Chapter Twenty-two

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Chapter Twenty-Two -Pimaar and Transformation

That winter Sekhmet died in childbirth. The baby girl was named Hathor. She survived her mother until the spring, before succumbing to an unknown illness. She was buried beside her mother under a tree overlooking the village. Grieving for his family, Nusaan went to live on his own in the valley to the west. From time to time, he was seen by one of Besal’s hunting parties but he never acknowledged their calls.

The decision to go back and find Hoetep no matter how long it took was debated endlessly over the winter months. The vast majority agreed that by now he would have starved to death, but Nefer was adamant that a thorough search had to be carried out. All thoughts of finding the remaining libraries and their knowledge vanished as preparations were made for the difficult task ahead. The community had lost too many of its members. Hoetep had to be found and brought back. Nefer knew he was alive. Iset felt his presence also.

~~~

Misakk swung the Bentu towards the setting suns, laying in a course for the high arid plateau in the fork of the mountains on the far off continent to the west. Mdjat sat in the co-pilot’s seat talking to Temo back at New Cydon. In the hold, Akhen and Manesh went over the way in which the search would be carried out while Apis occupied his time by sleeping in the comfort of one of the two crawler’s cabins.

As the dust whipped up by the thrusters cleared, and the Bentu settled down on her landing gear, Mdjat noticed a change in the surface of the plateau. It was covered in giant representations of birdlike creatures scratched out of the arid rocky soil. They were so large that one man could not have created them in a thousand years. Why had they suddenly appeared? Why were they there? Why had they not been noticed before? The answer to these questions would have to wait until Hoetep was found.

