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Book 1 and Book 2 can be read at Deep Sky Stories
Chapter 1 (Remaining Part)
The picture was simple and brutal. In the upper left corner was drawn a sphere with rays emanating from it like the sun and there were two parallel lines which slanted down till they touched the ground, like a ramp of some sort. A line of people could then be seen walking from the sphere and down the ramp toward the middle of the picture to meet a second of line of people coming from the right.
But where the two groups met in the middle was where the shameful imagery was drawn. For there, the people from the left, who had no weapons at all were being beaten down and killed by the people on the right. Cutting down the middle, between the two groups were also two other curving lines which represented a river and, into that river, the peaceful beings fell or were thrown, one by one.
The victims of this atrocity were strange looking beings who stood taller than their murderers and they looked to be covered with thick hair or fur from head to toe. Their killers, however, were very easily recognized; they were Halden's own people, Martians, their distinctive hair-quills easily seen standing up straight from their heads.
One Martian who was at the forefront of the attacking mob stood apart from his peers and was pictured delivering the first blow to one of the defenseless strangers. He was taller than the others and had a long beard falling down to his chest. In his hands, he held a long staff which he used as a weapon to hit the first of the visitors.
A word or name was scrawled above the line of people who were being killed. It was one that Halden had never known before: Nethlins.
Halden suddenly was not feeling very proud of his own kind and when he looked at the second wall picture, on the right side of the archway, he felt an ominous sense of dread. For the picture was nearly a single wall of blackness, and near the bottom of the thick black shadow was a line of his people, fallen dead on the ground. Clearly, a great disaster had befallen his people and their Homeworld, and there appeared to be a direct connection between it and what they had done to the visitors.
Yet, just below the dead bodies could be seen four rectangular squares, and inside each square, Halden saw a Martian lying in a sleeping position—they were two adults and two children.
This would all have been a most depressing end to the last picture but for one small ray of hope. At the bottom, right corner of the otherwise black picture there was a small triangle of white which represented that hope, and toward the white light walked the same four people after they had left the set of four square boxes which now stood empty.
Halden tried to make sense out of the grim story that unfolded before his eyes. Finally, he could no longer bare the silence within the chamber and the four walls felt much too close and uncomfortable now.
"What is this, father—what does it all mean," he asked as he turned to gesture back at the other three walls, for there was some sort of connection between each of them, he was sure. There was an especially direct connection between the awful archway picture and the other, on the far, opposite wall which portrayed the shifting over of his Homeworld's orbit.
T'eir, the king and loving father looked down at his son with caring yet sad eyes as he proceeded to explain the one terrible and barbaric instant in their race's history.
"They were called the Nethlins", his father began, "and they came from a great distance in their ship, long ago." "The ship wandered near to our Homeworld and the Nethlin people wished only to begin relations with us."
The king paused for a moment, then continued with a new heaviness in his voice. "They came down to our world, requesting simply to be friends, looking for an honest answer from us—that was all. But we were a very different people then... a cunning people.”
And so, King T'eir told his son the tale of his people's first and only contact with an alien race of peaceful creatures. Above their heads, in the world above ground, urgent defenses and preparations were being made for the imminent battle between their people and the war-machines which they had foolishly banished to fight their war several years before.
The Martian people's age-old sense of superiority, their willingness to let machines settle their disputes for them on the two distant moons was coming back round to bite them hard. Too late they had fully realized just how overpowering their well-crafted and efficient robots had evolved to become. Now, the Martian civilization hung on the brink of ruin, if not complete extinction.
Down below, in the quiet of the ancient Chamber of Knowledge though, the young Martian boy listened intently to the rest of the story of the Nethlin encounter that his father related to him. When the king was finished, he then showed Halden the fourth and last chamber below the palace. It was the Chamber of Everlasting and it was there that the boy saw four Death-Sleep Capsules which had been pictured in the wall etchings inside the Chamber of Knowledge.
