Author Topic: Part 9: The New Kid  (Read 7 times)

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Offline Daen

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Part 9: The New Kid
« on: June 20, 2022, 03:37:37 AM »
The trip had entered its tenth day now. He had forty-five qars clustered in or above the knothole. Grace, Strength and Prudence were taking a third of the day each, along with a few to keep them company, watching the terrain as it moved by. Despite his initial terror and subsequent oppressive boredom, Moss was excited. From their reports and what he could feel, he was moving about half as fast as normal qars could travel. Over a hundred thousand of the Union's soldier qars were underneath him, propping him up and keeping him moving. They worked in shifts too, replacing each other as they grew tired. A camp of sorts had been set up lower on his trunk. It was a good thing qars could carry multiple times their weight.

He'd done some calculations to help with the boredom. Based on water retention and consumption, he estimated that he could survive about twenty or twenty-five days uprooted like this. Though of course, the longer he was without sustenance, the harder it would be to grow back to his old stature. Leaves and flowers came easily, but roots took some time to recover. Interesting. How many other treqars throughout history, he wondered, had needed to calculate just how long they could survive without water or soil?

The radio had been left behind, but the Sergeant had sent him a couple of enzyme letters during the trip. Moss hoped that the grim soldier was starting to warm up to him at least a little, but suspected that he'd just been ordered to do so by the Chancellor.

The first letter had included Esta's address to the nation. In it she had given a brief summary of Trajuna's declaration of war, and then assured everyone that the Union would meet this hatred and aggression with all the determination and strength at their disposal. He supposed it was a good speech, but it included nothing of the qar queens' deaths. Most likely that was still being kept confidential. Briefly, Moss wondered just how many bribes had been necessary to make that happen, given how wealthy and powerful some queen-owners had been.

The other letter had been technical, detailing all of Noq's work they'd been able to dig up from his burnt remains, or assemble from his published works. Despite the macabre nature of its origin, the information was fascinating. Not to mention deeply complicated; Noq and his contemporaries had been geniuses. Moss only hoped he could live up to their example.

Moss had heard that desperation fueled inspiration, and he wished that would be true in his case. Even if a handful of queens had survived the genocidal trejun attack, the qar gene pool would be irreparably damaged. Inbreeding was a serious problem among such simple creatures, and earlier treqar generations had taken to shipping off eggs and fertile males to other colonies as part of trade deals to prevent it. In fact, wild qars had even grown wings in ancient times, flying to other wildling nests on instinct! Now that would have been a beautiful sight to see. It was a pity that domestication had bred that trait out of them.

It was up to him to replace the entire qar species. He would have all the massive resources of the Union at his disposal, but it was his mind that had to make it all happen! His and others like him. Esta had mentioned people in 'similar situations' to his. Presumably they were also being hauled like sticks to an undisclosed location for their own safety. He might be a weight on the backs of the qars below him, but the weight of the whole nation was on him and his contemporaries!

Prudence crawled down into the knothole and made her report a bit early. The terrain had gotten a little less harsh since the last report, but for some reason the army was slowing down. Hastily, Moss ordered her to get the other scouts into the knothole and hang on. It seemed they'd arrived.

This must be a grove of sorts. It was even smaller than Praska, apparently. Vaguely, Moss was aware of other qars in the vicinity approaching and being turned back by the soldiers. There were treqars there too, he was sure. They were arranged in a circular pattern around one in the center. Whoever it was, they were large- clearly multiple times his age, and had been here for a very long time.

He felt that old combination of excitement and terror as his 'escort' dragged what was left of his roots into an already-excavated hole, and then for some reason started attaching ropes to his upper branches. 'Felling' him back home had been pretty straightforward. It seemed they were going to use the same strategy to pull him back upright. The heavy treqar in the middle offset his weight easily, and suddenly he was upright again!

It almost felt unnatural after ten days of horizontal movement, but Moss was grateful to be still again. He'd felt sick while in motion, as if parasites had been chewing on him and he couldn't clear them out.

He'd already been instructed to grow a communication vine near where his old hollow had been. As soon as his escort located it, they dragged an artificial root over and connected him to this new network. Six people sprang into view instantly, most of them exuding excitement and anticipation. One was a blank slate entirely, letting out no enzymes of any kind.

