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Tales of Other Worlds

by (author) Chris Turner

Deux Voiliers Publishing
Initial publish date
Jun 2012
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jun 2012
    List Price

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Tales of Other Worlds is a medley of ten fantasy and science fiction stories for young and youngadult readers.

- a gang of teens discover clues to unsettling facts about their backward world.
- a flowerfly escapes the gravity of her planet and tours the solar system.
- a mischievous glist seduces a woebegone archer to the realm of Phargus.
- an upstart swordswoman battles a mechanical monster.
- a professor shocks the world with his AI invention until it proves itself cleverer than its creator.
- And more...

About the author

Chris Turner is one of Canada’s leading writers and speakers on sustainability and the global cleantech industry. He is also the author of the bestseller The Geography of Hope: A Tour of the World We Need (Random House), a Globe & Mail Best Book of the Year and a finalist for the Governor General’s Award for Nonfiction, the Alberta Literary Award for Nonfiction, and the National Business Book Award. Turner’s first book was the international bestseller Planet Simpson: How a Cartoon Masterpiece Documented an Era and Defined a Generation. His feature writing has earned seven National Magazine Awards. He lives in Calgary with his wife, the photographer Ashley Bristowe, and their two children. Connect with him on Twitter @TheTurner.

Chris Turner's profile page

Excerpt: Tales of Other Worlds (by (author) Chris Turner)




It was on one ofthe ‘scorraging’ hunts while Phane’s greenish-yellow sun wasbanking low on the horizon that Kolbe received his first real glimpseof reality. He and his five friends were out roaming the sandy,boulder-strewn landscape tinted in an eerie shade by the dyingafternoon light, when they halted before a small knoll brushed withhyssop. Mid way up, a crusty-leaved barrier hedged the slope, pastwhich none had ventured, despite what Wensel, the freckle-facedbraggart of their lot claimed about his ‘solitary’ excursions.

Far to the east,Morfast’s towers of metal and pink stone rose like limbless trunksin the faraway glimmering. Squadrons of birds played black circles inthe air, settling to haunt the metallic traceries that identified thegraveyard of a lost empire. Separating the youths from the ruinedcity stretched an endless plain littered with islands of rusty debrisand sporadic patches of crabgrass and twitch-weed.

The six ofthem—Kolbe, Wensel, Jesset, Vonny, Lees, and Ua had made good timein the open country. They were garbed in one-piece jumpers and worepale canvas shoes that were scuffed and very poorly laced. Nothingmore than mischievous adolescents who had seen eight of Phane’slong, lazy, shimmering summers (8 summers = 12 earth years), theirlaughter and jokes were merciless intrusions upon the silent fastnessof Phane’s landscape. Ua, the unspoken leader, a youth of a dozenvolatile temperaments, harboured a florid face and a savage brush cutthat perfectly suited his squat frame. He was just short of animpressive 5’8”. Kolbe, lean, grey-eyed and serious-minded was acompulsive ruminative and showed no arrogance in assuming himselfcleverest of the group. Vonny and Lees were sandy-haired brothers,happy-go-lucky and easily the most suggestible of the party. Wensel,with his tubby paunch and shock of red curls, was proud andself-absorbed. Jesset, the olive-skinned, straight-haired,smiley-faced youth was somewhere in the middle of these diversepersonalities, and the most like Kolbe.

Despite theominous angle of the sun, Vonny and Lees were all for going on withtheir trek. Kolbe felt this tickle of adventure coursing in hisveins, but unlike the others, he stood aloof, restrained by doubt.

Yesterday they hadstumbled upon an underground trench, some kind of tunnel burrowingdeep under a collapsed bridge. The cavity could have been anything: adrainage well, a waste disposal conduit, or an old ore pit, but Kolbenoticed that it ran straight in the direction of Morfast’s crippledtowers. He thought that it must have been some breed oftransportation network. But that the network extended this far fromMorfast only confirmed his belief of what an ingenious race the‘Builders’ or ‘Creators’, had been.

The discovery ofthe ruin had been a circumstance nothing short of marvel. Jesset hadput his foot in a wrong place and almost plummeted down a deepsinkhole. Sand and rocks had slipped down the shaft and landed with ahollow thud on something metallic below. Six sets of wondering eyescaught a glimpse in those musty bowels thirty feet down, of onceshiny metal spread with fallen debris. Squinting like hawks, they hadcaught the dull flicker of a blue- and white-striped rectangularcarriage linked with another and poised on rusty wheels. None of themcould see very far through the dust-speckled gloom, but none failedto sense that electrical tingle stroking the back of his neck at theprospect of climbing down and finding out what was up. They wouldhave to return with torches to investigate, if they could figure away down. Actually ‘down’ was the easy part; getting back up wasnot so straightforward.

Today, they werefar from that place under the sand. Just over an hour of lightremained before the eight hours of bottle-green darkness overtookthem. They were following an old buckled stone road running rightthrough the parched and rolling field habitually where they rootedaround until dusk for old relics of the inexplicable past. ‘Scorragehunting’ they called it—that kid-dumb pastime of rummaging underold wrecked bridges, amidst crumbling outposts or ‘Hoves’, alongfence lines, for whatever hunks of junk they could find; to tear themapart and give them a proper stomping or burning in whatever oldbarrels they could find along the way. After that, if luck permitted,the ‘hunting’ portion would begin: where they would forage forclumps of dry yellow buds from the onik-bush and eat plenty of the‘laugh-weed’—the seeds which made them all bubbly and gigglyinside and feeling that everything was all right—substances whichof course, were forbidden in Ona Ward.

Ua, when he gotinto the laugh-weed, was never fun to be around. Not just because heget intoxicated, but because he sometimes turned ugly. Even now, onlya half hour into their trek, he had gulped down a score of laugh budsand already Kolbe saw the transformation: the glassiness of the eyes,the harsh metallic speech.

Before them laythe unsaid scorraging barrier: a plum-grey wisp of prickle underwhich the high strato-clouds eternally lingered, always the samedrowsy shade of washed-out lime permeating Phane’s moody sky.

Wensel and Uasurged ahead past the score of stunted bushes. Again Kolbe hesitated,wary of some inexplicable feeling tugging at his innards. His voiceheld onto a shakier edge than usual: “Let us visit some of ourhaunts west a-ways, okay, Ua? Remember where the scout thingamajigsits with the sting-ray antennae?”

Ua sneered.“What’s the matter, Kolbe? Scared or something?”

“Aw, look at hisfingers shake,” jeered Wensel. “He is afraid. Let himcrawl back to Ona and cry on his momma’s shoulder!”

