by Michael Arram
THE GREAT UPRISING
Henry held on tight to Reggie’s arm as they worked their way into the depths of the great mound. The entrance had long ago disappeared into a bright spot behind them, or so it seemed to him. But the gradient was broad and smooth and Reggie said he saw no obstacles ahead of them. The avian’s eyes glowed with a subdued silvery light in the darkness, which helped Henry keep oriented.
At last the passage ended and they were in a more open space. ‘It’s a chamber of sorts, quite high,’ Reggie commented. ‘Musty stench down here, don’t you think?’
‘It’s been closed off for centuries, I’d guess,’ Henry replied, his voice echoing off unseen walls. ‘Can you see anything?’
‘Not much. We really do need some light. I can sense arched doorways ahead and to either side of us. This seems to be some sort of anteroom. There’s a lot of litter on the floor; reminds me of your car back on Earth, dad.’
Henry was frustrated enough to try something new with his powers. ‘Fiat lux!’ he declared to the Universe in general, but it seemed unimpressed.
‘What was that?’
‘An old trick, but it seems not to work any more. Okay, let’s think about this. What is it that can be made to glow ... but isn’t radioactive, combustible or electrical?’
‘Got me, dad. Lance used to say that Luc thought the sun shone out of his backside when he got really pissed off with him.’
‘And Luc’s back on the Petakh planet. Hmm.’ Henry recalled the interview he had with Tovyan before this adventure began, and the shining threads of the seraphic exo-form with which he was surrounded and permeated. ‘Now that’s a thought,’ he said.
Henry concentrated and turned his seraphic gaze within, something he’d not yet tried. He visualised the network of threads that was his higher level body and simply willed them to glow.
‘Henry, what are you doing? The place is coming alight!’
‘Cool! The sun really does shine out of my bum!’ He looked around the lit-up chamber and promptly lost his mood of elation. The litter on the floor was unmistakably heaped and shattered skeletons, hundreds of them. They were not of humans, but some sort of bipeds with vaguely rodent-like skulls.
Reggie grunted. ‘What do you make of that, dad?’
‘The bone dump?’
‘No, the trail that comes from that door on the right, as if something heavy had ploughed a furrow through the skeletons, pushing them aside or crushing them as it passed.’
‘Door on the right it is, babe.’ Henry led the way, his ambient glow accompanying him as he went.
‘Wow!’ he gasped as the chamber beyond lit up. The walls were panelled with what was unmistakably the product of an advanced technology. Conduits crossed the high ceiling and enormous cables hung everywhere. Many hung loose, indicating that a lot of equipment had been stripped out. Several hard blue and green lights still glowed out of the remaining machines. ‘So there’s a power source still. Pretty sensational it must be ‘cos this place has to have been been shut up for hundreds of years.’
‘Dad, we need to get the team here. I need Gussie, bad.’
‘Sure thing, baby. I’ve just awarded your moon mission an extension. But before you go, I think we’d better assure ourselves this mausoleum doesn’t harbour any unpleasant surprises. What’s this for instance? A hot tub?’ Henry indicated a large circular bowl set in the centre of the floor, some six metres across, like a giant black jacuzzi. The rim included some gadgets, and lights showed that they were active still. They passed on into what appeared to be a gallery that curved in a great arc following the line of the mound above them. Dozens more of the giant black tubs were placed along the outer wall, though none was now active.
There were more of the bones scattered all over the place. Henry held a thigh bone up. ‘Gnawed I think. This gets worse all the time. Something pretty obscene happened here.’
‘And no one tidied it up before they left. This mound was just abandoned, and that track ploughed through the outer chamber was made by the last ones leaving, dragging stuff maybe. Big heavy SOBs they were, I rather think.’
They scouted the circular gallery and found that it ran the full circumference of the mound, returning them to the entrance chamber. They counted two hundred of the black tubs. Bones were everywhere.
That left one direction only, the door that led to the interior of the mound. A short corridor led to a cavernous central chamber. It gave the distinct impression of having been stripped. There were even things like stacked containers, which had been left unfilled. The centre of the room apparently contained the power source. It was a ten metre pillar of black metal linked up to cables. Henry could feel a subdued hum of power from it.
