Chapter Twenty

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Chapter Twenty – Ancient Discovery

Hoetep remained in the library over the winter surrounded by all the food and equipment Levene left behind to sustain and protect him. He would be picked up the following spring by the next expedition. In the meantime, life would go on in the village without him. Tuluk reported on the presence of the avatar to our High Council, and continued to observe and send reports on a regular basis. Shansur was chosen to lead the next exploratory team this time to the farthest landmass of all, the vast frozen continent surrounding the planet’s south pole. Manouf, recently trained by Misakk, would pilot the Bentu while Nusaan looked after weapons and communications.

Tosar was to drive the crawler and equipment, leaving Jamal to take care of the team’s health as medic. The departure time was not for a few days and Nusaan was desperate to spend time with Sekhmet. The enforced separation had only fuelled the flames in his heart for the girl he loved. It came as no surprise to everyone when the pair announced they were to live together as man and wife. When the expedition left, Nefer and Iset comforted the tearful young woman as the Bentu took Nusaan away from her arms. In the following winter, a new life would begin, but for now it lay hidden safe inside its mother’s womb.

~~~

Tosar drove on steadily through the howling blizzard that engulfed the crawler. Manouf watched the navigational display intently. In these conditions one wrong turn and they would be lost forever in a crevasse or fall down the side of a mountain to their deaths. Shansur checked the survey map of the valley they were steadily climbing while Nusaan and Jamal held an animated teenage discussion over the noise of the crawler’s engine and the blizzard.

The insulated cab of the crawler was the only thing between them and the minus one hundred-degree temperature. Even when the blizzard ended, the crawler continued to be blasted by winds reaching over one hundred and fifty kilometres per hour. Eventually they reached the spot Shansur had marked on the map where their base camp would be. Manouf wanted to bring the Bentu closer to the camp but with the uncertain weather of the mountain ranges, Shansur had decided to leave her down on the continent’s ice shelf, fifty hours away by crawler. In the shelter of a rock overhang, they made themselves as comfortable as they could. Spring was barely distinguishable from winter. There were really only two seasons. Seven months of winter darkness followed by a month of twilight. Then three months of endless summer daylight with a further month of twilight before darkness fell once again. The blizzards and winds happened no matter what the season. Nusaan established a communications link with New Cydon by bouncing the signal off the atmosphere around the planet, wishing his fledgling community had access to alliance technologies such as broad spectrum digital comms and satellites.

Shansur’s news was not good in their first report back home. When they had landed to pick up Hoetep, he had vanished yet again. They had spent three precious days searching for him using heat detection sensors inside the underground library and out across the plateau. Flying due south across the prairie covered continent, they continued the search for Hoetep but came up empty handed. So for now, their search of the most promising location on the southern continent would be done the hard way on foot, using educated guesswork. With only three months before the autumn twilight took over, they could not afford to waste any more time. Shansur initiated a grid search of the high altitude valley that gradually extended to the valley’s highest point by the end of the second week. So far, nothing further had been found. There was no indication of any kind of settlement, or indeed that anyone had ever been there at all. By the end of the second month, the team’s morale was at an all-time low. Apart from treating them for frostbite, Jamal’s major concern was that Tosar had become snowblind.

Shansur took the decision to return to the Bentu the next day after they had taken some much needed rest from the harsh conditions. Their spirits rose at the thought of going home. The next morning they set out with Nusaan, driving back down the valley through mild snow flurries. As the crawler climbed back onto the ice shelf, the weather improved, giving them near perfect conditions for the remainder of the journey. Jamal had just finished checking Tosar’s eyes when Manouf let out a startled cry. “There’s another ship!”

Nusaan stopped the crawler and Shansur got out to climb on top of the vehicle with his imagers. As the automatic magnification and focus did their work, the unmistakable outline of a ship hove into view to the west. It was not the Bentu; it was a research ship of Drana origin, half buried in the ice. In the blizzard conditions they encountered earlier, they had driven straight past it. Taking advantage of the jagged blocks of ice thrust up by the previous year’s ice shelf melt as cover they drew closer while Manouf scanned ahead for telltale heat signatures but found nothing. When they were less than half a kilometre from the Drana ship, Shansur signalled Nusaan to pull up behind one of the blocks of ice. Leaving Jamal to take care of Tosar, and placing Nusaan on top of the block of ice with the imagers, in clear sight of the research ship. Shansur and Manouf carefully advanced towards it. The large vessel gleamed in the frozen sunlight of the ice shelf. Her shape belied her age. No ship of this design had been built for millennia.

Manouf signalled to Shansur that he had found a frozen hatch close to the tail section. The coded entry panel was buried behind a ten centimetre thick layer of ice. Manouf reached inside his protective coat and pulled out his fusion pistol. Setting it on destruct, he placed it beside the panel, covering it with blocks of ice, and then he and Shansur dived for cover behind one of the tail fins. The sound of the explosion echoed across the ice shelf towards Nusaan and the crawler. Shansur picked himself up giving Manouf a hand at the same time, and the pair went back to the hatch. It was still in place! The explosion had totally destroyed the key code entry but did little damage to the hatch itself. Signalling Nusaan to bring the crawler, Manouf and Shansur started to clear the remaining ice from the hatch. Jamal secured the crawler’s recovery cable to the inside of the door through the hole where the panel had been. Then Manouf started the crawler’s winch. The cable tightened as the winch took up the slack. Smoke billowed out from the winch gearbox as the tug of war between the ship and the crawler reached its violent conclusion.

The cable sang its deadly song microseconds before it gave way under the enormous strain, slashing across the gap between the crawler and ship, decapitating the crawler’s cab and Manouf in an instant. Manouf’s head flew across Tosar’s prone body in the back of the crawler, coming to rest between his boots. One of New Cydon’s best people had died senselessly. Now Shansur had real problems. How were they going to get back home? With Manouf dead, they had no pilot. By the time they arrived back at the Bentu the surviving members of the expedition were tired and half frozen. Nusaan drove the battered crawler inside the ship’s hold and closed the hatch behind them, cutting off the harsh cold of the frozen continent.

