difficult to move these limbs. Is there a new force?

-- kek’ot, move now—bigpulse is breaking—

Yes. I am so tired. This force drives me down. Teach me how to move…the muscles are different. This one? These? I am beginning to feel…yes, forward, then forward, and match it.

Like this? I feel as though I will tumble over. The rock is rough, pitted. I can feel it. My paddles are tender, very sensitive to that. The difference is so startling, even a little frightening.

Now, I am in motion. How would I stop? Push there, pull back, like that? This isn’t so hard. Kek’ot will master you yet.

I feel—what is that, tickling my skin? It cuts, like a cold current. Notwater is more like water than I thought. Less dense but it seems to flow. It’s getting harder to breathe.

Come. I shall roam on these limbs. How fast will they go?

-- kek’ot

I have to know what I’m capable of doing. Here, help me. This one, then this one, and again, and again, and again. Repetition, that’s the answer. Swing the tail for balance. Much like the water, back and forth. Swerve and roll, swerve and roll, swerve and roll. Longsee always said I learned quickly.

In this way, Chase manipulated the seamother away from the bow of the submarine, away from the top of the seamount and off into the hollow of the Ponkti seamother pen. It wasn’t that hard. He managed to nudge and cajole and, in time, even to control its muscles and thoughts, seeking as always familiar scents and sounds.

The Ponkti force was the most familiar scent and sound around and in homing on that, Chase sensed that the seamother was no longer so frightened.

Faced with being crushed by the looming bulk of the beast, the Ponkti scattered from their hold and stroked off into the waters. And so, in this way, Chase managed to stop the shooting and the fighting and secure a place for the first settlements to be erected.

“Sonar, Conn…are you sure about that? That’s just crazy.” Commander Chet Waite squinted at the side of Juneau’s pressure hull, as if trying to see outside through the HY-100 steel hull and divine just what the hell Sonar was talking about… monsters of the deep, my ass.

“Captain…maybe you should come over here and see the displays for yourself.” Sonarman Beacham ran diagnostics for the hundredth time and the result came back the same every time: SAPS operation nominal.

“Yeah, Beach…I may just do that.” Waite turned the conn over to Juneau’s exec, Lieutenant Commander Berkowitz, and headed for the sonar shack. He found Beacham and another sonarman testing everything they could, rigging up a short replay of the oddball signals they had been seeing for the last few minutes.

“Run it again,” Waite ordered. “And give me your read…in words this time, okay?”

“Sure thing, Captain.” Beacham replayed the SAPS display for the last ten minutes. “So, we’re following this little group of targets, right? Same as we have for several days now.”

“Yeah, yeah, contacts Alpha One, Two, and so on. What happened?”

This is what happened, sir-“ Beacham pointed to several acoustic spikes on the waterfall display. “We got those sound detonations going off, you remember that? Then, this—big sucker, excuse me, sir. A large echo, indicating some kind of massive biologic, only it doesn’t read like a whale or anything like that. Not even a pod of whales could produce this return.”

Waite studied the flickering displays, squinting to make some kind of sense of the lines and squiggles. “So what is it…a minisub of some kind?”

“No sir…it reads like a biologic…you can just tell from the waveforms. I’m thinking this may be some kind of—I don’t know what to call it…some kind of hybrid thing. An organic craft…maybe a sub, but designed to look like an animal. It came right up to our bow—I thought the damn thing might start humping our sonar array—nosed around, then turned around and went off. Acting kind of erratic too, like it was drunk. And then there was all that commotion in the little valley…that notch in the slope a few thousand yards ahead.”

“Rock slide? Seismic anomaly, maybe?”

Beacham shrugged, looked over at Merkle, the other sonarman, and half shrugged. “Hard to say for sure. The detonations sounded almost like little depth charges.”

Waite’s eyebrows went up. “You mean something man-made.”

“Yes, sir…at least artificial. But those detonations produced acoustic spikes and waveforms that don’t match any seismic or natural processes we learned about in Sonar School.”

Waite took a deep breath. “Maybe our Russian or Chinese friends are building some kind of underwater base around here. Maybe those sound transients were demolition charges. Could that be?”

Beacham nodded, sort of. “It’s a good theory, sir. I’ll have to check the library. I’ll have to see if we have anything on Russian underwater explosives. But then there’s the matter of this weird biologic we heard.”

Waite half smiled. “Sorry, Beach…I’m fresh out of theories about that one. Maybe the Russkies have trained some animals to work for them around this base nobody’s ever heard of.

I’d better phone this in to SUBLANT, see if they know anything. Carry on—“

“Yes, sir.”

Over the next few hours, as ELF messages and more detailed instructions flashed back and forth between Juneau and Norfolk, Commander Waite thought it expedient to back off from the area around the Muir seamounts, and hide his boat in a shallow canyon a few miles to the southeast.

Inside of a day, CINCLANT had seen fit to order half a dozen surface ships from Fourth Fleet and Joint Task Force 150 into the area as well as two additional fast-attack boats. The Ponkti, Skortish and Omtorish immigrants, the vanguard of a much larger population of travelers, soon found themselves surrounded by a small flotilla of Navy and Coast Guard ships.

“We seem to have attracted a lot of attention,” Chase told Tollo one day. They were helping erect several small pavilion structures over small hollows in the foothills of the seamount.

Ponkti and Skortish were doing the same on the other side of the mountain. Animosity and suspicion between the kels, even at this early stage of the kel’vish’tu, still overcame their clear need to cooperate, despite all of Chase’s efforts. The two groups regarded each other with barely concealed hostility, even in the face of growing Tailless interest in their activities.

“The Tailless wonder who we are,” Tollo remarked. He took one length of fiber in his paddles and cinched it up through an eyelet already anchored in the rock. When the covering was done, the hollow below would serve nicely as a shelter for sleeping, eating, unpacking pods.

“They’re getting a little nosier every day…if they start interfering with our work, with more kelke coming through, we’ll have to do something.”

“Like what?”

Chase gave that some thought. “I have an idea. Do we still have that old signaler we used with the Umans at Kinlok Island…when we were dealing with the original Time Twister?”

“I’ll check our pods and cargo pouches.” Tollo darted off to the landing where all the kip’ts and lifeships were parked and tethered down. He nosed about the assorted gear and equipment, finally finding what he was looking for and returned to the newly-erected pavilion with a small box in his beak. Chase took it.

“Wonder if it still works. I don’t suppose we still have the original echopods that had instructions?”

Tollo could pulse that Chase was increasingly worried by the encroachment of the Tailless above and around them. Just the day before, one of their underwater craft had come to within a few beats of the base…the seamothers had been released from their hold to shoo them off.

“I doubt it, eekoti Chase. You think perhaps you can contact the Umans…the Tailless, with that?”

“It’s worth a shot.” He fiddled with the device, finding some kind of control studs on the bottom of the thing and soon enough, had it powered up. He spoke as best he could into it, wondering if the signal was even getting out…or if anybody was listening.

“Uh…yeah…this is Chase…Chase Meyer…calling any station…any station. Chase Meyer, calling all the ships up there on the surface—if you can hear my voice—“

An hour later, the nosy submarine came back, this time closer than ever.

“Yes, sir, I know it sounds crazy but it was definitely a voice, speaking English too. Merkle and I both heard it.”

Waite was back in Juneau’ s sonar shack, a place he had come to associate with bad things, things that didn’t bode well for a long and fruitful career in the Navy’s submarine service.

“Okay, play it again.”

Waite, Beacham and Merkle listened for the tenth time to the scratchy sound of Chase Meyer’s voice coming over the speaker.

“…uh…is anybody in there…anybody listening…my name’s Chase…Meyer…I need to talk with someone in charge…”

Waite looked at his sonarman. “Is this a joke, Beach? What the hell’s going on here?”

“Sir, it is definitely not a joke. The source seems to be coming from just outside the hull…

low freq puts it about a hundred yards off the port bow…stationary I think.”

“Stationary?” Waite blinked hard. He called up to the Conn. “Berk, all stop…


“Aye, aye, sir—“came the Exec’s voice. Moments later, they could feel the drone of Juneau’s shaft spinning down and she came to a halt, hovering at a depth of two hundred feet.

“Okay,” said Waite, after ascertaining that the boat was otherwise stable in hover. “What’s this all about…how is this signal coming in?”

“Well, sir,” theorized Beacham, “our low-frequency sonar is giving indications of a point source a hundred yards off our point bow…initially stationary, but now it seems to be moving toward us. The signal originally came through on an ELF band, somehow…haven’t figured that one out yet, sir. Now, it seems to be a low-freq source, seems to be a human voice, somewhere out there.”

“A lost diver, maybe?” asked Merkle, the other sonarman.

“Can we signal back…maybe Morse code or something?”

Beacham shrugged. “Does anybody still use Morse code, sir? I don’t know…we can try. Or we could hook up a speaker in here, transmit voice directly out into the water. He…or they might pick it up.”

Waite liked that idea. “Okay, Beach, rig it up and let me know when you’re ready.” The captain headed back to Conn. He stared down the Exec, Berkowitz, with an abrupt “What--?

Haven’t you ever had a conversation with a lost diver at two hundred feet depth over the low-freq band?”

Berkowitz just shrugged.

The sonarmen rigged up a crude voice speaker-transmitter device in half an hour. Waite returned to the sonar shack when it was done.

“We haven’t really tested it, sir, except Merkle here did a little X-rated rhyme out to the tuna fish a few moments ago…they don’t seem to be interested. Speak through this, sir—“ He handed the captain a small mike, jury-rigged to the transmitter, which sat on Beacham’s console, wires and cables strung in every direction.

Waite took the mike, cleared his throat. “Okay, this is Commander Michael Waite, U.S.S.

Juneau, transmitting in the blind to the unknown contact outside our boat. If you can hear me, please acknowledge at once.”

After some squeaks and chirps, a distinctly human voice came through, scratchy and garbled, but recognizably human, speaking American English.

…uh, yes, sir…this is Chase Meyer…I can hear you…sort of…it’s really garbled…could we like meet somewhere…I can barely hear you—“

The intermittent dialogue went on for a few minutes, until both sides decided that it would be best if the diver and Juneau both surfaced. Conditions were reasonable topside…early daylight, seas breaking at wave heights of four to six feet.

“Unknown contact…do you need decompression time…to adjust?”

“…uh, no, sir…we have ships…lifeships… the Seomish call them tchee’lum…kip’ts….”

Waite squinted. “I’m sorry, sir, I didn’t quite catch your last words—“

“…I’ll explain…when we get to the surface—“

Juneau blew her tanks and planed up to the surface, coming to rest in moderate seas but it was a bright sunshiny morning, with the sun breaking through high clouds in the east.

Waite hustled up the ladder to the sail hatch, with topside watch right after him. Berkowitz, the Exec, stayed in the Conn.

“Contact Mackinac Island,” Waite ordered. “Tell her what’s happening. I’d like to have her close to within a few thousand yards astern of us…we may need her.”

“Aye, aye, sir—“the Exec replied.

Waite emerged onto the sail bridge and squinted in the sun, looking for anything out of the ordinary.

“There, sir…two o’clock, port bow…about five hundred yards.”

At first, they looked like dolphin backs, or maybe small whales, rounded gray humps breaching the surface in pairs in plumes of spray, maybe a dozen of them, sliding up and down in the troughs of the waves. Waite broke out his binocs and whistled.

“Whoa…those aren’t whales. Jimbo…take a look and tell me what you see out there.” He adjusted the glasses to the limit of their resolution.

The port side watch was Machinist’s Mate 1st Class James “Jimbo” Wright. Wright scanned the horizon. “Sir, I see about half a dozen small craft, submersible from the looks of it. Don’t look like anything I’ve ever seen before.”

The small flotilla of Seomish lifeships and kip’ts wallowed uneasily in following seas, as Waite and his watchstanders looked on.

A phone set chirped. Waite picked it up. The voice was Berkowitz. “Sir, Mackinac Island reports on station, just aft at one thousand yards. Her skipper would like a word.”

“Patch it through.”

Waite then began a brief description of what they were seeing to Commander Scott LaRue.

Mackinac Island was a destroyer with Fleet Forces Mid-Atlantic. She was one of several ships ordered into the area by CINCFLTFOR, Admiral Bernard.

“Scott, we’re in intermittent voice contact with what I think must be a diving team associated with these weird craft. Sonar just called up and said one of them would like to come aboard…can you host a quick get together on your ship?”

“Affirmative, Mike, we can re-do our wardroom pretty quick. How many?”

“I don’t know yet…plan on less than ten.”

“Will do. I’ll advise when we’re ready.”

When word came from Mackinac Island that her facilities were ready, Waite ordered a message be sent to the talkative ‘diver,’ explaining what they were about to do. The ‘diver’

informed them that several would be coming along.

The topside crew of Juneau then watched in amazement as the small flotilla of craft maneuvered toward the destroyer, now anchored two thousand yards aft of the Juneau.

Mackinac Island threw out boarding ladders and scaffolding for their visitors.

Nobody could have expected what happened next.

There were seven in all, although only one was recognizably human. Waite rubbed his eyes as the creatures awkwardly scaled the boarding ladder… I must have dozed off and this is some kind of costume party.

But it wasn’t.

Eventually, a small boat was sent over to Juneau and Waite and his XO, Berkowitz, made the transfer to the destroyer. A yeoman escorted them to Mackinac Island’s wardroom. What Waite found there made his eyes pop.

Along with Commander LaRue, Mackinac Island’s captain, there were other officers: her own XO, Lieutenant Commander Yeo and her chief medical officer, Lieutenant Commander Rounds.

The strange visitors numbered seven in all. It reminded Waite of some late-night horror vid and LaRue’s eyes said the same thing:

This can’t be happening.

Five of the seven were clad in what could only be described as Diver Dan suits, scaly, armored outer covering with helmets and some kind of motorized legs. When they spoke at all, which seemed rare, their voices emerged from some kind of speaker that made them sound like they were stuck inside a barrel. The sixth visitor to Mackinac Island’s wardroom was a cross between a giant frog and walking gator. He spoke through the speakers too but he spoke more and his words and mannerisms reminded Waite of his own teenaged son Jesse, now an undergrad in Engineering at MIT. He sounded like a teenager, clad in some kind of horror show getup.

The seventh visitor was a teenaged girl, wearing some kind of fancy scuba gear. She took off her mask, shook out her brunette page-boy hair and glared at everybody around the room.

“Okay,” said Scott LaRue, “what’s all this about? You guys filming a vid or something? Is this some kind of wacky research project?”

Chase did most of the talking, trying to adjust his echopod to make his speech more intelligible. The two Ponkti were Eeket and Orklu, who stood alongside two Skortish, P’omtor and Vik’t along one side of the table. Chase stood with Angie at one end, with the Navy officers arrayed around the other.

“I…zzhhh….know what you must be thinking, sir…this isn’t what it seems. These people are my friends…they’ve just arrived from…er, a long way away.” He looked at Angie.

LaRue wasn’t buying any of it. “You’re Russians, right? Or Chinese? Some kind of base you’re building down there? Training sea creatures as weapons…you know about the Law of the Sea…the UN will find all this very interesting.”

Now it was Angie’s turn to speak up. “Sir, I’m American. I’m from Florida…Scotland Beach. I go to Apalachee High School. I just want to go home. This one—“ she indicated Chase, “he’s kind of like my boyfriend.”


