Spyder, the irreverent cyberpunk turned Head of the Guardian Science Support Staff, finds himself the de facto ambassador to the Ursars, a race of twenty-foot tall, telepathic and telekinetic purple bears. Forming unbreakable bonds with Korin, son of the Clan Father, Spyder soon learns there are some things that are worth more than your own life. Family, friends, and Clan, Spyder risks them all in a life-or-death struggle against the marauding Grays.
The rising red sun cast its crimson light over the rolling hills, highlighting the ridge crest that had been the favored roost of the seven Guardians from Sol. It was still empty. The Æthereal had been recalled for something they called the Grand Council, which Korin thought sounded a lot like a full gathering of the Clans. Glancing back at the empty ridge crest, Korin hoped they would remain gone for a long time so the Clans could once again find peace and serenity.
The initial excitement from contact with the long-lost Guardians of Sol had quickly faded when confronted by the reality of having seven of the massive Æthereal living among them. First of all, it had come as a psychological blow to the collective psyche of the Clans. For millennia, they had been the undisputed masters of their world, easily coexisting with all other life forms. Being suddenly confronted by the virtually immortal winged dragons who towered over even the largest member of the Clans was more than intimidating. In fact, the Clans were afraid of the arrogant dragons, who had gone out of their way to enhance that fear through the flagrant display of their huge teeth and claws. The first time the Æthereal had loosed a blast of flame across the ruddy sky, it had frightened many of the Clans so greatly, they had hidden their cubs.
The problem had been exacerbated by the refusal of the Æthereal to adopt any other form that would be more suitable to their surroundings, and less imposing to the Clans. The Æthereal had made it abundantly clear they regarded any other form as beneath them and spoke disparagingly of those other Æthereal who had adopted lesser forms to fit in. The one blessing had been the Æthereal had gone elsewhere to feed. They claimed the shifted light spectrum from the red sun interfered with their appetites. Korin was grateful for that since the idea of seeing them consuming enough food to support those huge bodies was enough to give him nightmares for years.
Korin returned to Clan Home. It was typical of the dwellings used by all Clans, built entirely of natural materials carefully shaped to meet their needs. It contained chambers for the cubs, as well as various other rooms for the adults, kitchens, and communal spaces for their various activities. Once the cubs returned, it would be a very noisy place once again. For now, however, it only held the adults. He ducked his head as he entered the dwelling, since he was slightly taller than the doorway. As he expected, Clan Mother was waiting for him.
"Are they still gone?"
"Yes, Clan Mother, they are still gone." He could see that Clan Mother had spent time with the other females because the patterns in her fur were new. Why anyone would spend hours manipulating the structure of individual hairs in a pelt to change their color was beyond Korin, but he had to admit the rippled pattern of the striping that now graced Clan Mother's fur was quite beautiful. He supposed that decorating someone's fur and transforming a stone into a striking piece of art were part of the same creative drive.
The booming voice of Clan Father came from behind Korin. "It has been almost one hundred days since the Æthereal left us. That is too long. Either those arrogant flying lizards have decided we are not worth their time, or something has happened."
Korin dipped his head in respect to Clan Father. While not quite as tall as Korin, Clan Father was much more heavily muscled and there were white scars across his muzzle from one of his earlier battles to secure Clan leadership. While they may be civilized, there were still some legacies from the past too inbred to overcome; leadership through ritual combat was one of them. "I agree, Clan Father. Have the probes given us any insight into the cause for this prolonged silence from the Æthereal?"
Clan Father looked sharply at the younger male. Korin had always been too smart for his own good. No one had said a word about probing the Æthereal, yet he instinctively knew the Clan had been doing just that. While the others of Korin's year group had found their path and life's work, Korin still floundered, dabbling at this and that. He had an affinity for the cold logic of the thinking machines, the great crystal computing systems left behind by the Ancients, but was too young to be accepted by those already working with them.
"The probes have shown us nothing to explain. We have seen the largest of the ones who had come here, but he seems to have been badly injured in some kind of fight. The others pay him little heed. We have also observed the new partners of the Æthereal, these humans. I think we will find we have more in common with them than with the Æthereal," Clan Father said. "The question is how we get in contact with the Æthereal."