~~~

Shansur’s report of the failure to find evidence of occupation paled in comparison to the tragic accident and their current predicament. Angered and alarmed yet saddened, Akhen did not relish telling Khan that his best friend of many years had died so horribly, and for what – an ancient frozen ship. Nevertheless, a rescue mission was organized and set off to pick up the hapless remaining members of the expedition before the season changed. Three days later the Hapi touched down beside the Bentu. Despite the tragedy that had befallen the expedition, Shansur persuaded Akhen and Khan that the ship was possibly the one and only real find across the frozen wasteland of the southern continent. While Khan took Manouf’s remains, accompanied by the slowly recuperating Tosar, back home, the investigation of the Drana research ship continued under Akhen’s leadership.

~~~

You’ve now read the twentieth chapter of my science fiction space opera ‘Onet’s Tale’. If you want the priviledge of reading the next twenty, just say ‘More Please’ as a comment below this post. If I hear nothing from you, well…

Solitary by Necessity

More on me and my colleague’s daily situation

Have We Had Help?

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By definition writing fiction must be a solitary affair. When it comes to non-fiction, collaboration between writers is possible, often highly desirable. In this case two heads are better than one when it comes to the necessary amount of research required; whereas the very idea of attempting to co-write a work of fiction with another writer leaves much to be desired. It only ever works in the arenas of film and television where a team of script writers brainstorm and throw ideas for specific situations into the mix.

Why could it never work with writing fictional books? Could it simply be down to a clash of personalities? I don’t think so; I believe it goes much deeper than that. Any writer of fiction worth their salt will tell you that coming up with that fresh storyline is akin to bringing a new-born into the world. It first appears as a…

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Chapter Nineteen

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Chapter Nineteen – Libraries and Madness

Shu’s revelation as the mother of all, and the planet’s role as the birthplace from which all the races spread across the cosmos, came as a shock to the community the night the team returned. Hoetep reverently put on display the pyramid shaped receptacle that held ‘his beloved’. Since Khan and the team had been away, Misakk, Delal, and Levene surveyed the planet from the Hapi. From the maps they produced, it was clear that the search for the libraries would not be easy. Most of the topography had changed dramatically from the world Shu spoke of before the cataclysmic event had struck. With autumn upon them, any further expeditions far from New Cydon would have to wait until the spring.

The news that Iset and Seti were now the proud parents of a healthy baby boy brought, not only joy, but also surprise to the fledgling community. The old Seti was gone; in his place stood a proud caring father and husband. The birth of Ached was celebrated in style. He was the first to be born on Kallorn since the time of Shu. The tiny being was also the first of a new nation. Others would follow in the course of time. Nefer and Akhen were blessed with a daughter named Anuket a month later. Sekhmet was now a young woman in her own right, and was wooed by Nusaan, the young Selian, barely into his eighteenth year.

~~~

Levene put together a team for the coming expedition to the continent closest to New Cydon, five thousand kilometres to the west. Benton, originally from the Mars colony, would be pilot. Delal’s expertise in mineralogy would be invaluable. Hoetep, through Shu’s guidance, would hopefully lead them to one of the libraries. Llokk would look after the crawler and equipment while Sekhmet acted as medic and helped Delal. Khan thought it would give the poor girl a break from the amorous attentions of Nusaan. When Khan and Akhen promised her they would keep Nusaan busy with the harvest until she returned, she hugged them both and kissed them on the cheek the day the expedition left. Sekhmet loved her two ‘fathers’ with all her heart.

Benton piloted his way through violent lightning storms and high winds that engulfed the prairie-covered continent. Evading the worst of the weather, under his control, the ship climbed over a pass in the northern range of mountains, one of only two across the vast landmass. Flying along the range Delal spotted an arid plateau hidden by a fork in the mountains. Against his better judgment, Benton deferred to the pressure from the rest of the team and agreed to land there. The winds whipped up blinding sand storms that blasted the ship’s hull. The next morning they were greeted with an eerie silence.

Sekhmet stepped out into a cold land devoid of all life: more empty than a desert. She shivered in the sun’s rays as she looked across the plateau. In the stillness of this alien place, she became aware of her heart beating in her breast. Her warm breath turned to clouds of vapour in the cold air. Llokk drove the crawler out from the warm interior of the ship and began checking the equipment Delal had insisted was loaded for the exploration of the plateau. Delal and Sekhmet spent the next five days exploring the featureless plain that made up the greater part of the plateau. The day they returned Levene had already made up his mind to move on. However, his plans were put on hold on hearing their report.

