Chapter Nineteen


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


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


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


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?


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


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…

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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Chapter Fourteen


Chapter Fourteen – Battle for Jalnuur

Orz stopped the vehicle. The cooling system for the transmission had broken down. Temo managed to contact the fleet and Levene reported the situation to Seth. “The mine is empty general. Manesh reckons if there were any survivors they will be in an old experimental complex, which when Orz gets the transmission fixed, we’ll reach in a couple of days or so, providing the weather stays stable.”

“Were showing nothing moving on the surface, colonel,” Seth replied. “The atmosphere of the planet tends to shield the surface. Therefore, we can’t rely on our sensors. Report when you get there – out.”


The lead Armin struggled to maintain traction over the solid ice that covered the narrow pass between the mountains. The sergeant leaned forward looking over the driver’s shoulder at the track ahead. After the quakes had destroyed practically all of their attack force, killing most of the division, he was now the senior non-commissioned officer, which placed him in charge. Major Ganash and the sergeant major were killed when their Armins plunged into a crevasse after the initial quake back at the entrance to the valley.


Pashtek found himself trapped with no way back to the surface. So he had searched for a way to escape his ice tomb, and eventually he squeezed his way into one of the new fissures and back underground, close to where Akhen and the survivors were. If nothing else, we Khaz are expert at survival. The trip back to the mining complex for the commandos without firing a shot in anger would not have pleased their superiors! It would have been far better for them if they had all perished in the quakes, than a humiliating bloodless return to the barracks on Dranaa.


Orz fired up the engine and checked the temperature of the coolant for the transmission. It seemed to be all right. With any luck, the patched coolant-lines would hold out for a while. Kapinski watched the valley ahead as the transporter hugged the rock wall of the track a thousand meters above the valley floor. Manesh stuck his head up beside Kapinski from time to time, checking on reference points to gage the distance travelled. The old transporter did not have a nav system like its successor, the Armin, which made life difficult.

“Hey, colonel, get up here and check this out,” shouted Kapinski, over the roar of the engine. Trading places with him, Levene looked at what had attracted Kapinski’s attention. Someone had been this way recently. The makeshift bridge across the gap in the track, fifteen hundred meters ahead on a slight bend, only had a light covering of snow.

“Back her up, Orz, around that corner behind us, while the master sergeant and I go check out the bridge,” Levene ordered.

“Roger that boss,” Orz said, glad to be able to take a break from fighting with the transporter’s steering system for a while.

“What is it, Manesh? What have you found?” asked Levene, as the Drana stooped down and brushed the snow away.

“See this plate? It’s a manufacturing specification,” Manesh pointed out.

“Yeah, so what,” Levene said, crouching down to look for himself.

“It’s a bridging strut, one of a pair, standard issue for a type 49 Armin transporter,” Manesh continued, as he looked about nervously.

“Alright, so a transporter used it to continue its journey along the track—so what?” Levene said, standing up once more.

“The type 49 is only used by commandos. We’ve got big trouble, colonel, if they’re still about! Looking at these tracks, I’d say at least fifty, maybe more, passed this way in the last week or so,” Manesh said, sprinting forward, heading for a left hand bend up ahead on the track.

Catching up with Manesh, Levene could see the tough master sergeant was clearly rattled by what he had found. “Hey, Manesh, slow down; what’s the rush,” Levene demanded, grabbing Manesh’s field-pack.

“You don’t understand, Max,” he said nervously. “They’re the most suicidal shock troops in the empire. Even the rest of the Drana armed forces fear them! Get in his way and a commando will kill you on the spot! He gives his allegiance to the corps and that’s all! If you’re not a fellow commando then you’re his enemy. Their barracks are kept well away from the rest of Drana civilization. Not for secrecy but to protect the population!”

Levene realised it had to be a bad situation for the master sergeant to drop formal rank in favour of personal names, when addressing a superior officer. “OK, Manesh, what do you suggest?” Levene asked, as they walked on toward the bend.

“For now we scout ahead in pairs, staying at least half a kilometre from the…”

“What is it?”

“Too late—look!” About three kilometres along the valley, three Armin were slowly heading their way.

“They’re running back,” said Mdjat, who was sitting on the front of the transporter.

“Gung-ho bastards—still think they’re in the army,” growled Orz.

“They are, and so are you—dumb-ass!” Kapinski shouted from inside the turret, spitting a dark wad of tobacco onto the floor of the transport.


Shansur steadied the imagers and stared in disbelief at what he had just seen. The two figures at the bridge briefly turned and looked up, giving him time to make out the unmistakable features of Manesh! The other was some kind of Nephile in Drana uniform unknown to him. Akhen took the imagers from Shansur and watched as the two men walk along the track, while the transporter backed around the corner out of site. Handing the imagers to Khan, he went to check on Tosar’s progress below. “Better tell him to hurry,” Khan said. “The Armins are getting closer and the men below have just seen them!”