Jesset made adiplomatic suggestion. “It is getting late, raiders. What about ourmystery tunnel down by Saller’s bridge? We haven’t a clue aboutwhat those hulks are yet—and not far away are those sealed cratesburied in behind Hasser’s Three Hoves—”

“Kid’s stuff!”snapped Ua. “We’ve been through those piles of junk a milliontimes.”

“Yeah!” criedVonny.

Jesset and Kolbewere outvoted when Lees chimed in his bid in favour of pushing on. Itwas either tag along with the pack, or tuck tail between legs. Apractical enough endeavour if not for the hot derision and peercontempt chafing on Kolbe’s back. Kolbe, who didn’t care so muchfor that kind of thing these days, was all for taking off, but he wasgripped by a sudden vivid anger. He whirled on Ua, teeth-gritted.“Okay, you mope! Let’s go have a go at it. But I don’t want tohear any more of your tongue-wagging about me being scared!”

Ua waved a hand ofdisclaimer and pulled Wensel along. Kolbe hung back as they set outover the hill; they mounted a crumbling stone fence and wound downthe other side.

The air was warm;it was getting toward the end of the day. Barely a wind stirred theleaves of this still planet and played circles on the lake of auburnsand, fine as loess. But then again, Phane was a world of littledisturbance. Always the air was stretched taut and thin, as ifawaiting for something to happen.

Down into alow-cut ravine the scorragers descended. They discovered three newhulks, dead and dry—huge, monstrous insects. ‘Haulers’ theycalled them—each as wide as two houses and set with two large backlug-wheels pitched deep in the black sand. Behind the largest washitched a kind of flat wagon, all metal, red, sunken and corrodedwith age.

They came out ontop of the ravine and gazed upon a low, thicketed plain edging itsway toward a dingy line of scraff-forest. Behind, the white-washedhuts of Ona Ward were now hidden by the hill’s ochre brow.

Late afternoonshadows played tricks on the eyes: hazy shapes and shimmering patchesformed dull mirages. But as they forged down into the virginterritory, the illusions vanished and they let up on their approachof what looked like a tower-like mound about twelve hundred feetaway, tilting solemnly away from them.

It was, if not themost bizarre-shaped landform, certainly the weirdest looking Hovethey had ever seen. Certainly no mirage. Ua led them down in hiscommanding dogtrot toward the impression. Kolbe’s eyes gleamed. Theplain narrowed to bushes and terminated at a bluish wall of stuntedtree growths. Something was odd about this anomalous Hove that stoodframed so singularly in the foreground. The towerish spire leaned ona slight cant to the left. It looked like fins or buttresses wereslung outward from its eight-foot base. The whole structure probablystood about fifty feet high. A tall cylindrical shaft, coveredcompletely with moss and mauve grass-vine, shot above the base andloomed over the thickets and silent, blue-eaved forest. Dun-coloured,umbrella-like foliage appeared to have been planted around thefoundation, as if to hide evidence of the fact that this was not anatural formation.

Ua dug his heelstriumphantly into the sand. “A little mountain for us to climb!”

“No, it isn’t,”scoffed Wensel. “I bet it’s old man Simil’s Hove. Nees, myolder brother told me about this place when he was into scorragingway back.”

Ua snorted. “Idon’t care whose Hove it is! We’re all going to have a look-see.”

Why Kolbe had sucha bad feeling about this, he couldn’t say. Perhaps the protrudingshape? The peculiar resonance? It was as if from another time. Washis prickly imagination running wild?

It was more thanthat. Destiny. A thin voice seeped from the looming monstrosity—andhe was afraid to listen to it.

Cautiously hefollowed the others around the back of the Hove. He glanced aboutwith unease as the five adventurers ground to a puzzled halt. Theystood before a chalky door etched in festoons of vine along theHove’s base. The doorway, though not obviously visible until seenat close range, led somewhere inside the peculiar-looking jut. Thefootprints etched in the milky sand indicated that people had been inand out recently.

Kolbe glanced overhis shoulder. The sun Heradra had slipped down a notch to theink-stained hills. It sent mauve shadows dancing across the dimminglandscape. He couldn’t help thinking about Simil, the reputedrecluse sorcerer. Who else had been chased away from one of theoutlying wards for insubordination?

Ua boldly put hisshoulder into the door; grunting bravely, he blundered on through.Dutifully the companions followed him.

What they saw waslike nothing they had ever seen before. Gleaming metal walls, a highleaden ceiling pocked with neat little holes, shelves of neatlystacked books, gunmetal counters ranging round the periphery with allcountertops polished clean and littered with curious gizmos of allshapes and sizes: black and silver boxes, flat screens, touch-pads,dials, pulleys, knobs, outlets, black coils, synthetic rope windingeverywhere. There were sheets of clear, transparent material, veryhard and durable, which Kolbe had glimpsed before at many ascorraging site. A flight of grey steps circled up to a level above.

What was mostmysterious about this new place was the bulbous object, big as ahedge-apple that hung upside down on a twisted chain from theceiling. It was shaped like an egg but emitted an artificialyellowish glow that lit the whole room in eerie splendour. Kolbereached up cautiously to touch it, but he drew back his hand,startled when it almost burnt his finger.

“Wow, what atreasure den!” cried Ua. “I told you we’d hit it big!” Hescooped up a black-gleaming box about as big as a bread loaf.Grinning, he made a point of letting it drop on the floor. Vonny andLees smirked and took up some pieces of their own and dropped them.Jesset hesitated, but Wensel intruded an impish yell and joined thetroop.

Kolbe rushed overin dismay to snatch the object from Wensel’s grip. “Don’t breakit, you dimwit! This stuff is valuable—we might actually learnsomething here. Not like the junk we’re used to wrecking.”

“Learn?”jeered Ua. “What’re we going learn, fancy pants? I got enough ofold mother Hotch and her Learn-Circle lessons in flower naming.”

“Yeah,” criedLees. “This is what scorraging’s all about—wrecking things,burning and looting places and having a grand old time!”

“It isn’t a‘grand-old time’,” growled Kolbe, snatching Lees’s toy andputting it back on the counter. “Breaking things that are alreadywrecked is okay—but these things have been fixed up. They’resomeone’s property—maybe old Simil’s himself—I don’t feellike crossing him.”

Ua pushed Kolberoughly away. “Get away, you smook!” He slapped the rectangularcontraption out of Vonny’s hand, whereafter a sickening crunch hada maze of tubes, chips, wires and plastic pieces spewed onto thefloor.

