The apes lost two drones that day but gathered the information they needed. They counted ten Flesh Eaters in the woods, and they appeared to be burning a path ahead of them to bring in something like a tank. They did not bring the main gun from their crashed ship, which would have been useless without the energy source of the ship’s engines, but this portable weapon was not far down the power scale from the ship. The ape warship was screened, of course, a necessity for space travel, but they feared their screens might not stand up to the power of the tank.
“We may have to abandon you, temporarily, to bring in our main battleship. The Eaters surprised us with such weapons on another world. We lost the battle for that world.”
“Your missiles were ineffective?” Decker asked. He came to this meeting on the sixth day as they met over primarily military matters. Captain Jarl Hagenson came to represent the village, and Inga came with him to explain if she could. Jarl was younger than Kerga and the others on the council. It was hoped he might better understand these strangers.
The ape commander shook his head. “Whatever their power source, the tanks, as you call them, are shielded against our normal weapons. This is why we may need to bring in the battleship, and even it alone might not be enough.”
“These Flesh Eaters appear to be very good at discerning energy sources and converting them to use,” Elder Stow said.
“They had handheld Vr projectors some fifty years ago. What you call Vorcan energy,” Lockhart said.
“What is Vorcan energy?” Jarl asked.
“It is a by-product of faster than light travel,” the ape commander began, but paused when Elder Stow held up his hand. Elder Stow tried to simplify the explanation.
“When a ship—a people learn to travel at the speed of light, which is very, very fast, they discover several side things that come with breaking the light speed. One is Vr or Vorcan energy. It can kill people. Eventually, the people learn to screen out or block that energy so they can fly very fast, safely. These Eaters have figured out how to recreate that energy in a box they can carry. It is no good against people who are normally screened, like the big invisible screen we have around our camp at night, you know?”
“But these Eaters see no reason why they should not use it on people who have not learned the secret to protect themselves. In that case, it is a powerful weapon that can cause madness, seeing and hearing things that are not there, and eventually making people unable to move before the heart stops and they die. Do you understand?”
Jarl nodded but did not look too certain. Inga spoke for him. “It is like a spear that can be thrust into a woman who has no armor and no shield to fend off the blow.”
“Something like that,” Katie said, and Jarl appeared to understand better.
“But what is the energy source for this tank, and can we disrupt it?” Decker asked.
The ape commander looked like the question did not occur to him, but Elder Stow spoke again.
“My analysis suggests photon energy, though it may be some early form of anti-matter.”
“Photon?” Katie spoke up. “But even we have lasers.”
“That is the beginning of the circle,” Elder Stow responded, and looked once at Jarl and Inga. “People begin with natural sources such as wind, water, and animal power. Fire is a great step. Then steam and fossil fuels are exploited—still natural fuels. Eventually atomic energy is discovered, fission, plasma drive, and fusion power. Following that come experiments on gravity and magnetism—gravometrics, graviton bombs a hundred times more powerful than an atomic explosion, but without the ambient radiation. If the people survive those days, they eventually find anti-gravity. This leads directly to faster than light travel, but there are other obstacles to overcome. One brings people back to the wave-particle nature of light itself. Here, the circle is completed, and photon energy is a powerful source of energy for a long time before anti-matter, and eventually, anti-photon or dark energy.” Elder Stow looked at the crew from the ape ship and shook his head. “But that is as far as I need to go. Maybe too far. Let me just say, it appears to be photon energy driving the tank.”
“I understood the basic thrust of that,” Inga said, even as Jarl went back to head shaking.
“I got most of that,” Katie said. “I’m sure Boston and Sukki would have understood better.”
“I understood well enough,” the ape commander admitted. “But I have no idea what photon energy is or how to counteract it. We were using plasma drive and learning about fusion energy when the Eaters first came to our planet. We thought to learn from them and advance ourselves. We nearly lost the planet as they ate through the population. We gained knowledge from them and now fight them wherever we find them. We help protect primitives where we can, but the Eaters remain about two steps ahead of us.”
“Can we pull down the shade, somehow, and cut off their energy source?” Decker asked, but Elder Stow shook his head.
‘I read about your Superman, being powered by your yellow sun. But Superman does not become incapacitated every time he steps into the shade. Photon energy is not exactly light energy—not exactly. I’ll say no more.”
“So, what can we do?” Katie asked.
Elder Stow thought a long time, and everyone waited as patiently as they could. He spoke at last. “Every space civilization has benefited more or less from those that came before them. The Anazi gained faster than light travel from the Sevarese and Bluebloods. The Humanoids learned advanced robotics and artificial intelligence from the Anazi. The Wolv stole the improved screen technology from the Humanoids, so they rampaged through the galaxy with primitive, but personal screens for protection.”
“We have a legend about Wolvs,” the ape commander said. “That was a thousand years ago. Most call it a myth. The stories from that time inspired us to fight the Eaters…” He paused before he added, “They are not a myth, are they?”
Heads shook as Elder Stow spoke. “They were real. They ruined most civilizations in this part of the galaxy. Fortunately, those elder races, such as we who had no interest in conquering anyone, survived and increased in knowledge, if not understanding. Now, I see that these people and the Flesh Eaters have gained from the Pendratti, Anazi, Humanoids, and such before them. They have faster than light travel, highly advanced computer driven equipment, and personal screens of a sort. The Flesh Eaters may be a step or two ahead, but I cannot help you catch up. One thing all elder races agree on is people have to learn things for themselves. There have been several incidents where people have been artificially advanced, but the consequences, as far as I know, have always been disastrous.”
“So, you can’t help us,” the ape commander concluded.
“I did not say that.” Elder Stow put up one hand. “I have already told you and your young friend there much more than I should. I will not go further by introducing you to photon technology. But I will remove the tank for you. After that, you will have to fight your own battles, as I heard Gerraint, and King Arthur once say.”
“You don’t have to do this,” Elder Stow told her.
“We already covered this, many times,” Sukki responded generally to everyone before she focused on Elder Stow. “I am not going to let you go off and do something stupid without me.”
Elder Stow merely nodded as the two of them lifted from the ground. The ape men shouted their surprise. When the two became invisible, the shouting increased in volume, and Jarl joined them, before people got quiet.
“You did not seem surprised,” Katie turned to Inga.
“I think I have used up my quota of surprise for this life,” she responded.