Chapter 28

The Tribes

The group followed Shawn down the hall to wing U. Everyone they crossed eyed Shawn suspiciously, but the fire in Ian’s eyes told them this was no joke. Shawn was effectively in charge and woe to whom might think otherwise. After 30 minutes of walking, they reached the wing, and found themselves in level five. Harp eyed Paschal suspiciously.

“Hey, the ground level was lower and I did not want a basement located above ground, so bite me!”

“Wait until tonight for that!”

“Kinky!” said Ian, “Can I watch?”

“You always do!” Harp said.

“Why am I feeling all hot under the collar suddenly?” asked Shawn.

“I can remove the collar, if you wish, or everything else?” replied Ian. “Maybe you are hiding a treasure under that uniform?”

“A treasure trail, probably, a treasure, that remains to be seen!” replied the poor Boy. “Are you guys always so open about things?”

“Yes! Why be afraid of ribbing each other? We have nothing the others have not seen yet.”

They finally made it to U490 and the Nurse, an old grouch, watched them enter suspiciously.

“What are you Boys doing here? This is Orc wing, and not a playground! Shawn, I will denounce your abandoning your station.”

“You old Bitch better change attitude right now, or you will be taking care of the morgue, as a customer! I have had it with your attitude! You believe because you were a Nurse in the old Kingdom that gives you the right to walk on everyone? These days are over!” thundered Shawn, as he stood facing the Dinosaur. “And it is Mister Director General for you, no more calling me by my given name, is that clear? As for your backup, the old General Manager, he managed to piss off the Atlantean Royalty and ended up as Fish food. I would have you added to their diet, but the Fishes probably would die of artery clogging due to your high level of cholesterol!”

The Boys that had accompanied Shawn were looking at the red-faced Nurse with smirks and grins that should have told her the jig was up. She tried to slap Shawn in the face only to find she was spinning and hitting the door frame with a resounding crack.

“It has been a while since I practiced judo. I thought I had lost my touch.”

“What a go, Shawn. I see the military training sticks!” said Paschal.

“Well, I was tutored by Sitar some years back. Under him, things stick like glue. I miss the long walks in the forest during the consolidation campaign for Enron’s Crown.”

“Nothing stops you from taking long walks in the forests, you know. We have moved just about every viable square inch of the Earth’s biosphere into tessaracts. Just make sure you are accompanied by a Wolf detail in some of these expeditions. Not everything is garden variety animal or plant-wise.”

Shawn turned on the Nurse: “Go cool your temper in the morgue. Loneliness in a cold environment, in the company of cold cuts, should help you realise attitude plays a big part in taking care of patients. These ones will not get riled by your temper, and if you ever manage to warm them up before incineration, I will have you on your way to sainthood!”

“Do we have many deaths since we left the Earth?”

“I do not know. I have been called to bring body bags to rooms on occasion, but it would be best to give me some time to enquire. What I can say is that those that die are old, probably from the pre-Magic era. I have not seen a Child die since everyone moved in Thebes.”

“I forgot. You just took the Bull by the horn. Enquire, as you say, and report to one of us.”

“Sure, Ian.”

“Ready for release of the Adult Orcs, P’Tarik?”

“Yes, as much as I will ever be. We should start with their parents,” as he pointed to P’Arrant, P’Rin, A’Sarek and A’Ferents. “Computer, bring down the selection.”

Thirty stasis chambers began moving out from the rows upon rows of canisters, much to the surprise of the eight Orcs that had accompanied P’Tarik.

“These are long-term stasis chambers. You spent a short time in them before being released. I doubt you remember much about them, given we did not stay long in the Hospital. You were much more interested in a meal than in your immediate environment!” said P’Tarik. “I barely remember my own emergence.”

As the two rows of 15 came to a rest, Harp opened their outer cover.

“Indicate which one contains your parent or parents.”

Six canisters were selected, as P’Rin and A’Sarek only found one.

“What happened to…?”

“Your missing parent may not have been your genetic parent, or he or she may be dead. The computer can only match genetic pairings. That is how we managed to regroup siblings.”

“But I had a little Brother?” questioned P’Rin.

“He is probably alive then, unless he ended up as food for those in the nest before we took it out. We will do our best to match the image you have of that youngster with those we have in other Tribes, P’Rin. We know very little about Orc society, apart from some of its less savvy sides. There may have been a process of adoption for youngsters who had lost their parents at an early age. Ian, can you take these two to the mental imager? We will have the computer do a feature match once we have a clear image of the missing sibling or parent. I will begin reanimation. Be back in 30 minutes for the final stage with them.”

“Sure Harp. Follow me!”

P’Rin and A’Sarek, eyes wet from misery, followed Ian to an adjacent room containing an imager.

“Okay. This may seem scary, but you will lay down, each in turn, in that tube. I want you to remember your parents, your siblings, and your family. The computer will create an image of each of them from your memory. It may be short or it may be long depending on how fuzzy your memory is. Once this set of images is built to maximum clarity from the composite images your memory has, I will be told to take you out. Who is first?”

P’Rin wanted to look brave so he volunteered, even if he was feeling weak at the knees. Ian gently lifted the Orc Boy, three times his own size, and lowered him in the tube, much to the surprise of the Orc, which had thought Ian puny and weak from his small size.