A bump and suddenscraping from overhead had them quieting down. They craned theirnecks in suspicious manner. The sound was repeated: a kind of dullsliding, as of a stool being drawn back on a metal floor.

The veins in Ua’sneck bulged. “Something up there. Quick! Maybe some kind ofanimal.” He snapped his fingers, emboldened by the laugh-weed.“Let’s hide behind this door and conk out whatever it is when itcomes down. We can even catch it if we’re clever.”

“We aren’tgoing to ‘catch’ old man Simil that easily, you fool!” hissedWensel.

“Shut your trap,Wensy! That old goat’s been dead for years.”

Down the stairscame a clip-clopping of old, tired feet. Certainly no animal, Kolbemused wryly. The scorragers instinctively crouched behind thedoorway.

A figure emerged:a stooped man with a button nose and bald, gleaming patch of head. Hewas thin and wiry and long-boned and kind of bent, as if weary fromhard work and a lot of thinking. Silvery wisps of hair trailed downthe sides of his head onto a pair of hunched shoulders. He wore ashabby, dun frock. He halted, frowning with dismay at the wreckage onthe floor. His eyes, obviously keener than his frail looks, caught afurtive movement.

“Here, you mangyrats!” he barked. “Go forage in someone else’s back yard!” Hemade a grab for the nearest shoulder and gave it a sharp pull andwhack with his walking stick. Ua jerked to his feet, hissing a curse.Gripping the appliance in a vengeful fist, he swung it at the oldman. Smug cruelty gleamed in his eyes—a teenager’s pride hurt bythe absolute voice of adult authority. Only once had Kolbe seen thatlook in Ua’s eyes, and he had not wished to see it again. The piecegrazed the old man’s temple and he sagged dazedly to his knees. Adrop of blood trickled from his head. Savage delight burst from Ua’ssmirking lips and he rushed forward to kick the man to submission.Wensel whistled a cat call. Vonny and Lees froze, as did Jesset, butKolbe knew that something had to be done to avert this disaster.

Kolbe sprintedover four steps and checked Ua’s swift bulk with a hip-check. Uatoppled sprawling to the floor near the dazed man, who tottered,blinking the stars out of his head. Vonny and Lees gasped and shrankback.

Wensel, seeing theold man on his feet, drew a caustic breath. He made a clumsy efforttoward the door. The others fled. Ua included. But not Kolbe. Hedidn’t bolt like his peers—perhaps it had something to do withhis not wanting to be part of that reckless company any more. Hestood completely vulnerable, watching the old man dab the trickle ofred at his forehead and gaze disconsolately at the ruined apparatusat his feet.

The device washopelessly broken and the old man spun angrily on Kolbe. “Youscallywag! Why do you stand there like a simpleton? Be off with yourrabble!” The voice was harsh, full of frustration.

Kolbe dropped hishead. “I’m sorry, sir. We didn’t mean—we didn’t know anyonewas here. We just thought it was another abandoned Hove, forexploring—that’s all.”

The old man gave amiserable grunt. “Exploring? Try breaking and entering.” Hegrunted, flourishing a gruff hand. “Never fear! I saw what you did,lad, and if you hadn’t, my skull’d be eggshells. What’s gotteninto your nasty chum, anyway? He’s like a time bomb.”

Kolbe nodded.“Ua’s gotten mean—the laugh weed pushed him over the edge.”

“Some excuse!”snorted the old man. He quieted down and thrust out a hand, if notrather sombrely. “The name’s Simil. Who are you?”

“Kolbe—fromOna Ward.”

He seemedsurprised at that. “This neck of the woods is a bit far out of yourreach, don’t you think?”

“We were outscorraging.”

“Oh, thatexplains it,” he grumbled. “You know, if you brats’d spend aquarter of your time trying to figure out things instead of wreckingthem, we’d be out to the stars again by now.”

Shamefaced, Kolberubbed his eyes, then jerked forward. “What do you mean,‘stars’—and ‘again’?”

Simil smiledharshly. “All those little lights in the sky. Those are stars—likeHeradra—Phane’s own sun. We—as in you and I—and all the othersorry souls on this backward planet would be out and away amongstthem, if we’d put our minds into the right places.”

Kolbe gasped,“Heradra’s huge! The Night Eyes are so small. They couldn’t besuns.”

“Yes theycould!” jeered Simil, “The ‘Night Eyes’ are not small;they’re just faraway.”

Kolbe felt abaffled knot constricting his throat. “You mean all those millionsof points of light are actually suns?”

Simil’s greyeyes glinted with mischief.

“But how faraway are they to be that tiny?”

“Very far away,my friend. Farther than either you or I could imagine. The ringer ofit all is, that we came from one of them way up there called Sol. Sofar away that you can barely see its feeble little orange twinkle ona clear night—and then only if you squint your eyes and look asidefor a while. It’s about right there, I believe.” He pointed up ona sixty-degree angle, which Kolbe guessed to be roughly northeast.

“Of course, theydon’t teach you that in Learn-circle, do they?”

Kolbe’s jawslackly dropped.

Simil laughed. “Noneed to answer that, friend.”

Kolbe ignored thecomment and motioned to the litter of gizmos piled on one of thecounters. “What is all this junk anyways?”

“You call itjunk?” Simil’s face crinkled in pain. His hand flapped.“This ‘junk’ as you call it, is all the bits of contraptionsand gizmos I’ve managed to salvage from across these lands. Withoutgetting tried for criminal activity! Most importantly of all, I’vemanaged to decipher and repair most of it, though a few ends and oddsI haven’t a clue as to their purpose. No matter! It’ll come to meone day. No use trying to fix this up in any of the hidebound-brainedWards either. This is why I live out here, away from the small-mindedcircles who’ve made it taboo to take up such unlawful acts as‘gathering’. My granddaughter, Ekissa, and I used to live in OpusWard about eight miles past Nher’s Wall, but after her parentsdied, we moved here.” He leaned back on the counter, reminiscing,curious of Kolbe’s reactions.

Kolbe could onlyscratch at his face with profound wonder. “You fixed up all thisstuff? Unbelievable! We usually wreck stuff like this.”

Simil let out asad breath. “I’m torn between feeling sorry for you, boy, orgiving you a good walloping! Look at these fine objects!” He spreadhis hands and fixed the boy a cutting gaze. Seeing his critical look,Kolbe dropped his head sheepishly. The old man marched over to abooth tucked along the far counter where he grabbed a heftyrectangular box so sparklingly polished that it showed his gauntreflection with flawless perfection. “Sure, it may not look likemuch, but here’s a toaster, it cooks bread in a jiffy. And thisoval thing over here a computer, one of the more primitive kind.Series III. Only fifty Gig of memory and no Ultra-res.” He tappedon a bunch of fluorescent keys. Fluttering around a flattened tubeswarmed a series of brightly-silhouetted holo-symbols and pictures.

