Chapters 1 - 10 can be read at: Deep Sky Stories & Illustrations
Chapter 10 (Part 2) - A Dream of Nethlins...
On each and every low mossy mound or hillock which dotted the land all around him Alex saw Martians. He could tell who they were by their tanned complexion which was slightly puffed out as an adaptation which enabled them to breathe better through pores of their skin. Their faces were ruddy from living in a colder, windswept environment and many of them were dressed in fur-trimmed buckskins which offered better warmth.
Colourfully designed beadwork was sown into their clothing which, when looked upon in such large numbers, gave one the sense of a constantly shifting and rippling sea of rainbow-coloured sand; but it was their hair though which was the most striking aspect of these people. The children's hair looked as Alex remembered Rainah's to be. Their shocking silver-white hair-quills danced and vibrated as though with a life of their own, capturing the feeble amounts of oxygen in the atmosphere of Mars.
The older children had longer hair which also changed in color as they grew older. There were some black headed ones, some brown, even a few reds dotted here and there but it was the adults who were the most magnificent. They were, with few exceptions, tall and fearsome looking, with their puffed out appearance making them seem even larger all round. The males were darker skinned in general and had stiffer, stronger looking hair-quills, with colors that had faded or grayed with age.
The females, however, had much longer manes of hair-quills which were also brightly coloured so that their hair gave off beautiful blends of cotton candy colours as they flourished. In this dream-vision, unfolding all around him, Alex could look at a certain group of Martian folk who were gathered on any given mound and would get an impression of their lives, the times they had lived in, and what they had accomplished in Mars' history.
They were an interesting kaleidoscope of characters, both commoners and Royals and no matter how young or old, rich or poor, they were all people who had strived to do something unique with their life. Without needing to know more, Alex knew, intuitively that what he was witnessing was the Martian people's history. He had, by sharing his Luss with Halden, opened up a real, living past history that was populated by all the fascinating, iconic people of Mars.
Then, without warning, and on a silent signal, all the Martian men, women, and children ceased whatever they were saying or doing among themselves. As one group, they all turned quietly and looked across the years at Alex. There was no threat in their gaze; rather there was a patient and expectant look from them which gave Alex the impression that they were waiting for him to do something.
What that something was, though, Alex could neither sense nor guess, but he knew for certain that he would soon have a choice to make which would affect them; perhaps everyone.
The little ponds and pools which were interspersed among the small mounds on which all the Martians stood had, up until then, been calm and smooth, like certain times down through the ages when peace reigned over a people for a rare, long period of their history. Then, slowly at first but soon becoming worse, the ponds and pools lost their tranquility and started bubbling and swirling chaotically. As this occurred, the people began muttering then arguing among themselves, louder and louder until they all seemed to babble angrily. They did not strike one another however, yet the discordant behavior remained, with the pools around them burbling terribly. Soon, from out of each bubbling pond, there arose strangely shaped figures.
They appeared vague, indistinct as though seen through several layers of glass but they were still visible because they were also brightly lit by each pool they now stood in. The roaring sound of the distant wilderness river, which until then had still been quite faint, grew much louder as well. It was as the sound of an approaching omen and these strangers were now the second crowd of beings among the quarreling Martian beings.
Whenever the Martian folk took notice of these unknown aliens in their midst, they struck at them and beat them back down into the swirling pools. For their part, the strangers tried to silently defend themselves but soon became fewer and fewer as each small group of them vanished beneath the waters. It appeared that these quiet creatures were incapable of or too peace-loving to strike back at their attackers. The last of these creatures, as it was disappearing half-turned toward Alex, its back bowing under the beating fists of the Martians. A particularly vicious Martian Chieftain stepped forward then cruelly snatched a silver pendant necklace off the creature's person. He already carried a second one which he had taken from a female alien nearby.
Alex noticed that, before the female fell beneath the bubbling water, she stood very close to the first creature, as a mate would. In the male being's thoughtful deep brown eyes was a look of reproach and warning which caused Alex to catch his breath as a very grim and sombre message touched his heart.
((Choose your path wisely or all hope is lost for you and your people)), said the weakening voice in his mind. Then, with a final howl of anguish, the creature slumped down into the pool and vanished beneath its surface with his mate.
Alex gasped. "What have you done!" he shouted through his tears as the red pools all about him boiled even more violently. The roar of the river faded slowly away until all was as still as death. And then a new and heavy silence settled and spread among all those before him and many fell on their knees as inconsolable regret suddenly clutched their hearts. The only word Alex understood was a single one repeated over and over:
A deathly silence fell upon them as the ponds still swirled and bubbled as terrible reminders. They became red like blood now, and reflected their awful crimson color back up at the weeping crowd standing upon the mounds. Then from out of nowhere came a heavy, black shadow over all the gathering. The Martians cried out as one in horror then vanished within the instant nightfall of the pitch black sky.