“Never judge on appearance, P’Rin. The cover will not be closed for this, so you can talk to us while we wait. Do not worry if you fall asleep, it might even help you get a clearer image and speed up the process. Close your eyes. And no, it is painless, and silent, once the canister has moved in place.”

Once the Boy had settled down, Ian touched a few controls and the canister, a modified type of stasis chamber, moved into place, exposing the head to a circular object.

“Okay, P’Rin. Try to imagine your missing little Brother… Remember what you did together, when you played with him, when you slept with him, when you ate with him, or went out to scavenge for food. Good. It is working. Can you see your Mom, now? Yes, I know, she is the one in the canister we have; it was just a validation. Go through all the members of your family.”

It took 20 minutes to run through the entire extended family, but finally, the machine beeped.

“We are done, P’Rin. Stay still while I bring the machine to its rest position. Sorry, A’Sarek, we will not be able to do you right away. I have to bring you back to the next room, in five minutes. We will come back here as soon as the parents are all out, and maybe your parent will be there to help you out in remembering things.”

“Maybe?”

“All depends on how they react. We reconditioned them to prevent any attack on P’Tarik or us, but anything can still happen. Tempers stay the same, even if some learned behaviours are removed. May I ask you one thing?”

“Sure?”

“We noticed the first Orcs we met all had P or O as starting letter in their name, you have an A?”

“You will hate me!” said A’Sarek, as she began to cry in earnest.

“Hey, if I had to hate you, it would not be because of your name, but because Orcs ate my big Brothers’ families! So what with the change?”

“A is for slave. We were slaves in the nest, female sex slaves! Z is for Boy sex slaves. My big Brother, before he was eaten, was named Z’Bart, and both males and females for their pleasure used him. He hated them and tried to kill the last one that tried to use him as a plaything. Do you plan to do the same?”

“Certainly not!”

“What about P’Tarik? He seems to have a lot of power, and he is entitled to use any of us any way he sees fit?”

“P’Tarik will not do that; he has learned a lot about manners by being in contact with the Royal Family of Atlantis; he would not dishonour our name by acting that way. Your time as sex slave is over. In fact, as soon as we are done here, I will write up a Proclamation banning the use of the prefix A or Z in Orc names and the suppression of the sex slave status.”

“You can do that?”

“Hey, I am the Heir to Atlantis, and Dad will go with what is fair, so yes I can. I am surprised P’Tarik did not do it himself. I will ask. Are there any other status symbols in your culture we need to be aware of?”

“U stands for food; some are raised for food from birth! It has no sex significance, since food is food.” She then shivered, and continued. “And H is for the Hunter-Warriors. They are mean! B is for nest builders; and G is the lowest of all, those that collect garbage. They are even lower than the U, because they eat the leftovers, not the U. C is for those that do fine work, and W is the Caste of weapon-makers, just below the H Caste.”

“Okay, that too is a goner. Let us get back to the stasis rooms, we will be late, and Harp is not known to be patient. While we go back, what does N stand for?”

“Leader of the Nest. P stands for Seeder-Breeder.”

“And O?”

“Nursery.”

The three returned to room U490 to see Harp open one of the stasis chambers, and a big female Orc begin to sit up, looking around a bit lost.

“This is the Mother of P’Arrant, guys. The other one coming out in a few minutes is his Father. What are their names, P’Arrant?” asked Harp.

“My Mother is O’Bront, and my Dad is P’Tufik.”

“Okay. They seem a young couple of Orcs. We did not find any siblings from genetics, but we may be misled by this approach, as you know. We will see what they have to say.”

“Go stand near the box, P’Arrant. Timor, accompany him, be ready to intervene physically if things degenerate.”

The Troll King, whom had been keeping rather quiet, moved forward. His size had grown considerably since he had begun pre-puberty. He was the focus of unmitigated admiration from the young Orcs, both male and female.

«When I think his testosterone growth spurt has yet to kick in… Iridia, the Fairy Princess, must have a death wish to sleep with him every night! Imagine if he shifted back to his self in a nightmare, he would smother her while rolling over!»

«Love is blind, Ian. We cannot afford that kind of dedication, but they can.»

«Sometime I feel like I am missing on something, even if I have sex with just about every Atlantean species by virtue of the obligation to bind the Kingdom. I have been offered service by just about everyone, even Timor and Iridia, but, at least for these two, I have told them to wait for their first Child, Harp.»

«We also told them the same.»

Meanwhile, Timor was helping the female Orc out of the stasis chamber, as P’Arrant looked on expectantly.

“O’Bront, I presume?” the Troll asked.

“Yes, and who are you? And this young one looks familiar?”

“I am your Son, Mom!” P’Arrant said, shocked his Mother did not recognise him.

“And I am Timor. This is indeed, according to the bonds of blood, your Son P’Arrant.”

“But he was much smaller…”

“He spent six months in a cell like this one, then it has been six months since he has left the cell and been on his own, O’Bront,” P’Tarik replied.

“Six months?”

“Six Moons if you prefer. I forgot our old calendar is Moon-based. We have adjusted to solar calendar since you went into this cell.”