Simil directedKolbe’s attention to a thing with a pointy end, smooth hard blackbody, and a ridged handle which he called an ‘electric drill’. Heintroduced other strange and wonderful tools, as if oldacquaintances, amongst which he named to precision: ‘wrench’,‘jig saw’, ‘lathe’, ‘spokeshave’, ‘water-maker’.Kolbe blinked. Could all these objects perform the marvellous thingsthe old man claimed? His mind reeled with the possibilities.

Simil explainedthat these gadgets ran on an energy called ‘electricity’—thesame stuff that powered the magic light, an electric ‘bulb’swaying overhead. Another wonder of ‘Science’, Simil claimed,which incidentally was another word for ‘Knowledge’. Kolbeessayed to rub the ache out of his head but was unsuccessful. Similchattered on what electricity was, an invisible energy that ranthrough these tangles of black wires running here and there—a powergenerated by a heavy, whirling thing in the basement—as god-awfulas it sounded, it remarkably ate up only a tiny bit of pale greenfuel called eltrosene, and that he would see for himself in a jiffy.

Kolbe expresseddoubt at the concept and Simil laughed and wagged a lecturing fingerat him. “This is what happens when you skip Learn-circle and doyour own researches.” He pulled down a couple of dusty books fromthe high shelf. He began flipping through old moth-eaten pages,showing Kolbe pictures of various machines and people dressed inweird, tight-fitting clothes fashioned in bright colours—eachbearing a cloud-ringed insignia on the breast. Some pictures showedgigantic machines even building other machines—and men and womenplanting crops in greenhouses, growing foods of remarkable kinds.Kolbe saw detailed pictures of magical metal birds with glossy wingsseeming to fly through the air at supersonic speeds and to hover inthe sky like hummingbirds for indefinite periods. Simil motioned to athick, well-read journal entitled ‘Science Explained’, a worknumbering clearly amongst his all-time favourites. Here Kolbe saw allkinds of inventions, mostly mechanical things networked together withthe same kind of smooth thin black tubing that snaked all overSimil’s counters. The frayed, yellow paper swam with strange tinymarkings: little dark loops, dots, squiggles.

Simil read theconfused expression on his face and explained amusedly: “Those are‘letters’. They comprise ‘writings’ that describe what is inthese pictures. I can decipher most of this chicken-scratch now—butat one time I was as mystified as yourself. Thanks to more thantwelve years of study, and a lifetime of curiosity and odd-ballinclinations, I grasp what all this is about.” He gave a croakinglaugh. “It’s enabled me to fix up this motley crew of parts, atleast to any sane degree. That and a lot of guesswork.”

Simil pulled outone of the books and sat on a stool, flipping pages. Kolbe peeredover the old man’s shoulder. He saw a faded photo of a huge boxcarwith shiny glass windows and lots of chrome. It was sliding oversteel rails. “Hey,” he cried excitedly, “we happened uponsomething similar in an underground tunnel the other day.”

“Themagno-tram,” declared Simil. “About a thousand years ago theywere commonplace in Morfast. A whole network used to transport peopleto and from the cities via underground link. They were all over theplace until—”

“What, thecities?” inquired Kolbe incredulously.

“Actually, I wastalking about the underground networks. The cities are another thing.The trams—they were primitive things in their day, in comparison towhat was to replace them.”

Kolbe laugheddespairingly. What could replace such a wonder as a covered wagonthat could move underground?

Simil seemed tosense his inundation. “An above-ground, transparent capsule thatcould shoot you at high speed anywhere about the city at a fractionof the time.” He gave the boy a curious inspection. “Where didyou see this tunnel anyway?”

Kolbe lifted ahand vaguely to the east. “About halfway to Ona Ward by the oldsand bridge.”

The old mannodded. “That was the ‘Yellow Line’. It went straight intoReamer’s Square downtown.”

Kolbe shook hishead. “Have you been to Morfast?”

“Many times,”he said.

“But it’sdangerous! Falling masonry, shafts and pits that’ll gobble you upand let you fall right to the centre of Phane. What about theman-eating Covix birds?”

Simil threw up hishands and gave his head a dull shake. “Malarkey! I know the oldwives’ tales and Ward gossip and fruitcake talk! Those birdswouldn’t hurt a fly so long as one doesn’t fool with their nests.How would I know? Because I’ve been there.” He turned away,mumbling, “Best fool thing they could do for your education is totake you there and see what the old city’s about—but would theydo it, the silly, fearful fools?”

An image flashedin Kolbe’s mind: of how Jer Croh, small-time deacon of Ona, hadonce conducted a public burning of all the scrolls, journals, andpictures found and accumulated by the villagers over the past year.What a bonfire that had been! A local custom long before Kolbe’sfather’s time, now it was unspoken law that all material be turnedover to Croh and destroyed. A sudden depressing thought struck Kolbe.Was it this type of narrow-minded impulse that had inspired thedestructive scorraging excursions in the youth?

Kolbe’s voicewas one of frantic desperation. “Simil, all these books, all thesetowers in Morfast, all the strange inventions—whose . . . “”

“Who do youthink?” he snapped bluntly.

Kolbe swallowed.“Old Hotch says it was giants fifty feet high—” He hung hishead. “I think we did it. A long time ago . . . then weforgot.”

Simil clapped himsoundly on the back. “Bravo!” A large grin spread from ear toear. Kolbe managed a thin smile; his deepest conviction wasconfirmed. The legends were myth. Humans had been the real geniusbehind everything on this planet.

Kolbe turned hishead; the back door swung inward. A young girl of his age, maybe ayear younger slid across the threshold with an innocent adolescentgrace. She saw the gash on her grandfather’s forehead and dashedover to his aid. “Grandfather, you’re hurt!” she cried, lettingthe small bag of seed trailing at her hip spill on the floor. In herother arm she held a triangular-shaped metal case caked with sand,probably found lying under some bush or buried in some drop hole.

Simil gave her ahappy hug. “Ekissa, it’s alright. Meet Kolbe from Ona Ward. Theyoung man saved me from a beating.”

Kolbe puffed outhis cheeks, feeling proud and guilty at the same time, consideringthat he and his hooligans had initially come to pillage andvandalize.