‘So why didn’t they turn the mains off when they left?’ Henry mused.
‘Yeah, that’s not a nice reflection,’ Reggie agreed. ‘Could be this mound is linked up to a web of sensors, in which case we may have triggered an alarm out there somewhere. It may be they intended to return some time and so kept basic systems running. But if so, they’ve forgotten this place exists. This moon is uninhabited; someone made it so and then left, a long time ago.’
‘So where did they go?’ Henry asked.
‘Back into space. Seems likely to me that the bunch who built this place were not native to this world, and the people that were, the city builders, became their victims, and indeed food.’
‘Oh shit,’ Henry sighed. ‘There is ultimate evil out there, after all.’
As the sun began to sink into the west, the concealed avian pair began readying themselves to penetrate the mysterious mounds. But then a persistent whine, like a mosquito, reached their very sensitive ears. Leo gripped Lucacz’s arm, pulling him down.
The whine came nearer and became more angry in tone, with an underlying bass drone to it. It was coming from further north, beyond the ridge. Eventually an airborne craft of some sort crested the hill, turned lazily to align with the entry to the tumulus nearest to the avians then slowly entered it. Leo craned to see its motive power, which appeared to be the glowing nozzles underneath the craft. He could see nothing of the pilots, if any, but the long flat bed of the craft gave him the impression that it was a cargo carrier. It must have been the size of the largest transport aircraft back on Earth.
Silence returned and the evening wore on. Leo whispered to his mate, ‘Do you think that craft is what the warriors have seen in the past?’
‘Don’t think so, Leczu. What I saw when we were down in the Teeth definitely had wings. Do you suppose these people have a variety of craft, some winged, some not?’
‘Could be, baby. But didn’t you say that in the days of the first landing Lord Mike and the scouts saw a life form which was flying, not a mechanical craft like we’ve just seen?’
‘I guess. And what I saw in the Teeth gave me the impression of wings moving, not being the rigid components of a craft. Not that I saw much, and it was high up and far off. Do you think that we should reconsider exploring these mounds? There’s a lot about them which to me seems very sinister. This place makes me uncomfortable.’
‘Wait till it gets darker. There really isn’t much activity here considering the size of the place. It makes me suspect that this alien city, if that’s what it is, is mostly empty.’
So the boys waited, and as the sun sank and the moons illuminated the landscape it became clear that only the one mound was giving off any light from its portal. The others stayed dark, as if indeed abandoned.
Leo hissed at Lucacz to get ready. ‘We go low and fast. Follow me close along the fringe of the fen, then we go for Mound Number One, counting from the west. See it? It’s the furthest away from the active mound, and it seems rather bigger than the rest.’
‘Yes, my lord.’
Leo gave the word, then he sped westward through the fern forest, keeping the ridge on his right. Opposite the entrance to the designated target he turned north and flew out of the ferns low and speedily as a feeding bat, streaking up the banks beyond to alight at the portal, gaping above them now like a great maw.
Hand in hand, the pair crept into the mound on foot, hugging the wall of the passage, wings tightly folded. All was quiet and dark inside the tunnel. They penetrated downwards, padding silently along the paved surface. A distant mechanical clank and whirr from below caused them to take a breathless pause, but nothing transpired, so they kept going. After only fifty metres the passage levelled and their avian senses told them they were in a large open space which arched over them in a vault.
Feeling exposed, they moved to the edge of this inner chamber and around the wall, taking the first open door to the right they could find. It led them into a wide and empty tunnel. They paused.
‘Big tunnels,’ Leo reflected quietly, ‘which I guess indicates big people.’
‘I don’t like the smell down here. It’s not musty or rotten or gross. It’s just sharp, sweet and a bit sickly.’
‘There must be lights; these are diurnal creatures. Luczu, you remember Earth, what would you expect to find?’
‘A light switch I guess.’
‘They didn’t come on automatically so there aren’t motion sensors. Look by the door.’
