Chapter 6: Commander Ruwala and the Ulu Mahan

by Duo Radon

Wikus nearly had to jog to keep pace with his partner as Yeen led him to a part of the Fiordraa he’d never visited before. Commander Ruwala’s high-security quarters were located near the center of the huge, circular vessel. Wikus was surprised to see no variation in conformation; the corridors and markings looked just as utilitarian as any other part of the ship. It certainly wasn’t the kind of accommodation a ruler on Earth would inhabit.

When the pair reached the appropriate hall, the only difference in appearance was the size of it. The corridor was roughly twice as tall as most, obviously necessary to accommodate the larger hatch to Ruwala’s quarters. Beside the sealed door, the security warning was the highest that could be found on the ship: Level Five. No one would be permitted to enter without a top-ranking escort. The poleepkwa in question rounded the opposing corner a few seconds later. General Tarzier greeted the pair with a nod of his head, his illuminated eye seeming especially intense in the low light.

Yeen turned to his charge and took a few seconds to straighten his freshly-trimmed hair. Wikus’s nerves were frayed as it was and his friend’s mother hen routine wasn’t helping. His anxiety was easy to interpret and Yeen quickly offered some support.

“Just relax, it’ll be fine. No one will ask anything of you that you can’t do.”

“Sure. I know. Wait....what do I call him?”

“Just ‘Commander’ is acceptable. Go on....I’ll be waiting for you.”

“You’re not coming?” Wikus asked woefully as the worker nudged him towards the waiting soldier.

“You won’t need me. You’re an adult, remember?” Yeen grinned.

Wikus thumbed his nose at the smiling drone, hoping he’d get the gist of the signal, and took his place beside the ever-surly Tarzier. The comparatively tiny Earthling offered a nervous chortle to his new guide, but Tarzier responded only with narrowed eyes and a waver of his antennae. Slightly sobered, Wikus followed the General through the oversized entrance.

The unadorned corridor did not prepare visitors for what lay inside. The Office of the Commander was an absolute riot of machinery, with mechanical oddities of every description stacked along the full length of each wall. There were a few items that Wikus could identify; monitors and holographic displays here and there. But most of it was foreign and wondrous. The room almost had a whimsical feel as pieces zipped by overhead and curious light patterns were cast over the machines and onto the floor.

It was a tall room, the ceiling reached well above the top of the door frame, but the width was difficult to assess given its overflowing paraphernalia. There was a path straight down its center, just wide enough for two poleepkwa to walk side by side without bumping into each other. With the arch supports overhead, it felt to Wikus more like a cathedral than an office.

The awestruck human lagged behind, craning his neck as he took in the overflow of visual stimuli. Tarzier stopped halfway down the isle and grunted at Wikus, who took the cue immediately and hurried to catch up. At the rear of the room, he was treated to another spectacular innovation and he couldn’t believe he hadn’t noticed it right away.

The back wall housed a massive monitor, just as large as the entrance door. In the same fashion as the little bunk screen back in his cabin, this one was simulating an outdoor scene and providing most of the light for the room. Wikus could only assume he was looking upon a simulation of the homeworld. An unspoiled green prairie cascaded down to a sparkling aqua lake, dotted with dozens of little, grass covered islands. Instead of trees and brush, strange, fungus-like flora sprouted up from the landscape, feathering out into bizarre shapes. Artful rock formations could be seen on the far shore while a few fluffy clouds scooted by overhead, disrupting the sunlight glistening on the water. It was as tranquil a wilderness as any Wikus had seen on Earth and he dearly hoped they would be able to settle in such a place when their journey was over.

In front of the false window, the floor took three steps up to a platform that was fairly clear of the clutter. Upon it was a pair of “L” shaped work stations, each with a high-backed, swiveling chair fixed to the floor. Both desks contained a large monitor and a smattering of work related items, obviously left over from the morning’s tasks. The only other object on the raised area was a sizable, pellet shaped cushion in the center that Wikus presumed must be for him.

The seat to their left was empty, but there was an occupant at the right-hand station, his seat turned away to face the scenery. Tarzier strode over to the chair and leaned low, speaking softly to the unseen poleepkwa. Wikus, unsure what was expected of him, stood quietly beside the cushion, waiting. Evidently the fellow had been dozing; he awoke with a snort at Tarzier’s greeting.

“Sir. Wikus van de Merwe is here.”

“Oh, yes!” came a deep, rusty voice, “very good.”