The girl haltedand stared at him, eyes full of suspicion. Kolbe felt awkward underher encompassing gaze, but her features grew soft and gradually sheput out a creamy hand, which Kolbe took in his own. She was atawny-haired youth, only slightly less than his own height, andremarkably pretty for her age. Her clear, aqua eyes shone like the‘Night Eyes’ and her dove-like features sparked his interest. Shewas dressed in a beige, loose-fitting cloak and wore soft featheredmoccasins. The fine, straight lines of her face bespoke a person ofintelligence, and too, one different from the girls of Ona Ward.Where she was innocent, open, and receptive, the others seemed imbuedwith an annoying air of snobbishness, which always had made himclench his fists in irritation.

Simil picked uphis granddaughter’s device, raised his brows in delight. “So!Finally found your first set of walk-coms, did you?—this one’s intolerable condition.”

Ekissa beamed withpride, but not presumption. “I found it down in the gulch under oldyaysing roots.”

Kolbe masked hisgrimace. If it were Ua and his gang or even himself who had found it,it would’ve been stomped to oblivion.

Simil motioned thetwo below to his second workshop—a startling, large basement area,more remarkably an underground museum full of inventions. Down theclinking stairwell, Ekissa followed him shyly and almost withcuriosity, as if her innate inquisitiveness were quietly reaching outto his soul, a quality which peculiarly mirrored his own.

To say thebasement was vast was a mere understatement. A wide corridor lit byfive lamps drifted off into coppery shadow. The sidelines werelittered with counters of countless machines, parts of machines,coils of wire, crystals, spheres, tools. Whoever had carved all theseside wings, spanning corridors and alcoves, Kolbe could not guess.The air was heavy, redolent with a must; age and a dry chemical smellpermeated the surroundings, though thoroughly alien to hisinexperienced nose. The hum of machinery was not far off: a circularwheel-drum, a famous ‘electrical generator’, which, sittingupright twenty feet away, seemed to power most of these machines inthis warren and above. Attached to its transom was a pliable hose,thick as a serpent, which pumped the wind of the engine’syellow-brown exhaust outside somewhere.

In the niches andwell-ordered shelves, Kolbe witnessed marvels beyond his wildestdreams. Simil led them down the avenue and spoke of each of hisdiscoveries, punctuating his discourse with a healthy jargon ofterminology that left Kolbe’s mind spinning with impressions thathe could barely hang on to.

What was perhapsonly an hour stretched into several, and Kolbe let out a gasp whenSimil, in an effort to let some air into that stuffy place, steppedup on a ladder and pried open a small window at the chamber’s farend. Framed in wood was a dusky patch of purple sky.

Kolbe leaped toget away. His parents would crucify him!

“Come back anytime!” Simil shouted after him as he vaulted up the stairs. “Don’ttell anybody about this place, will you?”

Kolbe’s mouthtwitched as he shot through the Hove’s back. It was bad enoughalready that the others of his small gang knew so little about Simil.Kolbe left the jut, a plum-shaped shadow at his back, and doggedthrough the dusk-haunted landscape, back to the small bungalow wherehis father, mother and sister lived between the raster-briar and thedusty path that wound through Ona Ward’s small square.




That night Kolbelay awake pondering the recent events in Simil’s home. He couldhear his sister Pae’s sibilant breathing through the thin wall inthe adjacent room. The downy leaves brushed his skin; its tart,jasminey fragrance gave him a kind of warm comfortingreassurance—from days when he was younger and the dry, wastrel windwould rustle through the casement across the plain and his motherwould recite to him a story at night, then to wake up to thetap-tap-tapping of his father’s stone hoe clinking in the patch ofland in the valley below.

Kolbe could nothelp but think how deeply his encounter with Simil had altered hisperspective. No more could he listen to old Hotch’s dogma withoutthe trace of a cynical smile. Old Miss Hotch had told the studentsthat the old ruins of Morfast were built then abandoned close to athousand years ago by a forgotten race of giants, that the brightestspeckles of light littering the firmament were the ‘Night Eyes’,those same Dragon Giants that watched everyone’s movements, evenunder Phane’s soft daylight. He could hear her thin, tinny voicestretching the air like shards of glass: “How else could Morfast’shuge masonry, iron pilings and lofty spires have been raised, if notby all-mighty, magical beings!”


* * *


The days passedand Kolbe could not resist the lure to return to Simil’s Hove andgaze anew at the old man’s array of magical machines, listen to hisarcane knowledge and his explanations of what they were capable of,and where they came from. During Simil’s long, laugh-fillednarratives, the thrill for Kolbe was always present: the thrill ofknowing where he had come from, what had once been the rich,technologically advanced lives of his ancestors who were now dustymemories.

His youthful mindfloundered in an attempt to grasp the extent of the universe and themillions of years of human achievement behind a declining race which,so Simil explained, had originated on an Eden Oasis called Earth.Mankind had spread their influence throughout the galaxy and now werein an age of decline—it was totally mind-numbing, like somethingout of a fairy-tale.

Kolbe learned thatman’s small arm of the galaxy, the Milky Way, hosted the hundredsof habitable worlds amongst the millions of star systems, and hadbeen in decline for eight hundred years. In the last tragic battlefor supremacy, man’s technology had been wiped out by a monstrousgathering of forces: galactic war vessels, essian battle cruisers,robot probes, laser scouts, heat seeking missiles. All majorground-force planetary and moon-based military bases were targeted bysuperior weapons to erupt in a glittering ruin of gas and twistedmetal, along with the important orbiting space stations. Whole citiesrose in gaseous conflagrations—miniature suns writhed in orange,red and yellow ruin—the mystery of trans-light travel, thattheoretically impossible gravo-crystal-based technology that drovethe wondrous spheres and ovoids of metal in between the hopelesslydistant stars, was lost forever.

As for the sourceof the conflict, it was a complicated—a political and appallinglyprimitive affair. None were to gain, all were to lose. Varying sideswere embodied in the tale, each that could fill a volume, but Similpointed out that the simplest cause was the time-old syndrome: ‘onefaction wanting to rule the other’. Of course neither side waswilling to make the necessary concessions; all fronts possessed thetechnology to wipe out each other, and eventually, as Simil explainedin near frustration, reduced each other’s technology to dust.

In a matter ofyears the galactic empire had descended into the greatest Dark Age ofMan ever. In the small populations that remained, no one knew how torepair the few machines that were left standing and which becamequickly and ultimately dislocated, worn and unusable. Space travelwas reduced to a few floating derelicts. Three hundred years afterthe ‘Battle of Cygnus’, not a single ship was ever spied inPhane’s sky. The spaceport of Morfast lay empty, abandoned.

