Things went slightly wrong at the wake for Geoff Weasley, and there are rumours I may have had something to do with it. His wife, or should we now be saying widow, Catherine, is a more than attractive women with a sympathetic and normally sunny outlook on life although, following her husband’s death in a car accident she’s seems a little out of sorts.
Well, putting my cards on the table, I am happy to state that I’ve got quite a “thing” for Catherine, always have had, and it affected me to see her “Off her game” if you follow me so I decided to pitch in and see if I could do something to raise her morale by offering her a future with promise in it. I walked up to her and said, “How many days have you scheduled in for the mourning process.”
Apis placed the shuttle in stationery orbit above the scarred silver-grey surface of Earth’s satellite Moon. From their vantage point, the band of brothers listened for any sign of life coming from the beautiful blue planet in the distance. The speaker on the bulkhead filled the interior of the shuttle with the sounds of countless battles being fought across the continents that made up less than a third of the planets watery surface. Shu’s vast army was taking everything the many nations on Earth could throw at them in defence of humanity’s home. As Nusaan’s receiver scanned the thousands of frequencies, a picture of the gradual annihilation of the human race began to emerge. The shuttle’s sensors reinforced the picture in graphic detail. Icons on the tactical screen showed the futile attempts by the military forces of the Earth to defeat the invincible army of Shu’s berserkers. After each brutal battle, the brothers watched her army move to yet another continent, carving its bloody way across the countless thousands of kilometres and many borders of the countries it contained. By the time the shuttle covered the three hundred and eighty-four thousand, four hundred and four kilometre gap between the Moon and Earth, the last remaining battles were being fought in the northern hemisphere of the planet.
Approaching Earth’s southern hemisphere, the brothers watched the sharp line of darkness caused by the Earth’s rotation away from the sun’s light, plunge its southern surface into night. The reshaped, isolated continents of South America, Africa, and Australia were empty; changed forever since the defeat of the Drana commandos centuries earlier when the Mergiddon had shifted the Earth’s axis and flooded the landmasses with giant tsunami waves. No telltale haze of lights from cities and towns existed. Only the dull red glow from bush and forest fires marked the positions of the new continents. Adjusting the heading, Apis piloted the shuttle towards a chain of six snow capped islands that had once formed the Southern Alps of New Zealand’s South Island. He altered direction towards the southernmost island, created from an area of land containing the former Stewart Island and the mountainous region of South Westland, and descended to the valley at the bottom of the world. For centuries it was hidden from the outside world. Its ancient vegetation stood out in stark contrast to the surrounding beech forested valleys of the former South Westland National Park. As the shuttle flew low along the valley floor, the brothers saw rotting carcases of Ankylosaurus, whose ancestors were trapped in the valley since the Gondwanaland breakup, millions of years before. The pyramid shaped hardened shelter lay in ruins where it had previously blocked the northern approach to the city.
Apis brought the shuttle gently down, carefully avoiding the bodies of the dead and dying in the vast square in front of the council chambers in the heart of the city. Thousands of Human-Nephiles lay mortally wounded throughout the city. Manesh and Seti managed to piece together what had happened. Shu had somehow located the valley again and made it her first target on Earth. (I found out later that this was because of Tuluk’s meddling.) Her army of berserkers rampaged across the city and beyond to the house at the northern end of the valley. From the whispered deathbed accounts of some of the cities inhabitants, they found out that a few had managed to flee the onslaught, Hor among them. But where had they gone?
The answer to the whereabouts of the people from the Mars colonies and the lone berserker was solved. Shu had forcibly recruited them into her army, killing the one new convert who refused her orders and boosting the number of her berserkers by nearly five million.
In the search for possible survivors Besal travelled north across the crumbled ruins of the hardened shelter and followed the path of destruction towards the house at the head of the valley. He passed herds of dead, gentle Ankylosaurs, their horned hides hideously torn open by the swords of the berserkers, together with the lifeless bodies of giant penguins and other birds who had lived peacefully together with the dinosaurs and the Human-Nephiles, in the splendid isolation of the valley. After a few hours, he arrived at the base of the low hill where the house sat. Climbing its grassy slopes, Besal drew near to the marble building, the favourite home of Akhen’s great-grandparents, Auset and Tom, so many centuries before. He crossed the threshold and wandered through the rooms remembering the time when he and his brothers had stayed there last. He looked out into the enclosed garden under the pergola to where Akhen had buried Shu. The grave had been dug up. When he looked into the hole, it contained a fresh corpse lying on the cold damp clay. The body of the last giant Haast’s Eagle, its magnificent plumage blood stained from the mortal wound caused by an arrow through its heart, lay in one corner of the grave. In its massive beak were the putrefied remains of a berserker’s head. Jojo, friend of all in the valley, had died defending the house. Besal climbed down and removed the vicious arrow, plucking several feathers from the mighty raptor’s wings. He stored both the arrow and the feathers carefully inside the pocket he had made in the inner skin of his shield. Before returning to the city, Besal gave the old bird a sendoff worthy of a mighty warrior. He built a small funeral pyre in the centre of the garden and reverently placed Jojo on it. As the flames consumed the old bird, Besal held his sword above his head in final salute, saying, “From one hunter to another – farewell my friend.”
The news that Shu’s body was gone and that Jojo was dead, shocked and saddened the brothers. They each held fond memories of the giant eagle. But why Shu’s body had been removed mystified them. Akhen uttered the terrible berserker war cry, then roared “Time to die!” Moments later, the shuttle rose into the clear sky of the early morning and headed north in search of the ‘red eyed she-devil’ and her berserker army. The shuttle flew across the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, dotted with many new island groups, north to the old United States.
