Moving stiffly, Paddy pushed open the front door. Folding up from six legs to four, he stepped onto the warm stone floor of his small abode. His home was no more than a handful of rooms, but it was his and he cherished it. When his great-grandsire had passed, he had not been the first in line to receive it. But, no one else had wanted its rough-hewn walls and geothermal heating. The rest of his family preferred the city and its gleaming walls of high crystal, glass, and other shiny things. Now that he was dying, he wondered what would become of the place and his menagerie of pets. There was only one brother who might be interested, who had not abandoned their brotherly bond entirely.
The poison had begun its deadly work. He could feel it begin to seep into every muscle. If he was lucky, he had an hour at most. First, he saw a small brown child. She was thirty years older than she looked. Her genetic coding had her stop aging at ten years of age. She was one of the U’ma from the cryogenic cold ships that carried millions of embryonic seeds of all kinds of life forms from Humans or U’ma as the Kulu called them. Other seeds down to the fungus that breaks down dead matter to the prize roses and everything between. These ships were discovered about fifty cycles ago and rather than let them arrived at their chosen worlds, they were picked up and sold on markets for various goods. Both the Kulu of his world and people, and the Nebu insect colony outward; two planets over. In between the two worlds hung like a gleaming award was the Circle. This Circle brought both races to this world, and now it seemed, the war was breaking out to decide who would win. The Insect or the Nebu who were mercenary merchants.
Taking the ships were bad enough, but now, they go to far-flung worlds inhabited by these, humans, and take them and their adaptive skills to make them slaves. Among the Kulu, a small sect had protested and fought for the forging to stop and also to stop altering the life forms. Paddy had been a foremost scientist fighting against these seizures of life ships. Or Cold ships as some were called. Ships got better as they grew their technical skill. Then the news spread, chatter on the lines had spoken of their homeworld being no more. The sun started expanding. Only it expanded too fast. What would have taken thousands of years, blossomed in a matter of short years and no one knew why?
Shuffling over to a small shelf, Paddy smiled at the tiny sleeping being who rested there. She was of a species his kind called U’ma and he had named her Kalpana after one of the early space explorers mention in the history of her race. She was born of medical technology that came both from the embryos stored on the Ice Sleeper Ships and Irónicas run labs of his own people. They were the overseers of their planet.His people traded for the embryos with minerals needed by the. His own race, the Okra developed the lifeforms into two forms: as they were genetic disposed to be, and as in Kalpana’s case, enhanced.
Her skin was a deep brown like the bark of the Cherie Cheri tree, and she sported a head of dark, curly black hair, save a straight white streak that frequently fell into her face. Born deaf, partially blind and with no legs, as she extraordinary as she was considered defective. The experiment to alter her DNA had gone too far, and the lab that created her deemed her a failure. Instinctively, Paddy had known she was a worthwhile anomaly. His brother had brought her to him. She’d been tossed away with all of the unwanted animals and experiments to the seedy and despicable hole in a hill where those deemed unworthy were forced to fight or be killed.
With his help, her tiny body had learned to adapt. Her immune system grew stronger and she was able to survive on the alien food sources his planet could provide. With her safety and future in mind, Paddy had invested his time and energy into the groundbreaking work of right’s advancement for the growing population of off-world beings. Kalpana had lived with Paddy most of her life, nearly twenty sun cycles, but her early struggles had stunted her growth and development. Her mind and body were still that of a pre-teen child. In fact, he discovered she was deliberately made to have stunted growth and not be allowed to enter puberty. Why he was not able to figure out but found others like her in and around their community. Communications between owners of such children were kept to the minimal. In fact, they were mostly handled through Scat Cats which were very intelligent, but not recognized as such by the general public. Every day brought new awareness and new triumphs. She had not allowed her impediments to slow her down. She had adapted, learned to walk on her hands as well as sign and she possessed countless other talents, each of which made him marvel at her imperfect perfection. One of the happiest moment of his life had been watching her reaction to the ocular device that had allowed her to see and hear him for the first time. Her hearing was still impaired but improved. Her burgeoning telepathic abilities were remarkable and seemingly limitless.
He gently pulled up her covers, tucking the blankets under her chin. Behind her bed, embedded in the wall was a spiral of stones. They had collected each one on their many adventures. Among her many unusual abilities, the U’ma child could sense the origins of each stone. A simple touch and she would recount descriptions of far-off worlds. In the center of the spiral was a common gray stone, the twin to the stone that hung in a pouch around his neck. This stone was his birthstone, from the nest where he and his many siblings had been hatched. He reached out and trailed a finger over the spiraling stones, pausing briefly on each one, letting his mind drift to the day or special event that had led them to add it to their collection.
From a small cabinet across the room, he retrieved a soft leather pouch that contained a handful of warning stones and a few precious gems. A fresh flood of pain made him double over as the poison snaked further into his system. He could not contain the groan that escaped his lips as he tucked the pouch in his pocket. Efforts to use his mental training for pain control were rapidly failing. He’d seen the effects of this kind of poison before. Soon, his organs would fail and he would be unable to move. There wasn’t much time, but there was still so much to do.
His chest erupted in a fit of deep coughs and the noise drew the attention of a large creature called Ursa who lay on the floor beside Kalpana’s bed. It had a hard, faceted outer shell that often glowed with various colors depending on the creature’s mood.