“And you are?”

“P’Tarik, King of the Orcs.”

“You seem quite young to be the Chieftain of a nest, much less a King.”

“It is not age, but competence that governs the endorsement by Atlantis of his Crown, O’Bront,” replied Ian.

“O’Bront, it has been a year, a solar year, since you have last seen P’Arrant. He has been healed, his lack of food supplemented, and his growth pushed to compensate for the privations. What you see now is how he would look given his current age, at 13, with the first signs of puberty’s growth spurt showing,” Harp began explaining. “Unfortunately, we were unable to make you grow to your full potential, Lady, because you had passed that period and your bones had consolidated. We could have done something; after all, the nanobots can regenerate bones, but it would have taken a full year, and we did not want to spend that much time on Adults. For us, the Children were more important.”

“But I spent a year?”

“A month healing your body, and 11 rewiring your brain so it would function in this new environment without getting you killed. You learned a lot over that time, and you also forgot some other things. We saw to it, or else your initial reaction would have been to try and eat us, not talk to us. We kept the changes to the minimal so as not to alter your identity, but it was necessary for your sake and ours that some changes be made.”

O’Bront kept eyeing the two small figures, wondering why she was listening. Finally she asked who they were.

“I was wondering if you would ever ask. I am Harp, Prince Mage of Atlantis; to my left is my little Brother Ian, Heir to the Throne of Atlantis, and to my right is my Brother Prince Paschal, Great Architect of Atlantis. Beside your Son is King Timor of the Trolls, and beside him is King P’Tarik, recognised by Atlantis as sole King of the Orcs.”

“How come I cannot recognise the smell of P’Arrant on this one?”

“Because he keeps his body clean. I know water was at a premium at the old nest. It is no longer the case, and hygiene, both of the body and the mind, is vital for all since we live in relatively close quarters. From now on, it will be visual recognition only. We cannot let you get dirty and Flea-ridden. It would be too dangerous for the health of the community.”

“It will take some adjustments. Where is my mate?”

“If you are talking about P’Tufik, he is being readied for release. Get out of that chamber and come with me. I will let you verify visually that it is P’Tufik we are ready to release,” said Timor, as he lifted the female Orc out of the stasis chamber as if she was no heavier than a straw. “Come along, P’Arrant. You already saw P’Tufik. Are we ready, my Lord?”

“Yes, Timor. Releasing now,” replied Harp.

“Your Lord?”

“His family is our Liege Lords, to all of us, including P’Tarik, and that makes them yours as well. Lines of obligations bond everyone, and Orcs are no exception. P’Tarik is Vassal to King Harold, and by him, so are you. We are in their home, and owe our life to them. Search your memories. I am sure that the rewiring included implementing the memory of what happened some time back. Just consider this: we are all speaking Atlantean, and you certainly did not speak it before! I know I did not! I can speak Orc, but the complexity of this brave new world requires a finer, more precise language, and Atlantean it is.”

“And what makes all this legitimate? Stronger arms?”

“My Dad is very strong, O’Bront, since he is also an Ironsmith, but his legitimacy comes from the people, who made him King because he led them, proved his worth by his actions; done all he could to protect the weak against the strong; to terminate the actions of abusers and restore the right of the abused; given shelter to minorities, whatever their creed; protected all Atlanteans from destruction and given us a common purpose: to reap life and protect it from destruction. That is what gives legitimacy, not brute force. We had wars, lots of wars, but these wars were to restore order where anarchy reigned, to bring back the rights to those so deprived, and to protect ourselves from enemies both from within and from outside. Your own people, the Orcs, were our arch-enemies, until we realised what we thought as the ‘Orcs’ was in fact a substratum of the Orc population and that you were worth saving, minus that substratum that had so long been our foes.”

“Ian said it well; he forgets to mention his own legitimacy in this matter is due to the fact that he follows in the footsteps of his Dad, not because his Dad is King. He, like his Dad, leads by example.”

“We all try to follow in his Dad’s footsteps. He is an example in how to manage a Kingdom,” completed P’Tarik, as Timor nodded vigorously.

“We are Atlanteans!” thundered all present, including P’Tarik and Timor, much to the surprise of O’Bront.

A grunt from the now open stasis chamber brought back to attention the imminent wakening of P’Tufik.

“Lean over the top and verify he is P’Tufik.”

“I did, and he is,” replied O’Bront.

“Before you get your mate up to date on all the changes, I would like to know if you had other youngsters under your care?” asked Ian.

“None of my bloodline. My eldest Son died while P’Arrant was quite young, still to the breast. My Daughter was sold to another nest in exchange for females to breed. I have not heard of her since she moved away with the group of females to become part of our allied nest.”

“AI? Did we find any female that might be descendant of O’Bront?”

“I am sorry, Prince Harp. The closest genetic match is a female of similar age to O’Bront, possibly a half-Sister, and she was not of the same nest. They probably do not even know of their respective existence.”

“I see. I am sorry, O’Bront, from our study of what makes you whom you are, your Daughter could not be found, and must be presumed dead.”

“She died in my heart the day the Chieftain sold her to get new blood in the nest. Who spoke?”