Crossing its western shores, Apis turned east and headed across the inland seas that now covered most of the former inland states, towards the range of mountains that had separated America’s east coast from the rest of the continent. Landing briefly, the brothers surveyed the terrible scene beside the twisted remains of the Statue of Liberty, the first welcoming sign of freedom and a new beginning to thousands of migrants two centuries before the Mergiddon changed life on the planet. The statue’s giant green torch, lapped by waves from the Atlantic, pointed west. Evidence of a hellish battle lay all around. Tanks and guns lay in twisted smoking heaps. Burnt ships’ hulls were half submerged in the shallow waters. The remnants of fighters and bombers were scattered across the tangled rusting skeletons of former skyscrapers, now exposed to the elements through the shattered dome that had protected the rebuilt city of New York. The people who lived here had put up an almighty defence of their home…
The shuttle lifted off and flew west across the Atlantic towards the islands where the European continent had once stood. Apis landed on a plateau in the Dolomite Mountains and the brothers made camp for a few days. Nusaan searched for any sign which would lead them to where Shu and her army were currently wreaking destruction across the vast expanse of islands and small continents surrounding them. He still heard reports of fighting from time to time, mainly from Kirenia, the new continent encompassing the ancient Italian and Greek landmasses to the south west. Shu seemed to be heading towards the Middle East for some reason. Khan, Akhen, and Max all agreed that the band of brothers should skirt around Kirenia and choose a place to confront her. There was one possible place in a vast mountainous plateau, which a mere three hundred years before had been formed by geological upheaval. It lifted a section of land comprising parts of Iran, Iraq, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, three thousand meters above sea level, forming the new continent of Gilgama. Its scattered inhabitants chose the name in honour of Gilgamesh, the ruler of Erech, an ancient city during the Sumerian era of occupation. The particular place the brothers had in mind on Gilgama was the fertile land between the two mighty rivers, Tigris and Euphrates, at the southern end of the former Iraqi state, backed by swamps and marshes to the east and deserts to the west.
I had witnessed many battles being fought over the centuries in this place. The ruins of ancient and modern civilizations bore testament to the lands significance to its invaders and inhabitants. The ancient Sumerian cities of Babylon, Adab, Ur, and religious centres like Nippur, still gave up their secrets to archaeologist’s trowels and probes, describing and depicting the age old battles and way of life, since man first settled there thousands of years ago. There was no more appropriate place.
Enjoying one last peaceful meal together the brothers embraced then climbed aboard the shuttle. Apis set course for Ur.
In the last several weeks, article after article, blog post after blog post has appeared on the internet about the whole nasty phenomena that is the internet troll. Articles have appeared from various correspondents taking differing points of view. When it comes right down to it, I am equally to blame. All sides of the argument which is rapidly descending into an often foulmouthed war of words are being presented to you the reader.
From where I sit on the side of the writer, I will continue to defend them to the hilt, even the odd one or two who act like the trolls they say they despise.
A post by M.T Dismuke today on his blog Expresso for Authors ( See link below) took a refreshingly different approach. Instead of taking sides he rebuked both the Trolls and the management of Goodreads plus the small percentage of contributing authors, …
Nusaan was routinely scanning the communications bands when he came across what sounded like a distress beacon. “Got a fix on its position yet?” Shansur asked, from where he sat looking at the tactical sensor display.
“Somewhere ahead; it’s weak; thats all I can tell you,” Nusaan replied, while trying to improve the quality of the signal.
Seti rechecked their course to the next way point, one hundred thousand kilometres past Uranus. “Might be from a derelict ship,” he said, fixing the coordinates.
“Don’t think so,” Nusaan said. “Sounds like some sort of personal locator beacon, and anyway the frequency is too high for a ship.”
“Any other communication signals coming in?” Khan asked, as he entered the flight cabin.
Nusaan shrugged his shoulders. “Just bits and pieces. We’re too far off to pick up the signals properly; we’ll have to wait until we get near Jupiter in about five weeks from now.”
“Sensors picking up anything, Shansur?” Khan enquired, as he sat at the navigation station looking at the course Seti had just entered.
“Plenty, but it’s mostly the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It’s like trying to look through a sand storm!”
“Humph, keep trying, brother,” Khan chuckled.
“Anything from Earth by any chance, Nusaan?” Max casually inquired while standing in the doorway.
“Sorry Max, we’re still too far away to pick up local transmissions, and anyway, the radiation belts around the planet seem to be particularly active for some reason,” Nusaan said.
“How do you know?” Max asked, as he came over to where Nusaan sat.
“Listen to this.” Nusaan changed the direction of the enclosed dish antenna by feeding in the coordinates for Earth, and then turned up the volume and switched on the speaker beside him. A steady white noise signal filled the ship. “See what I mean?” he said, changing the antenna’s direction back to locate the distress beacon once more.
“Sounds more like sunspot interference,” Max said. “I was hoping that we might have been able to hear some music. Funny the things you miss out here, isn’t it.”
“Max, it’s been over three years since we left Cydon. We don’t even know if anyone is still alive on Mars, or Earth for that matter,” Akhen replied. “And anyway I never understood why humans liked that noise you call music.” He smiled at the face Max pulled in answer to his gentle dig.
“You want music? Then you should listen to an Andrasian love poem – truly wonderful,” Besal added from behind Akhen.
“Your all Philistines!” Max exclaimed, and went back to the cargo bay where Apis, Akkad, and Manesh were arguing the benefits of the Golal nut in their diet. “If we don’t land soon we’ll all go nuts, cooped up inside this floating tin can!” Max muttered to himself.
The fact that no signal of any kind was making its way through space from Earth bothered Akhen. “In the old days when I was a child on Cydon, my father and I built a receiver to pick up signals from Earth Khan. We used to watch the people in those shaky visual transmissions, wondering if all humans looked and behaved in the ridiculous fashion shown on those ancient broadcasts. In the three years it’s taken us to get to the solar system, Shu has had more than enough time to destroy a lot of planets inside this galaxy. Maybe she’s already destroyed Earth.”