“No, really, I know he looks like a frog, but it’s that procedure—Chase, what did you call it--?”

“Oh, yeah… em’took…they modified me so I could live on their world.”

LaRue took a deep breath. Beside him Yeo stifled a few snickers. “Their world…uh huh…

okay, you two. I don’t know what the game is but I’m not buying. Suppose you just start from the beginning…and what the hell kind of underwater gear is that anyway?”

“They’re wearing lifesuits…I forgot the Seomish word, with mobilitors. These guys—“

Chase indicated the Ponkti and Skortish—“they’re not like you and me. They can’t breathe Notw—I mean, air. They live in the seas…only not here. Another place…another world, actually.”

LaRue was losing patience. His face darkened. “From the top—“

The story that Chase told them was so amazing and so hard to believe that LaRue eventually told his XO to get a yeoman in the wardroom to vid the whole thing. “This we gotta phone in.

Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk needs to know about this. Admiral Bernard too.”

Chase quietly, patiently and carefully explained where the Seomish had come from. He described the Farpool and how he and Angie had…or would soon, take an unexpected trip through the gateway to a place called Seome, six thousand light years away. “See, the Farpool can put you in different time streams too, so that trip hasn’t happened yet.”

LaRue nodded, as if it all made perfect sense. “Sure, why not. Please, go on—“

Chase went on, with a little help from Tollo—the Ponkti and the Skortish preferred to remain silent and studied everybody very carefully. He told them about the kel’vish’tu, the coming immigration of thousands of Seomish refugees from a dying world. “Their sun’s about to go nova…or something like that,” Chase said. “I don’t really understand it all. They need a new home and the Farpool makes it possible to come here, to your— our oceans. They just want to live peacefully with everyone—“ at that, he made a sideways glance at the two Ponkti prodsmen, which caused them to shift uncomfortably, their mobilitors whirring to compensate.

“Thousands are coming, sir—”

“Thousands… here…to the Atlantic?”

“Yes, sir. They want to make a new home, build a new city, I believe.”

LaRue assumed this was either a film being made or some kind of massive game. “Okay…

I’ll play along. And what do your friends need, exactly? Any help from us? Coffee, doughnuts, some mood music?”

Chase gave him a sour look. “No, sir, nothing like that. They don’t need anything, I guess…maybe just that nobody interferes. They just kind of want to be friends, best buds, sort of.”

As the conversation proceeded and LaRue and Waite grew more and more incredulous, medical officer Bernice Rounds drew Mackinac Island’s XO aside into a corner of the wardroom, away from the others. Rounds pulled Yeo close and whispered in his ear.

“See the quiet ones, John, the ones in the fancy scuba gear?”

“Yeah…what about ‘em?”

“Take a close look inside their helmets. They don’t have faces like you and me,”

Yeo squinted, maneuvered himself slightly to get a better look, then his blood ran cold and the hairs on the back of his neck stood up.

“Is that some kind of dolphin mask inside that helmet?”

“I don’t know,” Rounds hissed, “but unless this is one hell of a hoax, or a game or something, those characters are like some kind of fish, or sea creatures in spacesuits. With dolphin faces. Do you hear them breathing?”

Yeo listened. “Weird…do they have gills or something?”

“I don’t know…but I’m thinking Skipper needs to get some marines or the master-at-arms in here right now.”

Yeo shook his head. “You believe this kid?”

Rounds shrugged. “I don’t know what to believe. Part of me says this is some kind of Russian plot or an advertising stunt. Other planets, wormholes in space, talking fish…no way I’m buying any of this stuff.”

Yeo waved her off as LaRue seemed to have come to some kind of decision. The Captain held up a hand.

“Okay, I’ve heard enough. This is way above my pay grade—” he paused, as a yeoman brought in a small commandpad, the size of a card, which LaRue took and read, his eyebrows arching as he did so.

“—apparently, Fleet think so too.” He waved the pad at Chase. “This is flash traffic from Norfolk. They got our messages when we first contacted Juneau and they’ve been watching the feed from our vid—” he indicated cameras around the ceiling, “and now they want to know more. I’ve got orders to haul the lot of you back to Norfolk. For the time being, you’re all in the custody of the U.S. Navy.”

Angie jammed her hands on her hips. “You mean…we’re like under arrest? You can’t do that…I’m American…I haven’t done anything.”

Chase tried to put his arms around her but she pulled away. “Maybe we can discuss—”

LaRue would have none of it. “No, I have my orders. You can come along peacefully…or we can do this the hard way.”

Now the Ponkti and the Skortish, once their echopods had made the translation, grew visibly agitated. They squirmed a bit, with their mobilitors squeaking and whirring loudly. Chase listened, apparently on another channel…the officers could see their ‘mouths’ moving inside their helmets, hear some kind of distant chirping and whistling, but nothing intelligible came out of their speakers.

Chase tried to explain what he was hearing. “My friends here...Eeket, Orklu, P’omtor and Vik’t—don’t want to come along, Captain. They want to go back to their own people, to the sea.

Tollo is Omtorish…he’ll stay with us.”

LaRue said, “I’m sorry, but I have my orders—” at that moment, several armed crewmen appeared at the wardroom door. Eeket sensed what was about to happen and bolted for the door, moving as fast as his mobilitors would allow. After a second’s hesitation, the other Ponkti and both Skortish did the same, roughly shoving the armed crewmen aside. The four of them shoved through the door and waddled along a corridor until they came to a hatch leading up to the main deck. One crewman raised his sidearm, but Chase lunged to intervene, slapping his arm away.

“No, don’t shoot! Don’t shoot! They just want to be with—”

The Ponkti and the Skortish disappeared one after another up the gangway.

LaRue ordered his men to hold their fire.

“Captain, we’ll stay here. We’ll go with you…me and Angie.”

LaRue seemed at a loss. He waved his crewmen back and yelled down the corridor. “Gang way, gang way…make a hole…let ‘em through!” He followed the commotion outside, climbed the ladder three rungs at a time and emerged on deck, into wind-whipped spray, just in time to see the last of the odd Diver Dan visitors plunge over the railing and into the sea. All four had done the same thing and now they had disappeared. Half of Mackinac Island’s deck crew had come to the railing to gawk at the sight. LaRue took a deep breath and starting issuing rapid-fire orders. “Okay, men, back to your stations. Show time’s over. Return to your stations.”

LaRue went belowdecks and found Chase, Angie and Tollo surrounded by the master-at-arms and his men, held tightly by their arms.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to go into the brig, all of you…for the time being.”

Angie tried to twist away, but was firmly held. “This is ridiculous. I haven’t done anything.

I’m in high school, for God’s sake. I’m not a Russian spy or whatever you’re thinking.”

LaRue paused to confer with Waite, Juneau’s commander.

“I’ve signaled Juneau to follow their little craft,” Waite was saying. “First chance they get, they promise to come back for me. We’ve got a good XO in Berk and a solid crew. We can keep tabs on ‘em ‘til Fleet decides what to do.”

“Good,” LaRue decided. “Maybe you can add something to the proceedings in Norfolk. I’ll clear it with CINCFLT.”

Angie started to protest a bit more vigorously, but LaRue nodded with his head: take ‘em below. Chase and Angie were hustled off to the brig, and placed in the same eight-by-six foot cell together. Tollo, still in lifesuit and mobilitor, was placed in the next cell, looking forlorn and lost in captivity. Chase called out to his friend.

“Tollo, are you all right? Do you need anything?”

His voice was strained, noticeable even over the echopod. “Just… zzzhhh…to go home, eekoti Chase. I think there might be a leak in my suit too. I need to get back in the water, soon.”

“Okay, I’ll tell the guard when he comes back.”

On the small, torn mattress that passed for a bunk, Angie had sat down and started to sob, her face in her hands.

“Chase…you dirtbag…you did this! Get me out of here. I don’t belong here with you and all your creepy friends.”

Chase sat down next to her and tried putting his arms around her shoulders, wishing they were somehow in another time stream— please, any time stream but this one—but she pulled away, her shoulders heaving.

“Just leave me alone, will you--!”

“Angie, I’m sorry…I didn’t mean—”

“Just shut up, okay? You’ve done enough as it is. This place is probably bugged anyway.”

Yeah, Chase thought, and you’ve been watching way too many spy vids, but he knew she might well be right.

So they sat together, Angie crying and Chase thinking, both feeling very much alone, as Mackinac Island turned about and made her way north by northwest, through choppy seas and ten-knot winds, for the American coastline and Fleet headquarters at Norfolk.

Angie wanted to go home, to go back to Scotland Beach. Tollo wanted to go back to his Omtorish kel-mates, and help ready their new settlement for the thousands of kelke he knew were coming soon, and maybe already had.

Chase didn’t know what he wanted.

But he did know one thing and it gave him a chill just thinking about it.

For better or worse, the first ‘official’ meeting between humans and Seomish had not gone well and the prospects for the future didn’t look so promising.

Chapter 19

“To most men, experience is like the stern lights of a ship, which illuminates only the track that has passed.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge


Likte Island, the Omt’orkel Sea

Time: 785.2, Epoch of Tekpotu

Likteek pulsed around the gathering of scientists and Academy people with some trepidation for what they were about to investigate was contentious and sensitive, yet critical to the future of all the kels. And all the kels were there, represented in some form, even that pompous old Ponkti windbag Kelen had seen fit to show up at the makeshift conference, now tucked away in a carved-out hollow in the bottom of an iceberg. It was cold and growing colder—no one would deny that any longer—but the contention came in trying to explain it.

For Likteek, though, the data was clear enough: the great light of the Notwater, the very thing eekoti Chase had called a sun—Sigma Albeth B –was dying and its days were clearly numbered. The end was near and the kel’vish’tu had to get underway in earnest if the thousands of kelke who had come to these waters were to have any chance of surviving…for who knew what might happen to Seome after the End Days had come.

Yet despite the urgency of the moment, conflicts still simmered, between Omtorish and the Ponkti and between the Ponkti and everyone else.

Likteek pulsed with some apprehension as the scientists and researchers and technicians from all the kels gathered. The purpose of the conference was straight-forward: to make recommendations to the metahs about when and how to begin the exodus from Seome. Likteek wanted the recommendations to be a consensus affair. He knew the chances of getting the scientists to agree on anything was remote.

He drifted over toward Kelen, who was engaged in a spirited discussion with several others about the ‘theory’ that the great light of the Notwater was failing.

Kelen intoned, “It’s unproven…that’s my belief. It’s certain that the Notwater has some effects on our world. But the data don’t support all these notions that when the light above fails, our world is lost.”

Another scientist, Teklo of Eep’kos, scoffed. “Kelen, you’re just old-fashioned. There’s plenty of data if you just pulse right. What about all this ice? We’ve seen a huge increase in the amount of ice.”

Kratok, the young one from Sk’ort, agreed. “And the currents. What in the name of Shooki has happened with the currents…the Pomt’or and the Pom’tel, both of them…neither one follows their original course. Temperatures are all different—”

“—and the water’s become so m’tkel’te…so rough and silty, nobody can see or pulse anything. Just talk to the repeaters, if you don’t believe me. There’s your data.”

Kelen was still skeptical. “Nonetheless, the connection between all this and the light of Notwater’s still not proven. All you have is speculation.”

“We have eekoti Chase,” Likteek said. “He’s a creature of the Notwater. He’s seen things we could never dream of. Do you discount that?”

“Hardly a reliable source, don’t you think, Likteek? We can’t really trust any Tailless.”

“So what, then, Kelen…do we just stay here and wait for ak’loosh to sweep us away? What explains all these changes?”

Kelen fumed and slapped his tail flukes angrily. “More data. That’s what will explain the changes in our seas, in the currents, in the thermal layer…all of that can easily been explained with more data. Then, I assure you, the interpretation will be easy.”

Likteek could pulse a rising bubble of agitation in Kelen. He was getting old and keeping shoo’kel wasn’t so easy anymore. And he didn’t bother to hide it either. When you had a reputation like Kelen, you could get away with things like that.

“The Metahs expect a recommendation from us…by tomorrow,” Likteek told them all.

“We have to examine what data we have, however imperfect, and come to a consensus. We have to be ready for the next appearance of the Farpool; our algorithms predict it’ll be soon.”

All around the argument, the murmur of dozens of Academy people listening to them bang heads swelled like a wave and it was clear to Likteek that such consensus was increasingly unlikely.

Several icebergs away from the conference, the Metahs of the kels had also gathered, in a narrow space between ice calves, still grinding and rubbing against each other. It was Lektereenah, the youngest of all the Metahs, who had an idea.

“Let’s roam,” she told the others. “It’s not safe here. I think better when I’m in vish’tu.”

Nobody argued, so Mokleeoh, Lektereenah, Okeemah and Kolandra joined up and the four of them set off…Metahs of Omt’or, Ponk’et, Sk’ort and Eep’kos schooling together, surrounded by a phalanx of prodsmen to keep the curious petitioners away. Only the Metah of Ork’et, one Kok’te tor kel: Ork’et, wasn’t there. She had been delayed coming up to Likte by state affairs in the city of Kok’t, affairs having to do with worsening damage to the kel’s potu beds. The pearl-like stones were fundamental to trade and business throughout all the waters of Seome and a steady supply had to be maintained. Kok’te had sent her own advisors along, with word that as soon as the problems were corrected, she would be on her way.

It was Mokleeoh who had the idea first, as the convoy moved from one camp and refugee congregation to another about the island’s steep underwater shelves. “I propose that when the time comes to begin kel’vish’tu, all the Metahs travel together, in one fleet of ships, with their Kel’em, of course.”

Okeemah liked the idea. She was small, even petite for a Sk’ortish female, but she wasn’t shy about her opinions. “We could do it as a sign of solidarity of all the kels. It’d be a valuable statement.”

But Lektereenah wasn’t so easily swayed. “Yes, a statement of how Ponk’et always gets the smallest fish in the catch. I don’t like the idea. The kels should make kel’vish’tu as kels.

Separate but equal…that’s the best way.” Her tone lowered with faint menace. “And in the new world, we can hope that the kels will truly be equal…unlike here.”

Mokleeoh had heard it all before. “Lektereenah, you never change. This trip is a perfect chance to change the way our clans relate to each other. To make things right, start over, come closer, heal our divisions. Don’t we Omtorish have a perfect right to feel oppressed…after all, who was it that destroyed our great city of Omsh’pont? Who used that terrible Tailless weapon…the tor’pedoh? Yet, I’m willing to look past our divisions and conflicts and see a better world.”

“I don’t see any such thing,” Lektereenah seethed. “You can’t change our fundamental nature. The kels have existed from the First Days…Shooki made us this way. To try to change that now…this is why the ak’loosh is coming. Shooki’s angry. He sends the great wave to destroy everything.”

“Let’s not argue,” Okeemah suggested. “I have an idea. The Pillars of Shooki aren’t far.

Perhaps we should visit the mekli, see what they have to say. At least the waters there are calmer.”

The other metahs thought that a good idea, so the convoy turned about and skirted several ice floes, heading east along the rim ice to the outer barrier of the Pillars, still shattered from strong and unpredictable rip currents that had been plaguing the area.

The metahs’ convoy passed through scores of gatherings and schools of people, packing belongings, arguing over what to take, even minor scraps and fights between kelke over who would sit where when the time of the journey came.

