* Call a fix — for seeking finders * * Trill sonar — through the leaf blinders *

Hikahi calling.

Above the churning of his struggle and the hoarseness of his breath, Toshio could hear the combat sounds of dolphin teamwork. Quick trills of Trinary, unslowed for human ears except for that one brief command, and the whining of their harnesses.

'Here! Here I am!' He slashed at a leafy vine that threatened his air hose, barely missing the hose itself. He licked his lips and tried to whistle in Trinary.

* Holding off — the sea-squid's beak * * Suckers tight — and outlook bleak * * Havoc done — on Ssassia wreaked! *

Lousy form and rhythm, but the fins would hear it better than they would a shout in Anglic. After only forty generations of sapience, they still thought better in an emergency when using whistle rhyme.

Toshio could hear the sounds of combat coming closer. But, as if hurried by the threat, the tentacles began drawing him back more rapidly, toward the gash. Suddenly a suckercovered strand wrapped itself around his right arm. Before he could shift his grip, one of the burning knots reached his hand. He screamed and tore the tendril away, but the knife was lost into the darkness.

Other filaments were falling all about him. At that moment Toshio became distantly aware that someone was talking to him slowly, and in Anglic!

'…says there are ships out there! Vice-Captain Takkata-Jim wants to know why Hikahi hasn't sent a monopulse confirmation…'

It was Akki's voice, calling from the ship! Toshio couldn't answer his friend. The switch for the sled radio was out of reach, and he was a bit preoccupied.

'Don't respond to this message,' Akki went on obligingly. Toshio moaned at the irony as he tried to pry a tendril off his facemask without doing further insult to his hands. 'Just transmit a monopulse and come on back-k, all of you. We think there's a space battle going on over Kithrup. Probably those crazy ETs followed us here and are fighting over the right to capture us, just like at Morgran.

'Gotta c-close up, now. Radio silence. Get back as soon as you can. Akki out.'

Toshio felt a tendril seize hold of his air hose. A solid grip, this time.

'Sure, Akki, old friend,' he grunted as he pulled at it. 'I'll be going home just as soon as the universe lets me.'

The air hose was crimped shut, and there was nothing he could do. Fog filled his facemask. As he felt himself blacking out, Toshio thought he saw the rescue party arrive, but he couldn't be sure if it was real or a hallucination. He wouldn't have expected Keepiru to lead the charge, for instance, or for that fin to have such a ferocious demeanor, heedless of the burning suckers.

In the end, he decided it was a dream. The laser flashes were too bright, the saser tones too clear. And the party came toward him with pennants waving in their wake like the cavalry that five centuries of Anglic-speaking man had come to associate with the image of rescue.

2 ::: Galactics

On a ship in the center of a feet of ships, a phase of denial was passing.

Giant cruisers spilled out of a rent in space, to fall toward the pinpoint brilliance of a non-descript reddish sun. One by one, they tumbled from the luminous tear. With them came diffracted starlight from their point of departure, hundreds of parsecs away.

There were rules that should have prevented it. The tunnel was an unnatural way to pass from place to place. It took a strong will to deny nature and call into being such an opening in space.

The Episiarch, in its outraged rejection of What Is, had created the passage for its Tandu masters. The opening was held by the adamant power of its ego — by its refusal to concede anything at all to Reality.

When the last ship was through, the Episiarch was purposely distracted, and the hole collapsed with soundless violence. In moments, only instruments could tell that it had ever been. The affront to physics was erased.

The Episiarch had brought the Tandu armada to the target star well ahead of the other fleets, those who would challenge the Tandu for the right to capture the Earth ship. The Tandu sent impulses of praise to the Episiarch's pleasure centers. It howled and waved its great furry head in gratitude.

To the Tandu, an obscure and dangerous form of travel had once again proved worth the risks. It was good to arrive on the battlefield before the enemy. The added moments would give them a tactical edge.

The Episiarch only wanted things to deny. Its task now finished, it was returned to its chamber of delusions, to alter an endless chain of surrogate realities until its outrage was needed by the Masters once again. Its shaggy, amorphous shape rolled free of the sensory web, and it shambled off, escorted by wary guardians.

When the way was clear, the Acceptor entered, and climbed on spindly legs to its place within the web.

For a long moment it appraised Reality, embracing it. The Acceptor probed and touched and caressed this new region of space with its farflung senses. It gave out a crooning cry of pleasure.

'Such leakage!' the Acceptor joyously announced. 'I had heard the hunted were sloppy sophonts, but they leak even as they scan for danger! They have hidden on the second planet. Only slowly do the edges of their psychic shields congeal to hide from me their exact location. Who were their masters, to teach these dolphins so well to be prey?'

'Their masters are the humans, themselves unfinished,' the Leading Stalker of the Tandu replied. Its voice was a rhythmic pattern of rapid clicks and pops from the ratchet joints of its mantis-legs. 'The Earthlings are tainted by wrong belief, and by the shame of their own abandonment. The noise of three centuries shall be quieted when they are eaten. Then our hunter's joy will be as yours is, when you witness a new place or thing.'

'Such joy,' the Acceptor agreed.

'Now stir to get details,' the Stalker commanded. 'Soon we do battle with heretics. I must tell your fellow clients their tasks.'

The Acceptor turned in the web as the Stalker left, and opened its feelings to this new patch of reality. Everything was good. It passed on reports of what it saw, and the Masters moved the ships in response, but with the larger part of its mind it appreciated… it accepted… the tiny red sun, each of its small planets, the delicious expectancy of a place soon to become a battlefield.

Soon it felt the other war fleets enter the system, each in its own peculiar way. Each took a slightly inferior position, forced by the early arrival of the Tandu.

The Acceptor sensed the lusts of warrior clients and the cool calculations of calmer elders. It caressed the slickness of mind shields rigidly held against it, and wondered what went on within them. It appreciated the openness of other combatants, who disdainfully cast their thoughts outward, daring the listener to gather in their broadcast contempt.

It swept up savage contemplations of the Acceptor's own annihilation, as the great fleets plunged toward each other and bright explosions began to flash.

The Acceptor took it all in joyfully. How could anyone feel otherwise, when the universe held such wonders?

3 ::: Takkata-Jim

High in the port quarter of Streaker's spherical control room, a psi operator thrashed in her harness. Her flukes made a turmoil of the water, and she cried out in Trinary.

* The inky, eight-armed, squid-heads find us! * * Ripping pods of them do battle! *

The operator's report confirmed the discovery made by the neutrino detector only minutes before. It was a litany of bad news, related in trance-verse.

* They scream and lust — To win and capture… *

From another station came a calmer bulletin in dolphin accented Anglic.

'We're getting heavy graviton traffic, Vice-Captain Takkata-Jim. Gravitational disturbances confirm a major battle is forming up not far from the planet-t.'

The executive officer of the Streaker listened to the report quietly, letting himself drift sideways slightly in the circulating currents of the command center. A stream of bubbles emerged from his blowhole as he inhaled some of the special fluid that filled the ship's bridge.

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