“We’ll know soon enough my brother,” Khan softly replied.
The shuttle passed the gas giant Jupiter. Apis took control for the tricky path ahead through the vast asteroid field, which separated the outer planets of the solar system from the smaller planets of Mars, Earth, Venus, and Mercury, the hottest of them all, closest to the bright yellow star giving life to its system of planets – the Sun. The outer hull of the shuttle was pockmarked with millions of tiny scratches and indentations from the relentless bombardment from Nusaan’s ‘sandstorm’, but thanks to its Nazpa layer, the toughest known material in the cosmos, the hull maintained its integrity. Four weeks later, the shuttle landed outside the small Martian settlement of New Boston, five hundred kilometres to the south of the great stone face carved by the first Nephile settlers, eons before. The signal from the distress beacon was coming from somewhere inside the sealed settlement, growing weaker by the hour. Nusaan constructed two hand held transceivers and gave them to Manesh and Seti.
Khan, Seti, Besal, and Manesh, donned breathers to help them in the poisonous atmosphere of the planet. The settlers had never managed to transform the planet’s atmosphere equivalent to that of Earth, consequently everyone outside the sealed safety of the dome enclosing each settlement, needed assistance to get enough oxygen into their respiratory systems to survive the harsh conditions. Nusaan plotted their signals in an attempt to triangulate the source of the beacon, as the two teams systematically searched the abandoned settlement. With each two man team following Nusaan’s directions, they gradually converged on a small area on the south west corner of the settlement, close to the hydroponics gardens, the source of fresh food for the colonists. Nusaan’s voice rose in excitement over the team’s headsets. “The signal’s coming from your location. Khan; you’re literally standing on top of it!” Swords drawn, the berserkers spread out to search the overgrown jungle of edible plants that now occupied the area. Besal picked an apple from a heavily laden tree, bowed down by the weight of fruit on its branches, took a bite, and spat it out. The fruit was riddled with some kind of caterpillar leaving a bitter taste in his mouth.
“Over here!” Seti shouted, after he found the source of the signal.
Semiconscious on a warm bed of compost, a berserker warrior lay mortally wounded with his large right hand holding his intestines in place. His eyes were the same colour that Hoetep’s eyes had been. His sword and shield bore the same embossed markings. His loincloth was made from the same material. But unlike Hoetep, this warrior had no cloaking staff to protect him. In its place, he wore a leather belt that had a large buckle made from the same metal as the sword and shield. And at its centre, securely held in place by a filigree cage, a white crystal slowly pulsed. Removing the belt, Khan took it well away from its owner and placed the transceiver beside it. “Is that the source of the signal Nusaan?” he asked.
“Yes, and it’s getting weaker.”
Khan picked up the belt and secured it round his own waist. Instantly the crystal’s colour changed to yellow and began glowing strongly. “What about now?” he snarled.
“What did you do?” Akhen shouted in alarm, over the headset.
“I put it on; why?”
“Remove it quickly, brother!”
Khan undid the belt. “Well what do you want me to do?” he asked, calming down as it dropped it to the floor.
“Bring it back here but make sure no one wears it!” Akhen commanded. Khan returned to where the berserker now lay dead. The four brothers held their swords above their heads in silent salute to the fallen warrior. He may have been one of Shu’s army of murderous marauding thugs but they still somehow felt an affinity towards him. In a way, he was their kin. Sheathing their swords they returned to the shuttle.
The brothers gathered around Akhen as he studied the crystal buckled belt. Whenever he touched the crystal, it turned from white to the deepest yellow, sending surges of anger coursing through Akhen’s very being. Nusaan tried to find the natural frequency of the crystal, to determine not only what type it was, but also why it had such a violent effect on whoever touched it. Every one of them touched it in turn. In each case, the result was the same blinding fury. There was something else about the crystal which puzzled Nusaan. Besal had a mild stomach complaint and a sore throat from swallowing a tiny piece of the caterpillar from the infested apple he had bitten into. When he touched the crystal, its deep yellow colour lost some of its intensity as if it was acting as a kind of barometer, indicating the health of its wearer. “It still doesn’t explain why the berserker was here alone and why he was mortally wounded.” Shansur said, shaking his head. “We found no evidence of any struggle. The entire settlement looks like it was abandoned in a hurry.”
“Perhaps Shu captured the colonists for some reason,” Manesh added.
“Hmm, let’s try the marine colony to the south. Maybe we might find some answers there,” Akkad angrily suggested. “Anyway there might be weapons we can take with us to Earth,” he said, after he put the belt down.
Six hours later the multi domed Mars Marine colony of Kelno appeared on the shuttle’s tactical screen. The red, rock strewn desert of the southern polar plains of the planet surrounded it. The colony stood close to the tiny icecap, a mere fifty kilometres away, which marked the planet’s south pole. Apis brought the shuttle safely down inside the huge dispersal hanger at the entrance to the largest of the domes. This was the former home of Eugene Maas and his marines. It now lay empty, a vast redundant monument to Man’s obsession with arms and warfare. Over the thousands of centuries since the first ape like bipeds began killing one another with clubs and stone tipped spears, encampments like this trained men to become warriors and sent them off to battle. The brothers stayed for eight weeks, systematically exploring the colony. Seti briefly returned to his old habits, scavenging through countless cargo containers and lockers always returning with some treasure or other, saying, “It might just come in handy someday.” By the time the shuttle had left Mars to head for Earth, its interior was bursting at the seams with explosives and other equipment, courtesy of the Mars Marine Corps.
