by Michael Arram
THE GREAT UPRISING
The scouting party deposited Henry amidst a significantly large clump of ruins on the eastern fringe of the devastated and ruined city. The warrior escort took up defensive positions on top of a shattered tower while Danny Hackness and Henry looked around.
Henry scuffed through the dust that lay everywhere. ‘Can’t see any artefacts. What about you?’
Danny flexed his wings in a gesture of frustration. ‘We’d need an archeological dig to find anything significant I’d reckon. I’m guessing that what happened here took place maybe a millennium ago, judging by the state of that ancient road. What do you think?’
‘There’s nothing organic survived here, and the buildings don’t tell us much. But if I’m not mistaken that is a door there. If it’s any indication of their dimensions, the natives were human-sized and I’d guess were not avians, as it seems to be a ground-level entry.’
Henry led Danny inside. Danny had to duck low to squeeze himself within the dark space. They found little more than dust and stone fragments, though there were smudges on the wall that might once have been murals. There was not enough light to discern if anything could be made out of them.
Henry squatted down to sift some of the dirt on the floor. His hands encountered cold metal and he lifted a dusty object. They went out into the daylight to examine it. On cleaning it up they found an enigmatic disk of bluish metal, the size of a saucer. It was untarnished and engraved with indecipherable characters around the rim.
‘Not much of a clue as to the makers,’ Danny observed, when Henry handed it on to him, ‘but they had a sense of aesthetics and the ability to record their thoughts. Also they were clearly an industrial civilization, like Earth’s.’
Henry agreed. ‘We’ll not find out much here. Not without a bigger team and more time. How long did Davey and Damien say we could stay?’
‘I don’t think we can remain here for more than a few days. The longer we’re away the more anxiety will be felt back home.’
‘Shit. I’d really like to find out what happened to these people, but you’re right. We don’t have the resources. Think how long it took and how much academic ink was spilled to work out what happened to end the Mayan empire back on Earth.’
‘We brought digital cams. I’ll take as many images as I can; we still have working computers back in the university at Antonsberh, so we can store and study the images. Davey’s found a way to transfer data from them to his great staff of office, where they’ll be safe for ever. This occasion may be the only time we’ll ever walk this moon, so we’d best make the most of it.’
They spent several hours scavenging amongst the ash-tip which was all that was left of the alien civilization. Quite a number of mysterious objects turned up, and also a lot of broken pottery, which might reveal something of its makers’ physiology and culture, so they bagged the lot. There were no codexes to be found or any lengthy inscriptions.
Danny and the warriors were heavily loaded when they left and headed back to base camp. They found that their colleagues had been equally industrious in collecting samples of the local wildlife.
That night the expedition made a very large campfire. Gussie said that with the current cycle of the moon, observers he’d stationed on the Petakh world should be able to spot the fire and it would be taken as reassuring evidence that things were fine with them. Unfortunately it attracted a lot of insects, so they had to move some distance away from it to avoid the buzzing. The four warriors, male angel-borns, stripped off their armour, broke out instruments and began playing a rather fine composition, singing in soft deep voices rather in the manner of Russian Orthodox plainchant. It seemed to fit the bleak ambience of this depopulated world.
Henry pulled out the blue disk he’d found and pondered it. He projected his seraphic sensitivities and detected its time-trail. He idly wondered whether he should follow it back into the past, but hesitated to abandon his friends on the moon. Besides that, he felt a certain lack of confidence in that particular manner of time-travel. This was not the appropriate occasion to experiment, especially considering how unstuck he came the last time he tried it.
Nonetheless Henry was picking up resonances from the object if he just allowed the time-trail to unroll. Images shot across his consciousness which must have been generated by its past, where it had come into contact with organic life forms. He caught a blurred sight of walking beings, bipedal and humanoid he thought, and once a very clear image of a hand, covered in fur with black nails. It was as he was probing that image that he suddenly gave a yell and dropped the disk, as if it had become white hot.
