“Large Battles” by Margaret Karmazin

The Seezali ship is visible ahead, darting in and out of asteroids as it approaches. Its crew apparently believes they are invisible but we Kalahamar can see through any cloaking device. The ship is twice the size of ours, but this won’t matter once we employ the Contraction. The thing is to do so before they see and fire on us.

“Poy, keep your finger on the control,” I order my Second.

“You might be better off engaging it yourself,” he replies, never understanding why I like to relay.

“I have distracting thoughts,” I counter. “You have no idea what my mind is like. When my hand rises, do it.”

As the Seezali ship rounds another giant rock, I guide ours to the other side of the nearest boulder and then raise my hand. Poy, watching intently, presses the control. There follows a sickening and disorienting moment of time and space and soon we are the size of a hand, too small for detection by the Seezali. While to ourselves in this miniature ship, we appear the same as before, to anyone outside of it, we’re a negligible piece of debris.

The Seezali ship shoots past and slows, its crew clearly confused. We take the opportunity to zip round the boulder and attach to their hull. The alien ship creeps along, suspicious now, checking between every rock, bouncing signals off, while we slide along its exterior.

“I will get us close to their shuttle bay,” I tell Poy and locate an indent near it.

Soon it opens and we sense vibrations as something slides across a metal floor and then a shuttle flies out, obviously on a mission to navigate more easily between the boulders. We take the opportunity to whiz around from our hiding hole and into the gaping mouth of the ship before it closes. I raise my hand once again, and Poy contracts us smaller. We are now the size of a morsal of dirt like any other on their floor and quickly zip underneath another of their shuttles. One crewman in his spacesuit lowers the bay door and I move us until we can attach to his leg. Riding along, we enter another bay, the door closes behind us as the area fills with whatever they breathe and the Seezali steps out of his spacesuit. This is our first chance to look at one of these beings, but he is difficult to take in, being so enormous compared to us that he is basically just a landscape. Besides, we have slipped behind a fold of his dropped suit.

“You take over, Poy. Maneuver into one of his head crevices if he has any.”

“This is going to be tricky,” Poy replies, “without him seeing and swatting at us.” Poy is as edgy as I am. “Should he think we are some kind of bug, we’re finished.” 

He makes for the back of the Seezali’s head, which is far up there.

“Perhaps we will get a look at one of them at a distance” I tell him, though he is deeply concentrating upon his maneuvering and probably doesn’t hear me.

“It appears that he does have hair,” he says. “It might be better to aim for that than any kind of sensory hole. It would afford a better chance of escape. In his sensory holes, we might be smashed by an appendage should we cause him to feel an itch.”

He manages to get us behind a clump of black hair, through which we can see straight ahead. I command the ship camera to shrink the outer image by seventy percent so we can see more clearly.

“Look,” Poy says.

Coming toward us at some distance is our first fully visible Seezali. Our instruments calculate that in normal measurements, they are about a head taller than we normally are. They are quite impressive to behold. We Kalahamar are, compared to this Seezali, more delicate of stature, four limbed and slender except for the lower sections of our arms and legs which are muscular. We are narrow at the waists and hips and our heads are covered in thick brown, copper or gray fur which trails down the backs of our necks onto our upper backs. Eons ago, we evolved with the genetic input of some unknown godlike race from a much smaller animal that eventually died off.

“They are frightening,” I remark, taking in this new and mysterious enemy. Why, I wondered, had they attacked us?

“Quite ugly,” says Poy. 

“I don’t know if I would call this being ugly, but we know they are terrifying after what they’ve done. But we need to understand what motivated them. This is our mission – to discover why and then by some miracle, return home.”

“I personally might enjoy annihilating them,” mutters Poy. “Though of course I am just joking.”

“Well, you know Kalahamar policy,” I counter. We are a peaceful race, content to command our own world and moons and leave others alone. We never start confrontations, though due to our particular cultural leaning, we are more than capable of defending ourselves. 

