She drifted up quickly. “Time?”
“Approximately ninety minutes till emergence.”
She opened her eyes. In the soft light of Zeev's cockpit, holographic data flowed steadily. Sitting crosslegged in the Pilot's Cradle, she took a deep breath, held it, let it out with a sigh.
“Commence?” he asked, this time audio.
“Commence,” she replied flatly.
The launch bay in the belly of his hull powered up, its hundred cradles clicking and humming, at the far end the Stygian gray surface of the loading portal turning a shimmering bottomless black, all preparing for their 'guests'.
A micro-portal opened in Zeev's com array, sent a burst message, closed. He was very conservative about energy usage.
One hundred thirty nine light years distant, his fellow slider Johari received the burst, began powering up inside his own hull, reviving his passengers/cargo from their somnambulance. His Pilot-Wife noted this without comment. It was time to meet The Enemy.
When The Enemy first appeared, The Sisterhood had been at peace for over fourteen centuries. But The Enemy was not yet The Enemy at that point.
They were First Contact, the T'Kan'Sha, a migratory hive species that lived on massive generation ships, each hundreds of miles long, with up to a third of billion inhabitants.
Their ruling class were a type of 'male', a one ton hexapod centaur that looked like a blend of silverback gorilla and sea elephant, and exuded an air of instinctive arrogance.
That arrogance dulled when the discovered that the tiny Survey Service ship was not a local.
T'Kan'Sha drives pushed their ships through jump points, gravitational anomalies that connected the gravity wells of stars. In normal space they traveled at barely a quarter C.
That the Sisterhood had FTL capacity was only the first shock. That the Survey Service vessel was actually an intelligent being was almost as shocking as the T'Kan'Sha believed themselves master of genetic engineering. Their ships contained several dozen engineered versions of the basic 'worker' stock.
They engineered that stock using complex enzymes injected in the bellies of their huge queens, semi-sentient females the size of a blue whale. It was discovered much, much later that the males lobotomized the queens at birth and that they had been the original rulers of this race and the males only drones.
That explained much of their distrust and fear of The Sisterhood.
Each side had surreptitiously gathered a gene sample from the other and therein lay the greatest shock, the fatal one; Sister and T'Kan'Sha had shared DNA, roughly forty two percent in common.
The Sisters know such an outcome could only be the work of the Old Ones and therefor done at least a quarter million Solanums ago. This was not a First Contact. It was a Reconnect.
The Sisterhood could live with that. The T'Kan'Sha could not. They quickly fled the system, disappearing for half a Standard Century. When they returned, they did so with hundreds of thousands of their ships, now converted to Battle Arks. Now, they were The Enemy.
The Enemy swept through system after system, overwhelming all the Sisterhood's defenses, until, in an act of pure desperation, a Slider and his Pilot-Wife jumped into the drive compartment of a Battle Ark, instantaneously fusing thousands of tons of mass, the resultant explosion destroying a dozen Battle Arks at once.
Over a half dozen of their comrades followed suit and the tide turned. Even The Enemy in all his vast numbers could not sustain such losses.
But this was not a sustainable option for The Sisterhood either. A Slider and his Pilot-Wife took a few decades to train and mature together. Another way was needed.
Thus was born The Cult of Kamikaze, Goddess of The Divine Wind. The Cult began with mating immature Sliders with Elder Sisters – five hundred Solanums of age minimum – to create the Falling Blossom Squadrons. No complex flying was required. All they needed to do was a 'line of sight' jump from a launch vessel to a Battle Ark.
The Blossomships were a simplified cockpit, the Slider bio-implants, and the drive assemble, all encased in a shell of metallic hydrogen, the latter giving the entire mass a highly volatile nature.
As the Amazon Warrior Cults were fully occupied in running the rest of The War, the Elder Sisters were mostly from the Soft Cults - healers, teachers of Majick, genengineers, etc - who were not planning on Teershen, the Soul Jump into a cloned body that gave some Sisters functional immortality.
Only the very strong and determent tried that anyway and most failed.
These Elder Sisters were introduced to the Slider implant straight out of the tank and became more Mother than Wife. They were told their fate and the reason for said and were always happy to be of Service, as they were programed to be that way, something not done in the traditional Slider/Pilot relationship.
The poignancy of these relationships would be the source of much art for generations to come.
Zeev alerted Neela when the first 'guest' emerged from the launch bay portal. He welcomed the child like Blossomship and Neela welcomed his Pilot. They did this with each one of them. Except for their companions in the launch bay, Zeev and Neela would be the last beings they ever spoke to in this life.
Out by the Jump Point, a small disk-like probe piloted by a cloned wolf brain waited patiently. It had a mini-portal linked to Zeev's Com system. Intel had confirmed one Standard Day earlier that The Enemy was coming through that one.
That was because one Standard Week before, the Star Singing Cult of Lampatia had brought a sun to nova. Said event had shifted the entire Jump Point Matrix in this sector, forcing a huge Enemy fleet to change course into systems where The Sisterhood lay in wait.
In Zeev's belly, Elder Sisters cooed softly to their Blossomships, many comforting them with nursery rhymes. This soothed their own nerves as well.
Far out at the edge of the system, the Jump Point began to bulge. The probe signaled Zeev instantly and kept sending. It was unlikely to survive this encounter either.
Neela Commed their 'guests', “Comrades, the time is near. We honor you with our tears. Blessings of The Goddess be upon you. And we will see you on the Other Side.”
“And so it is!” they chorused back.
The launch bay door opened and the first Blossomship slipped out. He and his Pilot moved away from Zeev to make room for the next. This process was two thirds complete when the first Battle Ark popped out of the Jump Point, quickly followed by another.
Still everyone waited. The probe counted Ark after Ark. When the count reached five hundred, Neela gave the order to attack.
After a brief moment, the first Blossomship seemed to quiver in space, then vanished. More followed suit.
Zeev and Neela watched a real time feed from the probe. The light itself would not reach their present location for half a day.
An Ark in the center of the formation suddenly expanded and burst into a bright blossom of yellow/red light, fulfilling the unit's name.
“Bless me, Mother Kali,” Neela thought sadly, “It is so beautiful.”
The darkness of space was illumed by these blossoms for several minutes before the probe too died in the sheeting of hard radiation.
Tears ran down Neela's cheeks. Zeev flexed the Pilot Cradle around her in a hug like fashion. “I love you,” he whispered.
Neela smiled, but her tears still flowed.
© 2009 Michael Varian Daly