Onet’s Tale is a classic tale of good versus evil, but it is interspersed with unexpected and challenging twists. It is an epic science fiction, spanning eons. It is mythic in scope and theme.
Onet is an ancient being whose sole purpose is to trap and remove the evil he awaits. He is the story teller.
Onet’s tale takes us across the cosmos as our heroes, transformed into magnificent berserker warriors, are caught up in an ancient intergalactic power struggle between the Alliance of Planets, led by a consortium of Human and Nephile nations, and their arch enemy, the Drana Empire, who use Onet’s own kind – the Khaz – to carry out their spying, and expedite their evil intent across countless worlds.
News of Shu and her planet destroying ship Kalki spread rapidly across the galaxies. Unaided by us, she carved a path through countless undefended systems in an orgy of destruction. Reports flowed in from the few remaining survivors, fleeing to the safety of Andromeda and the Milky Way. Akhen and Khan listened to the terrified former inhabitants’ transmissions as they told how the “she-devil with fire in her eyes” coldly went about her deadly business, leading her terrible army. According to Tuluk, from his hiding place on board Kalki, Shu had turned the hundreds of Neolithic men and women, kept in stasis, into a berserker army. She personally led them across each planet, savagely killing all. Then, once they returned to Kalki, the giant ship’s awesome destructive power was used against the planet itself, destroying it forever, leaving nothing but scattered fields of debris to mark the point in space where a vibrant world had once existed.
The brothers passed vast fields of new asteroid belts, which marked the graves of entire systems. The one Max stared at as they navigated their way carefully through the spinning and colliding masses of giant rocks, had been the home of Misakk, the Bhakturian pilot who ferried them many times across Kallorn.
None of the brothers slept much during the long voyage to Cydon. The mood among them was sombre as they remembered the friends and loved ones they had left behind on Kallorn. Five months after they had departed Janus Omega, the outer edge of the Andromedan galaxy and Cydon began to emerge at the extreme limit of the shuttle’s sensors. Three weeks later, Apis set the shuttle down outside Memphis, Cydon’s capital city, and home to Akhen.
Its ancient walls bore scars from many battles that had been fought over the countless millennia, protecting the Nephile against the Drana. Large sections of the outer wall marking the city’s boundary were breached. The brothers entered the once magnificent city through one of the breaches and wandered through the still smoking ruins of ancient Memphis. For several hours, Akhen, Khan and their brethren searched for survivors.
Eventually they found themselves on the steps of the ruined Great Central Library whose vaults contained the history of the Nephile people and their struggle for survival. Also stored here were the written reports of the many expeditions to find a new home, safe from the Drana and the Khaz. Buried within the many accounts was the history of the Human-Nephile’s struggle, and eventual victory, over the Drana commandos on a tiny blue planet called Earth, written seven hundred years before by Akhen’s great grandmother, the Lady Auset, curiously entitled ‘Turning Point’. Akhen briefly held it in his hands wondering if anyone would be left alive to write this latest tragic chapter. (If only Akhen and I could have met, I think we would have liked each other despite the hatred between our species).
Apis led the way through the rubble filled streets, past the ruins of marble clad buildings, whose roofs were suspended by massive stone pillars sheathed in burnished bronze that had variously housed seats of learning. They passed more great libraries and wonderful galleries, containing historical pictures and other representations of the Nephile and their many accomplishments over the millennia.
By dusk, the brothers had filed through endless suburbs where the people of this city once lived peacefully in their homes. Akhen stopped outside the ruined gateway of his father’s house. Climbing over the still smouldering piles of furniture and other assorted household items, he entered the house. Directly in front of him was the marble staircase that led to the upper floors. Bodies burned beyond recognition lay on the polished marble floor of the entrance hall, drawn up in hideous foetal positions by the flames that had consumed them. All ten of the berserker brothers stood in stunned silence, staring at the senseless destruction that had ended this happy household forever. Akhen sank to his knees, tenderly touching one of the charred bodies, not knowing which member of his family it was. His nine brothers knelt with him. With their heads bowed, their hands clasped the hilts of their upturned swords whose points rested on the floor in front of them.
For seven days and nights, Akhen grieved. Each of his brothers tended to one member of Akhen’s family by placing the beloved kin in a shroud made from the tattered remains of silk wall hangings, sheets, and curtains, dug the grave in the enclosed garden of the house, and gently placed the body into it. “It’s time to end this madness, brother, time to find Shu and kill her,” Khan said softly, with his left arm around Akhen’s shoulders. “One thing troubles me though. Why did she spare Cydon?”
Akhen’s face twisted and darkened as his anger rose to the surface. “I don’t know why, but I swear this, Khan. I won’t rest until I find her and send her into oblivion forever!” he snarled, smashing his fists together.
Returning to the shuttle, the brothers began a search of the rest of Cydon looking for anything which might lead them to Shu. The frightened messages of the survivors who had told of her savage path of destruction throughout the cosmos, ceased. It seemed there was probably no one left alive beyond the boundaries of the twin galaxies.
After months of fruitless dead end searches, they found themselves flying over the southernmost city of Luxor. Several days of exploring the ruined city finally turned up one precious clue. In the collapsed ruins of the Governor’s mansion was the one and only survivor across the entire planet, another of my cousins named Sechak, who had been caught spying by Shu and was imprisoned beneath the building. Sechak delivered the message she entrusted to him. Shu had left Cydon ruined but not destroyed as a warning to Akhen should he somehow survive and return there, “Never to search for her!”
After being prompted by the slow, agonizingly painful removal of his legs by Seti’s sword, Sechak told them that Shu was even now continuing her mindless quest from the opposite side of the Milky Way, deliberately leaving Earth till last. He could offer no explanation about her decision for the moment. The brothers returned to the shuttle for the long journey across the empty divide between Andromeda and the Milky Way. Three years later the shuttle passed the outer planets of Pluto and Neptune, on course for Earth.