“The Healer Artificial Intelligence, that is responsible for the maintenance of the core data describing each individual; he mentioned genetics. To keep the explanation short, it is a map of how your body is built. Each person has a unique map, resulting from combining half the map of the Mother and half the map of the Father. It is so precise we can know whom the Mother and Father of each of us are. It is how we matched P’Arrant to P’Tufik and you,” Harp explained.

“Focus on your mate. I need to talk with P’Tarik for a bit in private. Harp! Hold the next release a bit, will you? Paschal, accompany this Lady to the imager,” as he pointed to A’Sarek. “We will delay the release of her relative until you come back.”

“Okay Ian.”

* * *

P’Tarik followed Ian to a rest salon and indicated a seat near a small coffee table. He took a seat on the other side and eyed P’Tarik for a few minutes, making the poor Orc nervous and fidgety.

“P’Tarik, when were you going to tell us about the difference between O and A names and between P and Z names? And for that matter about the M, B, C, H, W, G and U names?”

“I was hoping these differences would be forgotten. I noticed that some of the A and Z names were very bright, and decided to make it clear this distinction was to go away by taking two A named in my Privy Council. M indicates an unmated female, they become O when mated.”

“That does not match what I was told earlier. She said Nursery?”

“Mated females take care of Children, hence the mix-up in small Children.”

“And what about the U named?”

“I tried to get a couple, but I have met serious opposition so far from the others.”

Ian’s brows furrowed deeply.

“I am surprised you have not taken some heads off shoulders.”

“My power is not rooted deeply enough yet.”

“Mine is. As of now, the prefixes go, by Imperial Decree. You are now Tarik, and all other class distinctions are to be abolished. Make it sure to the Orc community that this is not negotiable. Have I made it clear, Tarik?”

“Yes, Prince Harp, very clear,” Tarik said, quite aware he had displeased his Liege Lord and was skating on thin ice.

Ian produced the Proclamation, ported some red wax and the Imperial Seal, before sealing it and signing it.

“Thebes AI, record Imperial Proclamation #53898, dated today, and signed by my Imperial person, Prince Ian of Atlantis, to take effect immediately. Duplicate in as many examples as necessary to cover all Libraries and post in every Orc village in Tessaract.”

“At your command.”

«Let Magic record as follows: I, Prince Ian, Heir of the Imperial House of Atlantis, do proclaim this day that all classes of Orcs shall be abolished, and that prefixes marking such classes are hereby removed from record and from effect. Any person whom tries to impose upon another because of such prefix shall be executed by Magic the instant the act is attempted! So I sign and proclaim on this day! End recording.»

Tarik looked at Ian, wide-eyed. He knew the importance of a magical Royal Proclamation, and he was well aware that some people would suddenly vanish pretty rapidly.

“How will people hear the Proclamation?”

“Hey, it was transmitted to everyone telepathically with a powerful compulsion to abide by it. Even those in stasis chambers will be rewired to do so, during their wake-up phase. It would take wilful disobedience to the Throne to bypass the compulsion, and you know the penalty for that.”

“Yes. I have applied it myself. The H Caste will hate it and fight it with all due diligence.”

“The H Caste?”

“The Hunter-Warriors. But I thought you knew.”

“They will not, they were left behind in now overcooked Orc jelly. And I learned of the H Caste when we disposed of them.”

Tarik looked at Ian questioningly.

“We did not bring every Orc there was. We were not that stupid, Tarik. The Warrior class was utterly destroyed.”

“Oh! Thank the Gods! I was worried mostly about them, knowing I was not one of that Caste, I would have had to walk in a Magic shield all the time because they would have tried to kill us all rather than admit they had lost their status. Wait until I tell the others! It is going to be the party of the century!”

“Gods have nothing to be thanked for, Atlantis does. Come along, Tarik, we have to continue the wake up of sleeping beauties!”

“Ian, I will never understand you, you know that, do you not? One minute you could kill millions, and the minute after you can pull the most outlandish comment. Are you sure you are not nuts?”

“I do not know. All I know is I love nuts.”

Tarik almost fell off his chair in laughter at the double meaning, before standing up to follow Ian back to the stasis room.

* * *

“Good to see you back, Ian, What was up with that Imperial Decree? If Dad hears you used the word Imperial, he will give you a hiding! He already has heart burns at the mere mention of Royalty!”

“My arse is tough enough to take Dad on, especially when I put on Dragon hide. It is time Dad grows out of his illusions. He is an Emperor, whether he like it or not, because he is a King of Kings. We have been dancing around the forbidden word long enough! Anyway Harp, in order to include everyone in the Decree, I had to word it that way. And it includes the three new life forms we rescued. I do not know if they have Castes, but the problem got resolved. Atlantis Three is egalitarian in its foundation, and it will stay that way. If it gives too much heart burn to Dad, have him drink milk!”

Harp looked at Ian, annoyed.

“Have it your way, after all it is your arse, not mine!”

“I know. Resume reanimation,” replied Ian, closing the debate.

Meanwhile Tarik had explained to the others what the Decree meant, and that brought out an explosion of joy from the former A-Caste females and a lot of hugs from the others.

“I got more news, but let us wait for everyone to be out of stasis,” said Tarik.