The chair turned with an awkward shuffling of feet and Wikus was greeted by the oldest poleepkwa he’d ever seen. He was a soldier, or had been at one time. His carapace was faded and worn, covered in countless scars from a lifetime of combat. Even some of his spikes were chipped down and both of his long antennae were broken off near their ends. The warrior’s eyes, however, seemed to have lost none of their vibrancy; it was clear that the mind behind the ice-blue orbs was still strong and lucid. He sat hunched in his chair, a thick, black cloak draped around his shoulders and thorax for warmth, and smiled cheerfully at his alien guest.

“General Kwaziak,” Tarzier announced by means of introduction, taking up a guard stance beside the chair.

“Sir,” Wikus replied, placing his open palm against his chest and bowing his head in the gesture of respect Yeen had taught him.

Kwaziak reciprocated the greeting. “Thank you for coming, young one! We’ve been told so much about you and your people. I’m pleased that we can speak to you in person at last. Please, sit.”

Wikus found it peculiar that the General had learned of mankind and still wished to hold an audience with him. For that matter, the soldier’s attitude altogether was quite unusual. He spoke in such a hospitable manner that Wikus almost felt like a relation. He couldn’t decide if it was a result of old age or a quirk particular to this poleepkwa, but it did put his mind at ease a bit. He hopped up onto the cushion which, although comfortable enough, was clearly designed for a much larger creature; once seated, Wikus’s feet dangled a few inches from the floor.

“Thank you very much for seeing me, I understand what an honor this is,” Wikus began modestly.

“Oh, not at all!” Kwaziak chuckled with a wave of his hand, “we are all family here.”

Something about the statement struck a cord in Wikus and he came to a sudden realization. “Forgive me sir, but, you two are related, is that right?” he inquired timidly, pointing between Kwaziak and Tarzier. He could see that the patterns on both soldier’s forearms and legs matched.

“Why, yes! Tarzier is my grandson,” Kwaziak answered happily. The younger warrior appeared far less amused, but Wikus would have expected nothing less. “Shall I tell you a story about his childhood? Oh, he was such a little monster....”

Tarzier’s widened eyes quickly narrowed as he stared an unspoken warning at the vulnerable human. Wikus knew he would certainly be in for a pounding later, but he couldn’t resist the temptation. “Yes, please!” he grinned.

“Well, from the moment he hatched.....” Kwaziak began, and was swiftly interrupted by a noisy cough from his grandson. Fortunately for Tarzier’s dignity, there was just cause for the interlude. Both poleepkwa were now respectfully somber, their attention focused on the opposite end of the platform. Wikus shifted on his cushion so that he could see as well, and he was immediately enraptured.

Commander Ruwala approached from a dim entryway formed in the left bank of machinery. This poleepkwa may have been a genderless hermaphrodite just like her subjects, but as soon as Wikus laid eyes upon her, he knew he’d never be able to think of Ruwala as anything but female. She was extraordinary, both in appearance and grace, standing a good foot taller than even the largest of her warriors. Yet unlike the soldiers, she was slender in stature, elegant, even beautiful. Her plates were more delicately shaped, flowing together cleanly, and she lacked much of the spikiness of her underlings. But it was her coloration that struck Wikus the most. Her membranes were a soft, pure black, complimented by a brilliantly iridescent shell. Just like some of the fancier beetle species back on Earth, Ruwala’s carapace was a stunning metallic emerald that sparkled like a fusion of jewels in the simulated sunlight. As she moved, ripples of violet, gold and blue flashed over the deep green, just barely noticeable before they vanished. Upon her shining head sprouted four long antennae instead of the usual two, waving as if blown by a gentle breeze.

She bore no accessories or coverings, not even a com link, but Wikus was acutely aware that she didn’t need them. He sat, motionless and awestruck in a daze that was only partially due to her alluring facade. He could feel her influence over him, right down to his core. Momentarily, he was aware of a tingling in his forehead and Wikus suddenly realized it marked the spots where his own antennae had once been rooted. This ruler’s command over her people was not merely spoken, it was chemical. Even in his human body, he felt drawn to her. Ruwala’s gaze filled him with a sense of safety and love he’d only ever felt with his own mother, and a fierce allegiance that rivaled the loyalty he’d had for his country. Wikus would have pitched himself out of the nearest airlock without hesitation if she’d wished it.