The convoy reached the outer barrier of the Pillars after a short trip and found the entrance to the caves strewn with smashed boulders, assorted wreckage and drifting clouds of ice, a result of the Ponkti occupation only recently ended. Lektereenah said nothing as they approached; she knew her gamble on possessing the Pillars and absorbing the mekli into Ponk’et had failed completely. She would deal with the grumbling behind her back inside the Kel’em in time…

perhaps not until the kel’vish’tu was over and the Ponkti were in their new home. For now, it was enough for her that the Omtorish not be allowed to control the Farpool in this, the most critical time for the kels.

The mekli and the High Priestess must be made to see that, she had told the Kel’em, before departing for Likte and the beginning of the exodus.

And then, there it was right before them…the entrance to the Pillars.

The berg was so large that it blocked a clear view of anything beyond, refracting most of what little light there was off its chalky white slopes. But even with that, the presence of a vast structure, dense and hard, could be felt.

They slowed their approach and came into the holy waters of the Voice with hushed awe.

Lektereenah watched the reactions of the other metahs, especially Mokleeoh. Guess I’d better act the same way. The Pillars rose up out of the silted bottomland like legs of rock. Cruising near the seafloor, the metahs and their guards circled the Pillars completely, gulping in the scented waters voraciously. There seemed to be no way in. After several circuits, they halted and settled in a clump of tubegrass half a beat away.

The mekli guards who greeted them seemed to be waiting for something, perhaps a signal.

Then it came. High on the side of the nearest Pillar, a ring of bubbles swirled around the edge. The stream was emanating from a narrow elliptical crevice. One of the mekli separated herself from their guard detail and poked her beak into the crevice.

In that moment, powered by some device Lektereenah couldn’t see, the entire side of the Pillar grated and groaned and started moving to one side. The mekli entered. The metahs’

convoy followed her inside.

Lektereenah pulsed gently. She had never been here before. Inside, steep ramparts scattered echoes in all directions. A complex network of chapels, crypts, cells, catacombs and other chambers would be dimly sensed. Above the ramparts, heavy bedrock foundations loomed like a crest, tapering out of sight as they extended upward into the Pillars. It was a tight and uncomfortable wriggle to get inside. Lektereenah hesitated, then squeezed through.

They were in a tiny cave, sectioned by a post in the middle that seemed to have buckled, the damage created by the Ponkti occupiers. It was dark—the only light came from glowfish trained to float through the corridors in set patterns, casting their spectral copper light in diffuse ovals in the bare stone walls. They went half a beat or so, then came to an intersection. More corridors merged in the crossing, leading out in every direction, above, below, and beside them.

“Where are they taking us?” Lektereenah wondered.

Okeemah’s voice came back hushed, strained. “Hall of the Voices, I suppose. Be quiet.”

Lektereenah tried a pulse and found that the tunnel widened a few beats ahead. There was more light too—glowfish she was sure, since the mekli seemed to abhor anything artificial inside the Pillars. But it was pitch black in the tunnel. Almost like a burrow, hollowed out down through uncounted spans of time, the tunnel sides had been worn completely smooth, for which they were all thankful. Otherwise, they would have skinned themselves badly.

Inside, the Pillars pulsed much like a womb. Mokleeoh was the first to notice that and say it. All her life, Mokleeoh had heard stories from pilgrims about the serenity of the place, the warmth, the concord, the strong bond of Ke’shoo that it made with all comers. Nothing was unaffected. That explained the constricted spaces and the pleasant scents: the mekli had re-created the ancient womb of the cave cities here. Like Old Kengtoo, they had preserved in sharp redolence the scents of the first days, down to the most ethereal details. The Pillars mirrored and embodied the timeless aspirations of all Seomish: Ke’shoo and Ke’lee and Shoo’kel, the inward eye blind to anything beyond the immediate concerns of family and kel.

Their mekli guard detail herded them on, through one maze after another, indifferent to the discomforts of the trek. The lead priestess could be heard swooshing well ahead of them, leading them deeper and deeper into the Pillars, into the Quarter of Melodies, where the shape of the caves altered the quality of their sound.

Through narrow tunnels and rock-hewn chambers, the guards and the convoy followed the mekli. Lektereenah knew well that the Pillars of Shooki did not stop at the surface; they extended well beyond, far into the Notwater. They were still ascending, traveling the convoluted labyrinth of corridors, occasionally coming upon larger caves and crypts, and she wondered.

How far would they go?

The convoy wound its way through the labyrinthine corridors and passages to the heart of the Pillars complex. Inside the cavernous Hall of Voices, itself studded with niches and burrows and small crevices, all crammed to overflowing with racks and slings to hold the racial memories of all the kels, the metahs found more mekli busily loading up several kip’ts with scores of ancient echopods and sacred scentbulbs, meticulously examining each one and arguing over its significance before it was put away.

There were now several dozen mekli in the Chamber, along with the guards. Some mekli continued packing and loading, while others were attending the Echopods, listening, arguing their interpretations of the Voice. All the pods seemed active together and the sayings, parables and utterances of pak’to Shooki were at once both confusing and reassuring. Their own mekli beckoned them deeper into the Chamber and slowly, prodded by the guards, they complied.

The High Priestess realized they had visitors and stroked over to greet them. “Ke’shoo and Ke’lee and litorkel ge to all who come to these waters,” she announced, bowing deeply. She pointedly didn’t look at Lektereenah who found herself increasingly annoyed with this whole trip.

I never should have agreed to come along. The whole thing’s just designed to embarrass the Ponkti.

The metahs introduced themselves and the High Priestess in turn sniffed and nuzzled and kissed each one. Even Lektereenah wasn’t spared this old custom. She endured it but only barely.

Okeemah spoke first. “Priestess, we’ve come to seek guidance. We—”

But the mekli held up her hands. “Talk no more. Listen to the Voice, instead.”

Okeemah held her tongue. “Ke’mekli, what does the Voice say? We can’t hear it here.” She glared at Lektereenah with scarcely disguised contempt. “There’s too much noise.”

“O’ my loo’sheen, the most wondrous things.” The mekli pulsed with radiance. “It speaks of love and shoo’kel, the balance of all seas. Of Ke’shoo and Ke’lee and every virtue. The Vish currents and destiny. The Dialogues. The reciting of charms and beatitudes. The Be’shoo’keen of principal ecstasies. The Voice is profound and fluent, for truth is like Seome itself, inexhaustible and imperishable.”

Mokleeoh wanted to press home the main reason they had come. “Seome is in danger, ke’mekli. Even Lektereenah and the Ponkti can’t deny that. The Ponkti even have a word for it: ak’loosh. I want to know— we want to know—if the Voice, if Shooki, blesses kel’vish’tu. The time approaches when there will be no turning back.”

Lektereenah now exploded in fury. “Who says the Omtorish are the only ones who can help


The Ponkti metah made to lunge at Mokleeoh but stopped when she saw the mekli produce a sound grenade in her hands. “Omt’or can’t monopolize the Farpool, ke’mekli. The Tailless know things. The Omtorish want to keep that knowledge to themselves…it’s always been like this. Keep the Ponkti in their caves…keep them ignorant. Now, the other kels have a chance…

it’s not just Ponk’et. The Sk’ork, the Eep’kostic…they think as we do. Let—“

But the mekli would listen to no more argument. “You’ve both infected the sacred waters.

The Voice speaks, even now. Judgment is made…there is no alternative, no middle ground here.

Before Lektereenah could answer, another mekli intervened, a younger one. She darted forward into the center of the gathering and waved her armfins abruptly, scattering those nearest to her. A few scowled indignantly and sulked at the interruption, but this mekli had prevailed, had heard the Voice more clearly, and assumed the right to address them. She extended herself to full length—she was graced with the most supple skin, a polished veneer of milky gray that shone like porcelain in the brilliance of the glowfish light. Mokleeoh pulsed her and envied her self-control.

“This argument is both curious and troubling,” she began, twitching at Lektereenah. “We find no solution in the pods that can be deciphered. That doesn’t mean Shooki has no answer—

only that he conceals it from us now. That is Vish. But kel’vish’tu is a different matter. Here, the Voice is ambiguous, telling us in one instance that such a journey is to be feared and respected, and in the other instance, that the exodus may serve us in ways both great and small.

There is room for either interpretation. It’s clear, though, that the guidance you desire does exist.

The Voice speaks quietly and eloquently of the value of maintaining shoo’kel. Your method, a way of talking and persuading and convincing and even debating, the Voice is convinced that this is the way. Understand me: the Voice is firm in saying that no kel, nor single kelke, may possess what the Umans have. That is Vik’t. But to engage the Tailless, to talk with them, offer help to them…this the Voice finds appropriate.” This young mekli now darkened when she addressed Lektereenah and the Ponkti contingent. “On the other hand, the Voice cannot allow

the waters to be disturbed. The Pillars are for thought, reflection, tranquility. The Voice cannot be misinterpreted on this: disturbances must be smoothed out, they must be dampened out quickly…or no one will hear anything.”

Okeemah seemed resigned to hearing what she didn’t want to hear. “Then it is true…

Shooki favors kel’vish’tu? The End Times are here…we have his blessing to leave our homes?”

This made the mekli sad. “This is true. Shooki tells us that ak’loosh is coming. A great wave will circle the world, and all will be destroyed. Perhaps the Tailless are his instruments.”

Then Lektereenah had an idea. “Perhaps the mekli could help us. Help us make preparations…ensure that no kel is favored over another.”

The very mention of this chilled the waters in the Hall. All the mekli were too disciplined to react carelessly but Mokleeoh sniffed a distinct odor of dismay at the idea.

The younger mekli hissed at them. “Do not say this before Shooki.” Her tail curled in scarcely controlled anger. “Shoo’kel is the measure of all things. If the currents have brought us to this time, then we are bound by the Voice to extend Ke’shoo to all kelke…” she glanced back at the kip’ts, still being loaded. “…The Echopods say that all intelligent beings are Seomish, that they are due our respect, even our affection. Yet you speak to disrupt this.”

Now the older mekli weighed in. “It is the aliens, the eekoti Tailless, who have upset shoo’kel. Yet we are bound here to remain in serenity and dignity. To venture into the Notwater…as you’ve described, to talk with these Tailless People of the Notwater…no, that is proscribed by Shooki. We’re all life-bound here, bound to serve the One Who Makes the Currents Flow. To venture into the Notwater upsets the balance. Yet, to stop these destructive effects, you say you must venture into the Notwater…the Tailless are creatures of the Notwater, are they not? You would restore balance by upsetting it further…this is a paradox, a flaw of logic. This reasoning is absurd, is it not?”

Her words upset the other mekli and now they were divided on whom and what to believe.

One of them went to a niche in the floor and put her head to it; inside, an Echopod murmured its recorded wisdom. She manipulated the knob on the pod head, tuning it, advancing it several tracks. Immediately, the tone of the Voice shifted, fading to nearly inaudible sibilants. The other mekli detected the change and crowded around the pod, straining to ferret meaning from the sounds. They listened for a time, expressionless, then argued over what they had heard.

Other parts of the Voice rambled on, discoursing on ethical problems and history, but the mekli ignored them. What they wished to know was there, in that one pod, and they debated it for many minutes.

Finally, the older mekli spoke to the metahs. “We are troubled by all this, as you can see.

But we should not detain you any longer. Judgment is done, Shoo’kel is maintained…serenity for you and success in your journey. The guards will show you out. We know that in his time, pak’to Shooki will tell us what he wants us to know. In the meantime, we’re confident that Shooki is even now readying the great ak’loosh, the great wave that will re-make everything, change all the waters, destroy all who bring disturbance. From this, in its time, new life will grow.”

At a subtle signal from the mekli, the guards escorted Mokleeoh, Lektereenah, Okeemah and the entire contingent back through the twisting labyrinth of tunnels and caves, spiraling out and down and back to the outer doors of the Pillars. The trip took an hour.

Outside, in numbing ice-flecked waters, Lektereenah beckoned her own prodsmen to break away from the convoy. “We have work to do,” she told the other metahs. “The Farpool will be here soon, my own scientists have predicted it. The Ponkti will be ready for ak’loosh, despite

what the mekli say.” She pulsed angrily ahead and was finally able to locate their small fleet of kip’ts, strewn about on the seabed. Minor repairs were needed, some adjustments made and provisions laid in from the rich ertleg beds that were abundantly huddled around a hot vent a few beats away from the Pillars.

With a resolute swoosh of her tail, Lektereenah and the Ponkti prodsmen scooted off and were gone.

Mokleeoh turned to Okeemah and Kolandra and shook her head. “Conflict and politics always prevail here.”

Okeemah agreed. “Even in the final days. I had hoped we wouldn’t carry these disagreements to the new world. But that seems hopeless.”

Kolandra pulsed about at the feverish preparations all about them. “When does the next landing of the Farpool occur?”

Mokleeoh said, “I don’t know exactly. I’ll have to consult with Likteek and our Academy.

But it’s soon, very soon. Lektereenah’s right about that much: we need to be ready.”

Telpik was a scientist from Ork’et but he’d been an acquaintance of Likteek’s for a long time. The two of them had been cooperating on studying the vortex fields created by the wavemaker on the other side of Likte Island, using algorithms that both had developed to predict when the Farpool would come, when the fields would be intense enough to generate the wormhole gateway and created a rift that could be entered and navigated, if you knew what you were doing, to other times and places.

The two of them had been helping each other go through lab equipment and supplies brought up from the ruins of Omsh’pont, when Likteek decided it was time to make a quick trip to the vortex fields—“just a little check,” he had said, “so we aren’t surprised by changes in the intensity of the fields.” Likteek had left an hour ago, while Telpik continued sorting and packing gear into the one lifeship that the metah had allowed the Academy to have. “It all has to go in this one ship,” Likteek had told the assembled scientists and technicians that very morning.

“There’s no way, Likteek,” said one of them. “It won’t fit…not all the gear we need…the beatscopes alone will take half the space.”

“It has to fit,” Likteek said. “Make it fit and stop arguing.”

Now Likteek came hustling back from his little trip, out of breath, bursting into the cobbled-together tents and floats that were the Omtorish Academy’s temporary camp. He sucked in more breath, while a young female researcher named Kokla fed him juice and tong’pod claws, heaving in great gulps, gesturing Telpik and the others to gather around.

“It’s here…it’s almost here!” he warned them. “I…went all around…the vortex fields, then inside. They’re getting stronger. I made all the measurements…here’s the echopod.

Listen for yourself. The main funnel is due within a day, maybe hours. Get that ship loaded. I’ll tell the metah.”

Telpik felt his heart racing. After so many days, so many mah, was it true? Kel’vish’tu was upon them. “Are you sure, Likteek? Really sure…maybe some kind of instrument error…

maybe some bias in the way—”

Likteek was old and getting his breath back took some time. “Listen to the sounder…

readings, Telpik. Listen for yourself. I may be wrong…but I don’t think so. We have to hurry.”

Kokla was white-faced. “There’s so much more to—”

But Likteek was already gone, dragging tong’pod claws with him, eating on the run. He had to get to the Metah’s float as fast as he could, argue with that prickly privy councilor Oncolenia, scream at the guards, whatever it took.

A day at most, maybe less. If the Omtorish lifeships weren’t in position in time, the Farpool would come and go and who knew what would happen to the seas then. Would there even be any seas?

Likteek dropped the empty rack of claws and stroked as hard as he could for the royal float, darting through thick knots of people, still several beats away.