On the morning before they decided to return to their base, Sekhmet and Delal were walking along a dried up riverbed cut through the underlying rock of the plateau, when she spotted an opening in a rock formation. Having found nothing of consequence in the previous three days, Delal nevertheless had given in to her youthful enthusiasm at finding something different. Besides, Sekhmet’s young face had that look which every female uses to get their way, and for the sake of peace, Delal agreed. Collecting lights and rope, they squeezed their way through the opening and began following a natural path that lay before them. After an hour, the path opened out into a corridor of stone slabs. Whether it was feminine intuition (as Sekhmet claimed later), or pure luck, the fact was they had found another ruin, buried under the plateau.

~~~

The Bentu landed as close as possible to the rock formation and the expedition team followed Sekhmet to the opening. Inside the corridor Hoetep’s field-pack began to vibrate. Levene carefully took out the pyramid contained within it, and handed it to Hoetep. He held it out at arm’s length then released it. The pyramid spun slowly as it guided them through a maze of interconnected corridors and small chambers. Eventually it stopped at a solid wall constructed from irregular, close-fitting stone slabs weighing many tonnes. Stepping out from the green glow of the pyramid, Shu appeared and walked through the wall. Seconds later one of the massive slabs slid out towards the explorers, revealing a doorway into a room beyond. Shu stood at its centre. Turning slowly, her arms extended as the torches on the walls lit up when her hands passed them. “Here is one of our libraries. Study it with care for the information contained here may do you harm!” she warned, before vanishing from sight.

Using the languages on the sides of the pyramid as a Rosetta Stone, Hoetep began slowly translating one of the thousands of scrolls contained in the library shelves. It was an account of the last days of Shu’s people. It made the endless wars between the Drana and the Alliance pale in comparison. Shu’s peaceful people had somehow been transformed when the apocalyptic event occurred, changing them forever into murdering power-crazed tribes bent on destruction and domination of all. The last collective decision taken by the many tribes was to leave and never return. Kallorn would remain a beautiful but deadly reminder of their peaceful past and violent beginnings, and in time became the mythical abode for the souls of all mortal life everywhere.

“The knowledge in the library will take forever to translate, let alone assimilate,” Delal said later that night.

“We must stay and study the scrolls!” Hoetep mumbled, as he stuffed a large piece of the pie that Sekhmet had baked into his mouth.

“This is only one of many libraries. The weather is changing rapidly and I don’t intend staying here over the winter. You’ve got four weeks to complete your translations then we go home,” Levene declared.

~~~

The Bentu picked its way through the increasingly bad weather across the continent east toward New Cydon minus one crew member – Hoetep.

What I’m Reading

Damned good book

Have We Had Help?

With everything I’ve been involved with such as the launch of my latest novella East Wind, and working out how to make my new fifty inch television and its modern Surround Sound system work, (I chose a Bose Sound Bar for its simplicity) plus adding a direct link between my new tv and this laptop via a long double ended HDMI cable, all for the sake of my aged eyes, I have been neglecting my reading.

At last I’m reading Richard Dee’s science fiction novel – The Syk’m. So far, while having read the first four chapters, I have to say I’m enjoying the story. Currently I’ve taken a break from chapter five to write this post. I’m enjoying delving into one of Richard’s worlds once again. By reading one chapter each day, it means that I can thoroughly take in each and every part of the chapter in…

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Chapter Eighteen

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Chapter Eighteen – Shu

Misakk brought the Bentu gently down to rest in front of the community lodge. Nefer took Apis to have his hand fully repaired. Iset hugged Seti to her bosom, tenderly kissed him. Then grabbing him by his ear, she took him back to the home she had made for them both much to the amusement of everyone.

Orz and Mdjat returned to the village to be replaced by Kapinski and Besal. Khan and Akhen deliberated all night over what they had done by releasing the pyramid. It would not let them remove Hoetep. So reluctantly, they left him there while the rest returned home. Nefer volunteered to take over as medic and researcher. From what Misakk said about the pyramid, and its apparent protection of Hoetep, her services were needed back there more than in the community. The expedition was down to five people—six if Hoetep was included. The next morning the reduced team climbed aboard the Bentu for the return journey.

As they entered the area of the camp, all was quiet. Even the insects were silent. Everything was exactly as they had left it days before except for one thing. Hoetep and the pyramid had gone. The team searched the ruins from end to end for the rest of the day, reluctantly returning to camp with the encroaching darkness. Besal and Kapinski organized a perimeter alarm around the encampment. The whole team was spooked by what was going on. In the light of the camp-fire, they ate their meals in silence. The only sound came from the exploding sap as the fire consumed its meal of green wood. Nefer looked at the opened reference books spread across the crawler’s deck in the moonlight. There had to be a clue on those pages. Covering them where they lay she turned in for the night. The others soon followed her example. The next morning, long before everyone awoke, Nefer was hard at work studying Hoetep’s books. Not only the information contained on the open pages, but also the way in which the books were arranged on the crawler deck, intrigued her. While Nefer pondered over the books, Khan and Besal went hunting for food in the surrounding jungle. It was considered that another night of emergency rations and there would be trouble in the ranks.

Kapinski and Misakk stood guard by the escarpment smoking one of Llokk’s cigars, enjoying the early morning sunlight.

