"Beware of those who seek to disrupt the Perfect Harmony of the Pod, for they shall become Outcast. Are there any questions concerning the third law?"
The class shifted uncomfortably under the Elder's unblinking stare. Only Grey Eye, as always, had the courage to speak up.
"What happens to those declared Outcast, Honoured Sir?"
"Without the Pod there is no life," Silvertail informed him. "Safety lies within the Way. Peace in Perfect Harmony."
"Peace in Perfect Harmony," the class echoed.
The class was dismissed and the younglings crowded each other in their eagerness to leave. Silvertail was preoccupied as he glided towards his other duties. The youngling, Grey Eye, would bear watching. He was always asking questions, always curious. It was the mark of either a great leader or one deviant to the Way.
By the time Silvertail reached his destination, the problem of Grey Eye was resolved. Grey Eye, as usual, lingered behind the others as they left the learning center. He, as well as every other being for leagues around, felt the shock of something breaking through the roof of the World. But only he was directly in its path when it struck.
The ripple of his passing was a shock rivaled only by the wound in the roof of the World. As the Elders circled towards the learning center the younglings hurried to their place within the protective circle of females. The Guardians began the defensive patrol they had learned but never before had to use.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
"Disruption of the Flow of Life," Split Tail murmured, circling.
"It is not of the Pod, nor even of the Way," said One-Eye.
The moved aside for Greyskin, Eldest-One of the Pod of the Way. He circled slowly, experiencing the waning vibrations, culling information unfelt by the others.
"It is an abomination," he pronounced gravely. "It is a made thing, a thing sent to gather knowledge of our World."
"From where did it come?" Silvertail wondered.
Greyskin circled again. "From the dying world."
There was a rippling, a collective shudder from the Elders. The dying world was one of the Great Sorrows not spoken of.
"The Way has been corrupted," Greyskin stated, and swam away.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
It took six turnings for representative Elders from each region to arrive. Though communications could travel swiftly, individuals, unfortunately, could not, and this was not information to be shared informally.
"You have all been shown the wound in the roof of the World. You have felt it. It heals, but slowly. The abomination in our center of learning is only a beginning of things to come. Its origin is the place of the Kin."
There was a ripple of shock from the Elders. The Kin were legend, the stories of how they left the World and broke from the Way were mere tales, not to be believed. No one living, not even Greyskin, had first hand knowledge of them. They were the Travellers, the Far Reaching Ones. They had in their souls the need to explore. When every accessible part of their own world was known to them they turned their attention to the Outer Regions.
Using knowledge that was later stricken from the collective memory, they travelled to a new world and there, for a time, they found peace. Their communications to the Home Pod were filled with the wonders of the new world: the depths which were waiting to be explored, the space above the Flow of Life, the strange new lesser creatures both above and below.
But being apart from the Pod of the Way had its effect. They regressed. They split into family pods -- segregating themselves by size and genus. At last came the day they went against the Way and they warred upon each other. They lost Perfect Harmony. The Pod of the Way broke off all contact with them to avoid contamination.
"Long ago, when our kind was young, we were an aggressive race. Then we found a Way to follow and knew peace. We became a single Pod -- flesh-eaters, silt-sifters, small, large -- we were joined by the Way. When our Flow of Life became too small for the Far Reaching Ones, we allowed them to leave to preserve the Way. They became the Kin."
Greyskin swam in a great circle in the center of the Gathering of Elders.
"As Eldest-One, I am still able to communicate with the Kin. The Kin suffer. Their Flow of Life is being poisoned. They die the Slow Death of the dying world. Long have they desired to return home, but the Harmonies that allowed the Kin to travel have been lost to us."
There was a ripple of movement from the Elders.
"The spreading of the creatures from the dying world is inevitable. In solitude have I meditated. In solitude have I Remembered. In solitude have I touched the Kin and listened to them. This Abomination from the Dying World is only the beginning."
"You said once we were aggressive, we able to fight," Silvertail said. "Can we not fight this Abomination?"
"To relearn the ways of our ancestors to fight these creatures we would lose the Way. We would become less than we are. We must preserve the Way. Peace in Perfect Harmony."
"Peace in Perfect Harmony."
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
It took almost a full cycle for the entire Pod of the Way to gather in one place, an enormous cavern, last used when the Kin departed. At the heart of the Pod was the Eldest-One, Greyskin. Surrounding him were all the Elders of the Pod, facing outwards in a triple ring. The younglings milled about in confusion in their place between the Elders and the females. The Guardians, facing inwards, formed an unbroken wall around all.
The Guardians began, a piping whistle that grew to an almost tangible force. The sound deepened and grew in volume as the Elders joined in. The younglings calmed as they listened and grew still. At last Greyskin began. The vibration from the depth of his sound was felt far beyond the Pod.
It was an infinitely soothing song, for all its volume. It was a song of hope, of promise fulfilled. It was a song of a way of life that was generations in the making. And lastly, it was a song of a belief so strong that even death was preferable to change; a song of farewell. The vibration rippled outwards, growing, changing, amplifying. A shimmering glow filled the cavern as the Pod gave Voice to the Way.
Seismic disturbances were noted on the small moon orbiting the distant planet by the creatures above the Flow on the dying world. A few congratulated each other, the information being received confirmed that the probe they'd sent was working.
At almost the same moment they turned their attention in amazement to the ocean depths, where a disturbance of another kind was taking place. Cetaceans of all species gathered as the Kin felt the passing of the Great Pod and keened out a wild and sorrowful song of loneliness and despair. A pale echo of the Voice of Perfect Harmony.