The others jumped to their feet. ‘What is it, Henry?’ demanded a startled Reggie.
Henry shook his bewildered head. ‘A mind link, I think. Momentary but vivid. I caught the last conscious moments of the being who held this thing as its world was laid waste.’
‘What did you sense?’ Gussie asked.
‘Fear, obviously. It knew it was about to die. Also I sensed threat. It had been looking to the skies for something.’
‘I … dunno. I think I saw a great dark winged object in its mind; a spaceship maybe, or even a life form. It was the source of its fear, I’m sure. Then just a white flash.’
Reggie nodded. ‘That at least answers one question. This moon’s civilization did not die of natural causes.’
Leo and Lucacz flew low across the last ridge of the Dragon’s Teeth. They hugged the ground as they came to a glacis of boulders deposited where the stone of the ridge met the tumbled grasslands and woods that stretched north into the blue distance. They settled behind the natural rampart, taking cover.
‘You’re expecting trouble, Leczu?’
‘My dad taught me always to expect trouble, but not to go looking for it.’
‘Tell me about your father.’
Leo smiled. ‘He’s difficult to describe. Stern and kind simultaneously. Short in the humour department, and very dry. You’d think he was a scary sort of dad, but he wasn’t at all. You knew when he was content, and that was when he was hugging me and Maxxie as we were watching the TV towards bedtime, or when he was throwing us around our playroom. We had awesome wrestles with him and he never cancelled on us ever. He was there for us big time. The main thing you need to know about him is his integrity. He’s a man utterly devoted to his people and the cause of peace, and yet the greatest warrior the modern world has known.’
‘And he’s the Emperor of Earth.’
‘Not quite, baby. Since you left the old place there’s been a massive sorting. The Oecumene now includes almost all Western and Central Europe, as well as the Mediterranean basin. Even the British entered the union. The United States still dominates the Americas, and China has rallied well against the chaos which is spilling out of the heart of Eurasia. Russia and Ukraine are falling apart in slow motion, and Ukraine at least is begging for the protection of the Oecumene. There could be a new war brewing in the East.’
‘What will he think of me … a winged nobody carrying off his son? What’s he like with gays?’
Leo laughed. ‘Most of his best friends are queers, like Henry and the lord Davey, I call them my uncles. Gayness is not a problem for him, though my uncloseting may come as a surprise. I never suspected I had leanings that way till I met you, my beloved zemec. But I dunno, maybe I should have seen it. You know my mind, so you know that I’m more fascinated by my brother’s awesome beautiful body than I should be and … well, you’ve shared my omnivorous wanking fantasies. When Maxxie and I were fucking Dana Tsernatova together it was just too much a turn on.’
‘And you never had sex with anyone before you came here?’
‘No chance with girls or boys when you’re a prince in a boarding school. Mum solemnly warned me that there’d be those who’d try it on just to use me. I listened. She warned Maxxie too, but it made no difference to the way he behaved. I’m so glad I’m petakh, we get none of that sort of crap.’
‘Don’t be too sure of that. We have a royal House Macavoy and in five years or so its single majalath will go into rutting mode, two boys and a girl. Who knows what will happen then? Our people aren’t saints, and empathy doesn’t extinguish ambition. It just makes it more polite.’
Somehow that observation gave Leo pause for thought, but he shook it off abruptly. The pair surveyed the plain ahead of them for quite a while, until Leo asked ‘Where’s that burned farmstead you mentioned?’
Lucacz indicated a distant grove.
‘Fly low on my tail, baby. I’m coloured like an Elphberg coat of arms and that may be a problem. I’ll keep down.’
‘Our warriors wear green and matte armour for that very reason, Leo. Maybe I should go first, if that’s okay with you, my husband. I’ll blend in with the landscape better.’
Leo considered the proposal, and acceded. ‘Good tactical thinking, baby mine. Dad would approve.’