“What are you doing here?”

Kapinski dropped, rolled, and aimed his already cocked quad – barrelled plasma grenade launcher, courtesy of Tosar’s inventive genius, at the voice. Llokk dropped flat in the dew-covered grass with his fusion pistol at the ready. The voice sounded familiar but there was something different about it.

“Come out where we can see you!” Kapinski shouted.

“Go easy—it’s only me,” said the voice, as a figure emerged from the undergrowth.

“Hoetep, what the hell happened to you?” Kapinski asked, punching his shoulder.

“You had us all worried you big idiot,” Llokk smiled, wiping the dew from his clothes.

When everyone gathered together, Hoetep recounted his experience while the rest of the expedition was away. “When I woke up I couldn’t move! I wasn’t hurt or anything. The pyramid had me trapped, or so I thought. You had all gone, and the place was deserted. It lifted me up and took me back to the ruins and into the enclosure where we found it. It did something – I’m not sure exactly what, but anyway a trapdoor of some kind opened and we descended below the enclosure floor. It took me into a big room and lowered me onto a kind of bench in the room’s centre, directly in front of a raised dais. Then it released me and positioned itself over the dais, spinning slowly just like it had before. Then things really started to happen! The pyramid rose up to the ceiling and started spinning fast until it was a blur. That same green light that protects it descended to the dais and—and there she was…” Hoetep smiled, as he sighed and drifted off into a daydream.

“Who?” Nefer said, “Hoetep, who was she—is she?”

Coming back to reality for a moment, Hoetep whispered, “Her name is Shu.” His face took on a serenity, which somehow cast a spell over the rest of the team.

They all followed Hoetep down the escarpment and into the ruins. As they approached the enclosure, a stone slab in its floor quietly opened, letting Hoetep descend stone steps, followed by the others. When they reached the bottom, the slab closed behind them. Ahead, through a short passage, they could see the room he had described, illuminated by the flickering flames of torches hung around glyph covered walls. Motioning them to follow he sat on the bench. Khan and Nefer joined him while Kapinski and Llokk stood guard, weapons at the ready. Misakk studied the glyphs, while Besal marvelled at the quality of a magnificent triple curve bow and quiver full of arrows, hung above the entrance to the room.

The pyramid appeared and began spinning rapidly in a green blur, spreading its protective shield over the dais. From the shield’s interior stepped the most beautiful woman any of them had ever seen. No wonder Hoetep was under her spell. Shu greeted them and then proceeded to tell them about the civilization which had occupied Kallorn eons ago, before her people spread across the vastness of space waging war on her descendants and other sentient species. She explained how Hoetep had unwittingly discovered the pyramid’s secret. She revealed that the pyramid was ‘the key’ to unlock all her people’s knowledge, stored in vast hidden libraries somewhere on the planet since a great catastrophic event had changed the planet forever, ending their existence on Kallorn.

Hours later, back at the camp, they analysed the completely wonderful event they had all shared. Each one of them, no matter where they came from, no matter what racial origin, had heard Shu speak in their own native tongue. To each member of the team she appeared dressed in his or her native costume. “Shu is an avatar,” Nefer said.

“An avo-what,” Kapinski interrupted questioningly, spitting a wad of tobacco into the fire.

“An avatar, a descendant of a deity, an incarnation. A manifestation if you like. In this instance, a projection of the real Shu who lived eons ago in that library she spoke of,” Nefer concluded, sadly closing the reference books. “Sorry Hoetep, we only saw a projected image of her. In any case, considering how long ago she lived, it’s inconceivable she would still be alive,” Nefer said as gently as she could. Hoetep’s head bowed and his shoulders slumped. The mood of the whole group changed with Nefer’s explanation. Every one of them, Nefer included, had fallen completely in love with their individual vision of Shu. Hoetep gently picked up the small pyramid and held it close to his chest, while a tear slowly ran down his cheek. Shu had released it into their care to help them find the library and Hoetep had appointed himself guardian of Shu and the key.

The Perfect Break

More from Peter

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You could call it a meeting of minds: a moment when two souls found in each other’s company that a complex world could become simple, but that was all it was and everything. It was a holiday romance, a trick of circumstance where a lady taking a solitary vacation, “She needed a break to catch her breath,” and I, a cynical journalist who was trying to regain belief, collided through my enduring clumsiness: I spilled my coffee on her dress.

Away from there, we both had busy lives, lived out on different continents, and yet for much of the holiday “Paradise” seemed all there was. Nothing is permanent is it? Not in any life, moment or transient sense of tranquillity but for this brief time the everyday withdrew, granting us a glimpse of untouched majesties.

After our last evening meal and a couple of soothing drinks, as had become our…

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Chapter Seventeen

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Chapter Seventeen – Seti

Iset was frantic with worry. In the excitement of the exploration team’s departure, her beloved Seti was nowhere to be found in the village. Akhen and Besal scoured the countryside for kilometres, searching in vain for the little man she loved. Nefer and Sekhmet tried to comfort her as best they could but Iset was heartbroken. Seti had run away in a blind panic when Iset gently told him that it was time for them to settle down together. He liked the attention she lavished on him but when it came to the serious business of sharing the rest of his life with her, he ran. He was a free spirit and he intended keeping it that way. When her back was turned, he took off for the hills as fast as his legs would carry him. Akhen and Besal returned empty handed from their search. The community loved Iset and was angry with the cheeky little thief, for the way he had taken advantage of the kind-hearted loving woman. Iset withdrew from community life, choosing to live on her own in a small hut at the far end of one of the surrounding fields. Life gradually returned to normal in the village over the next few weeks.