In the aftermathof the war, man’s technology consisted only of stone and flinttools. Despite his memory of what was, his island-world settlementswere reduced to disparate hunting and gathering societies. Thesurvivors who abandoned the cities like Morfast, now only superfluousruins, drifted to the bleak, smoke-hazed countrysides to seek theirfortunes, to discover a new way of living. On Phane, where oncemillions flourished, only a few thousands remained. In thegenerations that followed, only isolated pockets of folk living inthe small hamlets called ‘Wards’, sheltered on the high groundbetween stunted kalk-forests where fresh water could be tapped fromcool springs.

As men resorted tocarrying water, chopping wood, and building rude shelters by hand,the centuries passed, and no contact was made to the surroundingworlds. The world of Phane had been somewhat lucky. Whereas, underthe ugly pressures of a new primordial age, others had resorted toviolence and barbarism, Phane’s ascension was more gradual andpeaceable.

In the last of thewritten books of human history, Phane was described as ‘one of themany remote planets far from the galactic hub’ and ‘one of thefirst in the Lylilion Sector, 6.5 light years from Antares to losecontact with the rest of the worlds’.

Simil’s eyesgrew dreamy. “There are so many other worlds out there, Kolbe. Alljust waiting for a new start and a new unity. They must be contacted!We must face the new age of decline with hope!”

How this was to beaccomplished Kolbe could not guess, and in times of Simil’sanimated mutterings, he held his tongue.


* * *


Kolbe returnedoften to Simil’s abode, and the more he did, the fonder he grew ofEkissa, whose striking beauty, inquisitive smile, rare fix-it talentand intelligence numbered as only a few of her attractive charms. Hewould not like to admit that he was falling in love with her. Hersilken locks, serious face and singsong voice reminded him ofsomething he had always wanted. Liis and Jara from Ona Ward werecharming enough, but they were not as approachable as Ekissa. She hadbeen influenced by Simil and had missed out on the starchyconditioning of the Wards and their customs and rules, theirnarrow-mindedness, particularly toward their heritage. Kolbe wasshrewd enough to know this, though it took him long enough tounderstand it.


* * *


Two months passed,during which Simil took Kolbe on as almost an apprentice. Perhaps hewas delighted with the boy’s curiosity—or his unassailable thirstfor knowledge. “I stay here,” Simil chuckled sadly, “where Ican fiddle with these marvellous toys left behind by our forefathersand make inventions of my own. I dare not accost the youths in OnaWard, or Opus or Cagma, and try and enlighten them on my remarkablediscoveries and encompassing view of the universe, for fear ofalarming their parents and their fragile concepts. This big projectI’m working on—” He frowned, as if in hindsight not wishing tospeak of it. “I’m just lucky enough to have Ekissa, who hasspecial kinship, and who daily scouts for the few odds and ends Ineed to complete my researches—things that my old legs aren’t ascapable to track down.”


* * *


Kolbe approachedSimil curiously one time with a book entitled ‘The Craft ofAviation’. He bent quietly over the daunting bit of literaturehimself, looking as if he were trying to wrap his head around aconcept so utterly complex that only a genius could grasp.

Kolbe pointed to aseries of flying objects depicted on the old paper, with wings, somewithout. “How can these monstrosities stay up?”

“Verycarefully,” the old man grunted. “It is a matter of forces: liftversus gravity.”

“Gravity? Whatin Phane’s name is that?”

“It’s whatkeeps you and I stuck to this planet instead of floating up in thesky like those birds in Morfast. Look”—he grabbed a book off theshelf—“it is explained easily in this volume of physics—drag,lift, gravity.” He pointed to a photo of an airborne vehicle withtwo opposing wings and directional arrows showing forces and windvectors.

Kolbe tugged athis chin. “What are all these symbols splashed everywhere? Theymean nothing to me.”

“Nor shouldthey. Sigma is a summation symbol directing to the reader to sum theforces listed afterwards. And here: many of these symbols are ancientGreek symbols—used as variables in equations of mathematics.”

Kolbe frowned.“Mathematics?”

“That’s what Isaid—an exact science allowing a scientist to precisely define theparameters of the natural world with practical ease. With its elegantsimplicity it has allowed mankind for ages to understand all kinds ofempiric phenomena in ingenious ways. A fascinating pursuit!”

Kolbe didn’tdoubt that it was; nevertheless, he demanded, “I don’t see howall this chicken-scratch can help anybody.”

Simil gave anironic laugh. “Nor could I when I first saw them. Yet the factsremain, Kolbe. Mathematics is where it all starts.”

Kolbe’s facepinched into a frown. “I’ll never learn any of this.”

The old man laid asoft hand on his shoulder. “Never say never, for it is a badthought. I shall teach you.”


* * *


Kolbe proved to bea faster learner than Simil had expected. Indeed many times did theman’s brows lift in wonder as he saw the wiry, moody youth from OnaWard grasp introductory trigonometry then basic science thenrudimentary reading and writing. Three weeks later he was tacklingalgebra and physics. It was all a matter of teaching for Kolbe; itwas just that he had had no prior guidance. He was solving equationsand blasting his way through analytical problems and writingmathematical proofs as if he had been doing it all his life. He wasgobbling up all the texts on astronomy that he could, as if theywould all be burnt tomorrow.

In the intensemonths that followed, Kolbe learned so much from Simil, from readingand writing to economics and science, that Simil was utterly amazed.

Simil’s praisereached no limit. “You’ll go far, son! Very far.”


* * *


As time passed,Kolbe learned much about the fabulous machinery of the past: machinetools, walkie-talkies, radios, monitors, motors, sonic-generators,computers. In fact, most of the electro-gizmos in the basement he nowretained a decent grasp of, with the exception of the iso-analyzerand the fasono-macroscope. He could even build his own radiotransmitter. After installing an antenna six feet above the Hove’sbase, he could send a message to Ekissa’s receiver two hundred feetaway, though Simil pointedly told him to dismantle the antenna so asnot to attract the attention of some wanderer from the Wards.

Kolbe agreed, butfelt racked by the guilt of his scorraging peers who knew the exactlocation of Simil’s Hove. He had a sinking feeling that they wouldbe back before long to wreak havoc. Nevertheless, Kolbe took solacein the thought that boys’ memories were short and doubtless thescorragers would be visiting many other places nearer to Ona thanSimil’s hideaway. What a paltry way to idle away one’s time! Nomore did his foolish pastime of raids and missions of destructioninterest him.

Kolbe becameestranged from his friends over time—even Jesset, to whom he hadonce been as close as a brother.