They were Time-Tombs, the King said, and strict rules among all the Royals in the Valley decreed that there could be only four of them for each Chamber of Everlasting. Two for the parents, two for the children—that was all, and each palace was allowed only one chamber. The Chamber of Knowledge acted as an educational tool for the Royals who survived the Death-Sleep and helped them regain the knowledge to restart their dormant civilization again.
When the whole story was told, Halden then fully understood the bitter cycle of destruction and rebirth that his race had to endure, as well as how the cycle began many ages ago. But the Martian boy also had an awakening of new thoughts and ideas because he realized that if he was successful in completing his Manhood Challenge then a new doorway of hope could be opened to all his people. For if he could survive the journey to the Blue Waterworld and return to tell his people about it all, then perhaps there would be hope for an escape from the Great Change at last. If he, a mere boy could travel there, then maybe the rest of his people could as well. Maybe.
Halden thought hard about his mission long after he left the chambers beneath the throne room. He found himself thinking of the challenge with a much broader frame of mind. A successful outcome would mean that there could be a brighter future for everyone on Homeworld. If he could blaze a trail for them with this voyage, then more people could follow after him. Settlements could be erected year after year until eventually, a new Homeworld could be established on the Waterworld.
Most importantly, when the Nethlin ship returned and another disaster befell his world, his people would all be safely living on the other world instead. Could they survive though? What was the air like? How much warmer was it there? Those were only a few mysteries that Halden had to solve while he was on the alien world—if he made it there.
His Manhood Challenge had suddenly taken on a far more vital significance than he could have imagined when he started it only a few months before. The strange glass coils were safely moved to the hidden workshop in the cave and Halden resumed his work, preparing for the important journey ahead of him.
Weeks passed without further news of any more attacks from the sky and for a brief period of time, there were some who dared to hope that the worst wounds that the enemy could inflict upon them had already occurred. Perhaps, that was all there was to be had from them—or maybe, by chance, the kill-signals that had been transmitted several years before, to the creatures on both moons, had finally taken effect and they were now all silent and dead.
These were the false hopes of a quietly fearful people though because T'eir saw and recorded more and more pin-point lights ascending from each of the Martian moons every night as he gazed up through his Aether-Glass. The bright, reflective points of light hung silently in perfect battalion formations in the cold space between the moons and Homeworld, waiting patiently while Spiders and Flies, by the thousands, fell into rank behind them.
The machines were slowly building up their number to become an overwhelming invasion force. They planned to utterly annihilate the people of Mars with one surprise attack of terrible brute power.
T'eir knew this event would happen very soon, as would another. He knew those omens with accurate certainty because he was the king of his Clan. As such, T'eir held the one key to a very special and secret gift. All the kings of the valley knew the same events would unfold as well because, as with T'eir, they also held the same closely guarded secret among themselves. It was a secret that was brought back from that same faraway place, many years ago.
Halden saw his father for the last time on a day when he was in his workshop. He had no further need of the scholars that his father had assigned to help him, so he was working alone when the king arrived. Halden was inside the small glass dome of his completed saucer-craft, running through instrument checks when he looked out and saw his father.
He looked very tense and his eyes were tired and shadowed from little sleep. The king smiled broadly though and he waved for Halden to join him as he settled down to rest on the wide stone steps leading down from the cave entrance. His craft was all but complete and Halden was eager to tell his father all about it. The king was carrying a large leather sack which appeared to be stuffed full of food and other provisions for a long journey.
As Halden walked over to join him, T'eir began taking some familiar items out of the bag. One of the objects was a sphericalshaped clay bottle which was about the size of a man's fist. The bottle was hot to touch and had a small-necked spout that was plugged by a clay cork. When he sat down on the step beside his father, Halden immediately smelled a strong aroma coming from the clay bottle. It contained Ground-Leaf Tea which was a pungent, strength-giving drink used by warriors on Mars for thousands of years.