Temo and Llokk sat on the porch of Temo’s house in the morning sunlight, sampling some of the first wine of the season made from one of the many types of edible berries found in the surrounding countryside. Llokk kicked back his chair and balanced against the wall with his feet on the low rail of the porch. He was enjoying the taste of a cigar made from a wild tobacco-like herb, which grew in a valley across the mountains where Levene had previously explored.

~~~

Khan’s expedition had not reported in for over two months. Akhen was getting concerned for the team’s safety. Temo kept a round the clock listening watch on the communications unit he had built and installed in his house from spares in one of the containers. Temo lit the cigar Llokk handed him and drew in the intoxicating smoke from the mildly hallucinogenic herb. The combination of the wine and herb soon took its toll as Llokk and Temo drifted off to sleep in the warmth of the triple suns’ rays. “New Cydon, Bentu—over,” the speaker beside Temo sprang to life.

~~~

Khan and the team had established a base high on a plateau in a mountain range beside a series of waterfalls. “Everything is fine. We’re about to search what look like ancient ruins, a day’s march from here,” Khan said, in answer to Akhen’s questions. “We do have one problem however,” he said, sounding slightly annoyed. “It appears we had a stowaway on board!” The news that Seti was alive and well brought Iset running to Temo’s house with tears of joy flowing down her cheeks. Akhen handed her the microphone and everyone left the room. Khan said later that, “By the time Iset had finished blasting Seti for his selfishness and cruelty towards her. The normally cheerful little man they all knew withdrew into a sullen silence.” But now that Khan’s team knew why he had stowed away, they decided to work him twice as hard as the rest, to make him pay for his sins and the heartbreak and anger he had caused back home, not to mention the added burden he placed on the expedition’s already limited resources.

~~~

The noise of the insects increased as sunlight penetrated the thick canopy of the jungle. Seti and Orz cut a path through the thick undergrowth with their laser blades, courtesy of Besal and Tosar’s ingenuity. The crawler followed, loaded down with equipment driven by Nemaar, while Khan, Apis, Mdjat, Hoetep, and Misakk trudged on behind in the sweltering heat. By noon, they had arrived in a small clearing on the edge of an escarpment overlooking some ruins.

While Mdjat built a fire to cook the midday meal, Khan and the sweat-encrusted Seti searched for a way down the escarpment. “Khan, have pity!” bleated Seti, nursing the large blisters on his heels.

Laughter boomed out across the jungle covered ruins, sending insects and mammals scurrying for their lives. Khan’s composure returned as he stared at the pathetic vision sitting behind him. “Finally, that’s all it took, Seti. A simple act of contrition on your part,” he said, tending to Seti’s weeping blisters before bandaging them. Ever since he had been found in the engine bay after they landed, and his escape from domestic bliss had been revealed, Seti had acted like a petulant child when Khan gave him a task. The impossibly hard work routine imposed on him by the rest of the team increased in intensity whenever he protested. Khan helped the little man back up to the clearing and gently lifted him onto the passenger seat of the crawler. “No more nonsense from you—all right?” Khan said, good naturedly jabbing his finger into Seti’s chest, but with a steely glint in his eye.

By nightfall, they were on the outskirts of the ancient ruins, sleeping in hammocks slung between trees beneath the star filled sky. When dawn arrived the next day, Seti had a fire burning with pots of food slowly cooking in the embers around its edges. The wood smoke mixed with the aroma from the pots tantalized the nostrils of the men, as they lay half-awake in the dappled light of the camp. For the moment, Seti had reformed. No one knew for how long but they were all determined to make the most of it. As the heat of the day climbed, the men divided into pairs to explore the ruins.

~~~

Misakk and Apis were investigating the low outer walls of an enclosure, when Apis stuck his hand inside the mouth of a carved figure projecting out of the wall. The sickening sound of sliding stone echoed around the enclosure as Apis’ hand was trapped inside the carving. Groaning from the intense pain, the big man broke out into a cold sweat. Misakk tried pulling Apis’ arm, which made him scream in agony. Pulling his fusion pistol from its holster, Misakk changed the setting to maximum, aimed, and fired at close quarters, showered the enclosure with pieces of stone. The sound of the shot brought Khan and the rest of the group running. “It’s a shame Tosar’s not here,” Orz said, “Being a stonemason he’d know what to do.”

“Well he’s not,” hissed Apis, through gritted teeth. “Just get me out of it – now!”

“What possessed you to put your big stupid paw into such a tiny hole anyway?” Seti asked, from a safe distance.

“I saw a piece of metal inside the hole—alright?” Apis replied angrily.

“Calm down,” ordered Khan, “let’s get you free, Apis. Nemaar go back to the crawler and bring that mini-cutter of Seti’s,” he added, quickly taking charge of the situation. Mdjat carefully cut away sections of the carving until he could see inside the hole where Apis’ hand lay trapped beneath the stone slab. Driving wedges under it eventually released his crushed hand. It was badly bruised and throbbing. While Seti and Orz did all they could for him, Mdjat and Nemaar working together, pushed the slab back up into the slot until it clicked into place, out of view. At the back of the hole, was a metal object unlike anything they had seen before, firmly embedded in the stone. With care, Mdjat cut it free and brought it out into the failing light for inspection.