This creature walking toward us is mottled blue-violet in color, wide shouldered and possessed of four arms, thick longer ones falling straight down from his shoulders and two smaller appendages under and slightly in front of the first ones. All four have hands at their ends, each of those with two fingers and an opposable thumb, all ending in points. His face has several holes in it; their designation unknown but some probably involving smell and other senses. Four shiny black eyes dominate the forehead. The hair is thick, blue-black and rough in texture, worn in long braids. His (and I am assuming he is male) chest is muscular, his torso and legs thick and also muscular. He moves like a dodger, a predator on our world that is lithe and graceful. He wears what looks like black leather pants and a gray sleeveless top.

“What is your plan?” Poy asks.

“We need to determine who is the leader of this ship and maneuver into his or her hair without anyone detecting us. And then we use the Probe.”

 How one’s enemies think is often a mystery. It might appear superficially understandable but seem unfathomable when one delves deeper. That is the way we Kalahamar think about the Seezali, a terrifying, seemingly animalistic group who appeared out of nowhere and attacked one of our moon colonies. Every last being annihilated, including one of my own children, my favorite of twelve. We had never heard of them before this happened, but a relatively friendly race, the Brodna, identified for us who the culprits were. Although the Brodna were not familiar with the race, beyond being able to identify it.

Though we are trained to use mind over emotion from early in our lives, that training seemed to have left me and I wanted revenge. I told no one of this feeling, of course, including my mate who is not the father of my children but my second spouse after the first died many rotations before. Tanesh is my love in every way and I cannot let him know that his most admired wife has harbored such aggressive thoughts. But as he and I sucked the juice from singa-fruit after a long day of work, he in the fields with his students and me at the Space Ministry, I discussed the devastated moon issue with detachment as educated Kalahamar do.

But then, after a while, after some work with my spiritual instructor, I let go of my hatred and returned to the rational me, the one who values peace and diplomacy above all else. At least on the surface.

Our Urla is a small planet rich in minerals and nature. We have an average diversity in plant and animal life but have always nurtured it well, so that it has flourished while on some worlds, they have let their own suffer and die – what I call “mechanical worlds,” where material goods and technology for its own sake are most valued. So, there are are, a small gold and blue gem in the dark of space, vulnerable to predators like these Seezali savages. I should not call them that though, since I don’t know their motivation in committing this crime.

Because our world is so valuable, this is why we have developed our mathematics and science far beyond other disciplines. It is why, compared to other known civilizations, we are lacking in arts and music, though that is not to say we cannot appreciate those things, only that we haven’t the time to spend. What other civilizations, for instance, have learned to shrink themselves to miniscule size and then return to what they formerly were? I know of none other than ourselves, but then the universe is vast, so anything and any skills might exist out there.

So it is that I said goodbye to my Tanesh like any other day before I leave on a possibly extended work-stay; he had no idea that I might not return, might be giving my life to save our world.

It is a while before the second Seezali meets with the leader of this ship who may or may not be military or could be captain of a merchant vessel though their behavior does appear to be martial. These individuals do not wear uniforms though; they dress in various creative ways using the leather-like material we first saw to fabrics and metals. The apparent leader is shorter than the others, possibly female if they have females but we are not certain. I will refer to her as female. The hair is in an elaborate arrangement which serves our purpose and since the lighting in the ship’s bridge is dim, we make our move and settle into her coiffure. She lifts one of her smaller arms to pat a hair coil and we are almost done for, but we manage to settle closer in to her scalp which affords us another terrifying experience. She has bugs in her hair and one of them quickly approaches, a frightening bulbous thing with waving legs.

“Zap it!” I scream and Poy dispatches the creature though we have to dart the ship back to prevent it from falling on us. This commotion causes the leader to send a finger in to scratch and we need to make a dash through her forest of hair to a safer spot. The scratching finger causes quite a disturbance from which takes us time to recover plus now we have to be on the lookout for the monstrous bugs.

“I’ll call Leed up from the engine room to take over zapping while we work,” says Poy and he does. He puts the young officer on watch, his finger on the weapons.

“Tone it down, Leed,” I say. “Just put the horrors to sleep, don’t raise a ruckus. We don’t want that finger back in here.”

