A Honey of a Deal
A Tale of the Ringbearers by Brother Grimace
This, Danielle Todds thought, looking up at the dark sky that pulsed with an incoming shower of tens of thousands of tiny meteors burning up in the atmosphere, is easily one of the most beautiful worlds that I've ever set foot upon. Thank God the locals were able to deal with the problems themselves.
She looked up into the sky at one of the binary stars that the world circled, a brilliant spotlight billions of miles away. Danielle remembered from the briefing that the stars were actual cosmic twins, as both were 'G' class stars – one slightly further away than Earth was from the sun, and it orbited the main star as the planets did. It's the same distance out Jupiter is from Earth – or in that '2010' movie, the star Jupiter turned into.
Danielle's dark eyes took in the view – the distant star-sun, two of the three moons of this planet (also a twin, it's sister world a sea-green jewel low on the horizon now, tilted so that the eternal belt of clouds over its equator, several thousand miles across and miles thick, was visible), and the huge shimmering sets of planetary rings that circled the world in a direct alignment with its magnetic axis and created a nighttime spectacle that drew even the Ringbearers –some slightly jaded by all that they had experienced – out every night to just sit and look at its beauty.
"Ashley loves staring at the Rings of Light, too."
The Ringbearer always smiled when she heard the name for the planet's rings, as did every Ringbearer when they first heard it. "Hello, Spaulding," she said, reaching down and feeling warn, soft fur beneath her fingers that she began to stroke gently, feeling a gentle shudder of pleasure. "Couldn't find anyone else to rub your neck?"
She turned her head, and looked down to see the small Northern Fur Seal seated on his haunches besides the rock she sat on, his snow-white fur unusually clean and shining. Even with everything that I've seen – finding out that Douglas Adams was right still rocks me back on occasion. Not just with the dolphins, but with more than a few of the citizens of the sea. Who knew fur seals were that intelligent, had their ways to move off Earth, or had settled on other worlds in our own reality, but over to others? They're almost as far up the chain as the mice!
The expression on the seal's face turned upwards in what could only be interpreted as a smile, and Danielle scowled as she removed her hand. "I'm sorry-!" Spaulding Michaelson Seal pouted, his words clear in Danielle's mind. "I don't mean to do it, but it's just that you were thinking, and it was such a nice thought-"
"It's impolite to read someone's thoughts. Just talk, all right? Well, you know what I mean."
Psychic fur seals – complete with telepathy, a touch of telekinesis and mental bolts that can stun a blue whale in his tracks – and all they want to do, for the most part, is 'enjoy the Seal Experience.' That is something no one expected – a philosophy dedicated to living an easy life. Adams really called that one.
"The Starbears said that they'd talk to you guys tomorrow about their decision."
"Oh, okay. Thank you, Spaulding."
"Can I say here with you?"
Danielle smiled at the eager eyes of the seal, almost wiggling with happiness. "Yes, you can stay with me." She slid down from the rock upon the soft, fragrant grass and let the fur seal snuggle approach, his fur warm against her.
Spaulding nuzzled in close, his eyes already misty with sleep. "Hey... you're warm like Mom... and Stepford... and Ashley..." The young fur seal dozed off, and Danielle looked down at him.
Of all of the things that we expected to find when we found this world and considered it as a perfect world to place a Ringbearer base – a recreational facility, a major training academy and a sustainer array for Beacon Terra One – no one imagined that the world would not only be occupied, but by creatures who know about supernatural menaces, but have the means to beat them back.
The Effrani are just – wow. Add to that, telepathic fur seals that emigrated here from Earth after they met up with them and stopped a serious HST threat on their own – and now, they have a population of thousands of fur seals... although this one has an annoying tendency to steal the blankets.
Danielle waited until a soft breeze wafted overhead, and held her Defender Ring up; she transmuted the air into a thick, soft layer of omnicloth – an alchemically created fabric that acted as an all-purpose material. It could be used to make clothes that allowed the wearer to remain warm or cool as needed, was water- and corrosion resistant, non-fading, and impervious to punctures, fire, tearing, or wear – much like the garments worn of 'unstable molecules' worn by some metahumans – like the Legion, she thought.
I hope that they don't hold a grudge, and the Council did decide that particular Soul Crystal was safe in their custody. We also did a 'reset', so no one in their Lawndale remembers what happened – and by finding that major trans-temporal/special nexus at the site of their old school, I'm out of the Council's doghouse. Apparently, the classroom where that self-esteem class was taught was the location of the single biggest stable non-transitable nexus anyone's ever encountered to date...