After they had eaten their evening meal and were sitting around the camp-fire, Misakk and Hoetep examined the curious metal object. After several hours of fruitless endeavour they turned in for the night. The next morning it had vanished. Everyone searched the camp thoroughly coming up empty handed. Everyone had to reluctantly carry on with their exploration. Despite the throbbing pain, Apis was slowly on the mend. Seti had taken over the role of cook full-time now and prepared another hearty breakfast.

The search of the ruins continued. In the afternoon Misakk walked back to the camp via the enclosure. Something caught his eye as the sun’s rays were reflected back at him. Calling out to the rest of the team Misakk peered inside the carving, which had caused so much pain to Apis the day before. There, back in its former place, was the metal object firmly embedded in the hole inside the stone carving. The debate over what had happened was rapidly turning into accusations of theft against Seti. Everyone knew he liked collecting things. “But why would I put it back into the wall if I wanted to keep it?” he argued. No one could find fault with his logic. “And another thing,” he continued, “How did I manage to seal it into the stone. It looks as if Mdjat never cut it out. You can’t see the cutter marks anywhere in the hole and the carving has been restored to the way it was!”

They all sat in silence on the wall near the carving, baffled by the mystery. “We’ll just have to forget it and continue exploring,” Khan started to say, when a low hum from the carving stopped him in mid-sentence. Jumping off the wall the team dived for cover outside the enclosure as the sound increased in volume. Peering around the entrance to the enclosure, Nemaar saw that it was now occupied by a small pyramid shaped object, suspended by rays of light from the hole in the carving and others like it, forming a protective green layer around it as it gently spun in the air. Hoetep stared at the pyramid over Nemaar’s shoulder. Its sides were covered in characters he had never seen or heard of in his life. Edging carefully forward he got closer to the pyramid. It floated to the ground inside its protective green layer after the rays of light had retreated into the carvings. The layer surrounding the pyramid felt icy cold to the touch when Hoetep picked it up and turned it over in his hands. The pyramid appeared to be polished stone but was made from some kind of manufactured material. He took it back to camp to study it carefully. Someone had placed it there, but why? As a warning maybe, or a greeting from across the ages—who knew? Until Hoetep deciphered it, the site exploration was put on hold.

~~~

Hoetep sat on the deck of the crawler reading the reference books he had brought with him, illuminated by the green glow given off by the small pyramid. From time to time, he turned it to compare the languages on its sides with the archaic examples in his books. The others sat around the red-hot embers of the fire, dozing after the meal Seti had prepared. The little man had turned in and was snoring softly in the comfortable cocoon of his hammock. Khan got up and walked over to Hoetep. “Having any luck with the languages?” he asked.

Hoetep shook his head. “No—nothing. It’s like all the known languages and yet none of them.” He sighed. He pointed out similar glyphs in the books to parts of the languages on all five surfaces of the glowing pyramid, shrugged his shoulders, and spread his hands in a questioning gesture before dropping them to his lap. He sat deep in thought, staring at the pyramid, not seeing that Khan had returned to the seated group of men.

~~~

The songs of the insects high up in the jungle crown announced dawn as the triple suns’ rays warmed their tiny bodies. The smoke from Seti’s cooking fire gently drifted up toward the canopy starkly revealing the sunbeams around the camp. While Seti filled each mess tin with steaming hot food, Orz took breakfast over to the still sleeping Hoetep on the back of the crawler. As he approached the crawler’s deck, the overflowing mess tin fell from his hands. “Khan—guys get over here!” Orz yelled.

Dropping their food the rest of the team ran around to the back of the crawler. The pyramid was elevated above Hoetep’s sleeping form, spinning gently, only now its green protective layer encircled Hoetep as well.

Has Blogging Reached Its Peak?

What do you think?

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With new followers as rare as hen’s teeth, and many of the ‘Lockdown Bloggers’ disappearing as quickly as they arrived in 2020, I am left wondering whether or not Blogging has had its day.

From limited research, it would seem that Instagram and You Tube have attracted people who might otherwise have been blogging. The instant gratification of a photo or video is a lot less work that an 700-word blog post or a fiction serial, let’s face it.

Over the past few months, I have noticed that comments on my posts are almost always from the same group of people. No complaints about that, as they are my blogging friends, and I value their input and contribution to our community more than I can say.