There is an interesting phenomena that I have observed over the years. It is the inability of mothers (mainly) to accept that their offspring have grown up. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man, whatever his age, is still aged about eleven in the eyes of his mother. If he has married, this can ameliorate matters. If the mother approves of the wife and regards her as a sensible young woman, she will happily relinquish her charge to this new keeper. She will still treat him as if he is eleven, but less often, for fear of embarrassing the wife.
If on the other hand she does not approve of the wife, matters may indeed get worse, but I shall draw a veil over this. Too many excellent wives are already on the edge without me tossing blasting powder into the crater of a bubbling volcano.
Returning to Kalki, Hesket went to his dark lair deep inside the bowels of the ship. Finding what he wanted, he silently searched through the ship’s interior until he came across a small laboratory. Working quickly he began to carry out a series of experiments. Hours later, he took the results of the experiments to another part of the ship. Hesket watched from the safety of the view screen as the last stage of his experiment took shape inside the chamber. When the process was complete, Hesket opened the chamber and checked for himself. Satisfied, he took the final product of his experiment with him to Kalki’s bridge. The ship scanned Pranash as Hesket searched for, and found, his target. “There!” he said.
The colour of her eyes briefly flashed from blue to dark ruby red, and just as quickly returned to their original colour, while Shu watched Akhen and his brothers make their way to where they had left the shuttle. Shu’s beautiful face twisted into a mask of pure hatred. Her eyes turned dark ruby red again as her anger grew. “There is your murderer, the one who killed you while you slept, lady,” Hesket hissed. “Kill him and his brothers!”
Shu’s eyes returned to their normal colour. “No,” she said calmly, “We leave him here to his fate. The fleet will soon arrive. Maas will show him no mercy!” Hesket’s black eyes stared at Shu as he tried to influence her, but she blocked his pathetic intrusion, turning it back to his own dark mind. My kin screamed in agony as Shu tortured him before releasing him. “You think you can control me Khaz,” Shu said quietly, as her eyes flashed. “I thank you for bringing me back and for that reason alone I will not kill you. You shall join Akhen and the others down on Janus Omega.” Shu seized Hesket by the neck and took him to the shuttle bay. After she had securely bound him, she said, “Tell Akhen that I am alive when you meet, and believe me, you will meet him.” Shu closed the door of the shuttle and sent it back to the planet. Then she took Kalki out of orbit and left Janus Omega.
The berserkers arrived soon after the shuttle landed. They drew their swords and carefully approached. Besal flung open the hatch. Sword in hand he leapt inside, returning moments later throwing Hesket to the ground at Akhen’s feet. The diminutive Khaz writhed in agony, as he lay surrounded by the berserkers. “What were you doing on board Kalki?” Khan asked, pressing the point with his sword tip between Hesket’s eyes. Hesket screamed for mercy as his body exuded the familiar foul stench.
“Well Khaz, we’re waiting,” Seti added, kicking Hesket’s head. Manesh stamped his foot on my cousin’s trussed up body, crushing his organs inside. Hesket screamed uncontrollably, his body broken beyond repair.
“Well? What were you doing on board Kalki?” Akhen enquired calmly. “Why are you tied up? Who did this to you, and why?”
Through the painful mist that now enveloped Hesket’s consciousness, he struggled to stay focused, knowing that his end was near. The sun mercilessly fried his delicate grey skin and his evil black eyes began to cloud over.
“What happened?” Max demanded.
“Tell us Khaz and we shall deliver you from your pain,” Akkad said, quietly.
“Release me from my bonds, I beg you,” Hesket murmured. Apis and Shansur untied the pitiful creature that my cousin was, and shaded him from the sun with their shields. He told the berserkers everything about his ambitions, about how he and our kin had set both sides against each other in a bid to become the dominant species throughout the cosmos, and lastly about how he had lied to convince Akhen and Hor that Shu was evil.
Akhen’s eyes filled with tears of anger. Because of Hesket’s lies, he had slain their mother. Akhen drew his sword ready to strike. “I should have killed you, not Shu!” he thundered.
“Wait, please wait. There is more,” Hesket croaked.
“What more is there? You have destroyed the most beautiful thing in the cosmos by your lies, stinking Khaz filth!”
Akhen screamed the spine chilling berserker war cry with his sword held high above his head, about to strike. “Wait!” Khan ordered, gripping Akhen’s arm. “Listen to him; let him finish.”
Akhen dropped his sword to the ground, his dark eyes flashed with anger and loathing for the broken creature. “Very well, Khaz, finish your tale if you must,” he muttered.
“After I was returned to the cell I escaped and hid while you beheaded Shu. When you buried her, I captured her essence in a vial and stole aboard Kalki. I put the thoughts into your mind, Manesh, about your brother Nagesh, your father Vishna, and your mother. It was the truth, I swear!” Hesket pleaded, barely able to continue as death crept closer. His skin was gradually changing to a powdery white colour. “After you had slain them both I returned to Kalki and collected Shu’s essence. I tried to manipulate it, to make her obedient to my every wish. But when she emerged from the regeneration chamber, she had become the evil creature I had lied about to you and your family. She was truly the most beautiful being before I began, but now, thanks to my meddling, she has changed forever, leaving Janus Omega and abandoning you and your brothers to your fate at the hands of general Maas.” Hesket sank into unconsciousness. His tiny body now lay at their feet completely covered in a chalky white dust. My cousin’s large eyes turned white and dimmed for the last time.
