Chapter 1 — AMAZING
The bright blue sun of the dymba home world made the waves on the beach below glisten with cobalt splendor. Riniana Tiana drank in the glorious sight from where she stood on the escarpment of the plateau. She whirled, spinning and spinning, just to drink in the blues of the grasslands on one side and the wetter blues of the ocean on the other. Already it had been a perfect day, and now the evening would have sailing.
“The days are so long here, Rinia mother,” she said, pausing her whirling dance. “I’m so sleepy, but I wish I didn’t need to take a nap so I wouldn’t fall asleep on the sailboat. It seems a shame to waste this lovely day sleeping.”
Rinia mother swished her tail, cracking it in amusement. “From what I’ve heard, my daughter, the nights are not to be missed either. They say that at night, when the calm comes to the ocean, the stars are so bright when they reflect from the water you feel you are sailing through space.”
“May Darmien and Amelie come too? I bet dymba would like to sail. It’s too bad they don’t have opposable thumbs. But, acta vila! They can jump. They jump even higher than us, and I thought nii were the best jumpers ever.”
Riniana Tiana whirled again, soaking in the blues while the sun still shone. “Darmien and Amelie showed me and Telonia Tiana a jumping game. It was amazing! They both run at a cliff and jump at it so they bounce off together and go even higher. Then they link their front legs and turn so their back feet come together—WHILE THEY ARE IN THE AIR—and push off each other. Whoosh, they shoot away, spinning like tops. Then they land in the grass. It was fissionous! Telonia Tiana and I tried it, and we took a while to get it right, but we did. Still, we couldn’t go as high as they did, but we spun faster. Then Amelie and I tried it, and she pushed me SO FAR. It was like LAUNCHING! ESCAPE VELOCITYYYY!”
She stopped spinning for moment and turned to Rinia mother again. “Well?”
“I will ask the herd representative if that would be acceptable, my daughter, but they may not say yes. The herd is protective of their young and the ocean is an unknown environment for them. Also Darmien and Amelie might not be comfortable getting out in all that water with no grass nearby.”
“Pfhibbt!” Riniana Tiana snorted like a dymba. “I don’t think they would be afraid. Dymba are great swimmers. We played in the waves for ever so long yesterday. Can we take a nap here? The grass is soft, I’m ever so tired, and the breeze feels AMAZING.”
“I suppose that would be fine,” Rinia mother said. “I’m sleepy too. Rinia father and I had a productive discussion with the herd council, but it was also long. Dymba take their time deciding. Why don’t you pick a spot for us? I’ll wake us up when it’s time to go meet Rinia father and Telonia Tiana for sailing.”
“I like this place here,” Riniana Tiana said. “This rock blocks the wind just right, and I can watch the waves until I fall asleep.”
“Then here it will be,” Rinia mother said, linking tails with her daughter.
“Oh yes! Spin me and throw me far before we sleep. That will be perfect!”
“One time, but we move away from the cliff first. Even really good jumpers like you and Amelie might not enjoy landing after that much of a drop.”
The tail throw was AMAZING too, but so was being held from behind by Rinia mother and watching the cobalt waves dashing on the rocky beach. “Best day ever,” she breathed, wrapping her tail around Rinia mother’s leg and closing her eyes.
“Is it time yet?” she tried to say. Muffled voices, came from around her, but she couldn’t understand what they were saying. It must be time for sailing soon though. It was ever so dark. She hoped the sky wasn’t so cloudy that they couldn’t see the stars because she wanted to feel like she was flying through space without a ship.
The sound of voices continued, but they were just making nonsense sounds. Something covered her eyes. Not only her eyes, but every bit of her, as if she were wrapped in a snug blanket. THAT was not a happy thing, and she didn’t think it was FUNNY! If Telonia Tiana had rolled her up in something, she had better run!
Riniana Tiana fought to get her hands to her face. The nonsense noises continued, but the stuff wrapping her was getting looser, wetter. At last, one of her hands broke through, and she reached up to tear the stuff away from her eyes. At least she could breathe through the stuff. She wasn’t sure she had been a few seconds ago. Someone was helping her, making reassuring sounds, but they weren’t speaking any language she knew. IT WAS SCARY! Maybe someone BAD had taken her away from Rinia mother, but Rinia mother was VERY strong. Riniana Tiana didn’t understand how that could happen on the dymba homeworld.
She could almost reach her face. With all her strength, she heaved, and her arm broke through to the elbow joint. With her fingers, she snagged the soggy material covering her face, ripping a chunk of the stuff away. Somehow, pieces had worked into her mouth, and she spat them out. As she pulled at the material, something else came free that had been stuck in her nose. At last, her lower face was clear.
