The story so far:
Gaul heeded none of their warnings. He concentrated on the signals. He locked in, letting his mind become an extension of the alien's. The emotional memories became corporeal, overloading the senses.
While Gaul was temporarily distracted, Ilda swung her foreleg laterally, plunging the tip of her talon into the soft abdomen of the alien. She did not intend kill it but rather to inject a pod seed. Ilda knew that a seed consumes the energy stored in the pods. Old folklore, she recalled, says that a seed will consume whatever had hosted it. If she could plant one seed and get it to sprout outside, she could spark a new chance for freedom.
The alien reacted to the pain from the injection.
“Let me go!” said the creature.
Let it go! thought Gaul.
Subverting to the alien's willpower, Gaul turned about and plunged into the doorway. His abdomen wedged against the frame, preventing the others from witnessing him as he released the captive.
The alien gave a look of incredulity, and then scrambled away. Gaul dropped to the ground in relief and exhaustion, thinking, This creature had no choice in his actions, and therefore cannot be condemned. I hope the others will understand.
Only Ilda understood. She understood Gaul. Now she would have to inform the others of her deed. With the adults falling against the unknowable nightwalkers, the fate of the tribe relied on the willpower and ability to disperse the seeds outside the compound.
The aliens had no comprehension of the beast stuck in the doorway, its grotesque feelers and antennae protruding from the orifice. They sounded an alarm. The auxiliary security bars dropped down on Gaul, slicing him in half. It did not terminate his life immediately, for the weight of the bars formed a seal that prevented the loss of bodily fluids. The other half of his body, however, began to scurry around the compound under no willful direction.
Despite overwhelming pain, Gaul intently studied the landscape beyond the door. He had long imagined returning to the sandy plains of the Silcaaray, where the sun reflected off the surface to provide twice the energy for long treks. Instead, his eyes gazed upon a new ecosystem, one where water gushed from wells to form irrigation canals. His rudimentary olfactory senses detected a rich, moist smell of decaying biomass. Stalks of green, row by row, formed a botanical canopy all the way to the horizon.
He did not have to read their minds; he knew that the aliens had begun to farm and settle in large numbers. Yet Gaul could not communicate this vital information to the others. Without it, the Igilas might not have enough fortitude to stand united against the interlopers in the war that would proceed without him.
The young Igila’s command dispersed throughout the compound. Each Igila who received the message forwarded it to others within his or her radius. This public broadcast augmented regular private communications, thus increasing unity during a crisis.
Slark—one of the few Igilas born in captivity—had nearly reached maturity when he recognized his new responsibilities. The dearth of adult males gave him a sense of duty, a call to elevate above his own lingering doubts and assume a role of leadership. Slark lived his entire life in these artificial conditions; he didn’t worry about regaining what was lost. He yearned for something new.
He remembered Pallan’s description of the phototropic node, located on the third quill in the spine. When it sensed a drop in solar radiation, it released a hormone that induced sleep. Because other Igilas had survived losing quills, Slark surmised he could amputate that node and remain conscious during the darkness.
As the shutters were sliding shut, Slark had pinched the node against a wall girder until the pressure severed the quill. The pain jolted his senses, as if the force pushed right up against his brain. He held back his inclination to project that pain, for he did not want others to know yet.
Eventually, he managed the feat without much fluid loss. With confidence at unprecedented levels, Slark strode to the ridge to begin his address, fighting against time as the darkness forced the remaining Igilas into dormancy.
Only two responded to the hail—Ilda and Dalar, still fueled by the energy of their pods.
“Slark, how have you prevented the hibernation?” inquired Dalar.
He explained his technique, with some trepidation. Self-mutilation was considered improper, but the circumstances demanded boldness. Instead of admonishment, he received encouragement.
“You have brought hope. We must wake the others,” stated Ilda.
Slark lowered his antennae. “I haven’t perfected the technique. I might injure someone.”
“We’ll try it on the young males. They are weaker and more expendable.”
Dalar protested. “No. They are hormonal and aggressive. They might try to usurp power from the elders.”
Slark once again thought logically. “I will wake Pallan. He’s old, and can hardly move anyway. With his wisdom, we can compose a plan.”
With the faintest of light to guide him, Slark found Pallan in a secluded corner, next to the wall. Using his talons, he severed the third quill. Within moments, Pallan rose, cantankerous as ever.
“What? How did you wake me, and why?”
“I need your help, so I disabled your phototropic node.”
“Ah, yes, I thought I felt a new pain. For this I owe you a favor?”
“Pallan, I know you can formulate an escape plan.”
“Why bother? We have no resources here to help us escape.”
“What about outside?”