Luckily, the Commander’s intentions were far more innocuous. She sat in her chair without speaking a word, her face warm and inviting, and looked her guest over from head to toe. Under normal circumstances, Wikus would have been agitated to be the subject of an alien’s scrutiny, but today he felt almost proud to know she had such an interest in him. Now that he had the chance to look into her eyes, he couldn’t stop marveling at them. They didn’t appear to have any assigned coloration; instead, their luminous irises reflected a different hue with each angle. She’d glance down, and they were magenta; to the left, indigo; forward, and they were a beautiful lime green. Wikus found himself wishing she’d never take her gaze from him.

When Ruwala was satisfied with her assessment, she sat back in her chair and Wikus could see that she had been carrying something. It was a small case, no bigger in diameter than his wrist, and it looked like it was made from a chunk of petrified wood. She set it on the desk with care before folding her gentle hands before her.

“I’m very glad you’ve come,” Ruwala began kindly, “we’ve been looking forward to speaking with you.”

General Kwaziak nodded jovially and Wikus could feel his face flush. “It’s my pleasure....honor, really, Commander....that you’d want to see someone like me.”

“Why not?” she smiled, “You are a remarkable person. And Yeen speaks so highly of you.”

“Oh. Well....you know, Yeen....we’ve been through a lot together, I suppose....”

“You’re very fond of him as well,” Ruwala stated rather than asked. She could obviously sense the human’s latent emotions.

“Yes, sir,” Wikus answered shyly.

“You’re doing well in his care? Feeling well?”

“Oh, absolutely! I mean, there’s some rough spots, but he’s taken really good care of me. Thank you...for taking me in like this.”

“For the service you’ve given this Colony, we could provide nothing less.”

Wikus glanced down at his fidgeting hands again, feeling uneasy. Would she feel the same way after she knew...

Ruwala pressed on, her voice taking a more consoling tone. “I’m certain you know what we must ask of you. Your story is the last remaining piece of our experience with your planet, and your people. I understand that it’s difficult to revisit, but we would be privileged to hear it.”

“Yes, of course, Commander,” Wikus acquiesced weakly.

“Please take your time.”

Wikus rubbed his fingers together compulsively while he gathered his thoughts. Then, with a deep, cleansing breath, he began to recount his tale. He described his partnership with his wife and the role of her father, his employment with MNU, and all the counterfactual information they’d taught him and the public about the poleepkwa. He meticulously detailed his assignment in District 9 and MNU’s hidden scheme. And even though it tore him apart to explain the killing policies he, himself, had executed, Wikus was careful not to exclude any information. He could only imagine what they must think of him as they listened to his chronicle. He was exceptionally fortunate to have been so readily welcomed and indulged by these people, and he was sure this single debriefing would tear it all down again. Still, he slogged through it, an ache working its way through his body as he disclosed his imprisonment in the lab and the conflict that ensued. Wikus continued until he reached the point at which Yeen had departed and he’d blacked out from the strain of the transformation. The following days had been a haze, and other players would certainly have filled in those events anyway.

Now drained of secrets and optimism, Wikus sat quietly on his cushion, his shoulders slumped and eyes downturned, waiting for their verdict. No one spoke, but Ruwala shared a wizened glance with Kwaziak before she sat back, pressing her folded hands against her tendrils. She turned her gaze outward at nothing in particular, rolling her guest’s story over in her mind. It felt like an interminable span of uncertainty to Wikus until he could no longer stand the wait.

“Please, Commander....I just...”

Without a word, Ruwala held up a shimmering hand in request for his silence and Wikus quickly complied. When she did reply, it was definitely not the answer that the dispirited human had expected.

“I am truly sorry,” she responded sincerely, “that you had to endure such pain. It saddens me greatly to know that your torment came not only at the hands of your own race, but that our Colony’s arrival was the cause.”

Wikus was dumbfounded, and it took him several seconds to form a comprehensible sentence. “I....but, Commander, I don’t understand......you’re not.....angry with me?”

Ruwala looked into his distraught eyes as she considered this and opted to answer him with a question of her own. “Wikus, are you familiar with the saying, ‘Ku eskgek, nau nevvik’?”

“Well.....I think I’ve heard it used before....”

“Do you know what it means?”

“No, sir.”

“It comes from a very old and archaic dialect. Roughly translated, it means ‘From pain comes opportunity’. You see, our culture does not discourage failure. In fact, we treat it as a gift.”

Wikus’s face contorted in bewilderment and he wondered if he’d misunderstood the words. Ruwala hastened to enlighten him.