But casting my eye over other blogs, there is definite evidence of a ‘slowdown’. Many are receiving fewer comments, and no replies to replies…

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Two Chapters – Fifteen and Sixteen

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Chapter Fifteen – Survivors

Levene’s report that they had found survivors brought a brief moment of happiness to his masters. But now that Memnet had placed the fleet on high alert following Dranaa Nagesh’s declaration of war on the Alliance. The mood was sombre as they prepared for the inevitable clash with Drana attack fleets bent on destruction.

 ~~~

Seth accompanied the rescue teams down to the rock hanger. When the shuttle doors opened, he stepped out into a crowd of ragged, half-starved and exhausted individuals. Akhen made the introductions. As Seth took the hand of each in turn, he was perplexed by the makeup of the crowd around him.

“Greetings uncle,” a voice said, from the back of the group.

“Seti—is that you?” Seth could hardly contain the pleasure at finding his long lost nephew. Khan and Akhen exchanged puzzled glances. Seti, of all people, came from one of Cydon’s important families! Just when you thought you knew everything there was to know about someone, he threw a curve ball like this! Now he was related to the senior Nephile general. Akhen and Khan shook their heads in disbelief. Later on board the carrier, after medical treatment and rest, the survivors were briefed on the imminent situation. Admiral Memnet declared that under the special circumstances of their survival together, any Drana among the group would be sent back down to the surface rather than be executed. He added that Levene and his raiders would return to the penal units they had come from now their task was done.

Khan and the Drana were led away to a holding area to await deportation to the planet, while the raiders were escorted to the brig. Akhen and Iset saw Seti and his uncle concluding an animated discussion in the corner of the room. “While you look on them as brothers, Seti, the Alliance does not—I’m sorry.” The general turned and left the room.

“We can’t let this happen to them, Akhen. We’ve come through too much together to let our people be ripped apart now,” Iset pleaded.

“Don’t worry. I don’t intend to let it!” he angrily replied.

~~~

The senior officers of the fleet filed out of the admiral’s cabin and departed for their respective ships. They were now primed for action. Nine heavily armoured Drana attack flotillas were rapidly narrowing the gap, heading straight for Jalnuur. The scout vessels would be in range in four hours’ time. Memnet stood poker faced on his bridge, watching the final preparation for the first action of the new war. Shuttles sped back and forth while fighters increased their patrols through the fleet. Mine layers spread a curtain of death in the path of the oncoming enemy. Particle cannon tracked the incoming icons. Plasma torpedoes stared blankly out into the void beyond the fleet in readiness for the one and only flights they would ever take. Floating above the carrier focused on the leading enemy flotilla a giant array lay in wait in the silence of space beyond the fleet, gathering the energy it needed from the cosmos to deliver the deathblow that is the Armag. With luck, a demonstration of strength would curtail Nagesh’s senseless act. Maybe not, Memnet thought to himself, The Drana had never backed down before…

~~~

A Hapi class container vessel descended to the planet with its living cargo on the first of many stops in its delivery voyage. The coming hours would dictate the path that the unwanted war would take…

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Chapter Sixteen – Kallorn

The pilot nosed the large container vessel inside the hanger and gently set her down. The massive door to her hold swung out and down, locking into place. A cargo crawler towed a heavily laden trailer over to the workshop at the rear of the hanger. The driver opened the door to one of the small containers on the trailer’s deck.

“Welcome back,” Seti said, as Khan, Shansur, and the rest blinked in the bright lights of the hanger. Akhen opened the other container and shook the hand of Levene and his men, as they dropped down to the floor. In all the confusion high above their heads in the fleet, the rest of the survivors had stowed away on board the container vessel, before the Drana and raiders were loaded for the long trip back to the penal colony and to Jalnuur. As well as Levene and his five raiders, there were now four additional members of the new nation who, with a little gentle persuasion by Apis, decided to end their haulage contract with the armed forces. The mercenaries and the civilian crew of the freighter were formally made welcome that night by Akhen and Khan.

While the reunited group dined on a feast prepared by Iset, in honour of the occasion, the enlarged gathering planned their next move. “Kallorn is inside the empire, Khan,” Misakk, the civilian co-pilot, said. “Are you sure about going there?”

“We’re sure,” Akhen replied, turning the chart around on the table. “It’s only a short distance away from here – only a miniscule fraction of a light year – and of no strategic value to the empire. In fact, apart from one brief exploratory expedition by the Drana science council two thousand years ago, no one from the empire has ever been back.”

“Why?” the container vessel’s pilot Benton asked.

“Because the planet has large salt seas like Earth, and we Drana are eaten alive by salt; it melts our flesh,” Manouf explained.

“The Human-Nephiles used the Earth’s salt water oceans to destroy the Drana invasion at Earth over eight hundred years ago,” Akhen added. While preparations went ahead in the mountain hanger for the exodus, high above the planet the first act of the war had opened. From the safety of the hanger door Manesh and Nefer watched the brief flashes of light from ships being ripped apart in the vacuum of space.

~~~

Llokk, the engineer aboard the container vessel, together with his team, stripped down the ancient Bentu freighter and began slowly rebuilding her for the journey to Kallorn. She was pathetically slow, well below sub light speed, but more than capable of the journey. Levene and others retrofitted the freighter, along with the contents of six armament containers from inside the vast hold of the Hapi class vessel, under the guidance of Kapinski and Hoetep. The outward appearance of the two civilian ships disguised their enhanced capabilities. Cursory inspection via sensors would only reveal unarmed civilian ships, either Alliance or Drana, depending on which recognition codes Temo and Raman entered into the new system they had designed.

Orz and Nemaar took a break by the force field. Orz lit one of Levene’s cigars and inhaled the smoke before setting it free in a large halo that rolling in on itself, climbed slowly toward the ceiling before disappearing. “Hard to tell who’s winning up there,” said Nemaar, sharing the cigar.