The king took out two small clay cups and placed them on the stone step between him and his son. Halden had never tasted the strong tea before and so was surprised and proud that his father thought that he was old enough to try it. He took the proffered cup from T'eir's large, calloused hand and carefully sniffed the hot drink. The smell was extremely pungent, like burnt oil and Halden crinkled up his nose and coughed loudly. The king apparently had been waiting for such a reaction because he abruptly threw back his head and let out a loud, good-natured laugh.
"Drink it very slowly, Hal'd," he chuckled, giving his son a gentle pat on his shoulder. The boy held his breath and shut his eyes tight as he took his first tentative sip of the thick tea. The taste was as strong as the smell and Halden felt his eyes tearing up as he gasped and took a deep breath to try to get used to the manly tea.
This was a very unsettling experience for Halden, not because of the taste or the strong smell, but because it was a very rare thing for any Martian to shed tears. Even T'eir looked at him, slightly concerned. Perhaps it had been too soon to introduce his boy to such a strong tea. After a few minutes of quiet sipping though, the boy felt he was getting a taste for the drink.
Halden wiped away the offending tears and he smiled bravely up at his father as he held out his cup for refilling. He did feel quite revitalized and could feel the hot, hardy, tea flowing through him like an elixir.
T'eir smiled proudly at him and promptly poured Halden a second cup. His eyes had finally finished their worrisome crying and so Halden was able to see something else that the king had removed from the leather bag.
Beside the clay tea bottle, T'eir had carefully placed a leather wrap which held two thin crystals as long as daggers. Halden noticed too that T'eir was careful not to touch the crystals with his bare hands. Rather, he handled them cautiously with a pair of metal tongs. One of the crystals the king picked up with the tongs and walked a short distance away. There he placed the glass sliver on the floor of the cave.
"Do not touch these, Halden, lest they prick your hand and you be lost from this world forever," the king said gravely when he came back and settled again on the step beside him. The boy drew back from the remaining crystal as he would from a deadly poison.
"Why are you showing me these, father," he asked.
The king smiled and said, "Because Hal'd, one day when our people mature enough and are ready, we may all use these crystals without fear. We may use them to travel to worlds beyond our Homeworld and befriend other people, different people, without the fears which grow out of ignorance and arrogant pride."
The king then told Halden the guarded, secret tale of the wondrous Glass Tunnels which could be found on the strange world-vessel of the Nethlins which visited and disrupted their Homeworld every 5,000 Mars-years. It was an enthralling tale of terrible fears and mysteries which all the kings in the valley still knew very little about.
"To travel within the Glass Tunnels of the Nethlins, Halden, is to set the eye of your mind free to journey through space and time, unfettered by the limits of our world. To do so, however, you must also walk bravely through a realm of nightmares," the king whispered.
"Take my hand, Hal'd," he said, "there is something that you should see now that you are becoming a man." Cautiously, Halden took hold of his father's hand and then, without another word, the king reached down and the touched the tip of the crystal with his bare finger.
"Father-no!" But it was too late—in the blink of an eye, the world around Halden shifted and changed to become another completely different realm of otherworldly shapes and sounds. Everywhere there were the echoing voices, songs, and sounds from all the people of his Homeworld.
The cave he stood in winked out of existence—or what one would call normal existence. For Halden discovered that he was suddenly seeing much more of the world now than would ever have been possible before. His father looked down at him and smiled but when he turned away, he vanished for a moment until the back of him re-appeared.
Looking up through the now transparent ceiling of the cave, Halden saw one of the two moons of his world and it seemed as though he could just reach up and touch it if he wished to. He probably could have because time and distance seemed to have lost all meaning in that new dimension.
Not only did those measurements of the normal world lose their relevance though, so had every other object. The workshop and the tools, even the spaceship had all become unfolded and flattened so that Halden could see everything about them, inside and out, all at once. Everywhere he looked there were square or oblong shaped objects which only seconds before had been solid, three-dimensional objects.
