Doc felt an undercurrent of anguish, guilt and
then physical pain from Krilore. It
swept up his arm, almost causing him to jerk back from contact.
The Skipper moaned and he knew that Lee was feeling it as well.
<I cannot tell you how soon. There are so
Doc cursed softly under his breath. The Flying Sub can get us to your people in only a few hours once it gets here. I will accompany the captain when we go.
I must talk to Lee now>
Doc pulled away, checked Crane’s vitals again and then reached for the mike. “Mr. Morton.”
The reply was almost immediate. “Morton. How….”
Doc cut him off. Chip would be down here soon enough. “Let me know when the Flying Sub gets here.”
“I will, Doc.”
Jamieson put the mike back in its cradle and the turned to watch his CO. It frustrated him that it was the only thing he could do.
<Lee> Krilore called softly.
She called again and again.
Finally, Crane couldn’t ignore it anymore. “What?”
<I know you are tired and in pain, but there
are some things that I need to tell you>
She was right on both counts, so all he had been
able to do was doze. There
was something in the tenor of her thoughts, though, that brought him
more fully awake. Lee
wondered what it was and then it came to him.
She was also in pain and tired.
He wondered about that, then with shock, wondered if Krilore
could have somehow picked up the cancer from which Dr. Crawford had
<No, Lee. It is not that. It is something that you need to know before we go to Vinson Massif> She sounded anxious about something, as though she was carrying a burden that she needed to lay down or . . . confess.
<It is> she concurred. <Lee, I told you at the beginning how I could detect your thoughts even when you had not directed them to me>
He was wide-awake now, feeling the stirrings of something of monumental proportions as well as the heavy burden. Opening his eyes, Lee saw the doctor checking his IV. Maybe that’s why he was beginning to feel a bit better. Krilore had been right. What Jamieson had given him the night before hadn’t been enough. Then he saw the clock on the wall. Almost eighteen hundred hours. He closed his eyes again to concentrate on Krilore. She was waiting patiently for his answer, although that undercurrent of anxiety was still there. He saw flashes of skirmishes in space and feelings of terrible anguish and loss. City ships had been lost even after the defeat of the home planet. Yes, I remember.
<I believe that you have gained the ability to detect my thoughts as well or at least part of them. That is why you were able to understand my second in command>
Sudden revelation hit him. He should have seen it before. The dream, the vidphone communication, the flashes of Krilore’s past. No wonder they are so anxious to get you back! You are your people’s supreme leader.
<Yes, Lee. But there are things you haven’t been able to see or figure out. I think at the beginning of our . . . association, you called me a parasite. That is probably more true than I would like to admit>
Lee cringed. Sorry about that. I didn’t understand then. Then he remembered more of her thoughts and memories and another insight came to him. The hosts are android creations. I saw a difference between the hosts in the dream and the host of your second in command. You don’t have any biological hosts anymore…. Another insight. It’s not the biological hosts that have been inferior; it’s the created ones.
She sounded pleased at his deduction, but still, there was a sort
of undercurrent of . . . sadness? <Let
me show you memories of past events and perhaps you will understand my
anxiety and . . . that burden you were referring to me carrying>
How old are you, Krilore? Lee asked suddenly.
<Many of your spans of lifetimes old. I have had almost more hosts then I can remember> Then she paused for a long moment. <But none have meant anything to me until now>
What are you saying, Krilore? The thoughts were confused, his and hers.