~~~

Apis drove a crawler along the dried up river bed to the rock formation that they knew contained a library. Manesh lead the way through the maze of corridors and chambers into the library. The scene of utter destruction that greeted them, greatly unnerved them. Clearly Hoetep had gone mad destroying the library, but for what reason? The charred remains of countless scrolls lay underfoot as the rescuers searched in vain for some clue to Hoetep’s whereabouts. Stopping their fruitless search, Manesh and the team returned to the Bentu to report to Akhen. The next day the team divided into two groups, each equipped with a crawler and communications unit, led by Akhen and Manesh, while Misakk remained behind in the Bentu, ready to lift off and come to the rescue if needed. As each crawler departed, the plateau once again grew silent. While Akhen’s crawler crept south, Manesh and his team headed further to the west. The mountain range and retreating ice sheet blocked the way north. By nightfall, the separate teams were far from the relative safety of the Bentu. Both camps that night shared one disturbing thought that either the planet or Shu had transformed gentle Hoetep into a monstrous new form capable of anything.

~~~

With the first rays of daylight Manesh awoke. The snoring coming from the sleeping Apis had kept him awake most of the night. He determined that  if there were any more nights like that, he would cheerfully suffocate him! The two men ate their breakfast as the triple suns slowly climbed above the mountains. “Where do you look for a madman?” Apis asked, spilling food down his chest in the process. Manesh remained silent. He agreed with the question but had no answer. The two men continued on, taking turns driving the crawler and sitting on its roof with their imagers, scanning the inhospitable landscape of the foothills they now found themselves in.

Akhen and Mdjat were carefully picking their way through deep ravines far to the east in their search. Misakk relayed messages between both search parties from his lonely post thousands of meters above them. The days merged into weeks as the search area increased in size. Eventually Akhen had to admit defeat. It was hopeless. Six weeks after they set out the rescue team returned to New Cydon empty handed. The search may have been in vain but Nefer had a surprise for them – Hoetep had been found alive!

Nusaan suddenly appeared in the village one morning a few weeks ago claiming he had seen Hoetep. Thinking his mind had been affected by his enforced solitude, Nefer gave him a thorough check over. He was fine both mentally and physically so she asked him about what he had witnessed. He had been out wandering far from the valley to the north, and beyond to the tundra region close to the retreating ice sheet, eight weeks away by foot. Sitting one night by the small fire he had made, he thought he saw a cloud of marsh gas drift toward him. It was not gas. It was the green glow of the small pyramid. As it drew closer, Shu appeared. She was troubled and told him about Hoetep and the madness that overcame him.

In his thirst for knowledge, Hoetep had unlocked a terrible secret best left well alone. The scroll in question referred to the ancient rite of Pimaar, or transition to an altered state, forever changing whoever underwent the process. In Shu’s time before the cataclysmic event, it was used to reach a higher state of mind in furtherance of inner peace and harmony, but was abandoned as superstitious nonsense with the tribal divide of the population. Shu knew that Hoetep was sent mad by the effects of Pimaar. She attempted to guide him by trying to use reason. In his anger towards her, he destroyed the library and left. Because of the change in him she no longer had any control over his actions or mind. So she followed his every move as he wandered in his deranged state across the continent towards the ice sheet. She nourished him when he slept, using the protective green shield, always careful to release him before he woke. In the tortured state of mind he was now in, he had somehow managed to find his way to the tundra where Nusaan was camped. Shu took him to where Hoetep sat babbling and cursing in a circle of bird-like creatures scratched in a patch of frozen soil. While Shu kept an eye on Hoetep, Nusaan headed south to New Cydon for help.

Visiting My Mum

Remembering Pete’s Mum

beetleypete

When we lose loved ones, they live on in our memories. In my case, they often appear to me in dreams too.

I went to bed before midnight last night. I felt tired after a reasonably busy day, and went straight to sleep. Not long after, I was visiting my mum.

She spent her last years in a small flat in South London. When she became almost immobile with breathing problems, I would visit her there, go out and buy her shopping, then cook her some meals to leave in the fridge and freezer. Before leaving for home, I would always watch her eat a meal, to make sure in my mind that she was getting some decent food instead of existing on sweet biscuits and cake.

Her living room was small, but she had a folding table and two chairs under the window. That was for guests to sit…

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Chapter Twenty-one

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Chapter Twenty-One – Manouf  Remembered

Hidden behind the tale section of the frozen research ship, Apis detonated a Semac charge attached to the hatch. When the shower of ice shards from the explosion ceased, the men entered the now exposed corridor, lined with stasis pods, leading forward to the ship’s interior. The stale air, mixed with the unmistakeable smell from hundreds of partially desiccated samples of marine life in its laboratories, taken by Drana scientists in the course of their exploration two thousand years previously, made the whole experience unpleasant to say the least. Despite the length of time the ship had lain in its frozen state the power system was still operational.

Misakk, assisted by Shansur, brought the ship back from its enforced hibernation, and soon its life support systems were reinstated bringing warmth, light, and above all, fresh air. The Drana expedition leader’s report detailed the last days of their lives on Kallorn. The effects of salt released from the samples at first had gone unnoticed. However, when members of his team began developing the first visible symptoms of necrosis, the inevitable end was in sight. He described the agonizing death of himself and his fellow scientists in detail. His last conscious act was to send the grim report to back to Dranaa. Due to the frightening findings of the report, no rescue mission was sent. The members of the scientific exploration team were remembered for their heroic deaths and invaluable information while carrying out their duty to the empire.

Misakk and Shansur spent days repairing the old photon engines and prefabricating a hatch, replacing the one destroyed in their explosive entry. Apis, Nusaan, and Jamal set about the task of cleaning the ship, removing everything of no value. By the end of the second week, the ship’s engines were ready to be tested. While the Bentu was moved to a safe distance, Misakk and Shansur prepared for the test flight. The team watched anxiously as the ship tried to shake itself free from the solid ice surrounding its buried landing gear. As Misakk increased power to the thrusters, the ice melted beneath the ship until a series of lakes were formed around each of its eight huge landing pads, merging into one. With one final shudder, the ancient ship was in the air once more, two thousand years after it had originally landed.

With only one pilot, the task of getting both ships back presented a problem. While Akhen had flown fighters, he had never flown anything as large as the research ship. So Misakk and Shansur flew her back while Akhen piloted the Bentu. When they returned to New Cydon, their fleet had once more increased.

Manouf was laid to rest in the time honoured way befitting a Drana warrior. As the flames of his funeral pyre consumed him, the community stood in silence remembering him, each in their own way. Khan stood at the head of the pyre honouring his old friend, his chest bloodied as the Kaadan ritual decreed by long deep cuts made by the blade of his ceremonial scimitar. In a thousand years from now, Manouf would still be remembered…

That Other Blog

Some people are gluttons for punishment…

beetleypete

Many of you already know that I have another blog. It is very different to beetleypete.

https://redflagflying.wordpress.com/

I only dip into that blog occasionally, usually when I feel the need to rant about the Royal Family, Politicians, or some world events. What I have to say there can possibly offend or upset many readers, but in some ways, that is the point of it. To generate heated debate, hear the opinions of others, and to be deliberately controversial.

Some posts on there have hardly been viewed, let alone commented on. So by way of advertising that blog to anyone who would not be too upset to read it, here is a link to a 2013 post that has an element of nostalgia and reflection to it.

https://redflagflying.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/spying-for-a-living/

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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

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countingducks

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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