Looking down at his free hand, the boy gasped with a thin, ghostly sounding voice as he saw that his hand and the rest of him had become paper thin around the edges, just like his father's body.
Looking down at the thin shard of glass, he saw that it too had unfolded from its once hexagonal shape so that what now lay on the invisible floor was not a long, thin crystal but a single sheet of clear window glass. Looking down into it, the boy saw shapes and movements both strange and frightening and then, before he knew what else to expect, his paper-thin father stepped down and fell into the window, taking him along as well!
"Ah! "Stop, father," he yelled for, during an instant in time, there was nothing at all—only a horrible falling sensation. Then they were outside the glass again but this time they were standing at the other side of the cave where the second Nethlin Crystal lay. Looking back the way they came, Halden saw his father and himself, still sitting on the stone steps and the king was still touching the point of the crystal.
Suddenly dry, lonely sounding moans and howls, as if from a creeping, hunting animal could be heard coming from a long way off but growing steadily louder as though the creature sought after them.
"Time to return, Halden," his father whispered in a muffled, ghostly voice. With that, the king took out his Luss which, for some reason still appeared solid and unchanged in that weird dimension, and struck the invisible floor with it.
A high, chiming sound like a bell ringing filled the air and pushed outward on the walls of the other-dimensional world they were in. Halden actually "saw" the sound more than heard it. The tune that emanated from his father's Luss was like a warm beacon of light which showed Halden the way out of what was swiftly becoming a very confusing and frightening netherworld.
Still clinging to his father's hand, Halden felt himself being drawn back to the solid, proper reality of his own world once more. The beacon of the Luss surrounded the king and his son as a strong wind formed and swirled madly around them. Halden took a deep breath and shut his eyes, praying and wishing with all his might to return once more to the world he loved.
There was a sudden pop followed by an instant of silence and they did just that only seconds later. Halden found himself clinging to his father, shivering uncontrollably, with his eyes still shut tight. The cool air within the little cave caressed his face and Halden realized that he was also sweating and on the brink of exhaustion.
((It is alright now, Hal'd...all is well now...I am here)), his father telepathed gently. He felt a strong and comforting arm holding him warmly around his shoulders and his father's hand still held on to his smaller hand. The boy slowly opened his eyes and let out his breath as he saw the real world, the proper world around him once more. His father as well, let out a long, slow breath and came back to his senses as he slowly got to his feet.
In his right hand he still held his Luss tightly as though still expecting trouble from some unknown quarter. When all seemed well again, T'eir sheathed his Luss away and turned back to his son. "The realm of the Nethlins is not a place to be taken lightly or a reality to be trifled with, Hal'd," he said, "yet if one has the mettle in one’s heart and a disciplined mind, great wonders are there to be realized."
"You are always looking beyond the horizon of our Homeworld, son, just as I have done all my life. I have journeyed through the other realm which you just saw, many times, and in doing so have gained much knowledge and wisdom. Now, you are preparing to leave on a great and challenging adventure which I am certain will test your own courage—but you need not be always alone while you are gone."
“I will give you one of these crystals," he said. "If while you are on the Blue Waterworld you find a cave much like this which has a small pond of water, put the crystal in the water so that it can multiply within the cave."
The king then used the metal tongs to carefully pick up the other Nethlin Crystal. He walked over to where a niche in the cave wall revealed a small alcove which Halden had not noticed before. There he carefully placed the crystal inside the small cleft in the rock wall where it would remain hidden and dry. T'eir then returned to where Halden sat. He picked up and placed the crystal for Halden in another leather pouch so that it could be handled safely. The king then placed the pouch inside the large bag of provisions for his son.
((You are leaving soon, am I right)), he telepathed.
((Yes)), the boy simply said. The king smiled proudly at Halden and affectionately tousled his head of long, brown hair-quills.
((Then you will have much time to grow stronger as well, for I packed much dried food for you as well as more Ground-Leaf Tea)), he said with a mischievous smile.