<Lee, let me show you the memories, then if
you still wish to talk, we will. But
I think you will understand what I was saying after this>
Then Lee was in a very large room. There were at least two-dozen hosts and their **vreestrich . . . no, the **vreestrich were together on some sort of dais, gathered together in conference, all the pancake shaped bodies close enough so that they were all touching at least one other of their companions. Beyond them was a large view port or view screen showing myriads of bright stars. Panels blinked and chirped softly in the background and Crane knew that he was in the control room of a space ship. He drew his attention back to the gathering of **vreestrich. There were voices in his mind so clamorous that he couldn’t pick one out from the other. Finally though, the mental voice that he had come to recognize very well rose above the others. <We must have order!>
<Supreme Commander, we have to find new hosts. These are imperfect hosts. They are totally unsuited for our survival> Through Krilore’s remembrances Lee was able to hear all of the individuals who were ‘speaking.’ This one seemed highly placed in the command structure. He also seemed a bit familiar. <We need hosts who have enough sentience to be capable of independent warfare and survival, and yet limited enough to be controllable>
<Any creature that has the will to fight for more than mates is sentient enough to feel pain, anxiety and resentment over its role as our hosts. That is a very dangerous alliance> This was another telepathic voice, one that Crane didn’t recognize.
<He was my . . . mate. He is no more now> Krilore interjected. <He was killed in a great battle with our enemies in which almost half of our people were butchered. Neelissin was instrumental in saving the other half of us before he died>
The remembrances continued. <But we will control that sentience. They will be grateful for our leadership> the first commander spoke. Lee almost snorted, then sobered when he thought of all the dictatorial leaders his people had rallied around and supported.
<That is Trinish and you spoke to him on your vidphone> Krilore interjected again. Now Lee understood why he had felt an instinctive dislike for him earlier.
<They will resent us, just as the . . .> Here there was an expletive nickname for the enemy of the **vreestrich. <. . . did!> Krilore said.
<I have to agree. If we find a host species among the stars, they must be aware of what they are agreeing to. They will inherit more than our science and technology. They will have to be willing to be….> Neelissin paused. <We must all be willing to be partners>
<Hosts be partners? You have become star crazy all those hours in your scout ship!> Trinish said derisively. However long it had been since this meeting took place, time hadn’t mellowed the **vreestrich commander.
<No, I think it is our only way of survival now that our planet has been destroyed and we are vagabonds. We have to either find an understanding race who will partner with us or create the technology to build better hosts> Neelissin said decisively.
<To open ourselves up to a “partnership” with hosts is lunacy! It’s dangerous and self-destructive! No, we must have control, total and absolute of any hosts we use> Trinish declared.
<We will vote> Krilore announced.
<Each ship commander will voice their decision and the central
leaders will place decisions as well>
Lee had the uncomfortable feeling that he knew
what the decision was going to be.
He also figured the main reason for the **vreestrich visit. The vision faded and he pondered what he had seen.
<Yes, Lee, it was decided that we would look among the planets for suitable new hosts. When we came to your planet, and studied it from space, Trinish seemed to think there is viability in your race. He felt your people were on the path to self-destruction anyway and would welcome our tempering reason….>
And that is the other reason that the Admiral
and his companions were transported to the other ship?
To be studied? He felt anger trying to force its way to the front and
center, but he squelched it. Anger
wasn’t going to help. Although
he had been able to read some of Krilore’s thoughts and memories, she
had easily suppressed this information and kept it from him.
<Thank you for continuing to listen. Yes, Lee, Trinish seems to think we have found the right choice here on your planet, despite our ship’s problems with your atmosphere. As for myself, I had serious doubts from the beginning. I felt as Neelissin did, but even the Supreme Commander has to follow the decisions made by a full council>
Lee thought about that a moment. So you’re like the Queen of England, plenty of status,
but you’re not an absolute ruler.
Lee felt her puzzlement and elaborated as best as he could.
<Yes, I suppose so, except I am not a
figurehead. I can decide
and act, but I can also be overruled>
So we could go back to that mountain camp of
yours and this council could decide that I make a perfect host for you,
despite all the trouble that we’ve been having adapting to one
<Yes, they could.
That is why your making the dismissive sign was so very important
. . . and so dangerous. Especially
when it was obvious that you were not only speaking for me, but also
interjecting comments of your own.