Tosar reassembled the firing mechanism and closed the panel just as Akhen arrived. “It’s ready to be tested. I’ve re-calibrated the lenses, narrowing the cutting beam down to barely half a millimetre. It should at least reach the bridge. “ he replied with a degree of uncertainty in his voice.

“But will it cut through the bridge Tosar?” Akhen asked, impatiently.

“I don’t know—I really don’t,” he said, sighing.

“Well it’s too late for any more alterations. Let’s get it set up!” The machine was passed up the ladder to waiting hands above, where Tosar quickly assembled it at the entrance to the hanger. The targeting lasers were turned on. As the machine began to warm up Khan saw the tell-tale spots from the lasers on the bridge. Tosar secured the clamps holding the plasma-meridium torch in place. Everything was ready. Only time would tell if the readjustments and tinkering with the ancient drilling tool had worked.

“What are they doing down there?” Akhen asked, as he saw four Drana troopers working on the bridge.

“Looks like they’re laying charges under it,” replied Shansur, shifting the focus of the imagers.


Mdjat and Levene followed Manesh and Orz back to the relative safety of the transporter, hidden from view by the corner in the track. “See any movement yet?” Temo’s voice inquired, inside Kapinski’s helmet.

From his precarious vantage point above the transporter, on a narrow ledge, Kapinski watched the turn in the track beyond the bridge. “Nope nothing yet,” he said, shifting his weight against the rock.

Manesh and Levene checked and rechecked their arms and ammunition. Chances were they would have to fight on foot even if the bridge was blown. The commandos would soon find a way of crossing the gap, and from what Manesh had told him and the rest of the raiders, they could forget any thoughts of escape. The damned commandos will hunt us down, one by one. They never give up—never! “Colonel, I hear engines,” Kapinski said. Within thirty seconds, the nose of the leading Armin was visible at the corner of the track.


The tiny circles of light from the targeting lasers shifted slightly as Tosar adjusted the aim of the plasma-meridium torch onto one of the explosive charges under the bridge. The three tiny circles gradually came together to form one clear intense blue circle of light. “Ready,” he said.

“Wait till the last Armin’s tracks are clear of the bridge,” Shansur spoke quietly. The lead Armin stopped a hundred meters short of the bridge with its twin disrupter cannon tracking from side to side like the antenna on an ant searching for prey. The rear hatch opened and a lone commando jumped down onto the track. He walked past the Armin toward the bridge, checking the track and the sheer walls of the valley. He stood for a moment at the edge of the bridge looking over the side, down to the valley floor below. Tosar’s heart pounded so much he thought the commando, thousands of meters below on the bridge, would hear it. “Steady now,” Shansur said. “Be calm; be patient; breathe gently.”


The commando moved on across the bridge then bent down. “Sergeant, trooper tracks—four sets heading back the way we’re going,” the commando reported. “Very well, track them—we’ll follow on behind.” Then to the driver he said, “Maintain one hundred meters behind him.” The skin on the back of the sergeant’s neck started to itch; a sure sign trouble was close by. If it was renegade troopers there was no problem. If it was something bigger… still he hadn’t gained his stripes by being overcautious.

“The bastards are about to round the bend!” Kapinski said, lowering himself down from the ledge. Orz steadied himself, pressing his body hard into the small crevice in the track wall, with his assault knife at the ready.

As the lone commando disappeared from view around the bend into oblivion, the bridge disintegrated in a shower of sparkling confetti, which gently floated down the side of the valley. The track boiled and erupted twenty meters in front of the lead Armin, leaving  the three transporters stranded on a two hundred-meter long ledge, precariously suspended on the valley wall. Their disrupter cannon turrets scoured the valley looking for a target.

Levene, hidden by the corner, and the side of the transporter, searched the mountains high above the valley through his imagers. “Well I’ll be…,” he readjusted the focus. “We’ve found the survivors, ladies,” his voice said over his raiders’ headsets. Tosar scribed an arc across the valley wall below the Armin transporters and watched with satisfaction as the ledge released its precarious hold on the wall, before sliding down in a headlong rush to destruction on the valley floor far below. The battle was won – but not the war.


Pashtek would find himself trapped on Jalnuur after the survivors had moved on, since the Alliance had little time for my kind.

Contextually Appropriate

Tallis speaks

Tallis Steelyard

It is not often I am summoned to appear before the Autocephalous Patriarch and frankly the less often it happens, the happier I am. I have noticed that it is rare for such worthies to send me a note saying something along the lines of, “Tallis, old chap, drop round for a spot of lunch and we can discuss publishing your next collection of verse.”
No, they only ever notice you when, frankly, the great and the good would serve us better by glancing elsewhere.

The cause of my summons was the dung rolling of Tullon Splart. Now to be fair, whilst I had not lobbied for his dung rolling, or even so much as touched the barrel, I fully approved of the action, and in all candour, still do. Lying as poorly as he did verges on casual disrespect.

For those who don’t know what dung rolling involves, the…

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