All fell silent, instantly, as a tomb and Alex cried out because he was now the only person left in the darkness. He opened his eyes but this time, it was to truly open them for the vision had ended and Halden was leaning over him, shaking his shoulder.
"Friend Alex, friend Alex, wake up, I am here with you," he said with a frightened voice full of concern. Alex lifted his head from his hands where he had been kneeling on the ground and looked around for the Martians who had stood on the mounds among the many pools only moments before. The people from Mars' past had vanished though and the pools were clear and as smooth as glass once more.
"I saw people all around me and there were other, different people too," he said. "Things started out okay but then the first people began fighting among themselves and when the second group appeared, they were killed by the first people."
"I have to make a decision, but they never told me what I had to decide. It was all very confusing," Alex said as he got to his feet. He trembled terribly from the ordeal and Halden looked at Alex with a little frightened expression playing across his face. It was as though, deep down, he understood something he did not wish to speak of.
"Tell me, Alex, what happened in the end," he said in a small, sombre voice.
"The first group of people vanished in terrible darkness. They were all screaming. I think it was because of what they did to the other people," Alex said as the effects and reasons for each event became more clear to him. Halden nodded silently then in understanding.
"They were the Nethlins," he said in that same sad, quiet voice. "You had a Communion Vision, friend Alex; it is a vision of a little of my people's past which always happens when a Luss is divided and shared. See here." Sure enough, when Halden held up both his hands, there was a Luss held in each. They were both the same length as before but they were thinner than normal as though they had been sliced evenly down the middle. They had also changed color from the shimmering silver to a lesser gray which gave each an old and feeble appearance. He held each Luss out for Alex to take one, but before he did, Halden asked him an odd question. "You told me that you saw many people around you?"
"Yes, all around me, there were hundreds—no, thousands," Alex replied with a wide sweep of his hand. "I can still almost see them all. These round pools were calm like they are now but in the end, they were all bubbling and red. It all happened so quickly when they beat the other people back down into the pools, and I couldn't stop them. I wish I could have done something."
"Then the vision you had is a great one, Alex because no one before has seen all the ancestors of our history before—a hand of five, perhaps ten, but never all. This choice you say you must make, I know not what it is, Alex, but it must be of great importance if you saw all the demigods of our past at once."
"Who were the Nethlins?" Alex suddenly asked, surprising Halden with the pointed question. A pained expression of sharp sorrow creased Halden's face again and he bowed his head and looked away as though he had just been slapped. Alex immediately wished he hadn't asked that question.
When Halden finally found his voice again he said, "My people are taught to know shame at an early age, Alex, because of something we did thousands of life-times ago. We are taught this shame so that we shall never again repeat it. The Nethlins were star-visitors to our Homeworld of eons passed," he began, "they came with a message of peace but they arrived at the wrong time, for we were an arrogant and intolerant people. We were on the very brink of destroying one another, we the Valley Folk and the Plains People, when the Nethlins came down among us, offering gifts of good-will.
They had come exploring from a faraway star and a world very different from ours, so we feared and envied them for their kind hearts and innocence. They had no weapons, they didn't even have words for war or enemy and all they wished was to offer their hands in friendship. But, my people were cunning and deceptive in those olden days. We plotted among ourselves and tricked all the Nethlins to come down from the safety of their ship.
They came down into the Valley, trusting and open-faced, their hands stretched out in fellowship." Halden's voice shook regretfully as more of his story unfolded. "My people cut them down where they stood, they did not even think to run, so full of peace were they. Then my people threw them all into the swift-flowing waters of the River Styx, the River Of The Dead, 'til it ran red with their innocent blood."
Halden continued then, with a new hush in his voice, "The Nethlins came down by the thousands to die, and they came from this very place," he said his hands sweeping widely toward the vast horizon, "because this place—this whole world, was their home and their ship." Alex caught his breath in awe and wonder as he tried to comprehend all that his ghostly friend was telling him.
He gazed all around at the vast, empty landscape and the massive glass dome arching over it all for thousands of miles in every direction of the compass. He then remembered as well, the view from high above, of the same planet, the view he had before of the countless hollow wells of light that soared hundreds of feet up to brace the glass sky and support it. The gigantic pillars also served to light and heat the entire planet's surface with bright, reflected beams of light and warming air from deep in its interior.
"This whole planet..." he began with the same hush in his voice.
"Yes," Halden said with quiet reverence. Both boys stood silent and still for just a small while, trying to understand and comprehend the strange and wonderfully different people who had once walked on the face of this even stranger world-vessel as it carried them from one solar system to another.