It took two hours to get everyone out of the stasis chambers, but finally it was over. As the group was leaving the room, the computer beeped, attracting the attention of Ian.

“Yes?”

“The individual Arrant wanted located has been found. He is in a village in the Orc Tessaract layer.”

“Port him here.”

“Sending a Dragon to collect him, my Lord. I do not have porting capacity.”

“I see. Paschal will remedy to this. Who did you send?”

“Typhoon. He is best for this sensitive type of extraction.”

Ian blinked a couple of times, but then realised that, for the computer, task primed on rank.

“Okay, when Typhoon has recovered the Boy, direct him and his charge to my location. We should be in the conference room nearby.”

“As you wish.”

* * *

“What kept you up, Ian?”

“A package delivery, Paschal. By the way, how come the Hospital AI cannot do porting?”

“I never saw the necessity. There is always enough Mages around to do emergency ports. Anyway, it requires a lot of computer power and energy, and we were at a premium when I designed the General Hospital, remember.”

“We are not now, so I want this fixed.”

“Okay. I will get on it shortly.”

The Orcs were informed of events, and invited to search in their implanted memories for the facts. Fifteen minutes into the discussion, Rin spotted a gold Boy walk in, pulling behind him a diminutive figure that seemed to resist every step of the way.

“Ah! Here you are, Typhoon. Do you have my package?”

“Yes, Ian, but that package has been fighting and screaming all the way. It even tried to take a bite!”

“Bring him forward.”

A cute little Orc of maybe five or six years of age was brought to the forefront. Rin looked at the Orc Boy with ever-wider eyes and suddenly jumped out of his seat to grab him ferociously.

“Zone! Zone! It is I, Rin! I find you! Finally! I missed you so much!”

“Is it you, P’Rin? Really? Was I brought here to be eaten? I am not fat enough, I am not ready!”

“No, you were brought here to rejoin Rin and his family,” said Tarik. “What is your name, little one?”

“U’Zone, of the Larder,” replied a small voice, sobbing heavily.

“Henceforth, you are Zone, of the Royal family of Tarik. Let anyone who doubts this face me in battle!” said Tarik in a very strong voice.

“Zone’s reaction tells me Imperial Decrees have little effect on mental states.”

“So I see, Harp, so I see! We will have to monitor things closely,” replied Ian. “Rin, you and your family must swear on your life to protect Zone against any attempt to convert him to food. It is no joke,” said Ian as he looked into each of the family unit members with stern eyes, “for I am binding you magically to this oath. Not only does Tarik’s Royal Decree protect Zone, but also I will extend that protection further. Zone is now a person of interest for the Imperial Family of Atlantis and any harm to him is harm done to the Imperial Family. The U Caste is abolished. You heard the Imperial Decree in your mind. It is applicable immediately! There is no need for any Caste, therefore the members of the Food Caste are under special protection from the Imperial Throne of Atlantis until such time as the notion of such class has disappeared in minds and actions.”

“May I complement this information?” asked Tarik.

After a nod from Ian, Tarik spoke to the Orcs present.

“You all heard the Imperial Decree abolishing Castes. What you do not know is that the one Caste that would have resisted tooth and nail the abolition of its privileges, the H Caste, is no longer. It was utterly destroyed, to the last individual.”

“Even their offspring?” asked Bront.

“No. The minors were saved, but fully reconditioned. They will remember their Caste once had status, but they will no longer exercise any such power. If, later on, they begin to act up, they will end up dead,” declared Ian. “It is a Prime Directive of Atlantis that all are born equal. By suppressing the prefix, the Caste will eventually blend with everyone else. Their life depends on it.”

“As for your role in this as Adults. You will notice that the leadership of the Orcs is composed of Youths. They are the most flexible, the less stuck in customs, even if they still have issues. They are your future within our community. It will be your role, as Adults, to help the next Adults released from stasis to adapt to this change. The Children are the leaders of your community, not you. Get over the idea that it will be life as usual. Changes are coming, and you will adapt or be left behind. Tarik, prove me right!” ordered Harp.

Tarik materialised a pitcher of water for all to see, followed by a pineapple.

“This is what your Children will become in time. Mages. This is also the reason why Tarik is not to be taken lightly. This demonstration is so you will be able to tell others what you have seen. Tarik has a Kingdom to guide, and cannot spend all day doing demonstrations.”

“I think we are done here. Let us get the Adults to the villages. Note it is not a nest, but an apparently open-sky village. This marks a change from your previous lifestyle. As Adults, you will be spread around far and wide. Remember, you are there to teach your Trade, but not to govern the villages. Some of you will have to learn new trades, explore new avenues, because the trade you once practiced has lost its importance. Try new things, now is the time to be creative. Watch the Children; they have learned new trades already, and maybe you will find one that would fit you as well. Nest builders can recycle into homebuilders. There may be a need to maintain the nests we are keeping to allow the Orc community to keep track of its history, but there are few. Follow us. Typhoon, we are going to visit the Australopithecus next. Would you like to accompany us?”

“Yes! I have heard of them, but not seen them. It could be interesting.”

“Tarik?”

“As soon as the Adults get dispersed, I am free. Can I bring my Privy Council?”