It is time to do what we came for.

“Put down the Probe,” I order.

Without comment, Poy starts the procedure we have never yet used on an alien race. Will it work on this creature now? We have used it secretly on Kalahamar volunteers and, fascinatingly, on lower animals but not yet on anyone outside of our world. But this is an emergency of the highest rank and extreme risk is now our state of affairs. The machine’s microscopic tendrils attached to the scalp of the Seezali and sent their impulses down into her brain. At least we assume that’s the location of her brain as it is in our own and in other sentient species with which we are familiar.

“Connection!” Poy yells.

“No need to shout, Poy,” I say, though I understand his excitement.

We’re silent while we wait for the sensors to respond but when they do, I, the only one among us hooked into receiving the results, am almost knocked off my feet. Disoriented, I collapse into a seat. These are not ideal circumstances in which to be bombarded with an alien mind, but time for experimentation is a luxury we don’t possess.

I am one of the inventors of the Probe, hence my willingness to risk our lives on this potential one-way trip. Whatever the Probe gleans from our enemy’s mind is instantly transmitted through over-space to home base. Should we not return, they will still own the information. They will know the thoughts of the Seezali captain of a ship most likely on another mission to harm us. And they will likely understand why the Seezali are doing this at all.

Though many beings, definitely not all, tend to think in thought pictures and emotion in varying degrees unique to their type, the Probe will do its best to translate what it gleans into Kalahamar language. Nothing is one hundred percent accurate. But now some of what the Probe is receiving has been decoded and the adventure begins. This is a complicated creature, capable of thinking on different levels simultaneously. She is expressing on one layer a concern with the safety of her offspring, of which she has only one, and he has a problem of some kind involving imprisonment of someone of importance. On a deeper level, she is calculating in her determination to kill eventually anyone on our third moon, though this is now unlikely as we have taken precautions and the colony has moved underground. But the third layer is where I see what we came to learn. And it is personally painful for me to take it in.

“I know the answer to our question now,” I announce.

Leed, who has been zapping the horrible eight-legged creatures on our Seezali’s scalp, is enjoying a lull and turns to face us. “What is it?” he asks. “If I may be allowed to know.”

“The reason they have attacked us.”

I’m silent for a moment to gather myself while Poy and Leed politely wait. “They are disgusted by our manner of reproduction. Somehow they’ve managed to spy on us and learn our biological ways.”

“What?” says Poy indignantly. “They believe they have the right to wipe out a civilization because they don’t approve of the manner of its reproduction?”

“That isn’t the whole issue.”

Poy stands up. I look him up and down, my friend and associate of many rotations. He is a fine representative of the male of our race, slender of waist and thick at the shoulders, forearms and calves. His skin is a soft reddish gold, his eyes wide and brown and his hair the exact shade of a hilla seed. I have urged him to find a mate and reproduce many times but he never does. Some people are loners in that way; what a waste to Urla. I am old enough to be his mother and I cannot help but look around at my relations for someone to match him but he shows no interest. Sometimes I suspect it is myself he wants, but of course that is impossible.

“It does pain me to know the intense disgust this Seezali feels toward our race and its ways,” I say, “but they have their reasons.”

“Please explain,” Poy says.

“Apparently, another civilization from some star system with which we’re not familiar reproduces in a similar manner and that race of beings infiltrated one of the Seezali worlds and used their people as the natal feeding source.”

“Paradise above!” shouts Poy. “They used Seezali for their Hadasi?”

I feel a sudden strange and uncalled for shame over how we Kalahamar procreate. Since becoming mildly familiar with three other inhabited worlds, I have thought that it is perhaps unusual in the universe, but now I see this not so.