“We’ll know if the Drana won the battle soon enough,” Orz replied, spitting a wet piece of tobacco onto the floor, “when they come back to reclaim this planet, turning it into a mining hell-hole again!” Orz’ pessimistic outburst was ignored. The Alliance fleet seriously outnumbered the Drana. And the Armag array’s destructive power soon put an end to the flotillas. Nemaar and Orz witnessed the end in silence and then returned to work. Admiral Memnet’s fleet moved closer to the empire’s border, picking off retreating stragglers on the way. By the morning of the next day, Jalnuur was alone in space, free of its protectors and invaders.

~~~

Now the way was clear for the exodus to begin as soon as the ships were loaded with their precious cargo of pioneers. With Benton at the controls of the Hapi and Misakk flying the Bentu, at last the community could take their leave of Jalnuur forever. The two-day voyage to Kallorn was stretched to three. Their route took them through the tiny Mistraan nebulae and on to the Droiga asteroid belt, where all of Manouf’s navigation skills were tested to the limit. Taking a ship the size of a Hapi through it was like threading a needle blindfold. Crawling at less than half sub-light speed the giant craft narrowly missed colliding with asteroids on countless occasions.

Misakk kept his distance as he shadowed Benton through the swirling mass of rocks, seemingly bent on self-destruction. Their dangerous route, formed by the complex convergence of two stellar systems, ensured no one would follow them. When Manouf was given the navigational task, he had been in favour of shadowing the fleet. But Akhen and Khan were dead against the idea. Despite the new sensor identifications of the two ships, if they got close enough to be picked up visually, the Hapi would have been recognized immediately by the fleet’s secondary visual identification system.

~~~

They emerged from the asteroid belt mid-morning on the third day. Ahead lay the shining blue-green planet of Kallorn, waiting for them surrounded by its eight attendant moons. Bathed in the light of its three suns, one a double star, the planet was gradually emerging from an ice age. Large ice sheets covering the planet’s surface steadily retreated to the poles. In their place, forests grew to protect the land in the northern latitudes. On some of the newly exposed continents to the south, vast deserts spread their slow moving tentacles, suffocating semi fertile plains under billions of tonnes of fine sand. In other areas of the land masses, millions of square kilometres of prairies, peppered with deep ravines and long valleys between mountain ranges, extended from coast to coast. Deep freshwater lakes on most continents were filled by blue-white snow fed rivers. Nearer to the planet’s equator, several large land masses were carpeted in thick impenetrable jungles, which merged into fertile swamps, infested with insects and parasites on the shores of the oceans that surrounded them. The forests and jungles were home to a variety of small shrew like mammals. No hunting carnivores roamed Kallorn. Pockets of lizards scavenged any dead carcasses, acting as the planets cleanup detail. Best of all, the little band of pioneers who now stood on Kallorn for the first time, thought they were the only sentient inhabitants on the entire planet.

~~~

My cousin Tuluk had stowed away on board while the Hapi was still somewhere within the fleet. As part of the Khaz cerebral collective, he was another pair of ears and set of eyes of our High Council.

~~~

Benton and Misakk orbited the planet while Raman and Temo scanned each continent in turn, looking for a safe sheltered home. Eventually the two ships landed at the head of a large grassy valley surrounded on three sides by high snow-capped, forested mountain ranges in the northern hemisphere of Kallorn, well inland from the nearest salt sea to protect the health of the Drana among them. Over the next seven months, the pioneers established a small, self-sufficient community, turning parts of the valley into fields of crops to feed the new occupants of Kallorn. Akhen, Khan, and Levene organized and led exploratory expeditions around the small continent they had named New Cydon. They were hampered with incomplete ancient technologies at their disposal, with very little of the state of the art Alliance equipment. With the change of seasons, they settled down to wait out the winter months, planning new expeditions to other continents.

When the spring melt arrived, the Bentu was loaded for its journey. Khan and Hoetep put together a team to search a jungle covered continent eight thousand kilometres to the south of New Cydon. As the team made their final preparations for the journey, Akhen went over the last minute details with Khan. “Ready to go when you are,” Misakk said, climbing into the pilot’s seat. Khan and Akhen embraced. The two men were closer than brothers now. Orz and Apis loaded their field-packs into the webbed rack above their heads and took their seats, while Nemaar and Mdjat checked the securing straps on the crawler unit, and equipment in the middle of the hold. Hoetep sat in the co – pilot’s seat beside Misakk, going over his check-list prior to lift off.

Nefer and Akhen stood in the shade of the community lodge veranda, watching the Bentu rise into the air, then turn slowly ninety degrees on its thrusters, before disappearing towards the horizon. Their greatest frustration was knowing that the lack of workable long distance communication equipment meant that the expedition could not report regularly to their home base.

Developing a Story

Just for you…

Have We Had Help?

As a reader you get drawn into a storyline by what its characters do or say. As a writer, the same process applies. When you are writing a story you have a vague idea where it may go. But as the story develops, it changes direction at a sometimes frightening speed.
You write a sentence or a paragraph off the top of your head, look at it, and substitute one word for another until you are satisfied. Later on in another paragraph, you realise that your original thought is no longer applicable. So you go back and rewrite it to make it lead up to the thought you had in the following paragraph, or you abandon your later notion for the former.
If your characters are strong in the sense of being well defined, you already know how they will react to any given situation. To keep your reader wanting…

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