Pallan raised his antennae, delighted that a member of the younger generation had shown some ingenuity. He enlightened Slark about a plan he had previously devised.
“Notice the beams on the walls. They rise up to the ceiling, forming a point. If you stand next to it and project, your receptors will feel the echo. I’ve been transmitted signals for a while now, and as you can see, no rescue has come.”
“What if we combine our signals, to amplify them for broadcast beyond the compound, where it might garner the attention of some other Igila clan?”
“Assuming that they care, I will try,” Pallan stated.
The four Igilas, Slark, Pallan, Ilda and Dalar stood in different corners of the compound. They latched to the beams with their forelegs and vibrated their quills. Their thoughts resonated with the same message, “Free us.”
An answer did not come. Much time had passed. The females consumed the energy stored in their pods. Their bodies automatically resumed hibernation. Ilda and Dalar hoped they would awake to a better tomorrow—if they woke at all.
A lack of energy reserves also induced sleep in Slark and Pallan. Unfortunately for them, they could not enter complete hibernation without the hormone from the phototropic node, so they burned energy at a higher rate.
The lights returned and, one by one, the Igilas emerged from their dormant state. Lizaro, Alzo, and the other males rose first. Ilda, Dalar, Lidra and the females woke next. Slark woke slowly, severely debilitated by the energy drain. Pallan did not rise.
All gathered at the ridge.
“How long was the darkness?”
“There is no way to know.”
“What do we know?”
Ilda succinctly explained the message they sent, and the technique Slark used to stave off dormancy.
The door creaked open. Filling the aperture was a young Igila, about half the size of an adult, chained on all six legs and around the abdomen. A strange contraption of wires attached to its quills, which began to vibrate.
The Igilas detected a fuzzy signal.
“What does it mean?” asked Lizaro.
The signal increased in clarity. “Help.”
“Help? How can we help?” Lizaro asked.
Ilda recognized the personal signature of her offspring. “My child—what have they done?”
Lizaro decried the spectacle. “The aliens have taken one of ours and are using it to communicate. We mustn’t let them exploit us!”
Dalar, carrying on Gaul’s legacy, pleaded for sensibility. “We should listen. They may want to help.”
Indeed, the scent released from the Igila indicated that the word was an offer of help, not a request.
Dalar directed a question to the young Igila. “How did you get here?”
“Born inside alien. It died. I lived.”
Ilda, not concerned with diplomatic efforts, strode forward. “I am your mother.”
The young Igila offered no recognition. He represented the aliens alone.
“We treat Igilas badly. Not all know.”
“Not all know what?” asked Ilda of her child.
Dalar interjected. “Not all of them know we are intelligent creatures.”
“Correct,” said the young Igila.
Dalar took command of the conversation. “What are the aliens’ plans?”
“Igilas must leave. More aliens coming. They will subdue Igilas permanently. A few aliens willing to make peace with Igilas, but not enough. Go.”
Ilda’s child cleared the doorway, which was left open. The younger males wasted no time in rushing out to freedom. The rest fought their way through the doorway.
Once outside, they bathed in the invigorating solar energy and the sight of the new landscape. They witnessed verdant foliage in all directions—a land covered with orchards and gardens, filled with exotic plants of the stationary variety.
Ilda could not leave her child. She followed his tracks in the dirt, Lidra close behind.
The next surprise came from atop the hills. A swarm of new Igilas descended upon the alien outpost.
Lizaro recognized Migro, Gaul’s brother.
“We received a signal for help, but you are free, Lizaro. Did the aliens release you?”
Lizaro replied, “No, we escaped. The traitors Ilda and Lidra are with the aliens now. Let them suffer the same fate.”
A few dozen aliens, armed with knives, charged out of the buildings to defend. They presented no challenge to the Igilas, whose forelegs crushed the defenders before their short arms could put the blades to use. The battle quickly ended. Many aliens fled on foot ahead of the slower Igilas.
Migro called an assembly.
“Fellow Igilas. The fight does not end. I have seen other outposts that the aliens have established. They have also better weapons, a device that spits fire like the sun, so hot that it melts anything it touches. There is no Igila defense against it.”
Many Igilas lowered their antennae.
“What can we do?”
Lizaro stood tall, on his hind legs. “We have to stay on the move, away from those outposts that have these weapons. Find more Igilas, build our numbers. Yesterday we were captives. Today we gained our freedom. Whatever our fate, let it be determined by our own will. Let us fight, as free Igilas, under one sun.”
The Igilas shook their quills in unison. United, they marched over the hill, to the next outpost, hoping to meet the battle, the continuing struggle for existence, before the sun falls.