* * * *
Danny and Forrest arrived at the appointed time to see Ebon. Both had been off-world exploring yet another uninhabited planet while the Guardian forces on Earth had been involved in the search for the nuclear weapon in Washington. The deaths of Sorcha, Striker, Obsidian and the others had struck both of them rather hard.
"Welcome back to Paradise!" Ebon said by way of greeting the top exploration partnership. "I realize you just got in but I need you to do something for me; a mission that may require some delicacy."
"Oh? And what makes you think that Danny or I can handle anything that needs a light touch, old friend?" Forrest asked.
Ebon gestured at the chairs grouped in front of his desk as he said, "Have a seat and let me explain the situation. As you know, the renegades have been dealt with but ever since then, I have experienced a growing sense of unease about what they had been doing even before the Grand Council. I am not speaking here of their depredations on Earth but rather, the mission I had entrusted to them with the Ursars."
Danny looked puzzled. "Who are the Ursars?"
Forrest looked at his young partner and said, "The Ursars are another Guardian species created by the Ancients to battle the Grays. The existence of the other Guardian races was revealed when your friend Spyder translated some captured Gray data. Celadon and I traveled to the various worlds indicated as holding a Guardian race in hopes of establishing relationships with them and perhaps working together to eliminate the Gray menace. We brought a representative from both the Ursars and the Pride back with us to meet with the Grand Council a few months before the Æthereal were revealed."
Ebon resumed speaking, "When I consider the complete arrogance of those seven renegades and their attitudes about any species not Æthereal, I am convinced they were the worst possible choice to send to another Guardian race. Too much time has past since we recalled the renegades without contact with the Ursars. That is where you come in."
Forrest said, "You want us to go to the Ursars and see what the current situation is."
"Succinctly put. Yes, I want you to travel there as soon as possible to reopen communications with the Ursars," Ebon said. "Once the lines of communications are open again, I want you to assess what damage, if any, the renegades did and what should be done to correct it." Looking at the partners, he added, "I do not see this as a long mission; just a quick in and out. What you learn will determine what we do next."
Standing, Forrest said, "Should not be a problem, Ebon. We will leave in the morning after I have rested."
As they departed Ebon's office, Danny asked, "So what do the Ursars look like?"
"The Ursars live on a world with a slightly heavier gravity that Earth, so they are very strong. Their sun is a red one, so on their world, their fur appears as a rich brown color. They are about two or three times your size."
Ebon's partner Eric, who had overheard the exchange, chuckled. "Danny, the Ursars are twenty foot telepathic purple bears."
* * * *
The alarm had flashed through the minds of all Clans the moment the Æthereal had portaled into their world. The younger adult females had herded the cubs back into the sanctuary of the great caves while the remaining females withdrew to reinforced inner chambers within the Clan dwellings. Even though there was only one Æthereal, the Clans took no chances.
There was some relief when the Æthereal was identified as the same Green who had made the original contact between the Clans and the Æthereal. Since this Green had proven to be both honorable and reliable in his dealings with the Clans, there was some release of the tension that had filled them. The fact this Æthereal traveled with a human partner also helped.
Forrest broadcast a general greeting of peace and friendship. 'Greetings, fellow Guardians! It is good to be back among you once more.' He also included a request to meet with the Clan leaders.
Danny wondered about the silence that met them. The terse mental directions to a landing spot had done nothing to alleviate his apprehension. As they winged down toward the vast clearing indicated in the response, Danny looked around. The low light levels from the red sun gave the appearance of twilight. The color shift from the crimson light turned his dark green leathers into almost a black hue. The foliage of the trees and shrubs were also dark shades. The clearing was still empty when they landed and Danny climbed down to the ground to stand at Forrest's side. Danny scanned the edge of the clearing but didn't notice the approaching delegation until they were well clear of the trees.
Korin had been honored when Clan Father ordered him to accompany the delegation to the clearing to meet with the Æthereal and the human. As they approached the visitors, Korin was struck by the disparity between them. The Æthereal towered into the sky at least three times Korin's height, while the human would barely come to Korin's waist. The Æthereal exuded an aura of invincibility, while the human looked fragile and harmless.
'Greetings, Forrest the Green. It has been long since you were last here. In fact, it has been long since any of your kind were here,' Clan Father's mental voice rang out.
Forrest dipped his head in acknowledgement. 'There have been some changes and that is but one of the reasons we have come. May I present Danny, my human partner?'