Danielle ran her fingers across the soft cloth. It was the perfect material for use in the field by Ringbearers – and there had been complaints about having to try to stay warm by using layers and layers of silk – yes, the locals might like it for trade, but unless you're female and trying to seduce someone, silk wasn't that useful for normal clothing, let alone tents or other uses.
This is the first Corps-wide endowment they've placed upon the Rings since I've worn one, she thought, creating a second large panel of the cloth after placing the first on the ground; using her TK ability, she gently moved the seal onto the makeshift sheet, and then pulled the second over herself and Spaulding. Good thinking, too. Omnicloth has many more uses out here, and once the locals see what it can do, you can always get a deal for coats with hoods or socks made of omnicloth for whatever you want. They'll take omnicloth over gold or diamonds.
Funny. They always want coats with hoods and socks.
Tucking Spaulding into his own corner of the huge panel of cloth and smiling as he immediately began to twirl himself into a warm little cocoon, Danielle concentrated on the passing winds, creating several yards of thick, heavy silk cloth that she rolled into a firm bundle. Moments later, she had created a second smaller panel of omnicloth which she folded and sealed on three ends with her telekinesis.
Nothing like TK to make molecular bonds in the cloth - no visible seams, everything's snug and perfect, and when the others see this tomorrow, I'll get someone to take my patrol shift by promising to make them bedclothes for their beds, once we begin construction. If they're nice – I just might make them a very nice four-post bed.
The Ringbearer slid the pillowcase perfectly over the thick bundle of silk. She held up the pillow she'd created, smiled, and set it down behind her before pulling the cloth over her.
It's such a beautiful sky.
Danielle eased herself back and her mind drifted off, the Rings of Light being replaced bys the image of bouncy, carrot-red hair floating through her mind as she stared off into the distance before sleep overtook her.
The group of seven Ringbearers – Danielle, the leader because of her elemental affinity for Quintessence – had set up a small meeting area in a clearing a good two miles away from the main Effrani village, which was off limits to the Ringbearers, and located deep within the huge, thick forest that covered the entire area as far as the eye could see.
Over the entire continent, she thought, recalling the flight in, except for the rivers and lakes that can be seen from overhead. North America used to be like this – and as far as we're concerned, this will never be touched. There are five continents and two serious archipelagos – the world's sixty-eight percent water – and we're asking for permission to use land on the larger continent in the northern hemisphere for the base and the array, and the archipelago on the equator for the recreation facility.
Thing is, even though we've sent reps here for the past year to confirm the viability of this world and we're friendly with them, this is the first time the Effrani have actually allowed us to send people specifically for the purpose of negotiating the rights to the lands. Wonder what they want?
"Okay, everyone – the Effrani negotiation team should be here in two hours. Everything looks good, so let's take a quick break for breakfast."
"You're going to eat now? Can I have some, too?"
Danielle rolled her eyes, shaking her head and ignoring the laughter of her fellows as Spaulding's head popped out from behind a tree "Hey, Danni – your boyfriend's back," one of the Ringbearers snickered, watching as the fur seal pup half-waddled, half-levitated over to where they sat, moving fasted than any of them would have thought possible.
"Do you have vegetable stew? The Starbears love their vegetable stew, and they eat fruits, and they used to eat fish but they don't have any fish anymore, and that sucks because I want a fish because when we moved here, we didn't get to have any more fish and I want a fish SO badly because the stuff here's not bad but I'm a fur seal and I have to eat fish if I'm going to grow up big and strong-"
"Spaulding!" Danielle's olive complexion had taken on a reddish glow, her ears burning with the other Ringbearers' roars of laughter as the seal's babbling (a rambling mish-mash of psi-speech and eager barking) suddenly ceased. "I – we – if I give you something to eat, will you promise to go home and play while we work with the Effrani this morning?"
The bouncing fur seal nodded his agreement.
Later, Danielle reflected on her monumentally bad judgment at what to give Spaulding for a snack, wincing at how the other Ringbearers' Ring-presented memories of her creating a large platter of fresh tuna - and how she had to keep a flying fur seal pup (who immediately locked onto the scent and leaped forward with wide eyes and an ear-splitting psychic cry of 'FISH!') from knocking her down as he tried to get to the tray – would probably be fodder for decades of laughter.
Things got worse, she had to admit, when less than a minute later, a swarm of hungry fur seals came flying out of the forest in an aerial hunting formation, whiskers quivering as the mental cries of 'where's the fish? where's the fish? echoed loudly about the area – and then, one of the fur seals caught a scent...