"It is said that when the Chieftains of my world ventured onto this world they found their victory to be a hollow and bitter one, for they discovered such peace and solitude here. It is as you and I have seen, a place to wander and enjoy but, for the Clans who destroyed all the Nethlins and came here seeking treasures, it was a long, silent and shame-filled journey. Wherever they turned there was only haunting silence, no riches or glory did they find - only their own guilt and shame as they looked down and saw themselves in the little ponds and pools.”
"You see, Alex," Halden finished as he prepared to leave, "the Chieftains of my family's past discovered that the Nethlins knew only peace and their world-vessel was a domain where one could learn patience, quiet contemplation, long inner prayer and simple joy. That is what they could have shared with us, yet we killed them. They were like children and we chose to answer their gesture of peace and friendship with the sword of fear and ignorance. From that day forward, my people tried to make amends and to never forget that horrible day so that we would never again repeat it."
"It is our history which has been passed down from parent to child, lest we forget," he said solemnly. "It is our history," he repeated, looking directly at Alex this time. "You do not yet know all that you need to, friend Alex, but you will soon, for I now know that there is very little difference between you and me."
Halden gazed for a moment at the half of Alex's Luss which he had shared with him and he held it with an old familiarity that was lost on Alex. "I must go now but, there is one other thing you should know of our past; my ancestors did not leave this world-vessel empty-handed, Alex. There was one treasure that was discovered and it is a most powerful one," Halden said as he pointed now toward the cave which he was intending to enter. "It is the Glass Tunnels."
"The Tunnels can be used for either good or evil though," he said, "and the Others know this now as well. Be not afraid of them, Alex, we can still fight them and I will help where I am able to." Halden smiled as he turned to leave for the cave. "I thank you for this gift, Alex, you do not yet know the greatness of your generous sharing and what this will mean to me and for you as well, when the time is right. Because of your gift I may soon see someone that I miss dearly before I return to my new Clan."
"Should you ever find my sister, the Princess Rainah, tell her I miss her and give her my love. I am in your debt Alex. You are my best friend."
With those final words, Halden turned and walked the last few steps up to the cave entrance in the face of the mountain. Huge, colourful quartz crystals grew up from the floor and hung down from the ceiling of the cave like jagged, gemstone teeth but Halden entered without fear. As he did so, there was then heard coming from the cave the roaring sound of a large, wilderness river, as though Halden was already somewhere else.
"Oh, please don't go!" Alex called once over the loud rushing sound. On hearing those words the boy turned and for the first time, he looked as real as you or I. The glass cave with its crystal stalactites somehow gave the boy from the past real substance again, for a few moments. Halden raised his brown hand high and waved a last farewell at the mouth of the cave.
"I am sorry, friend Alex, but we must part company here," he said, looking him with an honest, open face, "but you may see me again in the other Glass Tunnels if you wish to. Be not afraid of what changes will come." The colourful beaded tassels and designs on Halden's buckskins gave the boy the look of a brave adventurer and his dark brown hair-quills flourished about handsomely.
In that final moment in his company, Alex came to realize just how much they shared in common. This made him feel somewhat better and he smiled and waved bravely back at the boy explorer, appearing now very real as he stood within the tunnel opening. Alex also got the impression that something else was inside the cave as well; something large that was hidden and waiting for Halden. Whether or not that something was friendly, Alex could not tell; it was just an impression, after all.
"Halden!" he called as the other was turning away, "where do I find the other Glass Tunnels?" But even as he asked the question, Alex suddenly knew the answer.
Halden smiled a wide boyish smile and his deep blue eyes danced with mischief and adventure before he turned and vanished completely within the crystalline cave. Something glimmering on the ground where they had been sitting together drew Alex's attention just then. It was a small shiny object like a coin that Halden may have dropped. Perhaps he left it there for Alex to find. Whichever, he was not certain, but as he knelt down to pick it up, he noticed that his hand was dark brown like coffee and he heard Halden once more.
"Be not afraid of what changes will come!" Halden's voice was already fading away though, like a lone echo from the distant past.
Alex slept on through the remainder of the day after the dream was finished; resting, recovering, slowly growing. Slowly changing. It was bright and sunny outside the drawn curtains to his small hospital room, with now and then, the last birds of autumn speaking distantly among themselves.
Winter approached and soon all of Alex's world would change forever. Meanwhile he slept quietly under the starched, white bed-sheets and Alex dreamed only simple, childhood dreams and, once or twice, laughed quietly as he played somewhere with Halden and Rainah.
Next: Chapter 11 (Part 1) - The Enemy Gathers
While Alex sleeps, a monster awakens in the scrapyard. It is a thick, purposeful-thinking thing that has crossed the void between planets with one simple, evil task in mind: to build a machine that will be at once beautiful in appearance and terrible in its power. And once finished, it shall be a beacon of cold fire for the Others to finally use.
As of 2018-04-08, Chapter 10 (Part 2) can be read at: Deepskystories.com