“Let me explain. Mistakes are a healthy part of the development of the mind, in all intelligent creatures. When you do something right, you are rewarded with success, which we all strive to achieve. But it is only in failure that we have the opportunity to see how our shortcomings affect those around us. This teaches us how to empathize, to heal, and to take responsibility for our actions. And most importantly, it affords us the chance to make amends for our mistakes, to set an example for those around us and our children. “That is a gift that cannot be obtained until we first fall. That is what makes us stronger, wiser, and kinder.

“I will not say that you haven’t failed; we both know that you have made some grievous errors. But you’ve made up for your misdeeds very well, young one. Sacrificing your life to save another is the greatest lesson a person can learn. There may be innocent dead by your hand, but there is not a single refugee on this vessel that doesn’t owe his life to you.”

Wikus considered this apprehensively before he responded. “I’d.....still feel better,” he said softly, “if I received some kind of.....I don’t know, discipline....instead of praise...”

Ruwala and Kwaziak both shared a chuckle, though the expression on Tarzier’s stoic face suggested that he thought this might be a fair idea. “I do believe you’ve paid your penance,” Ruwala clicked merrily, “Yeen did not exaggerate your predisposition to fret. Dear one, consider it this way.....if a parent has four children and loses one, he must mourn. However, if he spends the rest of his days in sorrow for the one which died, he can not enjoy and love the three that live. In that case, he may as well have lost all four. Do you understand?”

Wikus nodded slowly, deeply humbled by Ruwala’s compassion. He felt completely drained, as if he’d been without sleep for days, but the Commander’s gentle eyes seemed to will the confidence back into him. If she wished it to be so, then it certainly must be.

“Now,” she continued cheerfully, “I have something to give you.” Ruwala stood, taking the small, gray case from the desk again and sweeping a hand at her soldiers. “Shall we?”

“We shall! Yes, indeed,” General Kwaziak gurgled as he struggled out of his chair. Tarzier helped his grandfather to his rickety feet and the pair made their way to the opening through which Ruwala had entered. Wikus stood as well, feeling a bit unsteady on his own legs. The Commander smiled graciously down at him, wrapping her long-fingered hand around his shoulder and escorting him after the soldiers.

There was another room just on the other side of the wall of technology, well hidden from the main hall. It was much smaller and more intimately lit; everything was cast in a subtle, bluish hue with shifting strands floating across the floor as if light were filtering through water somewhere above their heads. The space was free of furnishings save one curiosity in the center. It reminded Wikus of a bird bath made from the trunk of a tree. The same kind of gray, bark-like material that made up the mysterious case was sprouting from the polished metal deck up to a height of roughly four feet. At that point it branched out and circled around itself, forming a basin, in which there were six or seven inches of impossibly clear, still water. Wikus wouldn’t have guessed there was anything at all inside if the light hadn’t been dancing on its surface.

He very much wanted to ask a dozen questions, but the poleepkwa seemed to have a regimented agenda and Wikus opted to stay silent until he was addressed. Each took a spot around the pedestal, Kwaziak keeping close to Ruwala and his grandson just behind his shoulder to provide support. The Commander offered no explanations; instead, she opened the case and set it on the edge of the basin. It contained only two objects: a small, clear rounded bottle similar to those that held ink back on Earth, and a beautiful, glistening gold cord. Ruwala withdrew the chain and handed it to General Kwaziak, who held it in both hands reverently. Wikus was enthralled with its design; it seemed to have neither links nor anything resembling a clasp. Instead, it was a continuous cable of metal that glimmered in the shifting light like a chain of golden fireflies.

The cord in safe hands, Ruwala removed the little bottle an undid its stopper. She tipped it over the center of the bowl and a tiny amount of translucent white liquid slid out, dropping into the water like a stone. It plummeted straight to the bottom and, just like Wikus’s soap, balled up neatly with itself. The Commander then turned to Wikus and he could see that the lid had a small, triangular blade on its underside, with a channel and a circular hole cut into it just like the nib of a fountain pen.

“Your hand, please,” she instructed gently. It was obvious what she intended to do with it and Wikus wasn’t entirely thrilled at the prospect, but her majestic voice was all the impetus he needed and he offered his left hand to her freely. Ruwala took it in hers and with a quick but tender motion, she pierced the fleshiest part of his palm with the blade. The tool was so sharp and the act so swift, the pain barely registered. Ruwala released Wikus’s hand and held the tip, now a deep crimson, over the center of the bowl again and gave it a tap. As they watched, a couple of drops departed from the stopper and sunk through the water, just as the bottle’s contents had done. Wikus had reasonably expected the blood to fan out as it would have in any other pool of liquid, but he was amazed to see it slide to the bottom as though it hadn’t hit the water at all.