On our world, we Kalahamar exist in two sexes, male and female, but to procreate, we need another type of being called Hadasi. Hadasi are somewhat like a Kalahamar but less developed mentally and neither male nor female. Something like an intelligent animal, but made of our flesh and bone, similar in appearance though about half our size. When Kalahamar reproduce, there are usually a few Hadasi in the batch along with the Kalahamar infants. Families keep their own Hadasi and when a Kalamahar couple weds, it is given one or two Hadasi from the families. When the time comes for reproduction, the couple takes its chosen Hadasi into a special room, performs a ceremony and the female Kalahamar lays her eggs into an opening in the Hadasi’s abdomen. The male Kalahamar injects his sperm into the same opening and then the opening closes. Regular physical affection between our sexes is expressed differently and unconnected to reproduction, unlike on some worlds.

From that moment on, the Hadasi lives in that room and everything is brought to it. The incubation period is slightly longer than one of our rotations. As time passes, the Hadasi grows less aware of its surroundings and eventually loses consciousness. The growing babies inside it begin to absorb its internal organs. At this point it must be carefully watched so that at the moment of its death, the infants are removed. For a Hadasi, bred to perform this procreation duty, the whole procedure is as normal as the rising of the sun or the moons. But it is not a natural thing to use an alien being for such matters and the horror of doing so has now embedded itself in my mind.

I tell Poy and Leed everything I have learned from the Probe.

“No wonder this being hates our kind,” Leed remarks. “Would she or the rest of her people believe us if we told them that we have no intention of doing what their enemies did to them?”

Poy is thoughtful. “Yet, how do we know this to be true? What if our Hadasi were to die off? What if we have no way of depositing our eggs and sperm? Can we honestly say that we would not find some other outlet?”

“Surely scientists would find another way, that’s all. Some other animal perhaps or something artificial.”

“What animal? There is no animal on our world that could possibly fulfill the need.”

I am silent while I consider these things. I allow myself a look through the hair of this being we are currently adhered to and at her associate across their bridge. Warm blooded, full of life, intelligent and fascinating with as yet unknown abilities and talents. With the Probe still attached, I can sense our host’s every emotion and thought. These beings are definitely our equals and for all we know, superior.

The Probe sends me another bit of information. Apparently, Seezali have stomach pouches where they hold their newborns for several of their time divisions, which they call “ectam.” For eight, more or less, ectam, after its birth, they store the infant which is still developing, in this pouch. It sucks nourishment from nipples inside the pouch. 

I describe this to Poy and Leed. “That explains it then,” says Leed. “Why this other civilization similar to us, chose these beings.”

I am thoughtful. I tell Poy to remove the Probe from the subject. He reinserts numbing material before disconnecting in case our host feels a tickle or prick and swats at it. We are silent while he performs this risky task, which he does to perfection.

“Well, here we are then,” I say. “If we make contact with these people, can we honestly assure them that we will never do the same to them?”

“But why would we need to do that?” says Poy. “We have procreated with Hadasi for hundreds of thousands of years, possibly millions. Why would anything change?”

Leed speaks up. “We don’t know what happened to these other people like us. What caused their system to break down, their own Hadasi to stop engaging? Perhaps they died off.”

“Yes,” I say, “maybe a disease appeared that affected only them and not the two sexes.”

“I do remember now,” says Poy, “hearing of a problem in the time of my grandparents, when the Hadasi in one of the southern forest villages were affected by a fungal disease. It was a small village and not well known, but their Hadasi had to be evacuated from the area and moved to the dry side of the planet to heal. I do not know if they survived. Possibly the villagers had to be given Hadasi from other areas.”

I’m silent, thinking. One of my brothers is a Commander. He does not approve of lone scientific voyages and wanted to send soldiers with us on this one. Now I wish I had agreed. Possibly we will never get out of here.

“Our mission is to leave here alive,” I say.

“I’ll do my best,” Poy answers and our lives are in his hands.

Leed, showing a vast trust, returns to engineering. I shut my eyes and send a prayer to whichever part of the Universal Mind has affection for the Kalahamar in general, and possibly for Poy and me and this ship in particular. 

First, Poy moves our vessel so we that can see the vast room better. He adjusts the viewing screen to minimize as we scan for another Seezali who might serve our needs. Deciding on what looks like a young one who has come into their bridge to ask the Leader something and is apparently rebuked, Poy backs us out from the Leader’s hair, slides down her back, discreetly darts across the floor and attaches to the young one’s pant leg. I am so nervous that my hands tremble; it’s a good thing I am not the one piloting now. 