Both boys felt around fruitlessly for a while until walking backward Leo stamped on a floor panel that clicked downward and blue lights flared up all along the tunnel.
After they recovered from their surprise, Leo examined the trip switch. It was red and set in the floor. It took some weight to trigger it. ‘Big people,’ he muttered.
They took to their wings and made speed along the curving passage. Closed doors led into inner chambers on their left. They flew out into a new chamber. Knowing where to look, Leo came down hard on the red switch. Lights powered up. The chamber was circular and at first sight appeared like a museum intended for displays of natural history. But the exhibits weren’t just displayed, they were anatomised. There were many creatures they did not recognise: prominent were a number of furred bipeds, with the faces that had been left intact a little like those of squirrels. Then there were creatures of their planet, bison and deer and ... ‘Oh fuck!’
Lucacz bent over and threw up. An avian male and female were obscenely displayed, their internal organs arranged as if by a demented surgeon.
‘Emilija and Ruprecht?’
Lucacz wiped his mouth and staggered up. ‘Oh God ... she was carrying a majalath ...’
Reggie and Gus had found the light switch in their mound. ‘So you can turn yourself off, dad,’ Reggie instructed.
‘Okay. Just trying to be useful.’
‘Your battery’ll run down, then where would we be?’
‘So what can you boys do?’
Gus had spent a good hour or two just looking at the internal workings of the power core. ‘This is most advanced technology, but in the same line of development as that of Earth I would guess: circuits and electrical cables are in evidence, though many things are unfamiliar. These interlinked nets look like synapses.’
‘We’re pretty certain only one power source is operating out of the stack of a dozen you can see.’ Reggie added.
‘Where does it draw its power from?’ Henry asked.
‘There’s nothing that looks like cooling fixtures. Odds are these are simply incredibly sophisticated and economical batteries. They don’t generate power as such, they just dispense it.’
Henry was impressed. ‘So eventually they run down?’
‘Eleven may already have. This little feller is the last of them, ticking away the decades. We’re gonna put him out of his misery and take him home with us.’
‘Really? You gotta spanner?’
‘No, we got you, dad. It’s no bigger than a hot water boiler. Give it a shot.’
‘You know there’ve been accidents when I try the telekinesis thing.’
‘We have full confidence,’ Gussie declared as he backed away surreptitiously. ‘First disconnect the four black cables you can see. Then rip it out. We don’t need it intact.’
Henry took a deep breath, felt with his mind and with flashes and sparks wrenched rhe object free of its fittings to pull it out. It hovered briefly as he held it. Then the lights went out and he dropped it with a clang.
‘Shall I turn myself back on again, guys? Guys?’
‘Time to go, Luczu. I think we now know all we need to know.’
Leo put his arm around his zemec’s shoulder, and found the boy was trembling. He closed with him in his mind also, offering his comfort and strength.
‘They’ll pay for this,’ Lucacz swore, tears in his eyes. ‘When King Damien knows ...’
‘First he has to know. So it’s time to head south to the Teeth. Still ... I’d have liked to get a sight of the people of this strange city.’
Lucacz was rallying. ‘My lord is brave. Frankly, I’m ready to piss myself.’
Leo took his mate’s hand and squeezed it. He shot one last look at the display chamber, which he now saw more as a trophy cabinet than a museum. These creatures were hunters, he was sure, and they did it for their own cruel satisfaction and in contempt for what they killed.
The pair regained the corridor and made their way back to the entrance. Leo tried a variety of doors as they went, but all were sealed in a way he could not fathom. He was increasingly confident that this mound was uninhabited. There was sufficient dust around to hint that no aliens had passed this way recently. He explained this to Lucacz, who relucantly concurred.
‘It’s the overspill of our empathic sense, Leczu. Sometimes we can pick up on other life forms. Our hunters use it in the field. There are none of these shadow creatures here. Their presence disturbed us when we were concealed near the active mound, you must have felt the discomfort.’
‘Not sure I did, baby, but I do get a feeling of abandonment here. We need to know more of what these creatures are. You should always know your enemy, as my dad would say. So, you won’t like it, but I’ve changed my mind. I’m going to look round the interior some more.’