‘I hope he’ll get the chance.’
The avian pair skimmed low across the surface of the grass, startling a herd of grazing deer, who cantered off in every direction. They alighted in a small stand of trees, just in case the panicking herd had been noticed, and then craned to look forward towards the ruined farmstead, a half kilometre away now. All looked clear, so they scudded to the blackened remains of the house-tree. There was not much to see. Much of the tree bark had blistered and burned away. One of the scorched boles had began to put out tentative new leaves. The ladders, floors and walls of the house were charred away. A couple of abandoned pots, one broken, were all that was left of the former inhabitants. It was a sad place.
Leo asked, ‘What did King Damien do after this attack, if it was an attack?’
‘Everyone assumed it was murder and arson, though no bodies or culprits were found. But why else would the crops they were growing in their fields have been razed and their house trashed? Our warriors scoured the plain for thirty kilometres around but found nothing. A university team did forensic work on the place, but again there were no clues as to what happened here. So the king declared this zone off limits to the People till more could be discovered. Nothing has been, and we’re busy enough down south. But we keep watch on the mountains. There’re two heavily fortified posts up there on the Teeth, and the lord Mike keeps the border regularly patrolled.
‘It was tragic shit. Emilija and Ruprecht were a couple freshly gone through millenij, just like us; she was angel-born and he was a young German guy who joined us at Kaleczyk. He was great to me when I was a newly-fledged novachek.’
Leo caught some images of the dead Ruprecht from his lover’s mind. ‘Cool-looking dude. Who brought you up as a novachek, baby? You never said.’
Lucacz smiled shyly. ‘I thought you knew. My foster-dads were the lord Luc and his mate Barry till I became meledh and went into lodge with my usakamaradij ... didn’t you get why Barry was hugging and crying over me? He doesn’t normally get that emotional. Luc hugged and kissed me when no one was looking. He’s always worried about seeming cool. ‘Cos Barry’s my foster-dad is why we get no shit about the smelly dump we’ve made out of our lodge. Luc and Barry took three of us Horde waifs in, me and my sorta elder sisters. The girls left the Petakhrad lodge couple of years ago. One’s made millenij.’
‘So you do have family.’
‘I guess. We’re not exactly close, but I love my foster-dads for taking me in. They were seriously decent to me. They healed me a lot after the … what the … chernemenschii … did to me.’
A cataract of pain from Lucacz’s mind burst unexpectedly and shockingly into Leo’s and he groped blindly for his mate with both body and mind. Like the warrior’s son he was, he did what was natural to him, hurling himself into Lucacz’s internal agony as if throwing himself into the fire of battle. The pain was very real too, and tears flooded his eyes. He did the only thing he could do and embraced that burning darkness with his love.
He came to, staring into Lucacz’s wet and wondering eyes. ‘What did you do, my husband?’ his mate breathed.
‘I … don’t know.’
‘The pain and the black men … they just went! It’s never happened before. They colour my days and nights. But you made them fly from me! How?’
‘I dunno … I just threw myself at them, using my love for you as a banner.’
‘My lord, you’ve defeated my agony, as your father did the demons who created it. I can never, ever repay your gift.’
Leo kissed him and relaxed. ‘Luczu my love, I think you already have.’
‘Okay, guys! Everyone packed up?’ Henry was in bossy mode. After four days on the moon he was a little bored with his mission. Whatever else he was, Henry was no scientist, and they were not finding much in the way of clues to the answers they’d sought. The reluctance to depart was plastered all over Reggie and Gussie’s faces, though Danny seemed to favour the Henry perspective; he had a school system to run back home and several hundred novachekij depending on him, as he insinuated. Their military escort was as stolid a party of soldiers as any culture has produced, and would follow any decision with equanimity.
‘One last flight, please, dad!’ Reggie pleaded. ‘I may never come here again.’