We move up the young one’s leg, over his back and settle into his own hair. Poy lets down the anesthetic into the being’s scalp and inserts the Probe. He lifts his chin to signal to me to go to work. I set the Probe, using the now understandable Seezali thought pattern to inject the idea of checking the docking bay, that something is wrong there. Suddenly, our new host turns and leaves the bridge, walking firmly and quickly down corridors and into an open elevator. In no time at all, he is suiting up for the docking bay. 

Poy withdraws the Probe tentacles and detaches from the scalp. Our host walks determinedly, his now magnetized feet clunking, to the door controls. He opens the port door onto the blackness and we shoot out, a mere dot in the vastness of space. Behind us the port eventually closes and I can imagine the young Seezali, discovering nothing amiss, wearing whatever passes for a confused expression for their race.

I allow myself to breathe but do not yet speak. Poy shoots for a nearby rock and we hide behind it. “Enlarge,” I direct.

He brings us to the size of a game ball and we make for a much bigger rock. In this way we continue enlarging and moving until we are hiding behind a sizeable asteroid and have returned to normal size and recloaked ourselves. I have vomited. Contracting and enlarging is not a pleasant experience for me.

“Please go clean yourself up, Boss,” says Poy. “You don’t smell your best.”  He has an uncanny ability to endure shrinking and enlarging without experiencing nausea nor any other symptoms.

When I return, feeling a bit more myself, I say to Poy, “Where’s the Seezali ship?”

“It’s still there,” he says.

“Employ the destroyers.”

He is surprised. “You mean to demolish their ship? I thought our mission was diplomacy.”

I harden my eyes, my face, my mind. “I’ve changed. We must make our statement hard.”

Poy hesitates but obeys and in one single blast, the Seezali ship is reduced to debris.

Another of their ships appears up ahead, having apparently been watching from behind another asteroid. It turns and blasts off, sending the asteroid sailing in the opposite direction. Poy reacts and gets out of its way. We check for more vessels, then make a straight line for home.

My brother, the Commander, welcomes me. Though much older, he has always shown me favor and I need it now. “Young and beautiful sister,” he says in greeting.

“Not so young now but I am always content to be called ‘beautiful,’” I thank him. “Brother, I have returned from our voyage of discovery. I went with the idea of negotiating and perhaps even making an ally. Instead I have engaged in military attack.”

His eyes flare. “How many times have I-?” He sputters in rising rage. “It is not up to a scientific expedition to-“

I cut him off. “I am sincerely sorry. But we risked our lives like any soldiers and used the Probe and the Contraction. The reason they attacked our colonies is this.” And I relate the story.

“Just because they find us disgusting and because that other race used them is no excuse,” he snaps.

“Brother,” I say softly, “they incubate their newly born in pouches. If we were ever to need…”

The look of comprehension on his face is my reward after enduring such a dangerous mission. “I see,” he says after a moment. “I see what you mean. One never knows…”

He stands up and moves about the room. Finally, he stops. “I will present to the staff – we will bring out the high echelon weapons. If need be, we can shrink some of their ships, bring them here and terrorize them, then let them go. Establish dominance.”

“Then,” I say, growing excited, “allow them to feel that we are kindly letting them alone, or even establish friendship. But should we ever need them….”

“Exactly,” says the Commander.

_______________________________________

Margaret Karmazin’s credits include stories published in literary and SF magazines, including Rosebud, Chrysalis Reader, North Atlantic Review, Mobius, Confrontation, Pennsylvania Review, The Speculative Edge, Aphelion and Another Realm. Her stories in The MacGuffin, Eureka Literary Magazine, Licking River Review and Mobius were nominated for Pushcart awards. She has stories included in several anthologies, published a YA novel, REPLACING FIONA, a children’s book, FLICK-FLICK & DREAMER and a collection of short stories, RISK.

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