Kloosee’s em’kel was called Pelspotu. Their whole purpose was to explore the Notwater and maybe someday learn how to live in it. But Kloosee was gone; he had not survived the trip back from Urku with eekoti Angie. Everybody missed him, most especially Keksu and Ve’mort. The two of them had become especially close to Kloosee since joining the em’kel right after their Circling. Now they weren’t midlings anymore. Now they were adults and able to do and say adult things. That they had chosen to join Pelspotu on the very eve of a great adventure, to Urku no less, to the land of the people of Notwater, was something they could hardly believe…it made Ve’mort literally shiver with excitement of what they would see and find.

“I miss him,” Keksu said, stuffing several sacks of supplies into the lifeship they would soon be sharing with other em’kels. “Kloosee was there. He probably saw wonders we can only imagine.”

“Sure,” agreed Ve’mort. “Hey, don’t take that rack. There’s not enough room. Pack those scentbulbs separately, one by one.”

“Some of these are Kloosee’s. We can’t leave them behind. He’d never forgive us.”

“Remember what the metah said: If you haven’t sniffed a bulb or listened to a pod in the last year, you don’t need it. Throw it out.”

“I’m not throwing any of Kloosee’s stuff out. He’d come back and kill us if we left something important. Some of these pods and bulbs were made on his trips to the Notwater.”

Keksu pulled out one scentbulb and cracked the opening, taking a brief whiff. His nose wrinkled. “Ugh…smells like seamother hide. Do you think there’ll be seamothers on Urku?”

Ve’mort was stuffing gear as fast as he could into the compartments allotted to them in the rear cargo hold of the ship. “Who knows? Probably. Didn’t we hear the Ponkti had taken some puk’lek calves through the Farpool?”

“But that was a different time, I heard. And just what time are we going to anyway? I never understood any of that. The Farpool came take you to different times?”

“And places too. I don’t know about the time. It’s reckoned differently on Urku, so I hear.

Just think, Keksu, a whole new world. New waters. New creatures. New smells and sounds.

And the Tailless…wow. Bet you didn’t think you’d ever be doing this when you were finishing your Circling.”

“Never in a million mah. Come on, hurry up. Let’s go see if there’s any word…I’ll bet Likteek knows.”

Throughout the Omtorish camp, and indeed among the thousands of gathered kelke in all camps, the scene was much the same. Each kel, Omt’or, Ponk’et, Eep’kos, Sk’ort and Or’ket, had self-assembled into its own camp and as word spread that the Farpool was less than a day away, frantic last-minute preparations were going on all throughout the waters around Likte Island.

The metahs of the kels had finally agreed to travel together, as a sign of solidarity in this most perilous of adventures. At Likteek’s urging, Mokleeoh had gathered her belongings and overseen final loading of her part of the ship, before finally agreeing to board the little craft. She wanted to gather her official repeaters and make a last-minute statement to the Omtorish, maybe even sing the songs of the First Days, but Likteek convinced her there was no time.

“If the arias begin, Affectionate Metah, everyone will want to finish them. That could go on for days. We don’t have days. We have hours at most.”

Mokleeoh sighed, looking around at the assembled staff with their personal pods crammed with belongings and said finally, “I suppose you’re right. But if we can’t make a proper good-bye to our homes, our waters, to all that we—”

“Honorable Metah, please…we must go—”

Mokleeoh glared at Likteek, was about to say something, then relented and boarded her lifeship with exaggerated slowness and care. Likteek just swallowed his exasperation.

Politicians, he muttered to himself.

The lifeship bearing Mokleeoh was larger than most, so as to carry the five metahs and their personal gear. It joined a small convoy, kip’ts ahead and behind bearing prodsmen and stunners to clear the way, and stopped at each kel gathering to pick up the metahs Lektereenah, Okeemah, Kolandra and Maktelena. Once they were on board, the ship headed out past the camp waters into the rough, ice-flecked seas surrounding Likte Island. The driver was an Omtorish kip’t driver of some repute, Manklu tel. Manklu was the most seasoned and experienced of all Omtorish kip’t pilots, though navigating a full lifeship bearing the metahs of all the kels through a whirlpool like the Farpool was worlds apart from riding the Omt’chor Current through the Serpentines Gap with a train of pack tillets in tow. Still, no one argued that Manklu’s experience would be invaluable.

Following the metahs’ lifeship, there soon materialized a long convoy of hundreds of kip’ts, sleds, lifeships and other assorted craft, anything that would hold people, cobbled together in the frantic last hours of their world and soon to be flung into the Farpool in desperation.

As Likteek had predicted, the vortex fields surrounding the wavemaker had brought forth a new landing of the Farpool, scant hours after the caravan had departed their gathering area.

Manklu pulsed ahead, sensing the turbulent waters of the vortexes that surrounded the Farpool. He trimmed the ship the best he could, trying to make the ride a little smoother, but it was pretty much hopeless and soon enough, he felt the first jolts and vibrations shudder through the ship. The fingers of the Farpool had them now, along with many, if not all of the fleet behind them, and it was only a matter of time before they would be sucked in and spun upside down like a baby pal’penk lost in the Sk’ork Current.

Both Mokleeoh and Lektereenah had drifted off into a light doze when a faint tug on the side of the craft startled them awake. Okeemah shook both of them roughly.

“Wake up…wake up. Something’s happening—“

Lektereenah stirred. “What is it?”

“I don’t know, but it feels like we’re moving sideways.” Mokleeoh came fully awake now, feeling the vibration and plastered her nose to the porthole, trying to make something out. “It’s silty out there. Dark too. Deeper water. You feel that?”

Some kind of force was pushing them sideways in the water. At the same time, the compartment picked up a light shuddering vibration, gyrating like a top at the end of a string.

“I do…what’s happening?”

“I don’t know, but I think we’re on the outer edge of some kind of vortex…the water’s all rushing sideways, dirt, pieces of things…I can’t really make it out.”

Lektereenah gritted her teeth. “Shooki, I wish Loptoheen were here…he’s done this before.”

The force began to increase, a centrifugal force that soon shoved them to one side of the compartment and pressed them hard against the walls. Worse, the compartment began a slow roll, a rotation that didn’t remain slow for long, but picked up rate at a steady clip.

Soon, they were spinning enough to become disoriented and dizzy.

“Oh…my stomach…I don’t feel so—“

Lektereenah’s words were suddenly lost in a bright flash of light, a searing, painfully white strobing light that flooded the compartment and blinded all of them.

Ow…I can’t see—“

The spin kept accelerating and moments later, all the metahs passed out. Only Manklu was left to try and steer the ship as Kloosee and eekoti Chase had once told him… lean this way, roll a little, pull back the stick, not too hard! “By Shooki—” he muttered to himself. “This is like riding across the top of the Serpentines, only worse….”

Had any intelligent eyes been at the surface or perched on the ice cliffs of Likte Island, they would have been treated to an incredible sight offshore, just before dawn. Backlit with the strange fiery red-orange glow of sunrise to the east, a thin ropy waterspout formed several beats off an ice-choked inlet. As the spout danced and skipped across the waves, a bright pulse of light emerged from the sea and vaulted heavenward along the length of the spout, followed by a series of light pulses, as if the spout were sucking buckets of light right out of the ocean.

The light pulses disappeared into low-hanging clouds and vanished, leaving only a faint iridescent flicker, like a silent lightning discharge.

Moments later, the waterspout collapsed into the sea and the ocean returned to its restless heaving.

The heaving lasted exactly ten minutes. At that time, the fiery red-orange glow of the sun Sigma Albeth B, nearly opaqued from view by thickening clouds, fog and spray, detonated in the skies over Seome and the supernova process began.

Within the mass of Sigma Albeth B, the onion-layered shells of its elements underwent catastrophic fusion, eventually reaching the Chandrasekhar limit of mass and began to collapse.

The inner part of the core was compressed into neutrons, causing the infalling material to bounce and form an outward-propagating shock wave. The shell started to stall in this collapse but was quickly reinvigorated by neutrino interaction across its interior. Then, the surrounding material was blasted away in a titanic rebound explosion, as the collapsing envelope of the star was explosively ejected away, sending material out into space in all directions at speeds in excess of 70,000 kilometers a second.

Every moon and planet in the Sigma Albeth B system (there were twelve in all) was incinerated. Seome itself was quickly incinerated in an expanding shock front from the detonation.

Seome had once been home to some twenty million inhabitants, a marine civilization tens of thousands of years old. Millions were still trapped on their world when the fire from the sky came.

Several hundred thousand kelke managed to survive and made the trip through the Farpool.

Urku…Earth…was their destination and their last hope.

Some ships didn’t survive the trip. Those that did landed in a bewildering array of times…

some landed in mid-twentieth century Earth in the midst of a great war among the Tailless…

some landed in the 16th century, among Spanish galleons and English men-of-war, some in the 28th century, when the seas had swallowed almost every continent and there were two moons in the sky. One group of immigrants landed in the Cretaceous epoch of ancient Earth history, with the skies darkening as a giant asteroid approached.

And some landed in the early 22nd century, in a bevy of waterspouts centered on a range of underwater hills north of Bermuda, a place the oceanographers called the Muir seamounts.

This was the story of how the kel’vish’tu began, the great exodus of the lost and the desperate from the doomed ocean world of Seome. Millions perished in the supernova of their sun Sigma Albeth B. Two hundred thousand survived in a harrowing series of trips through the Farpool.

But they were not alone.

Chapter 20

“The sea will grant each man new hope, (as) sleep brings dreams of home.

Christopher Columbus


Fleet Forces Command Headquarters

Norfolk, Virginia

May 17, 2115

1400 hours

Chase, Angie and Tollo were concluding their first meeting with the admirals and staff at Fleet Forces Command headquarters. The CNO, Admiral Raymond Davies, was on hand, along with CINCFLTFOR, a scientist from the Office of Naval Research and the commanders of the Juneau and the Mackinac Island. Nobody could really believe what they had been hearing.

Davies apprised the three visitors with scarcely concealed contempt.

“Just for the record, what is said and done in this room is classified. I get wind of somebody in here spilling what’s going on and I will personally eat them for lunch. Is that clear to all?” He scowled about the room, nodded at the chorus of ‘aye-aye, sirs.”

“Okay then, son, what’s all this about? And what’s with the Halloween costumes? This is about some film being made, right? Or a research project of some kind.?”

“Sir,” Chase spoke for all them, “it’s a pretty incredible story. Actually, this is not a costume.” Chase went on to briefly describe the em’took procedure and how he had been modified to survive on a world called Seome. “So, it’s actually really me in this thing. But I’m originally from Florida.”

Davies blinked, shook his head slightly, and nodded at CINCFLTFOR, Admiral Tom Bernard. “Uh huh…Florida. Tom, pinch me, will you? I always knew Florida had its share of kooks, but this—and you, young lady. What’s your story? I suppose you’re from Florida too?”

Angie shuddered. She wanted to be anywhere but here, with all eyes staring at her. “Yes, sir…I am. Scotland Beach, in fact. I’m a senior at Apalachee High.” She looked at the assembled brass and, not knowing what else to say, muttered, almost in spite of herself. “Go Eagles….”

That brought a quiet smile to Dr. Joe Willamette, an oceanographer with ONR. “Miss…

Gillem is it?—what’s the real purpose of your research here? Some kind of new scuba gear…

and that little ship of yours. I can’t wait to get that into our lab.”

“It’s not research, sir, it’s—” she looked helplessly over at Chase.

Davies waved all that off. “This fellow is the one who really intrigues me. Sir, you remind me of Diver Dan. Or maybe Mike Nelson…but you guys are too young to remember Sea Hunt.”

Tollo squirmed a bit. His echopod squeaked and chirped as he tried to answer. “My name is Tollo ank kel: Om’t. My people have come… shhkkreah…come here to Urku…our home is gone….”

Davies rolled his eyes. “You want me to take you to my leader, I suppose? ‘My people’ my ass. You’re all Russian spies, right? Or Chinese maybe, working with the Russians?”

“Actually, sir,” Chase cut in, “Tollo here is Omtorish. And with any luck, there’ll be a lot of his people arriving out there in the ocean in the next few days.”

When this raised eyebrows around the room, Chase went on to explain that a large-scale emigration effort was even now underway. “They call it kel’vish’tu,” he added. “Thousands of people—kelke, is the word, I think—are coming from Seome. It’s another world only it’s doomed. Their sun’s dying and they’re using the Farpool to come here, to live in our oceans.”

Dr. Willamette nodded wisely, as if all this made perfect sense. “And where is this other world? How far away is it…maybe in the fifth dimension…no wait, that was a rock group, wasn’t it…back in the twentieth century?”

Chase ignored the jibes and went on to explain about the Farpool. “We’ve made earlier visits, sure. To this time and place and to others. Some Seomish—they’re the Ponkti—even managed to get to mid-twentieth century Earth, right in the middle of World War II. They teamed up with the Nazis, helped the U-boats, took back torpedo technology and destroyed many cities of Tollo’s kel…the Omtorish. I saw most of it myself.”

Davies decided to try another tack. “I’ve seen the vid of your meeting with Commander LaRue here…at least, your story is consistent…I’ll give you that. But my real question is this: who really are you working for? The Russians? The Chinese? Dr. No? Some international cartel like SPECTRE?”

Commander Waite of the Juneau mentioned the small base that was observed near Bermuda. “We did sonar scans of the place, Admiral. It’s real enough from what we could determine, with a variety of structures already finished. Plus, they—whoever they are—seemed to be training marine animals for intelligence work, maybe for defense or assault purposes. We observed several of them, huge beasts they were, unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Maybe some variant of octopus.”

“Oh, yeah, they’re called puk’lek…seamothers. The Ponkti brought them through the Farpool.”

This piqued Dr. Willamette’s interest. “Admiral, if this is true, what Commander LaRue says, I’d like to organize an expedition to this so-called base. See what’s going on…it could impact our mission at Code 32…helping develop new marine systems. Give us a leg up on the Chinese and the Russians, if they’re not involved.”

Davies hmm’ed, thinking the request reasonable. “More data…that’s what we need.

Unofficially, I’ve gotten reports in the last day of some increased Russian sub activity nosing around Bermuda. Our friends from Moscow are just as intrigued with this as we are. Some kind of organized visit needs to be set up to see just how much of this is true.” He turned stern. “You three, however, you realize what you’re facing?”

Chase didn’t like the sound of that. “No, sir…I’m not sure what—”

“Oh, there are probably several hundred charges the Attorney General could level at you, everything from UN treaty violations to illegal incursions in Bermuda territorial waters to illegal trafficking in protected marine animals…you want me to go on?”

Chase looked at Angie. They both swallowed hard, but with Chase, you couldn’t tell. “No, sir. What’s going to happen to us?”

Angie felt a few tears at the corner of her eyes. She wiped them away quickly. “Sir, I’d just like to go home. I have a part time job at the hospital…Gainesville, Florida. I’m sure they’re wondering what’s happened to me. I need the money too, sir, if I expect to go to college.”

Davies shrugged. “I don’t know what will happen. This will have to be sent up the chain of command, the CJCS, SecDef, probably the President. For now, young lady, you’re all guests of the U.S. Navy.”

Willamette was theorizing out loud. “Maybe we can set up some kind of official communication with all these people you say are coming—"

Just then, a buzzer sounded and Davies tapped on his commandpad. “Yes--?”