* * *


Kolbe returnedoften to read Simil’s books and listen to his wonderful lecturesand watch him tinker away at his workbench full of wires, crystals,chips, emitters, tubes, coils, and manuals. As the youth’s talentsgrew, so did his bond with Ekissa. For hours they would work side byside building things, and she, degrees superior with her hands, washappy to help him improve his craft, even while his grasp of abstractconcepts, particularly math and physics, was deeper than hers.

Kolbe experimentedin the basement and fussed over new gadgets, plugging in wires hereand shaping raw materials there for his newer, bigger and bettertransmitter. Often Simil would wander to the levels above the Hoveand not return for hours. What he did up there, Kolbe did not know.Simil never would talk of his personal work in the mysterious upperlevels, places where he himself was not invited.

Kolbe had askedEkissa about the old man’s activities there and she had repliedcryptically, “Simil’s dream is one day to travel to the stars.”

Kolbe laughed.“Your grandfather is clever, Ekissa, but not that clever. All thebrainiest scheming in the world shan’t get him there!”

“We shall see,wise one. As you know, Simil is a man of miracles.”

“Yeah, nodoubt.” He could see the enigmatic tensions hidden in her coyexpression and he wondered what she was thinking.

She put her handon his. “I like you, Kolbe.”

“So do I,” hemurmured. He felt the warmth stirring in his breast. His throat feltdry; his heart beat fast. On impulse, he held her close and brushedhis lips against hers. She did not mind. He kissed her again . . .




On one late, duskyafternoon, a rustle and a thud came at Simil’s door. Kolbe,battling away over a nearby counter on a stubborn circuit board,scowled. A second later, the door was wrenched open; it was whippedback with a jarring crack.

Whether it wasfate or the consequence of Kolbe’s three-summer-ago desertion oftheir little scorraging group, Kolbe was unsure. He whirled in timeto see the gleaming glare of five sets of white eyes, weasel eyesthat drew eager attention to the contents of Simil’s citadel. Sincetheir last unlawful entry, Ua had grown three inches and gained atleast forty pounds. Lees and Vonny were leaner and meaner than heremembered and had lost most of their pre-adolescent innocence. Nees,Wensel’s older brother, a slack-witted lout with shiny grinningteeth was amongst the vandals, as was Clauve’s brother, Keren, who,with steel-pipe in hand, stood feet-braced grimly apart, hispeach-fuzzed jowl and red scarf wrapped around his neck.

Kolbe’s innardscurdled in panic. He had unwittingly led this mob here on his arrivalonly an hour ago. How foolish of him to be so unwary!

With whoopingtriumph, the gang struck out and grabbed up whatever objects theycould find off counters and began smashing them to pieces on themetallic floor plates. No reasoning could deter them; the destroyerswere on a rampage, full of laugh weed and their sallow faces showedit.

Slap! Theunfinished crystal transmitter that Kolbe had worked on for a monthwas snatched from his hands and smashed to the floor before he couldexpel a breath. Kolbe pitched forward, rammed fists into Ua’s gut,shrieking in rage. For a second Ua’s tank-like body ground to ahalt. Then he slid forward again and sent Kolbe sprawling onto hishands and knees.

“Littlebrown-noser! Lie down in the dirt like the dope you are! We’regoing to trash this place, aren’t we, boys? Burn it to the groundlike we should have a year ago!”

Down the stairwellcame Simil screeching to a halt as he took stock of the situation andthe ruin spread on the floor. He tried to wrench the black-casedimpulse recorder from Nees’s grip, but the big youth laughed andyanked it away and kicked the old man. Ekissa, who was on hergrandfather’s heels, put her hands over her mouth and gave ahigh-pitched scream as a metallic object came flying at her head.

Keren snatched atthe old man’s wrist and hooked out a foot to trip him. Kolbeshimmied in between the two and gave the older youth a swat acrossthe neck with the back of his hand, only to feel the blunt end ofpipe thrust rigidly into his ribs. He doubled over in pain.

Simil was not soartless as to try to stop the vandals, especially as deranged withlaugh-weed as they were. Painfully he groped to his feet and grabbedKolbe and pushed him and Ekissa back up the stairs, hustling themtoward the steel-vaulted door.

“Now!” sneeredKeren. He brandished his chunk of pipe. “No need to skip off insuch a hurry, old man.” He whirled and made a grab for them, butthe steel door slammed shut and the iron bar shot down before hecould wrench it open.

Below Kolbe couldhear angry shouts and thuds on the metal plates. He scuttled his waywheezing up the steep flight while Simil laboured behind him andEkissa. Kolbe pushed his belly up on the cold metal floor and gazedaround in surprise. Standing waist high in the chamber was a longcounter littered with keypads and touch-sensors. From the ceilinghung a host of circular telescope-like screens, showing symbols,graphs, pictures, all green and white. The nearest wall was a maze ofdials and knobs, packed with circular tape wheels spinning atdizzying speeds, buzzing with the sound of inner machinery

Ekissa’s crystunned Kolbe out his reverie. At the room’s far end, she crouchedby a circuit-panelled wall, pointing frightfully at what was a smallfist-sized portal that looked south toward Ona Ward.

Kolbe dashed overto see a swarm of Warders marching over the coppery landscape: men,women, youths, all gathered in numbers, wielding mattocks, sticks,hoes—weapons of useful destruction to punish Simil. Amongst thethrong was Elow, Kolbe’s father. He knew vaguely where Kolbe spenthis time, but up until now he had decided not to think about it. Nowhis eyes were painfully grave and queerly indecisive as if heresented this rally amongst the crowd, but was forced to participatebeyond his choice. Jer Croh, the village adjudicator barked orders tothe pack, leading them ever onward toward the Hove. Kolbe coulddiscern the angry words framing his swollen lips, “Look! Theinfidel’s Hove!” The group looked serious and fanatical—likevigilantes desperate to hang and burn.

Simil wasted notime. “Up into the nest!” He shuttled them up another flight ofstairs—a titanium-runged ladder. He followed them halfway beforehimself hesitating, as if gauging some pivotal decision.

The barred doorpounded behind them—the sound of metal pipes gashed on steel. Ajittering smash rent an ugly bubble in the door. Simil’s eyesbulged; he made up his mind. Kolbe caught the look of desperation inhis eyes.

“Go! I’ll keepthese goats busy.” Another resounding crash smote the door andKolbe watched as Simil dashed down the ladder and began piling platesof metal up against the door. But how long could the portal lastbefore they burst through?