“Sure. We will accompany you during the dispersion to prevent any issue.”

* * *

The dispersion went well, and the group, now comprising Ian, Harp, Paschal, Timor, Typhoon, Tarik, Biran, Navir, Dur, Zen, and closing the procession, Rockhook made its way to the tessaract layer that had been put aside specifically for the Australopithecus Regressi and its environment.

“Back to inside the oven!” said Ian. “This place reminds me of the Amazon.”

“It sure does, except it is not the same set of plants,” replied Rockhook.

“Where do we look for them?” wondered Typhoon.

“From what I remember, the one I saw seemed to relish banana, avocado, mango, papaya, and other fruits. Look for fruit trees.”

“I will be hard put to recognise a mango tree even if I collided with one!”

“Do not worry, when you collide, you get showered!”

“How do you know that, Rockhook?”

“I happened to collide with one when I was driving a personnel carrier in the Amazon, while we were working on getting things ready for survival after our crash. Mud can be slippery, and there was a lot of it!”

“Hey, guys, keep quiet! I think I just spotted one of those we rescued!” said Harp.

“How do you know?”

“It has an ear tag. Unless there was a genetic mutation and Gaia decided to tag, it is bound to be one we put on while they passed through the stasis chambers.”

Everyone came to a halt and looked up a tree some 35 yards ahead of them. There, hiding amongst the branches, was a group of Australopithecus Regressi: two or three females with Babies in their arms; a couple more with Babies on their back, a dozen or so Juvenile males and females, a group of older males on outer branches, creating a defensive wall, and an Alpha couple near the middle of the group. They were eyeing the Atlanteans suspiciously.

“Hey! They look like family!” exclaimed Tarik, as Timor kept looking at him and the group in the tree.

“Yes, you and them do look like close Cousins. Yet there are differences. They have a fine duvet, whereas you, like I, have a thick hair cover. I admit that given the heat in this place, they have the better deal of all of us!”

“That is why we brought you two with us. Maybe it will ease contact with them. We were a bit on the run when we rescued them, but we have some free time on our hands for the next three days. Let us try to establish contact.”

“All right, Ian. How did Yamato get the first ones to come close enough to get a genetic sample?”

“He offered food, bananas. That is an idea, Timor.”

“It must have been a hit! When I discovered bananas, I thought I had gone to Paradise, not that I had any idea of this concept at the time.”

“Okay, ripe bananas it is.” Harp created a whole bundle of bananas and ported them about halfway to the troop’s perch.

“Let us wait. The distance between Yamato and the first one never was smaller than 25 feet, or somewhat over six yards, which was a bit too close if you want my opinion. At 25 yards, we should be far enough for their comfort zone,” Harp decided.

“If only they could let out some sound. They are so intent on not being noticed they do not communicate with each other in order not to attract our attention. Let us sit down on these chairs,” Ian said as he materialised a series of chairs for all members of the expedition. “Flea and Insect shield for all as well, I am tired of hearing Insects buzz by.”

After an hour, the Alpha male slowly climbed down to the forest floor and walked on two legs in a relatively strange gait for a Human but a very familiar one for an Orc. He came to the banana trove, sniffed it repeatedly, and took one in his hand, examining it carefully before peeling it and eating the uncovered fruit, He dropped the peel on the ground and began collecting the other bananas before bringing an armload to the tree bottom.

The rest of the Australopithecus watched the whole process, keeping absolutely quiet. Once the Alpha male had collected the bananas at the bottom of the tree, the females were the first to go down and to eat some, followed by the Juveniles, and finally, one at a time, the Guards.

“Hey, that means the Alpha took the biggest risk. Then, after feeling it was okay, he kept taking all the risks and carried the new food to the troop. Finally, the females in need of the most food had the initial pick, followed by the Juveniles, and finally the Guards. If only some fat Politicians acted the same way!” said Timor.

“When they do not, nowadays, they end up as Fish food!” replied Ian ironically.

“Especially when they meet one of us!”

“Let us settle in. Preliminary observations have shown they go as a troop to the river. It might be interesting to see how they make their way from here to the river, that is about a mile off on our left.”

The Atlanteans, especially Timor and Tarik, were fascinated by what they were seeing as they watched the troop interact silently. Their initial observation was that the Mothers kept those that were breast-feeding on a very short leash, but that the youngsters that were older were encouraged to forage as a group. The Juveniles kept to themselves, but were always on the lookout for the Toddlers. Another aspect that fascinated the observers was the number of sexual acts of all kinds occurring between Juveniles, and between Adults. It became rapidly apparent that, within reason, age was not a consideration. Even the youngest Toddlers would have some form of sex play, imitating the Juveniles and the Adults without any intervention from any party1. It became apparent from the observations that apart from food, and taking it easy, sex was the most common activity, and was used as a way to bond the troop. All females and males partook to the activity, but those females in heat were reserved for the Alpha. There was no prohibition against incest, as would be the case in Humans, probably because they had yet to grasp the importance of maintaining a certain distance between members of the family and childbearing.

“It is remarkable we observe no deformities!” Ian said.