A synthetic voice sounded from someplace in the table. “Sir, flash traffic from the New Bedford…it’s marked CNO ONLY…seems pretty urgent. It’s coded SCI Purple.”

“Send it.”

The AI complied and soon Davies was scanning a report on his pad. He rubbed his chin, then even sucked in his breath for a few moments. When he looked up, the color had drained from his face. He glared right at Chase, Angie and Tollo.

“It’s from one of our ships on the scene. Says here New Bedford’s c/o is reporting that dozens of waterspouts have been dropping out of the skies around Bermuda.”

Willamette was a physical oceanographer by trade. “Must be a lot of convective activity in the atmosphere…pretty unusual for that area this time of year.”

Davies’ voice lowered. “That’s not all, Doctor. The report goes on—there’s even a vid attachment here as well—that dozens, maybe hundreds of strange craft are appearing in the seas around Bermuda right now.”

“May I see, sir?” asked Commander LaRue. Waite looked on too. “Sir, those are the same type of craft that these three jokers came in…we have footage of it approaching Mackinac Island.”

“Holy crap.” said Waite. “Juneau saw something like these too--“

Davies looked up at Chase. Chase looked at Tollo. It had started.

“Sir, you know what this means?”

Davies blinked. “That things are about to get a hell of a lot more interesting around here?”

“Sir, it means that the exodus, the emigration—the kel’vish’tu, it’s underway now. They’re finally here. Our oceans will soon be teeming with new life, new intelligent life.”

“God help us,” muttered Bernard, the CINCFLTFOR.

Davies commandpad beeped again. “Now what…OSCAR, just send it.” A stream of text and charts began scrolling down the display of his commandpad. Davies face blanched as he read.

“From ’ Center, it’s a DOD alert.”

“Sir…isn’t that Farside?”

Davies nodded. “It is. In fact, it’s Korolev Crater…back side of the Moon.”

“Some kind of accident?”

“No,” Davies shoved the commandpad across the table, where others could read the message. Chase found he could just barely make out the details. “No accident. SpaceGuard’s reporting a new anomaly…a supernova, in fact. Approximately six thousand light years away, they think it’s a star cataloged as Sigma Albeth B. It just went kablooey…or did some time ago, I guess. SpaceGuard’s advising all commands to secure electronic, digital and cyber systems for a possible hard radiation bath in the coming weeks.”

Dr. Willamette regarded Chase, Angie and Tollo with a new level of curiosity and respect.

He steepled his hands on the table. His voice was low and soft.

“Now, it seems, there may be two intelligences on Earth.”



The World of Seome

The Language

Seomish is designed phonetically to carry well in a water medium. Hard, clicking consonants are common. The ‘p’ or ‘puh’ sound, made by violent expulsion of air is also common. Modulation of the voice stream, particularly at high frequencies (sounding much like a human whistle) produces the characteristic “wheeee” sound, which is a root of many words.

Translation from Seomish to human languages like English requires some inspired speculation, since so many Seomish phrases seem to be little more than grunts or groans, modulated in frequency and duration.

Most Seomish words are grouped according to several characteristics: (1) Who is speaking (the personal); (2) who is being spoken to (the indicative); (3) state of mind of the speaker (the conditional); (4) the kel-standing of the conversants (the intimant).

Each classification has a set of characteristic pre-consonants, to indicate the nature of the coming words, etc. Thus:

1. k’, kee, t’

2. tch, g, j, oot

3. m’, p’, puh’ (both anger, dislike, distaste, etc), sh, sz (both joyful) 4. each kel identifies itself with a unique set of capitalized consonants, like a vocal coat of arms. Example: t’milee, or CHE’oray…Seomish versus Timily or Chory…English.

The World

Seome is a planet somewhat smaller than Earth, 98% covered in water. There are approximately 30 islands that comprise the total land mass of the planet. Most of them are only a few kilometers wide but about ten exceed 50 square kilometers in size. Most of the islands are clustered near the equator, or branch out in chains or arcs from the cluster, often following the submerged ocean ridges that trisect the waters.

Seome is one of four planets, two large gas giants and two smaller terrestrial rock-core worlds, orbiting the star-sun Sigma Albeth B. The other planets are uninhabited.

Neither small planet has any natural satellite but both gas giants have literally scores of satellites in orbit about them.

Seome is about 11,500 kilometers in diameter and its gravity is slightly less than Earth’s.

Of particular note is the planet’s perpetual cloud cover, permanent except for one location: the summit peak of the island of Ordeld in the northeastern sea, at certain times of the year.

Seome has two seasons: high storm and low storm, roughly corresponding to periods of greater and lesser storm activity. The planet rotates nearly twice as fast as Earth, so the “day” is only half as long. However, the low light level doesn’t really reflect the speed of rotation. It is uniformly low.

The planet has a magnetic field and an iron core. Earthquakes are common, often creating tsunamis that dwarf anything seen on Earth.

The period of solar revolution is about 18 Earth months, 50% longer. In other words, one Earth year is 2/3 a Seome year. A Seome year is called a mah and it corresponds to one complete north-south-north migration cycle of the planktonic mah’jeet organisms.

Seomish Physiology

Although the Seomish resemble dolphins and porpoises externally, they are not mammals. They are fish, true marine creatures. They average about 3 meters in length and possess two forearms that have evolved from pectoral fins into prehensile limbs approximately ½

to ¾ meter in length, with five fingers and one opposing thumb at the end of each arm.

The Seomish breathe through gills, extracting oxygen from the water that is strained through gill slits on either side of the head, which is really only an extension of the main body trunk. The body is streamlined for speed (up to 20 km/hr for healthy males at maturity) which is generated by lateral undulations of the caudal, or tail fin. The peduncle is the muscle that moves this fin.

The Seomish have two dorsal fins, one over the midsection and one just forward of the peduncle. Along with a pair of anal fins (beneath the second dorsal), a small pair of vestigial pectoral fins attached to the forearms (above the wrist) provides anti-roll stability. The arms and the tail give maneuvering and braking power and the arms are tucked against the sides for speed.

The Seomish have evolved an internal gas bladder, dorsally located, to help them maintain buoyancy. The presence of this organ limits the depth and vertical range of their natural movement but technological developments can overcome these obstacles.

The Seomish have relatively poor eyesight, good vision not being essential in the often dark, murky waters of Seome. They have no tear ducts or eyelids.

The Seomish senses of smell and hearing are keen, however. A great deal of the standard Seomish language is concerned with scent information and is unconveyable by sight or sound.

There is an olfactory vocabulary of chemical odors that are often captured and stored in scentbulbs, called ot’lum, in the spoken vernacular.

The Seomish can smell the difference not only in body odors but in various kinds of water, according to its salt, dirt, or nutrient content. They have words for all these. Because olfactory impressions tend to disperse slowly, the Seomish do not separate the past from the present as readily as humans. Instead, they view the past as living in the present, as a shadow or ghost or alternate spirit of the present.

The Seomish sense of hearing is acute and far-ranging. Just below the mouth, at the rear of the throat and forward of the gill cavity, is a small bag-like organ, called a soundsac, or shkelt. It is an echo-location system that emits low-frequency waves that can carry for upwards of thirty to fifty kilometers, depending on the location of the deep-level sound channel (the ootkeeor, or

“discovering water”). Much of the Seomish language consists of grunts, whistles and clicks, all sounds that travel well in water.

The Seomish also possess a pressure-sensitive lateral line organ. The organ functions as a true sixth sense and is sensitive to low-frequency vibrations. It is used for short-range guidance, collision avoidance and for determining the present state of the ambient water as well as local currents.

Seomish are heterosexual and reproduce by copulation, the female bearing live young after a gestation period of about one and a half mah.

Seomish males usually live to an average age of 150 mah (see Seomish time-keeping) and females somewhat longer, 160 mah.

The Seomish have silvery-gray skin, smooth, non-scaly at maturity. They are born pinkish-white and aging gradually darkens the skin.

Average weight for a mature Seomish male is 230 kilograms. Females weigh somewhat less.

The Flora and Fauna of Seome: Some Examples

Mah’jeet: a microscopic, plankton-like creature, shaped like filaments or sickles, that emit a toxic substance poisonous to most Seomish. Small concentrations of the toxin aren’t fatal but the creature tends to horde and this increases the danger. The toxin is neurological in nature, causing convulsions, respiratory difficulties, heart attacks and finally death. So prevalent are the mah’jeet and so precise are their seasonal migrations that the Seomish regulate their calendar by them. Concentrated in a horde, they cause the water to take on a deep purple stain.

Tillet: a pack animal, used mainly for transporting cargo. About ten to fifteen meters in length, black on top, white on the bottom, the tillet is a fairly docile beast, though occasionally cantankerous. Generations of genetic engineering have created a close, almost psychic relationship between the Seomish and the tillet. Some are so highly trained that they can travel thousands of kilometers completely untended, usually in herds of from thirty to fifty. The tillet is so valuable that all kels have mutually agreed to a ban on hunting them. They can carry upwards of 200 kilograms of cargo in three specially bred belly pouches, which open underneath broad pectoral fins (the Seomish are now working on a cybernetic tillet, a genetically engineered design with a computer-assisted brain).

Stek’loo: a true, hybrid life form, the stek’loo is the result of generations of research and development in electronics, cybernetics, and genetics. It is a thinking fish, a living computer, whose nervous system is composed of logic elements and switching circuits and who feeds on electric current. The results of its internal computations are displayed on the swollen flanks of its side in bioluminescent numerals and light patterns. The stek’loo resembles a flounder in shape and size, flat and rounded. Information and program instructions may be entered through a power rod attached to its mouth, by feeding the stek’loo sequential electrical impulses. The handle of this rod is a binary key for controlling the impulses. The stek’loo is physically sluggish and is often kept in a transparent bowl.

K’orpuh: a deadly, eel-like snake found mainly in polar waters (and bred commercially by the Eepkostic). K’orpuh sometimes grow to 20 meters in length and are easily mistaken for plants and weeds. They carry an electric charge of up to a thousand volts, which is fatal to Seomish. In addition, the k’orpuh are able to lay down a sticky, web-like filament by quickly encircling their prey, enmeshing it in a cocoon and making escape impossible. The pelt, skin and oils of the k’orpuh are valuable commodities, but the Eepkostic have a monopoly on this trade, as well as on the training of the snake for military and sport purposes.

Pal’penk: a herd animal, huge and bloated, somewhat resembling a Terran sunfish.

Growing to average lengths of ten meters and weights of a thousand kilograms, the ‘penk is a staple food raised in vast grazing herds, desired mainly for its naturally spicy flesh. It is raised in temperate waters, largely by the Likti (an Omtorish ethnic group) and grazes on planktonic nutrients and spider-weed, called mahp’te, among other things. A genetic variant of the ‘penk =, somewhat smaller and able to graze in colder waters, is the pal’pod.

Puk’lek: sometimes called the seamother, the Kelm’opuh (Destroyer of Nations) and mythologically, Keeshoovikt (The One Who Swims Against the Current or goes against God), the puk’lek is the most fearsome beast in the waters of Seome. The mythology of the race speaks eloquently of the mixture of fear, veneration and fascination the serpent holds.

Occasionally reaching a hundred meters in length, with a powerful horned and spiked tail and a reptilian head with a broad veined crest, the puk’lek roams the seas of Seome unmolested, usually alone. It is carnivorous and easily provoked, usually preferring to feed off teng (a shark-like fish but longer) and various scapet (a tunnel-shaped fish with a colorful head stripe and water-jet escape mechanism. Puk’lek are known to prefer the continental slopes as feeding and spawning grounds and they occasionally leave the water altogether for several hours at a time.

What happens to them on land is not known and has been the subject of mythology and speculation for ages. One theory has it that the puk’lek are not true sea-dwellers at all but some kind of hybrid land-sea dweller, and that they were punished by God long ago for the transgression of leaving the water by having to endure both environments in order to survive (in other words, amphibious.). There are myths that say the puk’lek fathered a new race of beings on the land and must leave the sea periodically to care for them. But there is no proof of this.

From a distance, the puk’lek resembles a fat, scaly k’orpuh, but the puk’lek is silvery white and gray whereas the k’orpuh is very dark and mottled like seaweed.

Tchin’ting: a long, stringy weed (like kelp) grown for food, mainly in temperate waters (tropical strains are oily-tasting). Tchin’ting is harvested after a growth period of one full mah, when it is uprooted and processed into a meal that forms a staple of the Seomish diet. Tchin’

meal is a waxy, pasty substance rich in protein and suitable for mixing in as a filler or extender with other foods, particularly flesh foods.

Ter’poh: a planktonic creature unicellular algal in nature, that drifts in the upper reaches of the water by the uncountable trillion. Usually processed into meal paste.

Tong’pod: a bottom-dwelling, shelled creature, similar to a clam, growly wildly in abundance only in tropical waters west of the Serpentines and nurtured artificially elsewhere.

Sweet-tasting and slightly narcotic.

Potah: an oyster-like creature that manufactures a small pearl, called a potu, used as currency.

Eelot: a deep-dwelling fish of dazzling radiance and delectable fin flesh.

Ertleg: a crustacean, common to Omtorish waters, especially south of the Serpentines. Rare and considered a delicacy by the Omtorish.

A Note on Cooking: Cooking with fire is, of course, unknown on Seome. Many foods are processed into pastes however and used to garnish meats. Most plants are eaten raw or with very little preparation. The structure of the tong’pod has influenced the gastronomic arts on Seome by providing an easily obtainable (easily imitated) container for mixed, semi-solid foods. Indeed, the empty tong’pod shell was the preferred means of holding and consuming most non-whole foods right into contemporary times. About a thousand mah ago, an artificial shell was developed, completely edible and often seasoned. It is known as an om’pod, a “spicy shell” and is now the most popular way of holding and consuming meals. The most recent models of the om’pod even heat their contents biochemically.

Theology and First Things

The aquatic world of Seome is conventionally subdivided into five great seas ( or’keln), though there is in fact only one world ocean.

Each sea is the dominion of one of the five great nations, water-clans, or tribes (the meaning varies in context): these are the kels. The kels are both political and familial in nature. In

Seomish mythology-history, each kel is descended from one female ancestor, countless millennia ago, who was impregnated by God ( Shooki or Schooke) for the purpose of filling all the waters with life. The first females are known collectively as the Five Daughters, and all life on Seome is descended from them (they are revered as demi-gods.).

Each Daughter begat two offspring (after the creation of the lower orders), one male and one female. These were the First Mortals and each kel considers its F.M.s as the ultimate ancestors of everyone who has lived since, or will ever live. The F.M.s are the direct parents of the kel.

In Seomish theology, Shooki created and impregnated the Five Daughters because he was lonely and wished companionship. Accordingly, three extremely important religious-moral-ethical concepts in the culture are friendship, fertility (or appetite) and what could best be described as a kind of internal tranquility (see Shoo’kel). The Seomish are playful and gregarious by nature, generally promiscuous (within bounds) and pleasure-seeking. They are not psychologically disposed to dissatisfaction or self-sacrifice, normally. The universe was created by the confluence of three great currents, say the Seomish: Ke’shoo, Ke’lee, and Shoo’kel, or figuratively, love, life and happiness. This view is applied to many things, especially kel ancestry, or specifically, which First Mortal most possessed which trait. It is a subject of endless debate.