They did not have to wait long. A few hours after Shu departed, Eugene’s armada arrived, filling the skies above Pranash. Hundreds of troop carriers descended. Eugene’s marines raped, killed, and looted their way through the city, setting it on fire as they went. By nightfall, Pranash was under Eugene’s control. He left the carrier with my kin Pashtek, hitching a ride and landed close to the walled home of Vishna, and entered the garden. Lighting a cigar he studied the lifeless corpses of Nagesh and Vishna, then shrugging his shoulders, he took over the house as his centre of operations. Over the next few hours, while his marines spread across Janus Omega, wiping out the last vestiges of the Drana, and my cousin hid from the danger, his vast armada sat in orbit empty, but for a small skeleton crew on each ship.
A captured Drana was brought before Eugene. “Well lizard breath, whadda you want?”
Hasaan raised his bloody and bruised head. “General Maas, I know who killed my Dranaa and his father, sir.”
“So?” Eugene said, pretending not to be interested.
“Sir it was berserker warriors!”
“Ber- what?” Eugene spat a wad of tobacco into Hasaan’s eyes, causing them to burn intensely from the mix of tobacco juice and his salty saliva.
“Berserkers sir, followers of Shu,” Hasaan screamed in agony, as his eyes dissolved.
“Just who in hell is Shu – huh?” Eugene kicked the legs out from under Hasaan, sending him sprawling across the floor. Drawing his colt, he rammed the muzzle into Hasaan’s groin and pulled back the hammer. “Talk bastard, or I’ll blow your goddam balls off – you hear,” Eugene snarled, enjoying the moment.
His ruddy face changed colour, turning white after Hasaan finished telling him about Shu, Akhen, and Kalki. “And where is Shu now, huh; where’s her goddam ship?” Eugene demanded.
Hasaan shook his eyeless head as the salt dug further into his skull. “I don’t know general. Her berserkers disappeared once they had murdered Dranaa Nagesh and his father.”
“Goddam!” Eugene muttered after he pulled the trigger of the ancient colt, ending Hasaan’s agony by rupturing his internal organs.
The carrier’s shuttle bay was empty, illuminated by the lights in its ceiling. No one was on watch. The four members of the skeleton crew randomly surveyed the ship via the monitors in central control. The carrier’s sensors were unaware of the cloaked intruders on the shuttle bay deck. Silently, Akhen and his brothers crept through the ship to where the crew members played cards while the monitors surveyed every deck, corridor, and companionway ladder. The control of the carrier silently changed hands. Akhen and Max set to work while the others laid Semac charges throughout the hull.
When their shuttle was at a safe distance, Akhen remotely initiated the Armag array’s self-destruct sequence. The brothers watched as Eugene’s mighty armada vaporised before their eyes. Apis turned the shuttle and laid in a course for Cydon and home to the Andromedan galaxy.
Far below on Janus Omega, Eugene and my kin Pashtek were marooned on the destroyed planet after witnessing the destruction of Eugene’s fleet. Eugene flew into a blind rage killing the nearest marine to him with his bare hands. Young Michael’s face turned purple as he choked to death…
Since book publishers have made it possible for members of the general public to review books on the internet, it has opened a can of particularly evil worms.
More and more these days, ordinary men and women are joining the ranks of the internet’s growing legion of Trolls.
If you met them, I’m sure you would find that they differ little from yourselves with one notable exception. When they are in the privacy of their homes, their personality changes totally. They become vindictive, mean minded creatures who delight in delivering their attacks hidden behind the cloak of anonymity the internet allows them.
Daily they pour out their bile, believing that what they say about a specific book actually matters. There are some who would argue that a troll’s review shows an opposite view, and therefore offers potential readers a balanced set of opinions.
Recognised literary critics offer alternative, usually balanced…
Chapter Thirty-One – Battle for Dranaa and Reunion
“Sir, general sir! There’s something out here with us,” Michael said, checking the calibration of the sensors relaying their information to his tactical screen.
Eugene came over to see for himself. “Whadda you got son?” he asked, leaning over Michael’s shoulder.
“There, sir, see that!” Michael nervously pointed to a disturbance on the edge of the screen. “It’s big, sir—really big! Some kind of spatial anomaly, I reckon.” Michael was clearly worried and puzzled by what he saw.
“Just keep an eye on it. Let me know if it gets any closer, ok son?” Eugene patted Michael’s shoulder reassuringly. He was as nervous as young Michael. He’d seen at first-hand what the ‘anomaly’ could do and there was no way in hell he was going to do anything to antagonize it. So long as it left him alone, he was happy. Michael continued watching their ‘shadow’ as the fleet headed towards the empire.
On board Kalki, Hesket fed information into the minds of Akhen and his brothers in readiness for their next task. On worlds and ships across both the Alliance of Planets and the Drana Empire, my kin were still hard at work attempting to influence both sides to destroy each other despite the new threat, in a determined effort to become the new force in the cosmos. Nagesh and his court were fed disinformation about the strength and disposition of the combined armada by Korpak, sent by Hesket to poison Nagesh’s mind and to convince him that Eugene was even now plotting to kill him, and to take over the Drana Empire for himself.
“Where is Maas now?” Nagesh demanded.
Korpak stared back at Nagesh through his large unblinking black eyes. “Great lord, even now his fleet is only days away on its journey here to destroy Dranaa and the empire.”
“What of my fleet! Why have they not destroyed the rebels?”
“Dranaa, they cannot. They were themselves destroyed by general Maas while engaged in an attack on one of the planets in the Tratass system!” Korpak hissed, his grey face expressionless. Turning to the most senior Drana officer present, Nagesh screamed, “General Omar, the defence of the empire is now in your hands. See to it!” Korpak quietly left the garden and disappeared.