Perplexed, Kolbewhirled on Ekissa. She was blundering down the ladder. He tried topull her back but she wrenched herself free and Simil croaked,reaching for her, as if wanting to touch his granddaughter for thelast time. “Get going! Little time remains!” He cranked a key onone of the consoles. The whirring of an automatic door sealed.“Farewell, my bonny.” Tears were in his eyes; he turned withchoking emotion.

Kolbe’s lastview of him was a pale, tired face pitched on a bent, scarecrow-likeframe seeming to disappear down a concealed flight of steps.

Ekissa let out agrievous wail. Kolbe hoped her grandfather had sense to staypermanently out of the clutches of Ua and his creeps.

Suddenly he felthis stomach give, as a flying lurch had him jerking backward while agrinding rumble shook the framework underfoot, as of great enginesroiling tens of feet below where they stood.

Now Ekissa tuggedKolbe up the stairwell. They passed a third level, much like thesecond . . . Never before had Kolbe been so high up in the Hove.

The vibrationsrumbled more intensely now; they had to cover their ears to thwartthe pain. The floor shook beneath them with mighty thunder. They werein an oval, vaulted chamber. A cone-shaped roof gaped above them. Twopadded seats stood nearby, before which a dim amber glow emanatedfrom some unknown source. The dull roar continued to reverberatethrough their skulls, like a loose cannon.

Suddenly a darksection of shielding slid away. Kolbe looked down through a patch ofexposed glass upon a dusty, twilight strip of Phane. Lights flared upon the fabulous console. A calm computerized voice spoke: “Sequencedata delta one point zero one in progress . . .”

Ekissa snatched apair of monstrous head goggles—they were wired into the console—andslapped them on. She yelled at Kolbe to slap them on and straphimself into a seat, to which he immediately objected, but she pushedhim down with a force that was unlike her and proceeded to tie therestrainers down over his shoulders with merciless precision.

The sickeningvibrations caused another section of grassy earth to slip away fromthe bubble. Looking out, Kolbe could see more of the sandy plain andthe frantic figures running to and fro sixty feet below under theshadow of the Hove. The villagers were mouthing shrieks. They wereafraid to go near the vibrating hulk frothing steam and smoke fromits base—the same superstructure that was forming itself into someraging dragon of myth before their very eyes. Kolbe saw Simil divingout of the Hove with his hand clasped over his ears. He tottered onunsteady legs, but squinted up with a mixture of awe and pride.

He made asemi-confident salute before hobbling away into a patch of brush outof the clutches of the confused villagers who were now scattered inwild fear.

Ekissa tilted herhead in last, teary farewell . . . as if she knew she would never beseeing her grandfather again.

Kolbe’s mouthsagged. What was the fool doing out there when he should be in heretrying to sort out this mess?

Ua and his bullieswere scrambling for cover from the base of the Hove. Even before themonotone-computerized voice droned something of staid warning about alaunch in ten seconds, Kolbe was struck with an absurd thought ofwhat was really happening. All those fantastic books he had readabout space travel, all the outlandish stories Simil had whispered tohim—about hunks of metal hurtling amongst the cold expanses—theywere real, not just fairy tales. The coloured lights glimmered aroundthe console; the dull roar of the first-stage engines and thepanelled walls blinking with their reams of computer circuits, thelogi-analyzers and things which his paltry grasp of electricity,transmitters and mathematics could never reach . . . they were allreal. He and Ekissa were in an interstellar vessel of profoundproportion, akin to those that crossed the unimaginable gulfs betweenthe stars. No guns of destruction had found this rogue ship, the samewhich had lain silent for an age, and which Simil had hidden underearth and the moss and tended with fanatic, protective care.

Wide-eyed, Kolbepeered over at Ekissa, who sat strapped in the seat beside him. Shecould only shrug and cast him a now-you-know nod.

In the flaringsaffron and tumultuous roar, the machine lifted its nose—a sightand sound that hadn’t been witnessed in Phane for over eighthundred years. The blasted ground dipped away as the mammothamber-streaked fuselage flecked with dark bits of soil and grassreared up and cast an ominously broad grey-black shadow over theplain. Ona’s crowd ran for their lives, bleating like sheep.

The craft’s nosetilted southeast. Engines flared, sheets of stricken sand whippedaway in miasmic gale, billowing into extraordinary mushroom shapes.

At fantastic speedthe ground rolled underneath Kolbe and Ekissa. Hills became mothmounds; forests became black-green motes strewn like blight acrossthe dryland. In seconds Ona Ward was leagues behind.

The ship haltedits ascent at three thousand feet. As with a frighteningly peculiarintelligence, it pointed its nose on a cant toward Morfast. BelowKolbe could see the city shimmering in a blue-green haze. In aninstant of discovery regarding the non-existence of Morfast’s spaceport, the ship began making a cold decision, and in three waveringseconds Morfast became a miniscule circle whose huge, girder-browedtowers were no larger than matchsticks.

From starboardport, Kolbe caught a glimpse of a placid sheet of satin rimmed withgunmetal wavelets sheening off to an illimitable horizon—Castor’smajestic sea, which Simil had spoken of in some kind of exaltedvoice.

Next, everythingseemed to stretch and slide. The youths were out in near absolutedarkness with Heradra’s light glistening like a cool beacon thesize of a pearl, and the yellow-green world of Phane tumbled farbelow growing ever smaller like an insignificant pebble. And aroundthem the Night Eyes glittered like myriad opals.

Those uncountableangry little light-birds did a very funny thing then. They meshedtogether in a fabulous synchrony of iridescence and movement,ineffable as the starship blasted through a pre-computed maze ofpathways almost alien and utterly unlike anything Kolbe couldimagine. His heart skipped a beat; his mind receded into cool,unknowing emptiness. It was as if ship and soul were blasted tomicrons into the canals of an impossibly miniature chip-like crystalunknowable to even Simil’s far-reaching grasp of clever mankind’sscience.

For a brief timeKolbe felt one with the hazy trans-light slip, joined in spirit in away that he could not accurately gauge and that he would puzzle overfor life. Time had no meaning. The compact bubble where a billionmiles was like the breadth of a hair, a trillion miles or a thousandlight years, the extent of one man’s dying breath was like a dropin an ocean. Kolbe, in his timeless haze, wondered if Ekissa felt asseparated from his body as he . . .

Kolbe could notguess what was in store for the two of them now—but despite thesheer mystery and impossibility of it all, he knew that thepotentials were staggering. That out there in that black ocean ofglowing islands of gas, something wonderful was to come.

. . . After 8silent centuries, two youths were again to look out upon the lostsplendour of the galactic worlds.

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