While Kidat lay with his mouth hanging open and his eyes wide with disbelief, the ancient placed his bony hands under his Kidat's neck, closed his eyes and mumbled a few words in the dialect of the ancients. Slowly all his pain left him and he lifted his left hand to look at it. "You will be well now, Kidat. The Rogoch have been hunting and will bring you what they have killed and you will eat of it, or you will not withstand the cold in spite of all the furs you have here. Now listen very carefully for my time here is short. You are correct; the one you call P'pit is a chosen one and you are to protect him from those who have heard of his existence. You must take him to the great D'bactu in Home City; the Rogoch will see that you get there safely, but there is another reason why you yourself must go to Home city.
"You are not whole, Kidat; you are only half of a whole as you will soon learn. You must seek out the other half of the whole; only then you will know the full extent of your powers. You are made for a purpose, Kidat; your aims must be to protect this galaxy, and that containing Earth, from an evil which, if not stopped, will destroy this galaxy and many more. It is a pity more Gpuchkians do not understand our writings as you have done. For those who do from a sense of wisdom and endeavour, we make our books easy to understand, as we did for you. Those who only wish to disprove them, we close their minds to what they read, until the day their eyes are opened to what is really going to happen, and are ready to accept what we teach.
"The great D'bactu was the first to accept and study the books we left in the library. He is a good person and we allowed him to see and learn. Only he knows which others are of a similar mind and have sworn to uphold the writings of the ancients when the time comes for all to know the truth. Now I must go; I feel my brothers pulling me back. It would not be wise to try to contact us, but if you must, P'pit will be our link with you. There are other boys across the galaxy who were ready to use their strength and abilities to aid you, but most of them were discovered and are held in slavery. You must find them before it is too late for them to be of any use."As he continued to speak, the ancient's voice seemed to waver, and his face began to fade. "Guard P'pit with your life, Kidat, there are very few of the chosen who have survived."
Kidat watched, fascinated, as the ancient faded completely to reveal P'pit sitting with his eyes closed and slipping slowly to one side in a faint. Kidat grabbed him before he fell, and pulled down into his embrace. He tried to wake him but the child appeared to be in a deep sleep. Having the movement of his limbs back at last, Kidat maneuvered the child down until he could cuddle him against his chest, then covered him with the furs. Then he lay back and thought deeply about everything the ancients had said. How could he find those boys if he didn't know where to look? Then he remembered the vision of the boys in the mine, and wondered if they were two of those the ancient talked about. If that were the case, he would have to find them very soon.
"We're here, Captain."U'lac's quiet voice came over the intercom in D'vork's cabin.
The Captain sat up in the chair where he had dozed off, and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. "Acknowledged, Commander; I'll be on the bridge in five minutes."In his bedroom, he found Tadik, bed-bound and pale but looking cheerful enough as he scanned one of his study pads. "It's time, Tadik, but you don't have to do this if you don't feel up to it; you're still not fully recovered and as Inmahn said, you could have a relapse at any time."
Tadik shook his head as he switched the pad off and laid it aside. "I'm okay, D'vork; this is something I feel I have to do, and the sooner the better. Let's get it over with while I'm in the mood."
D'vork nodded and brought Tadik's hover-chair to the bed, the controls now altered and installed on the left arm of the chair so that Tadik could still use them. D'vork lifted Tadik into the chair and tucked the polar white fur cloak round him. Standing behind the chair with one had resting on the back of it, D'vork raised his left arm and spoke into the comm. Unit. "Activate; two to the bridge."
Tadik closed his eyes and concentrated, not on the mass of screens and readouts in front of him, but through the huge forward window, and beyond to the nothingness of space; that vast area of darkness only lit by the occasional star. He knew there was nothing to see, but if there was any clue to his father's whereabouts he would feel it with his mind, with his whole being. In this area, Tadikon Versont's ship had been found abandoned and later taken back to Earth to be given a thorough inspection. Tadik and his mother had been allowed on board to collect his personal belongings, and during that brief heavily supervised visit, Tadik had felt his father's essence; as if Tadikon had tried to leave a message of some sort. He knew that if he could have touched the fabric of the ship, its bulkheads, his father's chair, he would have known what the message was. But the guards had ushered him and his mother off the ship with swift efficiency. Now he tried to feel that same message out there. Slowly he felt a pull on his mind; he turned his head in the general direction of where Quastor lay, then something pulled him in a different direction and a chill swept over him. Not his father but someone else.
With a jerk he opened his eyes and found D'vork hovering over him, his face full of concern. "What is it, Tadik?"
Tadik shook his head. "I don't know. Something pulled me in the direction of Quastor then in another direction. Over there."He pointed to the far left of the illuminated map of the nearest planets where Quastor lay to the far right. "What planets are over there?"
D'vork chuckled at him. "There is only one in that direction; Gpuchk."His smile faded. "Are you saying your father is somewhere in the region of my own planet? Surely not; our security is tight and any pirates operating nearby would have been detected and dealt with. To my knowledge there have been no reports of them around the time of your father's abduction."