The drops pierced the ball of gel, settling in its the center, and for a moment there was no reaction. Gradually, the surface of the water began to release faint wisps of steam, soon accompanied by ripples emanating from the center. The ball itself began to undulate and a point of weak light made itself visible at its core. As the motion increased, the substance shifted from a milky white to a radiant violet and the glowing dot escalated to a white-hot miniature star. The turbulence increased as the ball began to shoot off little tendrils that writhed and retracted erratically.

Captivated, Wikus scarcely blinked as he stared into the basin, absentmindedly licking at the trivial wound on his palm. After a few minutes, the tumult began to subside and Kwaziak stepped forward with his chain. He dipped the glittering necklace into the water and held it there with surprising stability. Only after the motion had completely ceased did he lift it out again and hand it to Commander Ruwala.

What now hung freely from the gold cable was a stunning crystalline jewel, no larger than a nickel, in the shape of a ball of fire frozen in time. It was a clear, soft violet at its tips, one of which was looped over itself forming a ring that held it on its chain. The white center continued to glow serenely, unflickering, casting alluring sparkles along the length of the cord. Wikus gazed upon it as if he dare not touch it, even though he recognized it as his own.

Ruwala held it up between them as she spoke. “This is called Ulu Mahan, or Flame of the Divine. It is the most sacred and significant gift our people have to give. A person earns this only after he has performed a truly noble service to our kind, such as you have, Wikus.”

The stunned human remained speechless and Ruwala made certain she had his eye contact before she continued. “It is very rare,” she said with conviction, “for a drone to earn this reward. Rarer still for one of a different species to receive it. In fact, you are only one of six in our entire recorded history, and it is my honor to be the Commander to present it.”

Ruwala looped the cord lovingly around Wikus’s neck and the illuminated crystal rested against his chest, just below his sternum. It was heavier than it looked and felt warm against his body in a very unique way, as though it were emanating emotional warmth instead of physical heat.

“The light remains for the duration of your life,” Ruwala explained, “and its glow is meant to remind you of your good deeds in the hope that you will continue along the same path. Keep it with you always and it will afford you its protection. You see, it is a grave offense to cause harm to anyone bearing the Ulu Mahan. Those guilty of such pay the penalty of death.” Tarzier nodded at this statement indicating that he had most likely administered such executions in his military career.

Wikus realized that he did not know the words that could properly express the gravity of what he felt. “No one’s....ever given me anything like this.....thank you....” he struggled, clasping the jewel like a small child holding his mother’s hand.

“The gratitude is ours,” Ruwala smiled, and she stooped down to place her bejeweled forehead against that of her Colony’s adopted alien. Wikus reached up and wrapped his arms around her neck, returning the embrace in a more human fashion.

“Now then,” the Commander said brightly as she straightened her posture, “let’s head to lunch.”

“Absolutely! Just in time, too,” General Kwaziak chirped in his amusingly cheery way, “Oh, I do hope there’s Mut-chek, don’t you?”

Tarzier nodded but his exasperation was visible under the surface as he provided a steady arm for his eccentric grandfather. Ruwala gave Wikus a knowledgeable grin as she took him by the shoulder again and the group made their way further along the corridor that had led them to the ceremony room.

A few paces onward the walkway split in two, and they shifted to the left branch. It opened into another beautiful room, much different from the previous spaces. This one was brightly lit, as though the early afternoon sun was blazing through from the outside. It was square, the far wall housing three more of the “window” monitors. It appeared to be displaying another swatch of the same environment, and with the tops of the screens formed into simple arches, any visitor might be fooled into believing he was stepping out onto a veranda, overlooking a real landscape. There was another such screen on the ceiling, allowing extra “sunlight” to illuminate the room. Wikus blinked in the new setting, allowing his eyes to adjust to the unexpected change.

On the left there was a long table with the familiar fixed benches and it was, thus far, clear of trimmings. The right side of the room contained more artifacts, though these looked like collected items as opposed to functional ones. Some were obviously very old and protected by cases, and others were open for guests to touch. Such a guest had been poking at one before the group entered, and Wikus hurried over to him, happier than he’d felt in ages.