In hindsight, she decided that a little embarrassment – and a badly bruised jaw - was a small price to have paid.
"I'm sorry, Danielle," Spaulding said, careful to stay firmly planted on the ground as he followed along behind the cross-looking Ringbearer. "I really am."
"I've fought zombies, lycanthropes, Spiritspears, actual ghosts, demons, Dark Jedi, rogue metahumans, warp hounds, dimension-jumping soul-thieves, real-life sorcerers and witches, evil mystic alien beings, Ringwraiths – both kinds, thank you very much," she growled. "A world of things straight out of mythology including having to guess the Riddle of the Sphinx - and they don't bother to tell you that she comes up with a new brain-buster for everyone – an actual Cenobite incursion, one real-as-sin God of Death and her pissed-off Aztec Army of the Dead... and I get knocked cold by a herd of flying seals trying to get a fix for their collective seafood Jones."
"I'm sorry – I haven't seen fish in so long, and there was so much of it!"
"I will never live this down." She looked around the meeting area, at the gathered thronging of fur seals, barking happily as they ate from the huge mounds of fresh salmon and tuna created from large chunks of ambrosia. "We'll have to ask the Effrani if we can reschedule the meeting – because this place is trashed."
Danielle turned to the sound of an incredibly pleasant baritone voice, and saw a soft, fuzzy face looking over at her – the face of one of the Effrani Elders from the village. Behind him was a group of four smaller Effrani, and all five wore robes made from Ringbearer-gifted silk.
'Starbears' is right - and they do love the silk...
The Effrani, put simply, looked like grizzly bears – in this case, about five feet tall (very tall, considering that the average Effrani was four feet tall) – and if bears spoke in Midwestern English. She had adjusted to the seals talking that way because their telepathy spoke directly to her mind, so that's just how she heard them – except for particularly loquacious seals like Spaulding, who switched without warning between telepathy and the normal seal-speech of barks and so forth. If there's one thing that makes this job so much easier, it's the translator endowment on the Rings...
"You are healed?"
Danielle nodded. "One of my friends saw to that."
"I see that you took no offense in what happened." Danielle heard a sound that could only be the rumbling of stomachs, and noticed that a couple of the Effrani kept glancing at the fish, and an idea popped into her head...
"Elder – may I invite you and your friends to have a meal with us? Spaulding told me earlier-" Before he and his friends nearly knocked my block off. "-That you once had fish on this world, but they're gone now."
"Another loss from the Seasons of Fear," the elder said, taking the offered seat at the only remaining table, now moved some distance away from the original spot – the other tables had been trashed in the seal dive-bombing. "The alien pathogen delivered to our world reduced our population to a third of what it was – but before we were able to eliminate all of the infected Effrani, they had caused such damage to the food chain that the various ocean fish are almost gone – it's a rarity to find them, and the fish from our inland waterways are gone now."
Danielle waved to one of the other Ringbearers, who brought several blocks of ambrosia to the table on small plates as two others set out huge containers of ice water and large bowls (the Effrani, they knew, preferred to have bowls they could lift and drink from in social settings around strangers). "This is the – ambrosia – that we've heard of, yes?"
The lead Ringbearer nodded. "If you'll allow me..."
The Effrani suddenly began rumbling with excitement as Danielle passed her hand over one of the blocks of ambrosia, and it transmuted into a massive metal tray, filled to the brim with thick, freshly baked salmon fillets! "Elder, you know exactly when the infection arrived on your world?"
"Yes," he said, looking down at the serving of six large fillets set before him (the Ringbearer who elected himself as server had a feeling that very large portions would be appreciated). "Why do you ask?"
"My superiors may be able to help you, in terms of bringing back your native stocks of fish – and perhaps, also adding new fish from other worlds. Of course, we would have to make sure that any fish we bring in would find a place in the ecosystem without causing damage. That's happened a number of times on my home planet."
"You know about these things?"
"My father was a farmer; I spent the first sixteen years of my life on a farm helping to grow food," she told them. "You end up learning about similar and related subjects to your work – and one think I learned about was how transplanting certain species without knowing how they'll interact with the environment can cause disaster. On my world, the kudzu weed and the Asian carp are two examples of how things can go badly very fast. We'll probably just help you repopulate your own breeds."
Danielle allowed herself to talk longer than she usually would have; it let the Effrani have more time to eat without feeling the need to reply. "If you enjoy that type of fish, we could probably show you how to use one of your lakes in order to work with breeds from other worlds, and breed your own without risking your own breeds. You'll just have to take the appropriate precautions."