It showed that you and I had a partnership, more of a real
symbiosis rather than me being the only one benefiting from the
arrangement. As you had
said at the beginning, a parasite>
I was feeling so bad right about then, that I
was ready to, um, make a human dismissive sign to Trinish, one not quite
so polite as yours. Lee
thought a moment. Yes, he
might have given some of Trinish’s followers ammunition against
Krilore. What I don’t
understand is how Trinish could figure humans would be such good hosts
when we aren’t really that compatible.
Look at all the problems we’ve had.
I know that you’re in pain, too.
Apparently, it’s only Doc’s square meal in a bottle that’s
keeping me—and you—going at all.
She seemed puzzled a moment and then seemed to understand his last remark. <Our scientists have been able to work past that problem with a variety of bio-chemical substances that make the host more compatible> Krilore said sadly. <But that is not the issue in this case, I think. That’s not the entire reason for the incompatibility>
Lee didn’t pick up on her last statement. He had focused on something she had said a moment ago. You had serious doubts? What about now? How do you feel about all of this now? While he thought that she still didn’t go along with the idea, he remembered her earlier caustic comments about human’s warlike tendencies. Sounded like something Trinish would love. Maybe Attila the Hun had a symbiot working with him, Crane thought caustically. Thankfully, Krilore ignored his thoughts when she answered.
<I see so many things so much better now, but I have not been able to sort through all of my thoughts in order to come to a cohesive conclusion>
You’re talking like a college professor, or rather the supreme commander. This is Lee, you know—the person who’s been toting you around for the past day and a half. I realize that thirty-six hours isn’t much time to get real acquainted, but….
<It’s been more than enough time….>
She cut off her thoughts like a switch and all Lee could feel was her increased anxiety and pain. Almost immediately he could feel the pain in his own body and he bit his lip to try to keep from crying out. This was like that brief time in Admiral Nelson’s cabin, but it was much more powerful and lasted a little longer. He must have cried out, because next thing he knew, Doc was hanging on to him, trying to keep him from falling off the exam table.
“Skipper! Lee, can you hear me?”
The pain, as before, subsided quickly, but it left him shaking. He opened his eyes to see Doc studying him intently, his expression worried, bordering almost on panic. Lee didn’t feel quite as debilitated as before and could only assume that it was due to the high test IV he was receiving. “Someone get the license of that truck?” he murmured.
Doc smiled softly. “I guess the B-12 helped. You’re at least coherent enough to make jokes. How do you feel?”
“I feel fine,” Crane answered, sitting up. Doc was still holding on to him and Lee was glad. It took him a moment to feel oriented. “Krilore and I still need to conference some more if she’s feeling up to it.” Jamieson just nodded.
<I am feeling a little better, Lee, thank
She still sounded shaky, though, but Doc interrupted before he could say anything.
“Did she tell you?” Jamieson asked.
“Told me that some of her staff is eyeballing the human race to use as hosts,” Crane replied. There was something about Doc’s expression that told him he had made a wrong guess. “Is that what you mean?”
“Using humans for hosts?
Is that what they’re here for?” Doc said angrily.
It was then that Lee noticed Chip standing in
Doc looked almost ready to explode.
“Ask Krilore about her replication, or was that just some kind
of ploy to get rich and fat on your body?”
Crane gathered what Doc said, now remembered
Krilore’s statement about incompatibility and felt his mind reeling.
He saw Chip turning pale and realized that his friend had to be
coming to the same conclusion. There was no way; absolutely no way, Lee thought.
He said as much out loud.
“Krilore, what is that other reason for our biological
incompatibility? And what
did Doc mean about replication? Tell
me you’re not having a . . . uh, baby!”
<Yes, in your vernacular, I am having a baby although it is not exactly the same. It is mine and Neelissin’s offspring. As I explained to Doc earlier, it wasn’t supposed to happen now, Lee. This is a dangerous time—for me as well as for you>