Halden laughed at that because he could still feel the strengthening effects of the tea as well as the strong taste it left in his mouth. The boyish smile lessened slightly as more serious thoughts crowded the king's mind again. He turned his eyes back to the cave exit and toward his duty to his people.
"I have one last gift to give you, Hal'd," he said, "though why, I do not know. I only give it because it was handed down to me from my father when I neared manhood as well. It is an heirloom of sorts and is part of a tradition which has been in our family down through the ages. When the eldest son in our lineage is ready to set out on his Manhood Challenge, he is given the responsibility of one of a pair of twin medallions."
"I hold the mate to this one," T'eir said as he patted a pocket which rested over his heart. "When you return from your journey, then your challenge is finished and you will be seen as a man in our family, Hal'd. It is then that you shall receive the second coin as a mark of that recognition."
With that said, T'eir handed a silver medallion to the boy. It was an oddly large coin with a design of raised lines and circles on one side but only a plain, flat surface on the other.
Mildly curious, Halden turned the artefact over a few times before carefully placing it in a similar pocket near his heart as well.
"Halden," the king said with wistful finality, "I truly wish I was going with you, son...you are very lucky." Halden looked down at his feet, uncomfortable at seeing his father, the king being so humble and awkward. "Promise me that you will be careful, son," T'eir said, with a hint of worry creeping into his voice.
"I will, I promise," the boy said quietly. One final rough hug with his face being rubbed a little by his father's buckskin tunic and clicking of beads, then the king simply said, "fly swiftly back to us, Hal'd." He turned away and, without another word, strode out of the cave.
Halden finished all the system checks on the little saucer-craft that evening and decided to stay the night in his cave, since it was too far to walk back to the palace in the dark. He was very tired but satisfied that all was well and that he had accomplished much already, even though he had not left his Homeworld yet.
Halden had stayed overnight in his workshop before and had often found it difficult to sleep because of the night-time noises of all the Martian creatures that prowled about in the darkness. But, that particular night was oddly different because there was not a sound to be heard; no scuttling, no scampering or buzzing of any sort. The boy didn't think much of it and was actually quite pleased with the peace and quiet outside the cave.
The night sky seemed to glow slightly with a deep blue velvet gloss from all the bright starlight glitter and Halden gazed up at it, loving the soft hush and the cool summer breeze. He simply couldn't wait to be off and away on his adventure in the morning. What wonderful things and beings he was going to discover on the Blue Waterworld. How proud his father was going to be when he returned with news of a better Homeworld which their people might settle one day.
A shooting star flashed by overhead, as though to punctuate his wishes. Halden smiled to himself and closed his eyes to the still, silent night.
"The sooner you sleep, the sooner will come the morning," his mother often said when he was restless at night. The Martian boy smiled and dropped off to the netherworld of dreams which even Martian children dreamed ten thousand years ago.
He slept so soundly that he didn't once feel the slight shudder that the ground beneath him made as the first of the flaming rocks from space impacted the sandy plains around the Valles Marineris.
Nor did he hear the first desperate and far-off cries as the invasion of Mars began. What did awaken him at dawn were the telepathic calls from his little sister, Rainah as she ran in search of him through the chaos of battle, pleading for him to please come home with her.
But the first stones for Halden Feir-Waii's path in life had been laid down for him from his first breath. And that path was now swiftly leading him onward to a new world, a new life which was still shrouded in mystery and danger. Yet, the Royal boy would have scarcely given a second thought of turning away from the exciting path before him, even if he could have done so.
Next: Chapter 2 - The Waiting is the Hardest Part
It has been a week since Rainah and Miss Vee left in the huge Biosphere Space Vessel to return to Mars. Alex is waiting patiently for his father to return home but he is beginning to worry that something has gone wrong. There is dread and tension in Alex's life now. And, something else...
As of 2017-07-30, Chapter 1 can read at: Deepskystories.com