"Well something is there. The pull is strong, and I felt the cold of your atmosphere. If it isn't my father then it must be someone else; my brother, perhaps."
D'vork stared down at him, deep in thought then turned to U'lac. "Commander, bring up the archives for Gpuchk and search for any unusual events eighteen years ago; plus or minus two years."The map disappeared, to be replaced by rapidly scrolling lines of Gpuchkian hieroglyphic script. As it slowed, Tadik found he could read it easily enough even though he had never really studied the language. He wondered how. Suddenly U'lac highlighted a file and opened it. The story told of a strange space ship crashing in the northern wilds of Gpuchk, eighteen years ago; all passengers had perished from the crash and the cold. As a post-script, someone had mentioned the rescue team finding a small survival pod inside the ship; it had been ripped open with great force, its shell bent back like the skin of a piece of fruit. Its tiny occupant had not been found with the other dead bodies, and the belief was that it had been eaten by the Rogoch found near the crash site.
"Or taken away to a safe place,"Tadik muttered. He looked up at D'vork. "If the animals ate the baby why didn't they eat the other passengers? Were there any images with this report?"U'lac searched the information dealing with that particular report and found two, not so clear images; one showed the wreckage from a distance, with several Rogoch, including two white ones prowling the site; the second image showed the inside of the wreckage and the damaged pod. Tadik's head swam as he stared at the pod; then he was lying in it, and crying for attention, hearing the grinding of ripped metal and the feeling of warm fur before everything faded to blackness.
When he opened his eyes again, Inmahn had replaced D'vork at his side, holding something to his nose and telling him to breathe in. He hated the acrid fumes that shot up his nostrils and turned his face away from it. "He's awake now,"Inmahn said, and D'vork's face appeared above him.
The chair back had been lowered, and Tadik was lying flat with his legs raised. He tried to sit up but D'vork pushed him back. "What happened?"
"You blacked out for a few minutes,"D'vork explained. "You're going back to Medical and no arguments. It's obvious you were not ready for this."
Tadik shook his head. "No, listen. I know what happened. My brother was in that pod, and he wasn't killed. The Rogoch took him away with them."
D'vork stared at him for a few seconds then stood up and turned to U'lac. "Commander U'lac, set course for Gpuchk."
Kidat arrived back at the village astride Baka's neck with P'pit in front of him, snuggled deeply within the furs the boy had fashioned into clothes for him. Round them both, the rest of the furs made a cosy cloak, and Kidat hoped the villagers would allow him to keep it for his journey to the city. Didat lumbered ahead of the herd, roaring his warning as they approached the village, while the rest of the herd surrounded Baka in a protective circle. From his high perch, Kidat watched the men-folk scramble out of their caves, hunting spears at the ready, with friends of P'chak among them. Baka slowed his pace and let the herd overtake him, taking up positions at various points of the village centre according to the instructions Didat had already issued before they arrived, slowly shepherding the men-folk into a tight group in front of Didat. Kidat urged Baka forward till he stood beside his father, just a few feet from those deadly spear tips.
"Put down your spears."Kidat commanded. No one moved a muscle. "Oh well, we'll do it the hard way."He concentrated on the spears in the middle of the crowd, and just hoped he wouldn't burn anyone. There were yells of fright as the spears melted and dropped quickly from scorched fingers. Then the men stumbled back as molten metal met snow, causing it to bubble and steam. One spear on the edge of his vision shot towards him. He had a split second to defend himself and turn the spear around in mid-flight. The attacker screamed in agony as the tip sank into his throwing arm. A moment later, Didat dispatched him with a swat of his front paws, sending the man sailing through the air to land in a bloody heap at the back of the crowd.
"Murderer!"The shout went up and the crowd moved forward, ready to fight with their bare hands if need be.
"So what was he?"Kidat threw off the furs and slid off Baka's back to land in front of them. He held his arms out. "You came with weapons; I came with none but my defensive powers. I told you to put down your spears but you didn't listen. P'chak still has his followers it seems. Where is P'duk?"Kidat watched P'pit's father push through to the front of the crowd. "You told me I would be welcome here if I came back. I don't think so."
P'duk shook his head at him. "I apologize for the minority who mistrust you, Kidat. If my youngest son trusts and believes in you, then so shall I. Especially as you have returned my son to me unharmed; come to my campfire and we will talk with the elders."
Once the villagers gathered with the elders, around P'duk's campfire, Kidat told them what P'chak had done and how the Rogoch had saved his life. "You must not fear the Rogoch, unless you are silly enough to arouse their animosity. They are your friends. I must go away to Home city, to talk to the great D'bactu. While I am away, the Rogoch will protect you and supply you with meat and furs just the same as if I were here. P'pit must also go with me. He carries the spirit of an ancient within him, and he must go to D'bactu for his own safety."
"What nonsense you speak!"An elder called out. "The ancients and their scribblings are nothing but a myth to frighten children with."
"Are we now?"A strange voice made everyone, Kidat included, turn to look at Baka and his other rider; no longer little P'pit but a tall black robed figure with a full white beard and hair who rose to his feet atop Baka's neck. A corporate intake of breath greeted this figure as he floated down to the ground.
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