Yeen nuzzled his human’s forehead and Wikus excitedly shared his experience with him. The pair hadn’t conversed for long before they were joined by the remainder of the diners, an impressive group of eight soldiers; the Fiordraa’s oldest and highest ranking officers. Close on their heels came a set of workers, one of whom shared a short conversation with the Commander before he pointed instructions at his associates. The table was then quickly set with heaps of delectable smelling entrees and drinks. Ruwala tenderly thanked her workers as they departed and invited her guests to sit.

Wikus wasn’t familiar with any of the new soldiers, but the experience he and Yeen had shared was understandably famous among them all. Feeling uncomfortably small amongst so many physically large and high-ranking poleepkwa, the human did his best to answer their questions in a respectful and coherent manner. Thankfully, the conversation inevitably turned to matters of interstellar politics and current Colony affairs, and Wikus was able to focus his attention on his lunch.

As per the usual, its appearance was ghastly but the flavors were ode-worthy. Wikus was astounded to see very little repetition on the table. Even after a month of eating their food, most of the banquet was completely new to him. Yeen had explained that their complex bodies required a wide assortment of nutrients, but Wikus still couldn’t believe such an elaborate and delicious menu had come from the same creatures that once tried to eat the tires off of his truck.

Now that his nerves were settled, Wikus could feel the appetite that had been lying in wait beneath his anxiety. He opted to try a little of everything, but there were naturally a few items he preferred over the others and they definitely deserved a second helping or so. Yeen was also enjoying the satiation their meal had brought as he watched his friend empty a third bowl of creamy, blood-red soup.

“You liked that one best?” the drone clicked affectionately.

“Mnf-yeah!” Wikus replied, wiping his mouth on his sleeve, “this....and those things over there.” He pointed at a platter that still contained a handful of grilled alien-meat-kabobs.

“Feel free to have another, then...”

Mmn. No thanks, I’m stuffed.” Wikus set his dishes aside neatly and resumed admiring his new gift, rotating the glowing crystal in his fingers. He felt Yeen stroke a hand gently down his back and as he leaned into it slightly, he caught a glimpse of the drone’s right arm, and its adornment. “So,” Wikus mused aloud, “there’s two lights in yours....one is for Joji, right?”

“That’s right,” Yeen answered proudly.

“Aaaand....General Tarzier....he keeps his in his eye...”

“Also correct.”

“But....what about General Kwaziak?” Wikus turned a subtle glance to the far end of the table where the old warrior seemed even more boisterous now that he’d eaten. Even with the heavy cloak removed, he hadn’t been able to locate such a light on Kwaziak’s body, whereas every other soldier in the dining room seemed to have one. Wikus found it an unlikely prospect that such an experienced veteran hadn’t earned the Ulu Mahan.

Yeen finished the last bit of his meal and slid his empty dishes aside as well, then leaned close to his partner. “Well, this is what I’d heard,” he said softly, “General Kwaziak earned his crystal at a very young age when he saved his entire platoon during the conflict on Ku-Siliev. They gave it to him on a chain just like yours. But then, a few decades later, he was stationed on a ship called the Yu and it was attacked by pirates. In the initial assault, there was an explosion and a big piece of metal pierced his throat and lodged in his chest, very close to his heart.” Yeen pointed at the spot on his own throat where his vents converged. “He refused to let anyone touch him until the invaders were dealt with, and after it was over and he was sure his vessel was safe, he still wouldn’t let the medics treat him. Said he was fine the way he was. The only way the doctors could get him into surgery was to agree to replace the shrapnel with his crystal. He still carries it in his chest today, next to his heart.”

“Wow,” Wikus whispered. The family ties between Tarzier and Kwaziak were suddenly starting to snap into focus.

Just as quickly as it had begun, the dinner party dispersed, each of the officers returning to their daily routines. With no real schedule, Yeen and Wikus were the last in line to thank their host for her hospitality. Ruwala seemed almost remorseful to let them leave; her duties as the Commander of an exceptionally large Colony meant that they wouldn’t see much of each other during the journey home. As she escorted the duo out of the dining room, she offered the human a few words of encouragement that she hoped would keep his spirits bolstered.

“You’re stronger than you think, Wikus. You’ve already proven that to us, you only need to accept it yourself. Yeen will guide you in the right direction; stay with him and I have no doubt that your future will be an excellent one.”