‘Just for you, sweetheart, but only the one. We really do have to get back.’ Henry always had a soft spot for Reggie, as his much-loved son-in-law. He addressed the soldiers. ‘Guys, you help Gussie sort and pack the stuff and rig up a sling so you can lift it all between you. Danny, you stay and keep Gussie amused. Me and Reggie are going solo.’
The commander balked at this. ‘Sir, you know I’m responsible for your security.’
‘Yeah, yeah. I know that and thank you for your concern, sergeant. But I am the seraph Mendamero, and I rather doubt there is anything out there that could take me down. So, okay?’
The sergeant grunted and look unconvinced, which somewhat annoyed Henry. He was lifted on to a gleeful Reggie’s shoulders and they took off heading south.
‘Why this way, Reggie?’ Henry asked, his hands gripping the avian’s thick silver-blonde hair as the wind whipped around them in flight. Reggie’s great wings beat the air as he went for speed, his body heat largely offsetting the consequent cold of the passage for Henry.
‘This is the direction we didn’t scout, dad. Sod’s law says this is where we’d have probably found something. There’re tall hills in the blue distance, and I’m gonna give them a last look.’
The landscape below was a carpet of the heather-like native ground cover: purple, pale blue and grey. Every now and again there were groves of the black pines, none ever amounting to more than a small wood. Reggie’s powerful wing-beats effortlessly ate up the distance.
Soon the ground rose to meet them and ravines and small valleys broke up the landscape beneath, some threaded white with gushing streams. In the many kilometres they covered, there was no sign of any habitation or relics of the moon’s lost civilization.
Reggie asked Henry if he was comfortable on his shoulders, and then soared up to the rocky peak of the highest hill along the ridge. Below it on the further side was the bowl of a dark blue lake, fringed with a different sort of conifer, widespreading and low. Reggie alighted and helped Henry down. It was windy on the peak and he took station next to a sheltering outcrop.
There was a lot to see up there. Reggie pointed further south into the misty distance. ‘There’s another grid city in that direction, about thirty kilometres I would reckon.’
‘You don’t propose going there?’
‘No, dad. I doubt we’d learn much more than we already know.’
Henry’s eyesight could not match that of an avian, but he squinted around anyway. An odd swelling in the woodland to the south-east caught his attention. ‘What’s that over there, Reggie?’
His avian son-in-law focussed. ‘A mound of some sort, I’d guess.’
Henry gave an internal moué of irritation. ‘Can you offer more details, sweetheart?’
‘It’s a rather regular sort of tumulus, like an upturned bowl, with a few trees on the summit. Wanna go see? Looks possibly artificial.’
Henry agreed with good grace, and resumed his seat on Reggie’s shoulders. They glided along the southern face of the ridge, Reggie taking advantage of the warm updraft to speed their way without too much effort to himself, then he struck out across the plain directly towards the mound.
Leo led Lucacz on from the burned homestead in his quest. They kept low, though it made the flying harder. The terrain spread out northwards in a succession of low, rounded ridges and eventually, after two days, they passed the limit of petakh exploration. They encountered a vast fenland sink, impassable on foot, with linked pools and kilometre after kilometre of waterlogged carrs. Here there were no trees but endless waving forests of giant feathery ferns, making remarkable patterns beneath them as the wind surged across the empty plain.
Keeping low in this environment was no option, as the changeless and formless terrain bewildered their sense of direction, so after an hour of it Leo indicated upwards and the two soared high, beating hard to get purchase on the sullen air. There were no updrafts to take advantage of in this country.
The full expanse of the yellow-green fenland opening below them was breathtaking; it went on to the horizon and beyond, the sunlight occasionally dazzling them in its reflection off an isolated pool. Only to the west and south were there any hints of higher ground. The Teeth were still dimly visible behind them at this height. But to north and east the waterlogged plain faded into the dim distance.