The disinformation Korpak imparted about the destruction of the Drana fleet was based on truth. In preparation for the defeat of the empire, Eugene turned the Armag array against the Drana fleet, ridding the cosmos of half the armada under his command, reducing the empire’s few remaining ships surrounding Dranaa into an ineffectual defence force. Hesket watched with deep satisfaction from the safety of Kalki, content that his plans to take over were going well. At the heart of the Alliance dozens of my ‘terrified’ cousins begged for sanctuary, willingly revealing under routine questioning, alarming news concerning the dramatic build-up of hundreds of thousands of Drana commando death squads, and the six massive new invasion fleets that carried them. They lay in readiness, waiting for the order for an all out attack on the Alliance’s two strongest centres, Cydon and Earth, spreading panic throughout the many governments of the Alliance of Planets.
Eugene’s armada arrived at the outer edge of the empire above Jalnuur. The mine once more lay in ruins after his marines went about their deadly business, leaving no one alive before returning to the armada. In the confusion, my kin, Pashtek, hid on board one of Eugene’s ships. The next target was the outlying Drana base on Nazuur, which was quickly overrun and captured, with a small force of Eugene’s elite marines left in charge.
The armada drove on steadily, blasting its way across the empire. Michael called out to Eugene. “Sir, general sir, the anomaly is changing course!” Eugene watched the massive shadow veer away from where it had previously stationed itself and head towards Janus Omega. He felt a wave of relief; at last the goddamn thing is leaving – good riddance! Now he could concentrate on Dranaa less than a day away on their present heading.
Kalki assumed stationary orbit above Janus Omega undetected, hidden by its cloaking system. Akhen and his brothers retired for the night. Hesket invaded their subconscious while they slept. When they awoke the next day, his ‘army’ would do his bidding, fed with pertinent scraps of information. Inside a darkened compartment deep inside the ship, Hesket idly played with a tiny metal vial, turning it over and occasionally shaking it, then chuckling to himself, he closed his eyes and slept.
The first light of dawn slowly spread across the sleeping city of Pranash. Hasaan was already receiving reports of clashes on the home world of Dranaa between Eugene’s marines and the Drana commandos. General Omar’s severely reduced armed forces were rapidly losing ground against the fanatical human marines across the planet. Within hours, the bloody battle for Dranaa was over. Omar had been routed by overwhelming forces. The empire’s defences were crumbling fast. Soon Eugene’s armada would arrive. The only barrier standing between him and Janus Omega were the three small planetary systems of Andras, Shaktar, and Bhaktur three hundred and twenty thousand kilometres away.
Nagesh trembled in fear as Hasaan relayed the news to his emperor. What was he to do, where could he go? Ordering Hasaan to continue gathering information, Nagesh disappeared into the house. “Vishna, what am I going to do; there is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide from Maas!” he pleaded. Vishna held him in his arms as he had when he was a small boy.
Gently stroking Nagesh’s luxuriant braided hair, the old man’s waxed moustache twitched while his facial expressions changed as he thought over the problem. “There is only one way out for you Naga,” he said finally, as he tenderly wiped the tears flowing from his former lover’s eyes. “You must find a ship and flee to the Alliance of Planets and surrender to them.”
Nagesh pushed away from Vishna. “Are you mad? The Alliance would crucify me. They would never give me sanctuary. Anyway, my royal barge is the only vessel still capable of the distance, and it’s unarmed. It would be picked up by Maas’ sensors and I would be hunted down and killed!”
The old man shrugged his shoulders. “You asked for my advice, Naga, and I gave it. I can do no more for you, I’m sorry…’ Vishna slumped back in his chair in the early morning sun and dozed off.
In the panic and confusion of the imminent attack, no one on the streets of Pranash noticed the hooded barefoot priests make their way steadily through the tree lined streets of the suburbs, towards the walled gardens of the old admiral’s home. Forcing the small door to the inner garden the priests entered and closed the door behind them. Akhen and his brothers threw off the rough priests’ garb and drew their swords. He signalled to begin searching the house and garden, while he and Manesh sat by the central fountain of the garden. The warm sunlight bounced off the burnished metal of their weapons onto the garden walls, where it danced as the two berserkers flexed their grip on their sword hilts. Khan and Shansur returned with Seti and Apis. “Nusaan, Besal, and Akkad are rechecking the upper floors,” Khan said, wiping blood from his sword blade.
“Where’s Max?” Akhen asked.
“He’s bringing the prize,” Apis laughed.
Max appeared with the limp body of Nagesh draped across his powerful shoulders and dumped the Drana emperor in a heap on the lawn at Manesh’s feet. “Is this what you’re looking for, brother?” he smiled. They gathered around the unconscious body as the sun rose higher into the sky. A circle of razor sharp swords pointed at Nagesh.
When he regained consciousness half an hour later, the throbbing pain in his head from the hilt of Max’s sword still blurred his vision. Minute jagged sparks of multi-coloured light flashed and floated across his dark eyes as he tried to refocus. Gradually his vision cleared in the sunlight and for a brief moment, he thought he lay surrounded by tall trees. Then one of the trees kicked his head. “Get up; get to your feet!” Strong hands dragged him from the ground, then he felt a vicious kick in the back of his legs and he dropped painfully to his knees. “Hello brother. Or should that be sister by the way you look?” the voice quietly asked.
Nagesh shook his head trying to clear his vision but the throbbing pain persisted. He put his hand up to shield his eyes from the sun’s rays, but it was roughly knocked aside. He felt a sharp pain in his back drive him forward, falling face down on the marble path beside the fountain. Blood now ran from his nose adding to his discomfort. Through the blinding haze of sparks, his eyes slowly began to clear. The trees took on a new shape as they gradually came into sharp focus. They were the powerful legs of warriors. Strong hands once again lifted him up, bringing his eyes to the same level as the warrior directly in front of him. “I said hello, brother. Don’t you recognize me? Have I changed so much since we were small children playing in the gardens of the royal palace on Banek, while our mother worked in the kitchens? Surely not, brother, surely not! Remember when our mother used to sneak small morsels of food from the Dranaa’s banquet out to us, and we used to hide behind her as we ate them – remember? Well do you? You’ve done well for yourself, brother, considering your humble beginnings. I wonder how many of your court know that their precious Dranaa is the bastard offspring of a slave. And that you’re only a half-breed, not Drana royalty at all, but the youngest illegitimate son of an Arnasian woman torn from her mother as a toddler. Destined to spend the rest of her pitiful life as a kitchen hand and whore in the Dranaa’s summer palace here on Janus Omega!”