The old one in the middle spoke first. "Welcome to the Arbormass, belhiera'torkalm'oss. I'm hen'kaysan'whenix, the Head Researcher here. Call me Aysa."

Her full name sounded familiar, but he couldn't quite place it yet. "Moss," he responded, extending a greeting in turn. "You've obviously been here a long time, but I take it the rest of you are like me?"

She sent out a confirmation of that, and one by one the others introduced themselves. Fera'xinta'bhorni, or Rax, was their mechanical expert. He'd apparently studied under the great Wold, a mechanic of great stature. Moss felt he was lucky not to have been killed along with his mentor. Rax was gregarious and outgoing, chatting him up for several minutes before Aysa had to remind him there were others waiting.

The next two came up together for some reason. They introduced themselves as Lars and Lens (no full names given). Evidently they were the strategic and tactical experts of this little group. They hadn't been targeted because they had nothing to do with design or construction at all. They were simply here to figure out how to use the newly designed machines for war.

Moss sent Grace out to get a visual of them, and she reported back with a confirmation. Lars and Lens were conjoined, having sprouted from the same seed and grown up together. They must have gotten here only recently, given how heavy they were. Moss had several brothers, but he'd always wondered what it would be like to be conjoined. A brother he could never disconnect with? It sounded horrible, but they'd obviously found a way to make it work. Did they share qars, or split them up evenly? Was one of them always dropping leaves everywhere and the other a neat freak?

The blank slate approached and introduced herself only as Char, the Arbormass' Combustor. From Grace's visual report, she had large-scale burns running the length of her trunk. Repeated ones from the looks of it, as the bark had grown back over some before being seared again. Char's emotions were clearly kept under tight wraps, and Moss couldn't sense anything at all from her other than a few short words of greeting.

Despite her reserved nature, Moss was fascinated. A Combustor here, in a grove with him? How did she train her qars to gather her fuel safely? How did she mix liquids in the right amounts? What equipment did she use to measure heat output and explosive yields? He restrained himself from asking for the moment, anyway. She was probably used to being browbeaten and insulted just for her association with fire. He didn't want to make it any worse, so he just let out a burst of friendliness and moved on.

The last member of their team was vaar'heyto'borka, or Tobor. He was the Articulator. Sometimes known as Greasers, his job was to make sure that moving parts kept moving. Towards that end he probably had a wide array of lubricants and softeners in his own workspace. Moss was just itching to get Grace and Fortitude over there. His own work was always running into walls because of wear and tear. Tobor might be his salvation in that regard.

Tobor was almost aristocratic in his bearing, unlike the twins' strict military politeness, or Rax' friendly torrent of conversation. He'd been planted in grove Heirach, the Union Capital, the offspring of two of the Chancellor's advisors. His love for mechanical work had been an embarrassment, it seemed, and a distraction from his studies and duties to take over his parents' line of work. Despite his obvious love for his new job, there was still an air of authority in his tone, no doubt left over from his upbringing.

Aysa spoke again after they were all done. "I know you must be suffering after such a long journey, but it's just temporary. Char herself only arrived a few days ago and is already well on the way to recovery. I was told you prefer to remain disconnected for long periods, but I'd like you to get used to staying linked. Your ideas are what brought you here, and people think best when they have other people to bounce ideas off of."

"I'll give it a try," Moss promised sincerely. "My home grove is many times this size, and filled with chatter and gossip, so I doubt I'll mind listening to you all by comparison. I'm here to work with the best, and I'm looking forward to it."

There was a ripple of agreement through the Arbormass, and even Char let out a tiny bit. Feeling some of his tension ease a bit, Moss concentrated on directing root and leaf growth in the right directions. There was still enough light from the Core to predict where it would rise again in the morning.

Unsurprisingly Rax spoke to him first, peppering him with questions about his designs. Moss answered the easy ones, but delayed on the others, and claimed he was still getting his standings. The other treqar accepted that with good grace, and retreated back to his work.

Moss examined the network now. The seven of them were here, and had to save the nation. Possibly the world, if the trejun president had been serious about his threats. These people were his family now. He had to rely on them, and to prove that they could rely on him.

There. The first tastes of nutrients and water were coming up into his roots from this new soil. Encouraged, Moss started taking enzyme notes of his designs to distribute to the others.