The Hierarchies: Kels and Em’kels

The organization of the kel is the most important hierarchy of all. Each kel differs slightly in certain details but major similarities remain. For simplicity’s sake, the House of Omt’or will serve as a good example.

Omt’orkel claims a line of unbroken, uncontaminated descent from Omt’or, Daughter of Shooki and from its First Mortals, Kreedake and Pomel. Since descent is figured matrilineally, the eldest female of the kel is the nominal head of the family and thus chief of state, designated the Metahshooklet, or Metah (the One who lives in God). In most instances, the Metah designates a younger person to take responsibility for major decisions. In Omt’or, this choice is traditionally the eldest and most sexually productive female of the largest em’kel (see below).

Each em’kel selects one male and one female to represent its interests before the appointed chief, who is called the Mektoo. The combined assembly of em’kel representatives if called the Kel’emtah, or Kel’em (literally, the “family of the Mother”). It meets once every mah in each city of the kel and all kelke (citizens, members of the family) have the right to petition the Mektoo at these gatherings for redress of grievances.

In general, the Seomish are not a terribly political people. Since each member of the kel is nominally related to everyone else, questions of authority and patriotism seldom arise. The lines of power and command are clear and based on age and blood. Seomish law is officially codified in the mind and memory of the Metah, which the Seomish have learned to enhance through severe training and regular consumption of special substances designed to improve memory, called tekn’een. These are drugs devised by Seomish chemists that improve recall and recollection and permit the application of considerable information to legal and judicial problems. Only the Metah may take these drugs, which theoretically assure her infallibility.

Judicial proceedings against law-breakers are normally the responsibility of the Metah’s staff. The theory is that since the Metah made the laws—and is in effect the Law herself—only she can determine if they have been broken. The most common form of punishment is exile; the moral and social theory behind this is suspect though because it is believed that the individual

cannot really ever be severed from the kel—his blood relationship persists, even into exile.

Another form of punishment is an officially sanctioned silence, called the jee’ot. On occasion, mutilation is permitted and in extreme cases, execution by live burial or flotation is practiced.

But these are rare.

Practical enforcement of the laws is usually left to the em’kel, which is legally and morally responsible for its members. Although membership in any em’kel is voluntary and theoretically anyone not in an em’kel could be above the law, in practice, the Seomish are too gregarious to be loners. Legal offenses can be dealt with by group censure, usually effective, or by taking the matter to the Metah.

The em’kel is the basic subdivision of the Seomish kel. It is a difficult concept to define because it is so broad and flexible. Simply stated, an em’kel is any sub-grouping that considers itself distinct from the kel at large.

Em’kels can be based on virtually any distinction: occupation, theological agreement, sexual compatibility, age, preferred roaming waters, mutual interests of all kinds. They form and dissolve constantly, gaining and losing members, but the underlying divisions by interest seem to persist through the ages. Like-minded people congregate in any culture. The durability of specific em’kels is remarkable. Many of them are thousands of mah in age, having developed certain customs and traditions and possessing a collective heritage that ensures their continuance.

An individual’s first exposure to the em’kel system is the mandatory five-mah membership in the oldest em’kel of all: the Kelk’too, or teachers’ em’kel, in effect, an Academy of Learning.

After leaving the Kelk’too, the Seomish child must select an em’kel to associate with, his first major decision. He soon learns that the em’kel is his family, and that he is responsible to them.

If he wants to become a legal adult, and have the right to form and found his own em’kel, the Seomish child must prepare himself for the arduous ritual of the Circling, to be attempted on the occasion of his twentieth birthday. Upon the successful completion of this rite of passage, most Seomish youth choose to change em’kels, to emphasize their new status.

Essentially, the em’kel is so organized that everyone is about equal in stature. It is customary to accord slightly more deference to the individual (or individuals) who founded the group. There are rarely any terms of membership and no penalties upon leaving. One may belong to as many em’kels as desired. Many people prefer to give their allegiance to one, however.

Behavior in the em’kel is based on the fact that all members are equal and deserve love and attention and respect. Personal problems, in matters of work, sex, health or whatever, are properly the concern of everyone and most em’kels hold regular meetings of the membership to air and discuss grievances. These are called ke’teeoh. Other topics that arise are items of discussion before the Kel’em and the Metah, matters of law enforcement and how to punish offenders, domestic matters of expenses, repairs, duties, disputes over the outcomes of games, blood relationships, roaming protocol and other projects and goals the em’kel has planned.

Most Seomish em’kels maintain a home chamber, called an em’too, where the members live and spend time when not otherwise engaged. Often, the em’too is the place of work as well as sleeping, eating, etc. The average Seomish probably spends no more than 30-40% of his day in the em’too, preferring to get out and roam.

The Five Kels

The House of Omt’or

The House of Omt’or is the wealthiest, most populous and probably the most influential of all the Seomish kels. The domain of Omt’or is the great sea Omt’orkel, bounded by the currents of Tchor and the hills of the Serpentines in the east and south, by the currents of Pomt’or and the house of ice to the west and north. It occupies most of the northwest and north central regions on the map.

Omt’or is perhaps most distinguished for the calm detachment of its people and their grace and elaborate manners, a result, it is said, of the Great Daughter Omt’or’s attempt to seduce the Father Shooki.

Omt’or has produced at least half of Seome’s scientific advances, including the development of the tekn’een drugs. However, the kel has not been as aggressive as others in applying its knowledge. In fact, other kels consider Omt’or to be somewhat arrogant and elitist. But the Omtorish seem content merely to accumulate and refine their ever-growing store of knowledge.

Their cultural achievements, especially in the scent and echo arts, are widely copied.

The House of Sk’ort

The Sk’ortel is a warm, sluggish sea that occupies the southwest part of the map. The domain of the Sk’ort is principally encompassed by this sea. The eastern boundary is the lower Serpentines and the Sk’ork current. The western boundary is sometimes disputed with the Orketish but is usually taken to be a line extending directly north and south of the vast Klatko Trench in the equatorial zone.

Many of the other kels look down on the Skortish as lazy and indolent, though this opinion is unfair. The warm and occasionally hot, slow-moving waters of the sea contribute to this feeling of enervation. The Skortish roam less often and more slowly than any other kel, many preferring to simply float with the currents. To the others, this is laziness.

The Skortish subdivide themselves into two great branches: the Tostah and the Kekah. The Tostah are the smaller of the two, residing mainly in and around the city of Tostah, near the seething Sk’ortoo lava trench. Many of them make their living harvesting the valuable coral-like material ting, which grows abundantly in the hot, mineral-rich waters. Their kel-mates, the Kekah, live hundreds of kilometers to the south among the angular ridges of Kekonk Tenk, where most of them are renowned as miners, working the immense veins of ore in the mountains and canyons that encircle that city.

The Skortish are generally indifferent to the opinions of their neighbors, particularly the Orketish. They feel that the other kels do not understand them or don’t want to. The Skortish pride themselves as great thinkers (though they have produced few great thoughts) and as connoisseurs of an elegant way if life based on physical contact rather than roaming. This puts them at odds with much of Seome.

The House of Ponk’et

The great, ice-cold murky northeastern sea is called the Ponk’el and is home to the kel Ponk’et. Bounded to the north by the polar ice pack, to the east by the ridge T’kel, to the south by the ridge-chain Orkn’t and to the west by the long sinuous Serpentine, the Ponkti are aloof, relatively militant in their outlook and generally untrustworthy. They usually keep to themselves

preferring to refine their martial skills. The Ponkti are renowned as the originators and masters of the deadly dance of combat called tuk.

Because of their self-imposed isolation, little is known about the Ponkti and this adds to the climate of uncertainty and fear that has in the past led to disputes, misunderstandings, even military clashes. Despite this, the Ponkti do engage in some trade with the rest of Seome, out of necessity. Their principal economic activity is growing cultures of the industrial bacterium terpoh, which flourish in the caves of the kel’s only city, Ponk’t (Seomish industry depends almost entirely on chemical and biological means of shaping, forming and molding materials, since fire is unknown to them).

The presence of the central religious shrine of Seome, the Pillars of Shooki, is another source of revenue. The Ponkti have negotiated a contract which remunerates them for maintaining this shrine. In return, they permit kel pilgrims from across Seome to travel unimpeded through Ponkti waters to and from the shrine. Further profit is made by serving and housing these pilgrims. It’s a classic example of Ponkti hypocrisy: they are certain that Shooki ignores the prayers of the pilgrims and view the visitors as misguided but wealthy fools, ripe for the plucking.

The House of Eep’kos

This is the smallest kel and in many ways, the most puzzling. Physiologically similar to other Seomish, the Eepkostic are in fact breakaway cousins of the Skortish, but many generations of life in the frigid south polar waters have made them as different from their ancestors as they can be.

Why did the Eepkostic break from the Skortish and engineer themselves into a different people? The true answer is probably that there was a serious inter-family dispute but the evidence of it has been lost in the dense metaphors of mythical history which the Eepkostic have created about themselves and their past. Any recorded documentation of the dispute has been eradicated and only an apocryphal legend about a vast marine serpent thousands of kilometers long which cut off a branch of the Skortish from the main body of the family for centuries because it was so long and moved so slowly remains. The story states that the stranded cousins eventually gave up hope that they would ever see their homewaters again and started a new community under the icepack. This will have to suffice as history until more facts are known.

Ever since this tale became popular, the Eepkostic consider themselves to have been singled out by God to endure ten thousand mah of punishment by isolation and that is why they live as they do. Note that both the Ponkti and the Eepkostic have formalized a system of beliefs that places each of them at the center of God’s attention, either favorable or displeased. Each kel considers itself an elect people; the Eepkostic view themselves as collective martyrs for all Seomish.

The Eepkostic are fiercely independent and protective of their isolation, much like the Ponkti. To enforce this quarantine, they have engineered an eel-like snake, called a k’orpuh, which is also raised commercially, for military and medical purposes. The chemical base of tekn’een is an extract of the k’orpuh’s blood.

The Eepkostic are proud of their differences, both physical and cultural. They feel the distinctions are marks of superiority. They are especially contemptuous of their distant cousins the Skortish, seeing in them everything that is corrupt and decadent. The harsh polar environment makes the Eepkostic more aware of the struggle for survival—how it heightens and enriches life—something that most other Seomish have never faced. Thus their civilization is

not so elaborately mannered as others; their life is cleaner, simpler and more vivid. This makes them ideal candidates for extra-marine exploration.

The House of Ork’et

The domain of Ork’et is the sea Orkn’tel, bounded on the west by the lower Serpentine, on the north by the Orkn’t ridge, on the south by the broad swift Current of Ork’lat and on the east by the agreed-upon boundary with Sk’ort.

Ork’et is known for its even-tempered, profit-minded traders and merchants. The fact that Seome’s most important current, the Ork’lat, neatly bisects Orketish territory, ensures a commercial advantage that few kels possess. The Ork’lat flows halfway around the world across the southern hemisphere before disintegrating in the stormy inter-mountain region known as the Pulkel. The current gives the Orketish speedy access to all parts of the world and their kip’t pilots (see Glossary) are so skilled at navigating the treacherous Pulkel that they have secured a monopoly on transportation of goods there to the irritation of the Ponkti. Trans-Serpentine commerce is very much an Orketish business.

Another occupation virtually unique to Ork’et is the harvesting of the pearl-like potu, which is used as a currency throughout Seome. It follows that finance and banking services, brokerage services, production organization and related activities are principal Orketish concerns. The kel is truly a hub for transport and commerce and its merchants have a reputation, well-deserved, for persistence and aggressiveness as well as seemingly endless patience. The Orketish are less enamored of the formal way of living so admired by the Omtorish. The main distinction between the two most important and influential kels is that Omtorish are, by nature, great theorists and the Orketish great doers. The Omtorish are more concerned with the ideal, the Orketish with the practical. The people of Ork’et see themselves as the only true practitioners of Ke’shoo and Ke’lee. From this flows the rationale for their impeccable materialism.

Seomish Timekeeping

Time on Seome is defined by the period it takes for the vast hordes of planktonic mah’jeet to complete one pole-to-pole migration cycle. This basic unit is called the mah and is equivalent to about eighteen Terran months.

The mah is further subdivided into six parts, one for each of the Five Daughters and one for the Father Shooki. These subdivisions are called emtemah and each is roughly equivalent to about three Terran months.

The Seomish have no astronomical concept of a “day” (having no knowledge of a sun or planetary bodies or motions) but they are aware of variations in light which penetrates the water.

A day-night cycle to them means one cycle of light, then no light, then light again. The words are puh’kel and puh’tchoot. The popular explanation for light is that the surface is full of floating luminescent creatures which shine their radiance into the depths to create the day and then sleep to create the night.

The Seomish call each one thousand mah period a metamah, or epoch. These periods are usually named for the oldest Metah in the world at that time. The current epoch is 735 mah old and was given the designation Tekpotu, for the reigning Metah of Ork’et at that time.

The six emtemah are called, in order: Shookem, Omtorem, Skortem, Epkosem, Orketem and Ponketem.

The Seomish have two other words which they use to divide the year into halves. These words refer to the condition of the water at the time of the mah’jeet migration. They are lit’kel (clear water) and mah’kel (fiery water). Since mah’jeet can be dangerous, mah’kel is a time to remain in the cities.

In the Terran-Standard numbering system, the current Seomish mah would be written as follows: 735.5 Tk, meaning the fifth emtemah of the seven hundred thirty fifth mah in the epoch of Tekpotu.

Following is a brief timeline of major events in contemporary Seomish history.

Highlights of the Current Historical Epoch of Tekpotu




The Peace of Tekpotu…putting an end to a 30-mah long period of isolation and border disputes between Omt’or and Ponk’et.


Extraction, isolation and synthesis of the memory drug tekn’een by Omtorish scientists


Metah of Sk’ort dies; Eepkostic plot charged; live k’orpuh released in Kekah--

many deaths; Skortish retaliate by melting ice; truce comes 405.2

Berserk seamother kills pilgrims at Pillars of Shooki; extermination attempt fails when beast leaves water (first recorded case in current epoch) 622.1

Discovery of Unknown Relic in Opuhte of Ponk’el; disputes over custody; theory of ancient, unrecorded marine civilization


Ponkti restrict access to Pillars, leading to confrontation at Serpentine; sporadic clashes


Ponk’et agrees to discuss situation, leading to Shrine Treaty and Agreement of Puh’t

649-651 Pal’penk herds decimated by disease, traced to new mutation in mah’jeet; Seomish deaths lead to antidote after Ponkti efforts to exterminate mah’jeet are blocked by Omt’or

700-705 Potu shortage as a result of Orketish kip’t accident, spilling toxic wastes into potu beds; monetary panic ensues and inter-kel trade drops off until stocks increase


Death of Hildrah tu, Metah of Omt’or; succession of Iltereedah luk’t 721.6

Student in Ketuvishtek rite encounters seamother carcass south of Klatko Trench with strange, non-Seomish remains inside torn belly; theories abound Glossary


The Ponkti doctrine that predicts the end of the world by a giant, globe-circling tidal wave. According to most interpretations, the Ponkti are chosen by Shooki to survive the catastrophe, by burying themselves underground, until the danger is passed, after which they will rule the world. Ak’loosh is the reason usually given as explanation for the tendency of the Ponkti to isolation.