Recalling his geography lessons as a novachek, Lucacz explained to Leo that the Great Sea was somewhere to their east and the fen must connect with it, a sink which was fed by several rivers. He suggested heading east to find the sea and tracking the shore northwards, but Leo vetoed the suggestion, preferring to head directly northwards across the plain, while pacing the distant hills to the west. Lucacz raised the question of supplies. They had been gone from civilisation now nearly a week, and what they could carry limited their range. They were not bearing any weapons with which to hunt. Leo calculated that they still had enough to take them across the fenland. He conceded they should then turn for the coast and head home that way. So the boys flew on steadily and determinedly through a sky empty even of cloud.
They had not reached the end of the marshland by sunset, so they descended to the tussocks of a small island to camp for the night. Here they bathed, finding the water dark but fresh and not at all brackish. They made fervent love with all the passion of bonded mates, despite the day’s labour, and Leo fell asleep with Lucacz comfortingly deep inside him. His lover was still large in him when they awoke, and his rectum was overflowing with the night’s discharge. His own cock was glistening and sticky with its lubricant, which the local insect life was exploring with enthusiasm. Leo swatted them off with annoyance.
Lucacz sniggered as his husband squatted over the pool to evacuate himself and wash his member. ‘Sweetheart, I find you sexy even when you look like that, farting out my love for you through your behind.’ They wrestled and fought a while till Leo subdued his zemec and claimed his rights vigorously, the boy on his back under him, wings displayed.
They took to the skies once more after a frugal breakfast of dried fruit and meat. Leo headed high to see what could be seen in the clear morning, before the marshland haze gathered.
‘Look, Luczu!’ he yelled. ‘Something to the north. It must be the end of the fens.’ Dim and blue on the horizon were strange-looking hills, more of a line of giant rounded mounds, like upturned bowls.
‘Well, this is interesting,’ Henry pronounced as they alighted on the top of the tumulus in the shade of the trees at its crest. ‘Also quite pleasant. I like the warm breeze here.’
Reggie excused himself and took off again, digicam poised as he took shots of the structure from above, for it plainly was artificial. He rejoined Henry and they checked the screen images.
‘Could be a royal tomb of some sort, you think?’ Reggie suggested.
‘We should beware of terrestrial analogies,’ Henry concluded. ‘It could be anything: a shelter, a pleasance, a sacred site. There is really no way of knowing. Not unless there’s access to the interior.’
‘Now that would be cool. But there’s nothing like that to be seen, dad.’
‘What about that depression, there. Let’s take a look.’ Rather than remount Reggie, Henry trotted his way down the mound’s slope to the one flaw in the mound’s flanks, a distinct fold in the side, which when they approached proved to have stonework around its edges.
‘Ahah, Reggie! So what do you think that is?’
‘A lot of work with a spade, I’d guess. I don’t have one with me.’
Henry shrugged and went to examine the masonry. What he could see had been squared and trimmed. ‘So the hill is artificial alright, and if this isn’t an entryway my name is not Mendamero, or Henry Atwood, or whatever. It can’t have been accessed in centuries judging by the way it has been blocked with subsiding earth.’
‘It could have been deliberately plugged.’
‘Still with the tomb theory, then.’
‘I’ll get more pictures, but I suppose this is all we’ll learn about it.’
Henry suddenly felt stubborn. ‘Not necessarily. My powers include telekinesis. I’m crap at it, but earthshifting needs no finesse.’
‘What do you propose, dad?’
‘That you get back well out of the way, such is my confidence in my ability. Ready? Here goes nothing.’
Henry’s seraphic consciousness embraced the entire hill, finding its perfect symmetry oddly disturbing. He became dimly aware that it was hollow and that a passage indeed led down from the doorway they had discovered. He gripped the soil blockage with his mind, and gave it what he imagined was a delicate tug. The earth plug exploded spectacularly outwards, many tons arching out over the surrounding wood and flattening a tree when it came to ground.