The Elder lifted his snout from his plate and wiped it on a thick silk napkin before speaking. "You can help us bring back the creatures that were once here?"
The Ringbearer noticed the sudden quiet at the table; all of the Effrani were looking at her with quivering snouts. "What?"
Speaking slowly, as if choosing every word very carefully, the Elder sat up straight at the table. "When the pathogen appeared on our world-" The way the Effrani went from technobabble to plain speech fascinated Danielle. "-One of the species destroyed was a type of insect. They were widespread in many areas, particularly in the southern areas on this continent, and particularly vulnerable to the pathogen – which simply wiped them out by the billions."
The other Ringbearers paid close attention to the fact that the fur seals had stopped eating, and listened with a measure of annoyance on their adorable faces. "This species was particularly valuable to us. It was a primary link in the plant life on our world, assisting in the pollination of many, many forms of plants – and it also produced a secretion which was both edible, and could be used for medicinal purposes. The importance of this species cannot be understated, and if you and your fellow Ringbearers could help restore them..."
An elfin-thin male Ringbearer, who was aware of just how much he resembled the mythical race and played it up in the way he carried himself, brushed his long, platinum-blond hair from his eyes as he leaned in close to Danielle. "He can't be thinking-"
"Hey. Once you've been across the actual Rainbow Bridge and stood at the gates of Asgard, not to mention actually having the met the guy 'who created you' and discussing the finer points of redheads with him over a pizza dinner-"
She looked up into the Ringbearers' ice-blue eyes. "Read up on the 'Gardener Principle'. It'll rock you back. Anyway – after a while, you have to just accept the weird and unusual."
Danielle turned back to the Effrani. "Um... could you describe these insects?"
"They're small – about an inch long. They have black and yellow stripes, and make a buzzing sound when they fly. They're named 'stingers', because of the small stinger each has-" The Elder cocked his head to the side in a questioning manner that Danielle found adorable. "You've seen them before."
The elfin Ringbearer's eyes met Danielle's once again. "If they're talking about bees..."
"They are," Danielle echoed, transmuting a handful of grass into ambrosia – and then changing that into a one-gallon container of honey.
The Effrani locked their eyes on the container in a way that reminded Danielle of the very first time she had ever gone clubbing, and the way every guy (and more than a few women, which, she later admitted, was an insane turn-on) simply couldn't stop staring at her. Yeah. That's the money.
"Stinger's extract," the Effrani all rumbled; only extreme self-control, Danielle noticed, kept them from coming across the table at the container. "You have stingers on your world."
"We call them 'bees' – but we can discuss that later."
Danielle rose from the table and walked about twenty meters away as the Effrani and her fellows watched; her Ring was aglow as she transmuted the earth in a small area into water, creating a wading pool big enough for the Effrani to frolic in. "Kerry."
Kerry – the elfin Ringbearer – lifted his ring; in a flash, five pillars of rock rose up from the ground to become makeshift altars, smoothing out to a glassy finish on top.
The other Ringbearers joined in; within a minute, what could only be a small temple stood in the morning sunlight; surrounded by a ring of tall trees, with massive containers of honey and large, gleaming honeycombs sitting atop each altar. "A token of appreciation, from the Corps of Ringbearers," Danielle said. "We'll return later."
The seven Ringbearers disappeared in tiny, rapidly disappearing points of darkness as they transported to the Ringbearer vessel waiting on a small island seventy miles away from the mainland; before they had vanished, the Effrani had flung themselves towards the temple and the honey with a speed that would have made cheetahs or velociraptors wince.
Three days later (after healing several dozen Effrani of tummyaches, Danielle laughed to herself), the Effrani had agreed to the terms of the agreement – with one additional provision.
There was no way that I was going to let any other Ringbearer be around to witness this, Danielle thought, sighing gently as several Effrani poured warm honey over her naked form – along with the circle of other Effrani Elders that knelt in front of the large wading pool inside the Great Temple inside the main Effrani village. Just saying 'thank you' for giving them some honey would have been enough...
The small Effrani padded all around Danielle and the other Elders, stroking and rubbing the warmed honey over every inch of their bodies before lifting them, one by one, to the wading pool to bathe them. You know – back on Earth, this kind of spa treatment would set you back a few grand, and – oh, God! These furry guys have some talented little paws...
As the Effrani lifted Danielle's shining, nude form high in the air and moved slowly with her towards the wading pool to bathe her, the Ringbearer reflected that being made an honorary member of an Effrani life-clan wasn't such a bad thing, after all.