“IF YOU DON’T LET ME GO, RINIA MOTHER WILL KILL YOU… TWICE, AND I WILL BE GLAD.”
The voices grew silent. There, she had scared them. Now they would let her go.
“Symbiana,” said a female voice speaking nii soft and clear. “Only hold still a moment and I will get the crèche to the end of its release sequence.”
“My name is Riniana Tiana, not Symbiana. Symbiana doesn’t even MEAN anything. You have the wrong sentient, now LET ME GO!”
“I can’t get you out until the crèche SHUTS DOWN. Now hold still or you might hurt yourself.”
Riniana Tiana stopped struggling for a moment, the voice sounded almost like Rinia mother’s. A crèche? But those were just experiments. Nobody had used one yet.
Was I dead?
“Now keep your eyes closed, so the reagent doesn’t get in them or it will sting.”
“Yes, healer,” Riniana Tiana said. “I apologize. I did not know what was happening.”
Another voice spoke, but, once again, the words meant nothing to her.
“What planet is your assistant from, healer? Could you …” She sniffed to detect the odor of the gender.
Testosterone, a male mammal.
“… ask him to speak a language I know?”
The healer said something in the strange language.
Liquid continued spraying; Riniana Tiana felt it through the stuff that wrapped her skin now. The stuff was turning from a fabric to a gel. The liquid the healer was soaking the material with now hit her skin directly.
“Is my family…?” Before she could finish the question, the fear of an answer pushed it back down.
Gentle fingers wiped at her face and a warm trickle of water poured over her head and down her body. The trickle changed to a stream and with it, the delicate scrubbing of a soft brush massaged her skin like the tongue of a shepherd cat. The sensation was soothing, and right now, she needed that…, and she needed Rinia mother.
“You can open your eyes now,” said the voice of the female nii healer.
Riniana Tiana lifted gummy eyelids and blinked.
“Keep your eyes open while I rinse them.” The healer’s voice was clear though her image was still blurry.
Salty water dripped into Riniana Tiana’s eyes, and she blinked to get the gummy stuff out of her eyelids. The healer stopped dripping the water in her eyes, and her face swam into clarity. The healer looked almost like Rinia mother, but her smell was different in a few markers.
“Are you one of my family?” Riniana Tiana said.
“I am. My name is Senana Tiana, I am a fleet naval captain and ambassador to one of the governing bodies of the planet Earth, and you and I are branch sisters.” With her chin, she pointed at the male humanoid. “This is Edward, a symbiont partner of another of our branch sisters. His species calls themselves yshoomahn. What is the last thing you remember before you woke?”
Riniana Tiana answered as she looked around the white-tiled room and at the pale-skinned yshoomahn standing by the healer. “I was on the dymba home-world where Rinia mother and Rinia father had been assigned as ambassadors to the dymba herd. Telonia Tiana and I met Darmien and Amelie and we played a jumping game. Then Rinia mother and I walked back to camp. We decided to take a nap before sailing in the evening when I would get to see stars reflecting in the water so it would be like sailing through space.”
“You were almost five cycles old then. It will be necessary to examine your brain where the memory crystal is stored so I can understand why that is all you remember. Do I have permission to do that?” she said, taking a step forward. But, she stopped when Riniana Tiana held up a hand.
“First, tell me where my family is. What happened? Why aren’t they here? What is a branch sister, anyway? You smell like family, but I’ve never heard of you.” Riniana Tiana pushed herself to a sitting position on the platform.
“I will explain. Riniana Tiana, your last memory of that day on the dymba home-world was long ago. Crèche technology was still in its early stages and had never been attempted yet. The memories you have now are from another of our branch sisters. An older branch sister builds your body from their own with advanced cloning techniques and nurtures that body in a crèche like the one you are sitting in now. They transfer their memories to the younger branch sister with a memory crystal. This we do to save centians of valuable memory experience. It is important to save the knowledge and skills because we have been at war with a deadly foe for over ten centians.”
“Are Rinia mother and Rinia father still alive? What about Telonia Tiana and everyone else I know?”
Senana Tiana’s scent changed to let a hint of troubled spirit leak through, but it recovered in a moment, leaving behind only a hint of worry. “I do not know, Riniana Tiana. It is possible. Our path has been severed from our people for over a centian. We came to this world to fight the enemy of the Nii Confederacy I mentioned. Rinia mother and Rinia father and the rest of our family may have branches still surviving, but I do not know. I hope someday we will find them alive and well, with the war at an end. Do I have permission to examine you now?”
Riniana Tiana thought, fighting to keep her feelings under control. What she had to do now was make the right decision. Rinia mother and Rinia father were not here to look after her, but she had what they had taught her. “You may examine me, but you must change nothing without asking me first. Do you acknowledge this stipulation?”