‘Er … that was more dramatic than I liked. If anyone’s at home that was one damned heavy knock on their door.’
Reggie peered inside through the settling dust. ‘It’s a tunnel, Henry, quite a big one, and it goes down at an easy gradient.’
‘Can you see much?’
‘My petakh vision allows me to see underground, if dimly. Take my hand, dad, and I’ll lead you down.’
Hand in hand, the two headed down beneath the great tumulus into the darkness of ages.
The fens came to an abrupt end as the land rose. Avian husband and zemec came to earth in the last of the fern brakes, where one of the feeder streams entered the fen. The land in front of them rose gradually to a low ridge which spread maybe twenty kilometres east to west. On the crest of this ridge rose ten giant tumuli, all but one of exactly the same impressive dimensions, and each with a huge square door set in it, facing south. All was covered in grass, with no trees to be seen nor any wildlife either. The silence was impressive, with no sound other than the sighing of wind in the plumes of the ferns waving gracefully above them.
‘Okay, baby,’ asked Leo. ‘I take it the People know nothing of these structures.’
Lucacz surveyed the mounds with astonishment. ‘We’ve never penetrated beyond the great fen. No need to really. Our exploration effort is directed to the more productive lands to south and west. Emilija and Ruprecht settled beyond the Teeth because of sentimental reasons: that was where their millenij flight took them, as it did us.’
‘I think we may have found who it was that did for them. I don’t know about you, but I get the impression these structures are fortresses.’
‘What do we do, Leczu?’
‘Good question, baby mine. Our resources are limited, and approach to those structures would be hazardous. I’d guess the land around has been cleared to make undetected approach difficult. We might try it after sundown, but for now we observe to see if anything emerges from below.’
So the pair settled patiently, hunkered side by side, so aborbed in their watch that even their meledh libido ebbed and any thought of sex left their shared mind. It occurred to Leo that at times of crisis their avian psychology and physiology adjusted. Lucacz confirmed it for him. When male and female petakhij went to war, their bodies shifted; their genitals were absorbed close to the body, their musculature was swollen, and their fierce sexuality diverted to increase their mental acuity and reaction time.
‘It only ever happened the once, at the siege of Kaleczyk, and I was in no situation to see it,’ Lucacz observed. ‘Girls apparently lose their big butts and they look quite cute; their tits shrink to hard pecs. Their bits … y’know … close up more or less, except they can still pee. I could fuck one looking like that, but I guess I’d have more on my mind than sex if it ever happened.’
‘What happens to guys?’ Leo was curious.
‘You’ll know. Your cock will get utterly huge, right up to your ribs, but it’ll be rigid against your abdomen like another muscle and your balls will shrink up into your crotch. Barry told me that your cock gets so big and thick it’ll turn a sword slash at your gut, like extra armour.’
‘Awesome. How could you pee like that? What triggers it?’
‘Sorta like a fight or flight reaction, the way that humans have glands which excrete adrenaline when they’re stressed. We must have some equivalent that triggers seriously huge bodily changes.’
They subsided into silence. Slowly the afternoon passed into evening. Lucacz began to pick up indications from his husband that a plan to attempt entry into the mounds once night fell was growing in his mind. He also picked up something less welcome.
‘You’re seriously going to order me back to the Teeth to report on this? Not a chance, no way!’
Leo chuckled, bemused. ‘This homage thing and swearing zemec obedience to your lord and husband … can you explain it to me?’
Lucacz blushed and stuttered, but came back. ‘My lord, order me to do anything you like, but not leave your side. For a zemec there is no life without his husband. I would die without you, so I must die with you.’
The sentiment stirred Leo deeply, as it matched his Elphberg ideas of right conduct. He took his lover’s hand. ‘You convince me, my zemec. That is an honourable thing to ask, and I concede it freely.’
Tears sprang into Lucacz’s eyes. He brought his lord’s hand to his mouth and kissed it without a further word.