“Probably because those that are not viable do not survive long and thus genetic aberrations get filtered out,” replied Paschal. “In this environment, if you are unfit to reach sexual maturity, you simply do not contribute to the next generational pool. Thus, the deformity gets removed from the pool.”

“The Sun is going down. Harp, when you designed the tessaracts, you had a spark of genius! If I did not know better, I would swear I was back on Earth in a tropical forest!”

“Thank you Rockhook. Hey, look at that!”

The troop was regrouping near the tree trunk. Then some Adult males climbed down, and spread around its base. Once they had secured the perimeter, the Juveniles dropped down and took a defence line behind the Adult males, Then the Toddlers followed, and some Juveniles took charge of keeping them grouped in order. Then the females with youngsters came down followed by the gravid females. Finally, the last Adult males in the tree and the Alpha couple came down, taking position nearest to the river.

Once things seemed to be acceptable, the entire troop began to move as one toward the river, with the most vulnerable in the middle and the external defences extended to see and detect any danger. The progression was almost silent, mostly produced by the Toddlers that seemed to have issues walking silently on the forest floor. It took 30 minutes to reach the river. The Atlanteans followed silently behind, careful not to scare the Adult males.

“I wonder how they communicate?” Timor asked.

“I have been asking myself the same question. Did you notice how they seem to move their hands in strange ways?” replied Tarik. “It is ticking my memory, but for the life of me, I cannot fathom why.”

“They are not deaf, otherwise they would not be so careful during their walk. And they seem to be listening avidly for any sound. Just look at that one as he eyes the Bird that just began singing. If I can read faces, he is thinking the Bird is a bothersome loud mouth that hides dangers to him,” Paschal said. “Hey, he sure is not deaf. We are 75 feet behind and he turned his head to look at me.”

“Watch this! The Adult males are watching the river, not letting anyone get near! I will convert to a Parrot and go see from above!” said Paschal, as he joined action to word. A few minutes later, Paschal used telepathy to report what he could see.

«There is a predator in the water. No, several. Ah, I see! Crocodiles! They are waiting, barely visible from the shore, and hidden by the water. The only thing visible from the shore is their eye ridge. Add one more quality to the Australopithecus: he is not blind! I wonder what these four males are doing?»

As everyone watched through the eyes of Paschal, they could see four males bring near the river two tree trunks. One trunk was laid parallel to the river and the other one was set across the first, with an end shorter than the other. The second trunk presented a hole dug in by a generation of woodpeckers or other tree-dweller and was about 12 inches in circumference. Once this was set, Juveniles brought all sorts of object, from rocks to branches, and the Adult packed the hole with it.

“Are they preparing a fire?” asked Timor.

“I doubt it, they do not know about fire,” replied Ian. “Hey look at that!”

The Adult males had climbed on an overhanging branch and seemed to watch the Crocodiles intently. Suddenly, two of the biggest males let themselves fall from the branch and hit the tree trunk on its shortest end with their combined body mass. The result was instantaneous: the tree trunk rotated around the fulcrum and the contents of the hole was violently projected upward in a superb parabolic trajectory, hitting the river in hundreds of places, including the Crocodiles!

“Wow! They recreated a catapult!” exclaimed Paschal, totally taken by surprise! “Sitar will be peeing his pants in jealousy for not having seen that! Australopithecus Regressi has a sense of military engineering!”

“Sitar will not be peeing his pants, he does not wear any. They are getting ready to repeat the action. Look at the Juveniles bringing more projectiles while the Adult males are repositioning the tree trunk for the next shot! This is really fascinating,” Timor said.

The action was repeated six times, before the troop considered the water safe. The Adult males moved closer and eyed the turbid water suspiciously; they were well aware the Crocodiles might be lurking on the bottom.

«I hope they are not going to bathe! The Crocodiles are barely 15 feet off!» said Paschal. «Timor, Tarik, and Typhoon, move slowly amongst them and get near the river. I think I have an idea to establish a more friendly and intimate contact.”

The three Boys moved toward the river, following Paschal’s indication for the path to follow. By slowly keeping a safe distance with the outer Guard, they managed to reach the river without entering the safe zone. Once they had reached the river, they made progress toward the group presently trying to verify the security of the water.

«Okay. Engage in the water in plain sight of the Australopithecus troop. I want you to tackle the Crocodiles for them. Just throw the Crocodiles way down river, making enough of a splash to show that you are really putting up a fight.»

«Cool! Some exercise!» said Timor, as he took the lead.

A few minutes later, the Crocodiles took the bait, and found they could suddenly fly for a short while before crashing down in spectacular splashes of water several hundred feet down river. There were from 30 to 40 Crocodiles in that section of the river and, Lizards being particularly dumb, every one of them tried to gain a quick lunch, some more than once, before the river calmed down.

The Australopithecus troop had kept a safe distance from the river and watched silently the battle. Once they saw that it was over, and that the water was calming down from its frothy state, the Adults came close to the river to look at these new intruders.

«Get in the middle of the river, and keep watch on the Crocodiles. Do not look at the Australopithecus troop. We must look totally uninterested in them!»

«All right, Paschal.» replied Timor.

It took 15 minutes for the Adults to timidly join the Atlanteans in the water to watch for Crocodiles. Once this was done, the first to the water’s edge were the gravid females, followed by the ones carrying younglings. Then the Juveniles accompanied the Toddlers to the river and waited for them to quench their thirst.