“I acknowledge; I will change nothing without your permission.”
“Proceed,” Riniana Tiana said, lying back on the platform.
Senana Tiana stepped forward and grasped Riniana Tiana’s head in a confident brain-scanning hold. The filaments from beneath the healer’s fingernails extended into Riniana Tiana’s nasal passages and higher, tickling as they went. Riniana Tiana held still with the control she’d been taught from her earliest cycles. Her thoughts still swirled, considering everything she’d heard, but she had shunted her emotions into a holding place. Would it hold until she had time to deal with them? Not knowing about her family was causing her stomach to jump despite the lockdown.
A few moments later, her branch sister’s filaments retracted from her brain and returned, once again.
“The connection is still solid,” said Senana Tiana. “But at your physical age, the synapses could not handle the amount of information stored there. That would not have been an issue if your body had gone through a longer period of maturation before we triggered the crèche to wake you. Your branch sister had to make modifications to the crystal for it to hold all her memories. Ten centians of memory was more than the original crystal was designed for. She had no way to test the interface. I can put you to sleep and adjust the neural network so the memories can download. It should not be too difficult.”
“Negation,” said Riniana Tiana. “Negation, negation, negation.”
“Would you deprive your people and their allies the value of her memories?”
Riniana Tiana sat up again. “Are we still at war on this planet, branch sister?”
Senana Tiana hesitated, folding her hands in front of her. “Not right now. The situation is unstable, but the enemy we pursued here has been neutralized.”
“Will these memories disappear from the crystal if I decide later to let you make the changes?”
“What will happen if the synapses are left alone?”
“You may experience more memories returning, at a slower rate, as your brain matures, though it would need to be in sleep cycle for it to happen. It will come a bit at a time.”
“But if you return all the memories now, I will not be me anymore. I will be the person who made the memory crystal. All that will be left of me are the few moments of memories from the things now happening.”
“But I,” she pointed to her head, then her heart, “will be gone.”
“Strange,” said Senana Tiana. “I don’t remember being such a philosopher when I was your age.”
“Well you didn’t go through what I just did either, did you? How would you have had the chance? Did anyone ever threaten to erase you when you were my age?” She pulled her lips back from her teeth, defiance.
“I respect and abide by your decision as a sentient being,” Senana Tiana said. Then, she turned to the yshoomahn, but hesitated, turning back to Riniana Tiana. “Edward does not speak nii, so I will need to speak to him in his language.”
Riniana Tiana jerked her chin forward to give consent.
Senana Tiana spoke to the yshoomahn Edward for some time. Edward’s odor faded into sadness and the exchange grew louder as water trickled from his eyes. With a deep groan, he turned and ran from the domed white-tiled room.
“What did he say?” said Riniana Tiana. “Why was he upset?”
“Because he misses the person who made the memory crystal very much.”
“And, what did he say?”
“That is not mine to tell you.”
“I will just learn to speak his language then I will know what he said.”
“Perhaps by then you will understand why he said what he did.” Senana Tiana’s dark eyes regarded her with calm resolve.
“Where did she go? The one who made the crystal. You spoke like she was still alive.”
Then water filled Senana Tiana’s eyes too, but she swiped it away. “She had her reasons. They are not mine to tell either.”
Riniana Tiana paused. It was clear something not happy had occurred. She would wait. Learning the reasons for not happy things was almost never rewarding.
“Come, sister,” Senana Tiana said, holding out her hand. “You must be hungry.”
“It is true,” Riniana Tiana said.
“Also, I remember loving music at your age almost as much as I do now. Would you like to see and hear the most wonderful musical instrument in the universe?”
“YES!” she shouted. “Is it as AMAZING as sailing on the ocean at night on the dymba home-world?”
“When that memory comes to you then you can judge for yourself,” Senana Tiana said then made a musical noise that breathed of joy. Her fragrance became even more amazing as her mood markers grew lighter.
“Oh! What was that you did? It made you happier. Was it a kind of song?”
“It is called laughing and is a thing humans do that I learned here on Earth.”
“Will you teach me?”
“Of course. If I can learn it, then so can you.”
“Oh, thank you.” She struggled to stand. Senana Tiana’s hand flew out to steady her on her wobbling legs. Her body was MUCH bigger now. She would have to teach it how to behave though.
“Is it like making water come to your eyes? Does that make you feel better too?”
“Sometimes, child. Sometimes is the answer to both questions. But you will see.”
“What is the musical instrument called? Will you teach me to play it?”
“It is called a PEEAHNO, and I will teach you.”
“It sounds AMAZING.”
She was not disappointed—at least about the piano—and that was enough for now.