A four-player game common to Omt’or in which the participants float at the corners of a square with three or more open cones in the middle. The object is to toss weighted balls into the cones in such a way as to amass the most points. Sometimes played with artificial current generators to stir things up.

AZHTU: In Seomish mythology, a terrible serpent granted dominion by Shooki over the Notwater, the Highwater and the Deepwater, in exchange for peace and tranquility in the Middlewater. More generally, any form of evil especially in unknown waters. There are legends of renegade kels roaming the Serpentines who worship Azhtu.


An echo unit of distance.

EM’KEL: A basic subdivision of the kel, usually based on mutual interest, often enduring for hundreds of mah. Em’kels are egalitarian, communal groups, in effect, families since the kel itself is too large to provide much care.


A unit of time—one sixth of a mah (see MAH). About three Terran months.

EM’TOO:The berth space or home chamber of the em’kel. Usually a domicile not partitioned physically but by “curtains” of sound and/or scent. Em’kels often share the same housing pod or space including cooking, cleaning and other facilities but sleeping, meeting and work areas are always separate.


The act of spiritually binding any member of the kel to the will of the Metah for a specified period of time. Basically a contractual relationship entered into for the purpose of doing something the Metah would rather not be associated with. Free-bonds can be used for anything but have come to be employed in espionage and intelligence work in modern times, thus a certain social stigma results from the public knowing a person is bound this way. Failure to carry out the stipulations requires the bound one to take his own life in shame. The bond is cemented by consuming a vial, called a pot’l, of the Metah’s blood. The incentives are many: loyalty, patriotism, special favors from the Metah.


A fruit plant, cultivated for its potent juice extract and tasty pulp. It can be eaten whole (the rind is slightly stimulating) but the popular way is to poke a hole and suck. The taste is tart and lingering.


Any synthetic pod, sac or drum used to hold personal items. Often made of plastic, these vessels are among the most common of domestic utensils and are also used as luggage on long trips. The true holdpod is a small, oval egg-shaped container that opens and closes like a clam shell.

JEE’OT: A form of punishment, practiced by the kel against an offender as designated by the Metah. Fairly serious, it is a period of time in which the offender is ignored, not spoken to and treated as if he didn’t exist. The effect of this varies but it usually creates frustration at the very least and forces the recipient to examine his character in some detail.

KEK’OT: The warrior-select that each generation creates to do battle with Azhtu. A form of ritual sacrifice.


Any of the five great nation-families—Omt’or, Ork’et, Ponk’et, Sk’ort or Eep’kos. Can also mean life itself, or water, comfort, home or any of several dozen other similar meanings. The root word “kel” is the most commonly used component of words in the Seomish language.

KE’LEE: One of the three most important moral-ethical doctrines in Seomish philosophy.

It is usually defined as sexual productivity or fertility but has acquired the connotation of appetite and satisfaction in the abstract sense over the centuries. It is a ritualized form of honor, even a form of cannibalism that is invested with a great deal more meaning than merely eating. Simply put, the Seomish believe that when they consume one of their friends, they take on the best qualities of that friend. It is considered a high honor to be asked this, a way of merging personalities so that the friendship will last forever. There are other motives for Ke’lee involving shame and disgrace but this kind of love is the main one.

KEL’EM: The gathering of all chosen em’kel representatives once each mah. Their main task is to advise the Metah on the state of opinion. In Ork’et, the Kel’em also has the authority to consider any agreements made between Orketish em'kels or between Ork’et and other kels and pass judgment. Most kels restrict the Kel’em to an advisory capacity only. It exists in Omt’or mainly to ensure that all em’kels have an equal voice before the Metah and not just the older, more established groups.

KELKE: A citizen, resident, member of the kel, people in general.


Normally the most influential em’kel in any kel. The function differs slightly from kel to kel, but in most cases, the Kelktoo is a grouping of the

most learned scholars and teachers. In effect, a school or academy of learning, the Kelktoo is the only em’kel in which mandatory membership is the rule. This holds for all kelke, for at least a few mah. Some Kelktoo also hold responsibility for research activities.


A genetically engineered crustacean that extrudes a soft, waxy substance that hardens over time. Used as a building material, the kepidah is one of many bioforming agents that can be programmed to create any desired structural pattern.


The second most important moral-ethical principle. Commonly taken to mean friendship, fraternity, caring, concern for others, companionship.

Ke’shoo is the glue of the em’kel and great effort is expended on nurturing and preserving relationships, with all the intensity and enthusiasm possible. Seomish sit in instant judgment of each other’s attitudes and emotions (easy enough to do with an echo-location sense that can penetrate the body and “read” feelings and reactions) and consider it a duty to know each other in as much detail as they can. The affection and emotional well-being of a friend, according to the dictates of his doctrine, transcend all personal concerns, except where there is obvious conflict with Ke’lee or Shoo’kel. Resolving these conflicts have occupied Seomish philosophers for centuries.


The normal gatherings of the em’kel to air grievances, discuss plans, assign duties, etc. Often loud and boisterous, even when conducted in one of the many formal argumentative disciplines (see SHKEKTOO).

KETUVISHTEK: The ritual of the globe circling, a rite of passage that confirms Seomish midlings as adults. It occurs on or near the 20th mah birthday. The midling must circumnavigate the world, collecting rock and plant specimens as proof and return safely before he considered fully mature enough to form his own em’kel.


A small, electrically powered sled, often used for transport within the kel and occasionally, for long-distance travel. Usually enclosed, with minimal comforts.


A rigorous game, native to Eep’kos, but popular throughout Seome. Often played by teams of twenty or more, it involves the use of long blunt poles to score and defend. The object is to snap a weighted sack over the head of as many opponents as possible. Used by the Eep’kostic as a form of combat training.


The basic unit of time on Seome, a year. It lasts from the beginning of one mah’jeet migration cycle to the beginning of the next. Comparable to about 18 Terran months.

MEKLI: One of the Shookian priestesses, usually quartered at the Pillars of Shooki.

Although the Pillars are in Ponkti territory, the Mekli owe their allegiance to no kel. Their stations are hereditary and so they are considered to be a separate, holy family, although not large enough to be termed a kel. The Mekli claim to be descended from the Shkulee, an extinct species of fish that legend says Shooki created to provide the ancient Seomish with omens and portents of what was to come. The skin of the shkulee was often marked in bright, colorful spiral patterns, which were studied for clues to the future.


Usually the eldest and most sexually productive female of the largest em’kel. The Mektoo is the Kel’em’s voice before the Metah and is often granted considerable decision-making authority in day-to-day matters.

Much of her work consists of arbitrating em’kel disputes and arguments.


A thousand mah, an epoch.

METAH: The eldest female of the entire kel and nominal head of the family. Her full title is Metashooklet (The One Who Lives in God) and she is always the moral and spiritual leader of the kel. Some Metahs involve themselves in kel politics more than others. The Metah is considered to embody the essence of the kel and her death is a time for great mourning.


The deep-lying thermal, sound-reflecting layer that channels messages around the world. Repeating stations are strategically located to boost the signal as it bounces along. Depending on conditions, sounds can travel upwards of 50 kilometers unamplified in parts of Seome.


Also known as a repeater, the ootstek form one of the most important of all em’kels. Their work is lonely and demanding, requiring them to back up the automatic functioning of the ootkeeor. Repeaters roam on station in the boundary waters between the kels and, when the ootkeeor is not working properly, it is their duty to listen for and repeat any and all messages that come through. Repeaters are traditionally possessed of magnificent voices as well as acute hearing.


A whirlpool, a vortex.


Also called a scentbulb. The ot’lum is a device that captures and holds any kind of scent for periods that can extend into centuries. A small, plastic sphere, the ot’lum carries coded olfactory information which can be used and re-used many times before losing its potency. It is a primary means of storing information as well as a major art form.

P’TEK: (also P’TCHOOT) The unknown, the frontier, any sea that is unexplored or unmapped.

PAK’OH: A commodity agent or anyone who organizes the production of a commodity for sale. The principal work of the pak’oh is in contracting for work done by manufacturing or service em’kels and seeing that the product or service is distributed to where it is needed. Most Seomish industry is organized along craft lines so extra-em’kel agents are needed to bring production and consumption of goods together. Pak’oh also organize themselves into em’kels and it is these groups that function as rudimentary corporations.

PUL’KE: Death, the end, finality, a state or condition of no water or that same feeling.


SHAME-BOND: The act of binding any individual to any other for the purpose of humiliating him. Shame-bound have usually committed a serious breach of etiquette or custom, thus injuring the dignity of a person or group of persons. It is customary for the individual who has been injured to require some humiliating task of his shame-bound, the theory being that by suffering the contempt of his peers, the offender will learn the value of proper manners and the importance of personal dignity. Some kels frown on this practice.


The desirable state of keeping one’s inner fluids in balance so that any pulse of you is clean and regular. Any other state is vulgar or obscene.

This is the third great moral principle that is important to the Seomish. A form of personal honor and dignity. Control of excessive emotion is necessary to efficient and accurate pulsing. Also used in a general or universal sense to mean tranquility, peace, the natural order of things, stability, etc.


One of several argumentative disciplines employed in em’kel gatherings or even in more formal assemblies. Rhetoric is a highly respected art on Seome and shkektoo is one of the higher and more respected forms of it.

Seomish employ these techniques of exchange for many reasons, among them are a great love for words and talk and a desire to keep all arguments and verbal confrontations within the bounds of propriety, thus preserving dignity. In the case of shkektoo, the exchange proceeds along a line of rhetorical questions and interrogative suppositions, according to an ancient technique of particularizing from universal first principles.

SHOOKI: The Great Father, God, the Creator of the Ocean. Also an archaic expression for clear, calm water. Shoo’ke means literally “The Loving One.”


A truncated, flat-topped seamount (guyot) often used by kels as extra storage or living space, as well as for observation, communication, and kip’t handling. In ancient times, most kels lived underground in caves and tunnels beneath the sh’pont and as they expanded in size, gradually moved out into the open sea and built larger, free-standing cities. However, ancestral ties to the sh’pont are still strong and the seamounts are almost always the center of life for most kels.

TEKMA: A special envoy, hired for the purpose of conveying a message of great importance. Tekma are one of the most elite of all em’kels, and one of the most demanding. The couriers must be of the utmost integrity and character, as they are usually entrusted with dispatches too critical to be sent by ootkeeor. The word comes from tekmetah, meaning “Arm of the Metah.”


The memory drug, given most often to the Metah, for the purpose of improving and enhancing her recall of facts. Extracted from the blood of the k’orpuh.

THOUGHT-BOND: The act of mentally binding two minds so that thought may be shared.

Attitudes about this vary among the kels.


A valuable, coral-like material that is native to the waters of Sk’ort. Useful as an electrical material and as decorative ornamentation.


An 8-player Omtorish game that involves the assembly of a complicated, open-frame pyramid structure in as short a time as possible.

T’SHOO: The feel of water flowing across one’s skin; a kind of ecstasy.


The Ponkti martial dance believed to have originated in the days before spoken language, as a means of telling stories and teaching children. Over the ages, it has become stylized and ritualized into both an art and a combat discipline, as well as a sport. It consists of an exceedingly complex series of body movements, including kicks, tail whips and punches, that must be performed from memory in exactly the right sequence, with grace and style, in order to win.

TU’LE: The practice (from the word metor’tule) of doing favors and giving extravagant gifts to friends and guests. Discretion, taste and expense are the canons of judgment in these ritual gestures of affection and indulgence. The root word means “frenzied waters.”


A verb form meaning “to go against the current.”


A verb form meaning “to go with the current.”

VISHTU: One of the oldest customs of the Seomish, the vishtu or companionship roam, is very much in the traditions of Ke’shoo and typically involves two people although there is no set number. Roams can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few days, even longer, with the average being a few hours.

Debate and talk is usually discouraged during the roam in order to let the physical beauty of the landscape work its magic. Often a prelude to some intense, emotionally draining activity, such as sexual intercourse, the fine points and protocol of a roam are learned by Seomish at an early age.

Key Words Denoting Important Water Conditions

EEKOOT’ORKELTE: Water of minimum pressure for life


Water with salt content too low for comfort or safety


Calm water, usually temperate


Water of rough, mixing currents, but good visibility


Rough, mixing water with poor visibility


Water infested with mah’jeet. Also called M’JEET.


Water of moderate turbidity, otherwise calm


Water with salt content too high for comfort or safety


Water of high turbidity


Water of moderate turbulence

ROT’OOT’ORKELTE: Water under extremely high pressure


Clear, calm water (archaic form)


Fiery hot but calm water


Ice cold, numbing but calm water


Smoothly flowing, fast current

EXCERPT: Now enjoy a sneak peek at the next Farpool story, entitled The Farpool: Exodus, coming to and other fine ebook retailers near you in the spring of 2018….


SpaceGuard Center, Farside Observatory,

Korolev Crater, The Moon

May 1, 2115 (UT)

Nightfall at Korolev Crater came abruptly, too abruptly, thought Percy Marks. He stared out the porthole of the SpaceGuard Center and watched the shadows drop like a black curtain across the face of the crater wall. Korolev was a massive place, fully four hundred kilometers in diameter, with stairstep rim walls and a small chain of mountains inside. Like a bull’s eye on a target, the crater lay dead center in the rugged highlands of Farside, forever banished from the sight of Earth.

Percy Marks watched the black creep down the crater walls and ooze across the crater floor like a spreading stain. Somehow, it seemed depressing…another two weeks of night with only the stars for company. Cosmic grandeur, my ass, he muttered to himself. Give me a beach in the South Pacific and some native girls and I’ll tell you a thing or two about cosmic grandeur.

Marks was pulling late shift today…tonight…whatever the hell it was. Tending the radars and telescopes of Farside Array, scanning sector after sector of the heavens for any little burp or fart worthy of an astronomer’s interest. The High Freq array had just gone through a major tune-up last week and it was Marks’ job to give her a complete shakedown for the next few days.

At the moment, she was boresighted to some distant gamma-ray sources somewhere in Pegasus…where exactly he’d forgotten.

Marks took one last look out the nearest porthole and begrudged the final wisps of daylight before Farside was fully enveloped in the nightfall. At that same moment, he heard a beeping from his console and turned his attention back to the array controls.

What the hell…

Percy Marks looked over his boards, controlling the positioning of the great radars out on the crater floor and the optical and radio telescopes that accompanied them. He quickly pinpointed the source of the beeping…Nodes 20 through 24…the south lateral array…was picking up some anomaly.

He massaged the controls and tried to focus the array better, get better resolution on the target. SpaceGuard didn’t beep without reason.

A quick perusal made the hairs on the back of Percy Marks’ neck stand up. The system displayed a list of likely targets, based on radar imaging and known ephemerides. He scanned the list, mumbling the details to himself.

“ Hmmm….right ascension 22 degrees, 57 minutes, 28 seconds. Declination 20 degrees, 46

minutes, 8 seconds---“ Just as he was about to consult the catalog, SpaceGuard threw up a starmap.

It was something in Pegasus. Nearly six thousand light years away. A point source of energy had just spiked. Probably a gamma ray burster….maybe even a Type I supernova, if they were lucky.

Marks studied the details. “This one’s a doozy--“ his fingers played over the keyboard, bringing all of Farside’s instruments to bear on the new source. The energy spike was showing up in all bands now: X-ray, gamma ray, infrared, even optical.

He stared for a moment at the brief flare that erupted on the screen in front of him. Must be one hell of a source.