Sleepy appendages appeared from beneath the shell and waved in the air.
When the coughing passed, Paddy responded to creature’s curiosity was a series of chirps and emotional images. Ursa responded with a wave, acknowledging message received and understood, before settling back to sleep
A familiar voice called out in concern. “Are you unwell, sir? How can I help you?”
Paddy smiled down at another member of his household. He was designed after a series of pictures, and for in almost all accounts was what Humans/U’ma would call a teddy bear.
“Thank you, Ticka, but there is not much anyone can do.” Paddy had constructed Ticka as a companion for Kalpana, but the creature’s function has become a dual purpose. Hidden beneath Ticka’s furry skin was a barrage of technology, tools, and equipment designed to help Kalpana function in a world that would rather see her destroyed than tolerate her differences.
“Come, Ticka. I have need of your services. Is Kalpana deeply asleep?”
Ticka nodded. “She is in Delta sleep, at last, sir. The nightmares have ceased for tonight.”
“Good. Come, there is much I must share with you, but let us be quiet. I do not wish to wake her.”
“Sir, Her device is always turned off when she sleeps and without it, she cannot hear us.”
“Of course. I thought perhaps because of the nightmares, she would keep it on.”
“Ursa and I convinced her, we would hear everything she needed. She finally relinquished and for that I am glad. Otherwise, her brain stem would not relax enough for full sleep.”
Paddy nodded. “I see. How lucky she is to have you both looking out for her.” He glanced over at Kalpana, then closed his eyes and listened for the sound of her breathing.
Paddy opened his eyes. A searing heat wound through his guts. Unlike other deadly substances, this particular poison would not provide the luxury of killing him quickly. He would be conscious for every agonizing moment.
“Sir, are you alright? Shall I send for a healer?”
“No, no, Ticka, there is no time. I need you to do a complete overhaul of your systems.” Paddy wrapped two of his many legs around himself in an attempt to ease the pain. “I am adding another twenty exabyte of memory cells, as well as needed hardware to support such a system.”
“Sir, it is illegal for me to carry such things, plus my battery power is not sufficient to run such systems.”
“Yes it is illegal, my friend, but necessary. I managed to purchase a more powerful battery this morning at the market. You will have to do what you can to mask the extra power, and you must be alert of your energy level. The battery will not be strong enough to keep you going for more than a day or two. Daily plugins will be a must. ”
“I will do as you ask, sir, but may I ask why?”
“I am dying, Ticka, I have been poisoned and we must do what must be done to protect the three of you.”
“Three of us?”
“Yes, you, Ursa, and Kalpana”
“The scavengers will pick this place clean, but I am sending the three of you to my brother’s home. There is a provision for retained ownership of semi-intelligence species. They will honor it for the three of you.”
Tikka nodded, and moved toward the computer console, then sat in the seat used for upgrading and immediately powered down. Paddy clicked in a few buttons and connected a wire to Tikka’s power panel. The process was antiquated and took a great deal longer than regular upgrades, but it was safer than voice commands. Hums and clicks informed Paddy the programs were running. The glowing green light of thousands of data streams illuminated the screen and assured him it was the correct one.
With a groan, Paddy curled himself up on a large sitting pillow on the floor. He looked around the room. There were so many who would suffer once he was gone. What few friend he had would be quick to claim the rest of his exotic pets. He only hoped they could find in their hearts to love them as much as he had.
“Paddy, the transformation is complete.”
Ticka’s voice drew him from his worry. “Ah Ticka, that is good. How does it feel?”
“I am 12 kilos heavier. Kalpana will not be able to carry me like she used to.”
“No she won’t, but she will adapt. She always does. Included in your download are specific instruction for a trailer, a wheeled device that will allow her to move quickly on her own. I also need you to release all of our companions, Onno will be able to help many get away. I am assuming he himself will escape to the forest, or so I hope. Try to get as many out as you can, they can seek safe haven with others. However, the war…” Paddy stopped to breathe. “The war, makes many of them looking tempting as a food source rather than a friend in a different skin. Supplies are becoming scarce. Do you see the plans for your survival?”
“Yes, Paddy, I have seen the plans. I will work to complete it as soon as possible. But what of all this other information?”
Paddy ignored his question and pulled the leather pouch from his pocket. “These are the warning stones, carry them for her. There are also a few gems, some worth more than others. But be thrifty, they are all I have to give you. Remind Kalpana of her account with the gold. It is her right since much of the money was made with her skill and yours of doping information to me. It is a small fortune. I have added my brother’s name to it, so sweeten the pot and give the incentive to keep you in good form.”
His body began to lock, his muscles grew still and he labored to breathe. With all of his remaining energy, he removed the stone that hung around his neck and handed it to Tikka.
”This stone is from an Old One. If you find yourselves in danger give the stone to Kalpana., Have her hold it in her hand. It will take you to a safe place. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Paddy, I understand, but what of all this other information, maps and…”
“Oh, Tikka but I am too tired to speak of this now.
Paddy closed his eyes and relinquished the fight for his life. He had done all he could do, given them all, he had to give. With his final thoughts, he imagined a time when they had all be happy together and wished that they could find that kind of happiness again.
And then he was still.