Nagesh felt tiny drops of spittle shower his face and slowly slide down to his chin, burning from the salt saliva when the berserker spat into his eyes. Sudden recognition entered Nagesh’s bewildered mind. “Manesh?”
“So you do remember, brother. Do you remember when our dear mother died? Do you remember how she died?” Manesh’s voice turned to steel as he asked the question. Nagesh heard the sound of water hitting the marble pathway, but it was not the fountain overflowing. The white silk of his figure hugging robe turned yellow in the sunlight. “Ah, I see you do remember,” Manesh chuckled, grimly. “Please tell my brothers how our mother died, I pray you.” Manesh’s bitter voice cut into Nagesh like a surgeon’s knife. He released his grip and Nagesh fell painfully to the marble path where he lay in his own filth, gathering his legs up in his arms in a foetal position, sobbing uncontrollably. “Bring me the other one!” Manesh barked. Apis and Shansur dragged the old man out into the garden and pushed him to the floor beside Nagesh. “Greetings father,” Manesh said, staring coldly at the pathetic old man.
“Who are you?” Vishna’s voice trembled, as he spoke.
“You surely remember your oldest son,” Manesh said, as he crouched in front of the near blind old man. roughly seizing Vishna’s moustache, he hauled him painfully to his feet and pulled his face close. Vishna’s old eyes streamed with tears from the pain as he struggled to focus on the face before him. The warrior was a stranger to him and yet the eyes were somehow familiar. “My brother recognized me, father, why don’t you?” Manesh venomously whispered into Vishna’s ear. The slow realization made Vishna shake uncontrollably with fear. Manesh released his grip and Vishna joined Nagesh on the pathway. “Since both my brother and my father are reluctant to tell the story of our family my dear brothers, I shall have to enlighten you myself,” Manesh said, calmly. He stood for a moment remembering the days of his early childhood in silence. Then he sat beside the fountain and began. “My mother was the youngest child of a street trader on the second planet in the Arnasian system – Losha. When she was five, the Drana commandos raided her village, killing most of the adults and stealing the children. She was taken to the slave markets on Dranaa where she was bought by a young officer in Nazir’s fleet – my dear father here. “By the time she was twelve, Vishna had taken her to his bed. When he tired of her, she was sent to work in the summer palace here on Janus Omega. Unbeknown to him, my mother was pregnant and a few months later, I was born. Soon after my birth, another Drana raped my mother. This time he was not an officer, but merely a lowly trooper, one of the thousands who were quartered here, when Nazir was in residence. Mother fell pregnant again at the age of fourteen and duly gave birth to my half-brother Nagesh. “When I was six, I was taken away from my mother and brother and sent to the harsh military school on Dreyga, on the orders of Vishna never to see either of them ever again. Vishna took Nagesh under his wing and brought him up with fictitious stories about being descended from Hanseer, grooming him for his own political ends. When Nagesh reached his teenage years he firmly believed that he was the direct descendant of Hanseer, the most famous and honoured Drana warrior, who lost his life over eight hundred years ago when he led the final assault against the Human-Nephile’s on Earth. While Vishna saw to it that I was sent to the worst battles in an effort to kill me, never quite able to order my death himself, my brother Nagesh was pampered and schooled in the art of politics by Vishna. When he was old enough, Vishna sent him to the elite officers’ academy on Dreyga where his political education quickly accelerated his advancement. I have to admit that in the beginning, Nagesh did distinguish himself in battle before his perverted sexual need for small boys consumed him. Reports of his conquests in Nazir’s name spread across the empire. When he led the revolt against Nazir on Dranaa, I was there to witness his triumph. I tried to get a message to him telling him that I was alive, but Vishna intercepted it and I was once again sent to the farthest corner of the empire. Vishna proclaimed Nagesh the new Dranaa and then had our mother garrotted and buried outside the city limits of Pranash in the poisonous soil of the garbage dumps, to hide Nagesh’s humble beginnings from Drana society.”
Akhen put his arm around Manesh and hugged him while the rest of the berserkers stood silent. “How do you know all this, Manesh; you’ve never mentioned it before?” Apis said.
“I didn’t know until a few nights ago,” Manesh replied quietly.
“Clear thoughts and memories came flooding into my mind. Someone or something triggered them.” Manesh broke down with tears of anger flowing down his face as his body trembled from the release of pent up emotions deep inside him. Vishna and Nagesh shook with fear as they lay huddled together surrounded by the berserkers. Manesh wiped the tears from his eyes and slowly stood up. He turned to look at Vishna and Nagesh, his eyes now cold and unfeeling. “Time to put things right,” he quietly stated, as he picked up his sword. The double-edged sword blade sliced through the air sending a red haze of blood across the path, before Vishna’s head rolled and stopped beside the fountain’s ornate base. Nagesh screamed as the lifeless body twitched beside him. Manesh sheathed his sword. “Get up brother,” he said, calmly and quietly, dragging Nagesh to his feet by his throat. He smiled and looked deep into Nagesh’s eyes as he squeezed the life from him, crushing his larynx, and snapping his neck, before dropping his lifeless body to the ground. Hesket witnessed the end of Nagesh with evil pleasure from the shadows and smiled…