Danny stepped forward and bowed. 'Greetings, Guardians. It is indeed an honor to be here.'
'A display of manners is most welcome, for it is a skill your predecessors never exercised,' Clan Father said.'Would you care to join us inside in comfort, or choose to remain here in this field?'
Danny could sense this was a test. Forrest merely shifted shape to his human form, allowing the Ursars to set the tone for their discussions. 'By all means, let us be comfortable while we talk! Lead on.'
'Danny, it is clear Ebon's fears were justified.' Forrest sent on a tight mental channel. 'The renegades apparently would not change shape to accommodate the Ursars in order to maintain their feelings of superiority. We must tread very carefully now.'
Korin was behind the human called Danny as they walked from the clearing into the trees around the village. The human was smaller than a six month old cub, had no fur to speak of, no claws at all, and barely any teeth. Korin wondered how such a creature could ever defend itself. Perhaps there were no clawed or fanged creatures on its world. Its face was curiously flat with a little nose and small mouth. How did it scent for prey or predators? Yet upon the creature's face were several faint scars reminiscent of Clan Father's leadership scars. What a curious creature!
Danny hurried along the path, trying very hard to keep up with the strides of the giant bears. It felt so strange to be in the company of beings that reminded him of Kodiak bears, complete with huge claws on their hind feet. As he moved along behind the others, he caught sight of something dancing along the periphery of his vision. Small globes of gold light that vanished whenever he tried to look at one directly. They reminded him strongly of the fairy lights described in folktales back on Earth. No one else seemed to pay the lights any attention, so Danny could only conclude either they were harmless, or he was hallucinating.
Danny was all too aware of the large creature behind him. The resemblance to a Kodiak was even stronger up close but at the same time, the similarity paled when one got a good look at the eyes. There was no beast behind those eyes; a keen intellect looked out at the world, assessing everything. Danny also sensed something else: compassion, understanding, and above all, curiosity. Danny could sense this was a kindred spirit.
Danny could see the building they were approaching and he could only marvel at what he saw. Blending naturally into the surroundings, it looked as if it were made from a single piece of stone. Danny could see no sign of any tool markings on the window openings or the doorway, in which was carved an impressive relief of scenes depicting Ursars in various activities, and arched high above Danny's head, although the Ursar behind him had to duck its head to enter. The building consisted of a single chamber, round like the building, and the thick walls were pierced at regular intervals by oval window openings that would permit a pleasing cross-ventilation, no matter which direction the wind was from. Lighting was indirect from sconces between each of the windows, aimed upward to reflect off the ceiling that must have been at least thirty feet above the chamber floor.
Much to Danny's relief, the chamber was filled with plush cushions that rested on the floor. Danny had envisioned trying to sit in a chair scaled to fit these gigantic bears and knew he would look like a toddler trying to sit in an adult chair. Forrest indicated that Danny should join him on the ones located at the center of the arc of cushions, flanked by the Ursars. Considered a position of honor, Danny also noticed it was the position farthest from the door.
Forrest resumed the conversation he had been having with the leader of the group who had met them. 'I must admit to you, the seven Æthereal who visited you were not true representatives of my people. They were renegades and engaged in behaviors that caused much harm in our relations with the humans and, apparently, with you as well. They have been punished in the manner chosen by our Grand Council and will never bother you or the humans again.'
'It is true the seven who were here have created much distrust among the Clans regarding the Guardians of Sol. This distrust has been nurtured by their arrogant actions among us, and it will take more than words to undo this damage.' Clan Father's mental voice held a hint of a growl.
Forrest asked, 'What path should we follow to reach a new understanding between us?'
Clan Father stared at Forrest and Danny for a long time before he answered. 'This is a hard path we must take and there is much which must be overcome. The way shall be through your human partners. The Æthereal may not stay among us for a time while we learn to know the real nature of your kind through the way others view them.'
'This is indeed a wise path,' Forrest replied, 'but I do not believe it will be a hard one for the humans, or for the Clans.'
Danny watched the faces of the Ursars as they hammered out an agreement about a human settlement. Forrest gained permission for them to deploy a standard settlement configuration with independent shelters for the team members and communal facility housing a kitchen and common meeting areas. The initial team would be of no more than five humans. The Æthereal would provide the portal between Paradise and the clearing where they landed, which would be the site for the settlement of the humans. In addition, a daily portal could be opened to permit communication both ways.