It was during this stage that a fortunate event occurred. Paschal noticed that one of the young was losing his footing and was being carried downriver.

«Tarik! One young is going to drown. Intercept! He is 15 feet behind you, on your right!»

Tarik immediately began swimming vigorously toward the young, just as a Crocodile spotted the meal coming his way! Tarik gained speed and began using Magic to port him at breakneck speed downriver to intercept both the young and the Crocodile. His first objective was the youngster and he quickly covered the distance, standing breast-deep in the water and putting the young on his shoulders. As the Crocodile tried to grab the young by a leg, Tarik slammed his fist in the Crocodile’s muzzle, before turning it head over tail, and grabbing the Lizard by the tail to begin spinning on his feet rapidly. Three full rotations later, he let go and the Crocodile headed for the other shore, hitting a tree so violently the tree was uprooted and fell back in the jungle beyond.

The young Australopithecus was holding to Tarik for dear life. Tarik swam ashore before standing in the middle of the Australopithecus. His rather huge size dwarfed the biggest male of the troop by a long shot. Once he stood on the shore, Tarik tried to pry the fingers from around his neck, but he noticed the youngster just was too freaked out to even realise he was safe. Tarik sat down on the ground, and waited.

The Juvenile that had the watch for the group of which the youngster had been a member brought his residual charges safely within the core of the group and then walked to sit in front of Tarik and the still terrified youngster. The Adult males returned to their watch and one of them took Tarik’s station, even if it was unsafe for him since he had water almost to the neck.

«Send in Biran, Navir, Dur and Zen,» requested Tarik.

«I am guiding them to the river now. They should come in view in two minutes,» replied Paschal as he kept an eye on things from above.

Meanwhile, the Juvenile kept rubbing the youngster in the back trying to make the Toddler relax and release his death grip on Tarik’s neck. The youth tried to get the young Boy to look at his hands, but the Toddler refused to even acknowledge the Juvenile’s presence. The arrival of four more Orcs increased the tension in the troop but as they too took defensive position in the river, and relieved the Adult male of its precarious position, things settled for the better.

«The Sun is almost down. I think the troop is getting nervous and wants to move back to its nightly shelter, Tarik. What do you suggest?»

«I will stand up and carry him back to their night resting place. I see no other alternative. Stay where you are, Ian. Paschal, once we start moving, convert to a Barn Owl, we need nocturnal vision. Harp, we need Colibri’s expertise.»

«Okay. I am contacting him. He should be with us by the time the first Australopithecus walk on us.»

Tarik stood up and looked at the Sun and at the jungle, hoping the Alpha would understand it was better to get moving now rather than wait further. The message was understood clearly, as the Juvenile went back to his charges and regrouped them around Tarik, something that took the Orc King by surprise.

«Tarik, you are now an honorary Australopithecus!» exclaimed Paschal from his perch.

The troop left the water’s edge, with Timor, Typhoon, and the four Orcs of Tarik’s Privy Council occupying strategic positions in the rear of the group. Tarik kept eyeing the hand movements. The more he watched, the more memories it triggered dating to his very beginning in the Orc nest.

Suddenly he remembered the hand movements for ‘safe’ and did it in front of the Toddler’s face. He was surprised to see the first grin since he had rescued the young male illuminate his face.

«Hey! They use sign language!» said Tarik, all shocked by this discovery. «And it is still close enough to what I learned as a Toddler for me to communicate with that little one!»

«Can you transfer?»

«It is a bit premature. I have forgotten most of it over the years, and this seems to be a dialect, not what we used. Some signs are the same, but from context, I can tell you some have gained different meanings!»

«Okay. The lead of their defence ring is coming in view. Let us see how they react to us. Ah, they have seen us and stopped. I suggest you come forward.»

Tarik did as Harp had suggested and came within sight of his friends. He raised his hand and signed a welcome, hoping it would be interpreted correctly by the Australopithecus troop he was now friendly with. The Australopithecus Adults eyed the move but did not react adversely.

«Reply in kind!»

Harp, Ian, Rockhook, Colibri and Paschal, which had recovered his Human shape for the occasion, duplicated Tarik’s hand signals. Tarik then moved, still carrying his charge, toward the Atlanteans, which stayed in position.

“Sign the move to nest, Tarik,” asked Colibri.

“I wish I remembered how! I will combine ‘move’ with ‘home’ or ‘nest’ but I hope they understand the combination properly.”

“Let me try something then.”

Colibri began singing like a Bird of the forest, a so perfect imitation that the Birds in the canopy replied.

“If they are as intelligent and attuned to nature as I believe, they will understand I am talking about nest and home.”

Indeed the Australopithecus Tribe understood! They began moving toward a giant tree set in a relatively clear part of the forest. The Adults climbed up and checked all branches for predators, and then signed it was safe. The females were the first up, and then the Toddlers, followed by the Juveniles. Tarik climbed up, carrying the youngster on his back still, and the other Orcs followed suit. The rest of the Atlanteans took position at the base of the tree for the night, Colibri motioning for Harp to set a shield right around the clearing.

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