Before he could decide what to do next, Marks was interrupted by the sound of a door opening…it was Max Lane, the shift supervisor.

“I heard SpaceGuard got something--“Lane was short, big moustache, squat legs of a former weightlifter, now going soft in the Moon’s sixth-g.

Marks showed him the readings. “I’ve got it designated Delta P. Big sucker, too.

Ephemerides point to a star we’ve got catalogued as Sigma Albeth B. Blasting out on all bands.

See for yourself.”

Lane examined all Farside’s instruments. Whatever it was, Delta P was a big gamma producer. He twiddled with his moustache for a moment. “Maybe we got us a Type I. You know, Westerlund had that theory—singly ionized silicon, thermal runaway, Goldberg radiation, and all that--“

Marks nodded. “I’ll pull up the spectra, see what kind of match we get.” The astronomer massaged the keyboard, calling up spectrographic profiles of previous supernova radiation sources.

“Anything in this sector before?”

Nada,” Marks told him. “She’s been dead as a doorstop for years. How many planets was this place supposed to have now?”

“Last I heard, at least two or three Jupiter-sized places. Check Planet-Finder…maybe we ought to run a radial velocity scan…see if anything else has happened in the neighborhood.”

They put SpaceGuard to work and the results came back in less than an hour. Marks superimposed the current velocity scan over the last one Planet-Finder had made a decade before.

Lane shook his head. “I don’t get it. Something’s missing--“ He fingered the absorption lines on the screen. “Should be a tick right there…that was supposed to be where the bigger planets were…what was that big one called?…”

“Storm, I think—spectral analysis said it was mostly ocean.“

“Yeah, that’s it. Wasn’t it here?”

Marks swallowed. “Maybe the whole shebang got swallowed. Supernova must have eaten it.”

Lane stood up and went over to a porthole, which gave onto a constricted view of the nearest arrays of the Submillimeter Interferometer, and a shadowy backdrop of Korolev crater’s steep craggy walls beyond. A triangle of blazing sunlight still illuminated the upper rim, last gasp of the lunar day.

“Maybe--“Lane shook his head, turned back to the consoles. “But this sector’s been quiet for years…SpaceGuard’s not showing anything. Now, all of a sudden, BLAM! Energy spikes all over the place. We should have seen something before…rising X-ray, rising gamma levels, something. Supernovas don’t just appear out of nowhere. They’re always burping and farting radiation for years before.”

Marks shrugged, staring at the velocity scans superimposed on each other. “If that signature’s not a micro, then what the hell is it? Other than a Type I supernova, what eats whole planets?”

The two astronomers both had the same thought at the same time.

Chapter 1


The Atlantic Ocean, near Bermuda

May 1, 2115

After the detonation, no one detected the small fleet of Coethi jumpships quietly withdrawing from the Sigma Albeth B system, having let loose a final volley of starballs, which had impacted the sun and initiated the deadly sequence of events.

Several hundred thousand Seomish, from all kels, had managed to emigrate through the Farpool to Urku…to Earth. Twenty million others had died in the End Times…the great ak’loosh. The Farpool had been destroyed…for now. The Time Twister, originally built and operated by the Umans of the First Time Displacement Battery, had now been destroyed, as had the wavemaker the Seomish had constructed from Uman schematics, to keep the Farpool going, to keep an escape route open for the doomed world of Seome. To re-create the Farpool now, another Time Twister would have to be built.

The emigrants (known among themselves as tu’kelke) had mostly traveled in lifeships and modified kip’ts to 22nd century Earth. However, some of the immigrants did not have proper control of their lifeships and wound up on Earth in different time periods…mid-20th century Earth, 16-century Earth, 28th century Earth and one small group in the Cretaceous period of Earth, just before the big asteroid Chicxulub struck, dooming the dinosaurs. None of these tu’kelke had any way of communicating with each other, or traveling, since the Farpool was gone.

In a small cave near the growing encampment of the tu’kelke at the Muir seamounts, Chase Meyer (still em’took-modified) found a familiar face in the form of Tulcheah li, half-Omtorish, half-Ponkti, working with other members of her em’kel to unpack pods and cases and make some kind of home in the dim warren of caves. They were glad to see each other and they embraced hard, first in the Uman way, then as Seomish, though Chase was only a halfling. Chase then invited Tulcheah out for a roam about the settlement.

“They’re calling it Kee’nomsh’pont,” Tulcheah was saying. “Kind of like ‘Little Omsh’pont’.” It had been named for the great capital city of the Omtorish, nearly destroyed long ago in a Ponkti assault.

The base of the seamount was a craggy broken land, pockmarked with caves, niches, folds, burrows and hollows, nearly four kilometers in circumference, blending into the broader Bermuda Platform, itself a flat-topped guyot thousands of feet above the abyssal plains of the seafloor. Over every fold and crack at the base of the seamount, small knots of kelke had built shelter, drawing hundreds of sheets of fibrous netting over the openings, carving out small tunnels, channels, warrens and passageways right out of the volcanic tuff of the mountain. The effect was to make the base of the Muir complex resemble a vast spiderweb or honeycomb of cells and caves.

Tulcheah pulsed the vast heaving expanse of the refugee settlement, noting how frightening the trip through the Farpool had been.

“We just made it, eekoti Chase. Our ship twisted and turned and shook and shuddered and we thought it would come apart. It was awful. Thank Great Shooki we were lucky.”

Chase could barely pulse for himself the extent of the congregation of Seomish immigrants

—Omtorish, Ponkti, Eep’kostic, Skortish, Orketish—they were all crammed together, beak to tail, in the bosom of the seamount and her surrounding hills.

“Yeah, sometimes the Farpool is like that. But I wonder: how many didn’t make it?”

At this, Tulcheah turned somber. “Perhaps a number beyond counting, eekoti Chase. It is written that when Shooki sends the great wave, the ak’loosh, many will die.”

They roamed in silence for a time, circling above the crude camps scattered about the seamount.

Tulcheah spoke quietly, swishing her tail back and forth against downdraft currents coursing down from the upper reaches of the mountain. “See how they’re already gathering themselves into kels? We haven’t even been here very long and the old divisions, the old conflicts, are returning. Even in new waters, we fight.”

“I guess that’s to be expected. It’s the same with my people. By the way, we don’t call ourselves Tailless. We call ourselves Humans. Get used to it.”

At that, Tulcheah smirked and bumped him playfully. “You’re both, eekoti Chase. Human and Seomish.”

And it was true. The thought of it made Chase both sad and proud at the same time. If only Dad could see me now, he told himself. His beach bum son has become a kind of intergalactic ambassador.

They soon ran into a school of Ponkti midlings, engaged in learning tuk moves and defenses from none other than Loptoheen himself. Tuk was the martial dance and close-quarters combat discipline for which the Ponkti had long been renown. Loptoheen had been the acknowledged master of tuk for as long as anyone could remember.

Tulcheah and Chase stopped to watch but it was quickly clear that the Ponkti wanted to keep to themselves.

Loptoheen growled at them. “Be off, kelke! There’s nothing here for you. And stop stirring up the waters too…these students need to concentrate.”

Tulcheah, who was half-Ponkti, barked back at him. “Litorkel ge, old Loptoheen. Calm waters to all of you.” There was a twinkle in her eye and she tried to stifle a half smile. “It won’t be long before your students can give you a real thrashing.”

“Kah!” came Loptoheen’s reply. The Ponkti school moved off and was soon lost in the chaos of the settlement below.

Tulcheah and Chase resumed their roam about Kee’nomsh’pont. It was clear to both, though unspoken, that even in this strange and difficult new setting, the kels were organizing themselves into traditional water clans again.

Listening in to the chatter, they soon learned of the rumors of a great roam being organized by the Metahs of all the kels: Mokleeoh, Lektereenah, Okeemah and Kolandra…a roam for the purpose of settling disputes and setting conditions for how the new settlement would operate.

Already big crowds had started to gather near the edge of the settlement, anticipating the start of the vish’tu.

“We should grab a spot, eekoti Chase. Get in position, near the front. The best spots will be gone quickly.”

Chase had other ideas. “Tulcheah, it’s not leaving for a day. Maybe more. Besides, I think I know a place on the other side of the mountain.”

“A place?”

“Where we can be alone. You taught me that, you slut. There’s more to roaming than just seeing the sights.”

“I thought you came by to learn how the rest of the Ponkti are getting along.” She stopped, picked up an old scentbulb somebody had left behind and sniffed experimentally.

“That’s not why I came.”

“I know why you came…it’s written all over your insides. A blind tillet could see it halfway around the world. What makes you think I’m in the mood?” Tulcheah held up the scentbulb and let its odors drift out.

“For the love of Shooki…that thing smells like a seamother herd…what is that stuff?”

Tulcheah sniffed indignantly at the bulb. “Home, eekoti Chase. This is all we have left…of home.”

“I’ve got something better than an old bulb,” he told her. Chase swam up close and bumped her. “Look, I’ve got to get back to Tamarek’s place…how about we—“

But she put a hand to his mouth, fondling his lips, the way she always did. “Eekoti Chase, you never change. Come with me, o’ great and famous traveler. I’ll show you things you never imagined—“And she slapped her tail at him, disappearing into a small cleft in a nearby space, a narrow fold in the rock, draped with torn shreds of fabric and fiber. It was dark inside, but the scents were strong. Chase followed.

From somewhere out of the dark, Tulcheah spoke. “Do all eekoti look so ugly as you?”

“Hey, this was some kind of surgery, remember…you know, to let me live in your world better. Normally, I’m just a stud.”

Tulcheah laughed at that. She nuzzled up under Chase’s chin with her beak. “You have funny words, eekoti Chase. You know about Ke’shoo and Ke’lee?”

As she bumped him again and rubbed herself along his side scales, Chase said, “Love and life…I think I understand it. You like to have a good time.”

Tulcheah pulled up and stared into Chase’s eyes. She had black button eyes, and they gleamed in the faint light. “You pulse anxious…no need for that. Just relax…these threads look like old man Terpy’t’s.” She smiled. “I’ve got an idea…here, I’ll show you. Take this knot in your mouth—“ She gave Chase an end of the thread.

Chase stuffed the filaments in his mouth. It tasted like rope. “Like this?—“he mumbled.

“Hold on to it and pull. Follow me… I’ll guide you.” Tulcheah took one arm and together, the two of them swooped up and down the hold, spinning and weaving denser strands of the frayed web, back and forth. It was erotic and sensuous, all the more so as Tulcheah rubbed herself against his sides with each cycle.

Blast this scaly skin…I’m getting turned on…can’t feel what I

The mat of fiber grew thicker as they made turn after turn.

Tulcheah asked, “Where is the other eekoti? Female is this one?”

Chase was in a heavenly daze and had to shake himself to clarity. “Huh, oh…Angie? Yeah, female. A girl. My girlfriend…yeah.”

“And where is this eekoti Angie?”

“Right now, I really don’t know. I need to find her. Back at Scotland Beach, I imagine.”

By some unseen signal, Tulcheah stopped the spinning and hovered on one side of Chase.

She nosed up and down his body with her beak, clearly looking for something, poking, probing, sniffing.

Then she stopped, looked up into Chase’s eyes. “I’m not familiar with this em’took…where is the ket’shoo’ge?”

“The what?”

Tulcheah laughed. “All of us have ket’shoo’ge…how do you translate this?…little lover…

maybe, small… em’too… love hold?”

“Hey, mine isn’t that small, if you’re asking. Hell, if I know…this skin is so scaly…I don’t really know where—“

Then Tulcheah found it.

Later, after they had coupled, Chase remembered seeing something on Nat Geo, a vid or something, about how fish had sex. Many females just ejected eggs into the water. The males ejected sperm. The eggs got fertilized…end of story. But some marine animals had specialized organs called claspers. That’s when things got interesting.

Tulcheah had found Chase’s claspers. The Omtorish, in their infinite wisdom, had designed the em’took procedure so that the Lizard Man that Chase had become would have claspers.

And it was clear that Tulcheah knew what to do with claspers.

When Chase and Angie made love, the best time for Chase was in the little fishing boat in Half Moon Cove. You had to have lots of blankets to make a soft landing. It was awkward at times…you had to be clever and inventive on how to use the space—but when the boat was rocking in the swells and you had the right rhythm…it was … really awesome!

That’s what Tulcheah did to Chase.

Chase found his claspers exquisitely sensitive. The two of them formed one body and drifted softly about the tiny hold, occasionally getting entangled in the webs, tearing them, pulling them apart.

Terpy’t won’t like that, someone hissed. More giggles and laughter. And bubbles. Lots of bubbles. Bubbles and claspers…that was the key.

Chase was in heaven.

So they glided and undulated and rolled and bubbled and poked and tickled and rubbed and squeezed and Chase thought he was going to die, the feeling was so intense. Thank God for em’took! he told himself. It was the first time he was really glad he looked like a giant frog.

Those wacky Omtorish really did know what they were doing.

They had been quiet, dozing for a time, when Chase thought he heard a strange noise, just outside the hold…a sort, of whirring, faintly whooshing noise. Tulcheah was still, drifting silent and asleep about the hold, so he gently untangled himself and pushed toward the opening.

He was so startled at what he saw that he cried out: “What the--!”

There, just beyond the opening, was a big eye. No, that wasn’t it. It was a face, grinning, leering at him with huge white teeth…it whirred and hummed and that’s when Chase realized he was staring right into the bow of a small submarine. The face was a paint job…someone’s idea of a joke, with its gaping mouth and outsized teeth, it looked like a great white shark painted right onto the bow of the sub.

The thing was maybe five feet in length, with stubby wings and spinning props at the end, a semi-transparent nose, festooned with all kinds of gear, including what were obviously cameras and imagers.

“Tulcheah! Tulcheah…get up…wake up!”

He felt more than heard the scramble of a thrashing body behind him as the female collided with his back. He could feel her breath on his neck, hovering just behind, shaking.

“What is this, eekoti Chase? A Tailless monster?”

Chase just glared back at the hovering intruder. “I don’t know…it’s some kind of sub….”

That when he noticed a logo and some reddish script-style writing on the side of the sub. He spelled it out under his breath:


Chase swallowed hard. The U.S. Navy already knew about the growing presence of the Seomish in the Atlantic. It had been a closely held military secret for months.

Now it seemed that others would soon know as well.

“Tulcheah, I don’t know how to tell you this…but I think they watched everything we just did—"

Like what you’ve just read? Download The Farpool: Exodus, coming to and other fine ebook retailers near you in the spring of 2018….

About the Author

Philip Bosshardt is a native of Atlanta, Georgia. He works for a large company that makes products everyone uses…just check out the drinks aisle at your grocery store. He’s been happily married for 26 years. He’s also a Georgia Tech graduate in Industrial Engineering. He loves water sports in any form and swims 3-4 miles a week in anything resembling water. He and his wife have no children. They do, however, have one terribly spoiled Keeshond dog named Kelsey.

For technical and background details on his series Tales of the Quantum Corps, visit his blog at For details on other books in this series, visit his website at or learn about other books by Philip Bosshardt by visiting

Look for the sequel to The Farpool: Marauders of Seome next year. Entitled The Farpool: Exodus, it’ll be available at and other fine ebook retailers in the spring of 2018.

To get a peek at Philip Bosshardt’s upcoming work, recent reviews, excerpts and general updates on the writing life, visit his blog The Word Shed at:

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