At some point during the discussions, other Ursars quietly entered the chamber, delivering beverages and food. Danny could not discern whether the new ones were female or just younger, but they had not remained in the chamber. Danny turned his attention to the platter of fruits and the graceful goblet of crystal. While of a size that would be suitable for the large paw of an Ursar, Danny had to hold it in both hands to pick it up. After a surreptitious sniff, he took a sip and found it held cool, pure water. The fruit reminded him of grapes, if he could imagine a grape the size of an apple. He had to take small bites of the fruit, enjoying the combination of sweet and tart that mingled. His pleased expression triggered a response in the Ursar seated to his side, who reached over and popped one of the fruits into his huge maw and then chewed with gusto, a pleased expression turning his lips upward. The Ursar extended a hand toward one of the melons and, using a single claw that extended from between his fingers, sliced the fruit into sections. Spearing one with the tip of his claw, he extended the piece to Danny. Danny took the offered piece and tasted it-a flavor that reminded Danny of a mixture of honeydew and cantaloupe. He nodded to indicate that he liked it.
Danny turned his attention back to the serious matters at hand when movement on his right indicated that Forrest was starting to rise. Danny quickly followed suit. Once again, the group made its way along the paths back to the clearing. As Forrest shifted back to his natural form, Danny felt a heavy tap on his shoulder. He turned to find it was the younger Ursar who had been seated next to him. The large creature handed Danny a mesh bag containing several of the oversized grapes and a few melons for him to take back. Danny thanked him, and scrambled up onto the saddle. After tying the bag to one of the harness straps, Danny got himself settled, reconnecting his suit and visor to the systems imbedded in the saddle. As he did, he looked back to the group and captured a still photograph of the Ursars. Then, after exchanging ritual words of departure, Forrest sprang into the air and soon opened a portal home.
* * * *
Ebon was waiting for them when they landed on the Borland Guardian Base. "How bad is it?"
Forrest shook his head. "It could barely be worse. Our renegades could not have sabotaged things more had they tried. The Ursars will continue relations, but only if the contact is through humans. We Æthereal are not welcome for now." Forrest then explained the agreement that had been ironed out with the Clan leaders.
"So what we need now are humans, steeped in the ability to deal with other cultures, who are not xenophobic and, more importantly, not afraid of bears. They must also have a great understanding of the Æthereal. Well, that can only mean the Science Support Staff and that means..."
"Spyder," finished both Danny and Forrest.
by Christopher W. Wilcox, Sr.
Genre: Science Fiction
EBook formats ISBN: 978-1-59374-654-4
Trade paperback ISBN: 978-1-59374-653-7
Buy this book!
"I loved this book. This is the third book in a trilogy about the Æthereal. The plot was unique, creative, and interesting. The Ursars race enchanted me with their honor, culture, and intelligence. The political situation added an interesting angle to the cultural exploration of a newly discovered race. I liked having characters in the last book used again in this book. It was fun seeing how married life works for Spyder and Katherine. It also was interesting to see the relationship with these newlyweds with the other newlyweds, Danny and Katarina. Their evolving relationships and personal growth add a lovely and interesting touch to this intriguing tale. The expanding story that spans this series, leads me to hope for more books from Christopher W. Wilcox Sr. If you like fantastical, intelligent creatures in a modern setting, definitely give this series a try." ~ Reviewed by Gretchen, Fallen Angel Reviews, Rating: Five Angels
"Æthereal's Clans adds a whole new dynamic to the Æthereal universe and this reviewer, for one, was absolutely enthralled by it. The Ursar are a wonderful addition to this literary world-invariably charming, completely fascinating, and a perfect match for humankind despite the sizable physical and culture differences between them and us. If this series continues to improve, Love Romances will need to come up with a new rating of five and a half hearts just to do Mr. Wilcox and this fabulous series sufficient credit. This reviewer so enjoyed revisiting the Æthereal's human partners, and watching their relationships develop-with one another and with the Ursar-that he truly hated to finish the book and set it aside. This reviewer's advice? Grab the nearest dragon and fly, not drive, to the nearest place to pick up a copy of this novel. If you like dragons or even giant purple bears, this book is not to be missed." ~ Reviewed by Saje, LoveRomances.com, Rating: 4 1/2 hearts
|Will's Writer's Nook||