‘Your empathic sense read me correctly there, my husband. May I say you’re a little on the crazy side.’
‘My faithful zemec can say to his lord what he pleases. I’d be annoyed if he didn’t. I love you Luczu, and I value your judgement. Crazy is as crazy does, however. The value of obtaining intelligence for the petakhij about these shadow creatures more than outweighs our lives.’
‘There speaks my soldier-prince.’
‘Darling, wings or not, I am an Elphberg. Crazy goes with our name.’
They padded now into the corridor leading off to the left. It was arranged much the same way, except that whereas there was the trophy-room at the termination of the right-hand corridor, on this side there was an upward ramp.
‘No stairs, notice,’ Leo observed. ‘These things are too big for them.’
They took to their wings and ascended the ramp rapidly. They disgorged in a vast chamber, already dimly lit. It must have been at the hollowed-out peak of the mound. It was panelled and littered with technological equipment. They recognised huge flat LED screens and phalanxes of monitors.
What was new were the scores of black tubs set in the floor and suspended by thick cables from the vaulted ceiling. They flew up to alight in one.
‘Like a gigantic hot tub,’ Leo said, using the English word.
‘Jacuzzi. You must have heard of them?’
‘No. We don’t have such things and I never saw one when I was a human kid.’
‘Don’t see no faucets or jets, so I guess this is not for relaxing in. There’s some machinery here.’
‘Better not touch it, Leczu.’
Leo didn’t, nonetheless the mound suddenly filled with the noise of a piercing, wailing shriek, rising and falling regularly. All the lights in the vault suddenly powered up in a great blaze.
‘Shit!’ cried Leo. ‘I hope to God we’ve not been sussed.’
‘It’s an alarm or something.’
‘Then we get out fast. Fly, Luczu! We’re outa here.’
The boys leapt over the side of the tub and flew down to the exit ramp. It was as they were speeding down it as fast as their wings would take them that they became aware of roars and bellows and a steady, heavy thumping heading their way along the corridor.
The party of avians made little of the heavy burden of the technological plunder they had removed, with Henry’s erratic help, from the mound. He was now astride Gus’s great shoulders as they soared back to base camp.
For all their efforts, they had found little clue as to what manner of creatures had raised the mound, other that they were carnivorous and very dangerous.
‘Tell me, Henry,’ Gussie commenced as they lazily took the warm updrafts to climb their way over the great ridge. ‘These rifts. I know you can create them, but how do they work?’
‘They fascinate you, don’t they Gussie? What can I say. The way I experience them is that I create two points, one centred on my physical body, the other where my consciousness rests, and then I sorta pull them together in ways the Universe is reluctant to tolerate, so a temporary rip or rift occurs.
‘These days I can cast my mind very far through the cosmos. And I know where the petakhij are, for so many I love are here and you always draw my mind, because you’re always in it.’
Gus considered that for a while. ‘So it’s about an intolerable level of supernatural seraphic power bending the local Universe to its will. I see. I wonder if it will ever be possible to imitate that effect by natural means. Earth is a long way away from this system. How far, by the way?’
‘Oh ... I hadn’t thought in those terms. Difficult for me to measure really. The direction is easy enough, the petakhij are on the next spiral arm inwards, towards the galactic core.’
‘Ah I see, then that would put us on the main Carina-Sagittarius arm. In your terms Henry, imagine the galaxy as a dinner plate, what would be the radian between ourselves and Earth?’
‘You’re at my level, Gussie. I guess that it would be somewhere around two centimetres at the rim.’
There was a long silence, during which the avian convoy crested the ridge and began to beat north towards base camp. Eventually Gus re-engaged with the world. ‘In very rough terms then Henry, it would put us at around 1000-1200 light years from Earth. Quite a distance.’
‘What are you thinking about, Gussie?’
‘I have very little belief that any technological means will force open wormholes the way your seraphic nature can. But I do believe that the way you do it may give mathematical and structural clues to the nature of the fabric of reality, and in that may lie the answer.’
‘Answer to what?’
But Gus was back in deep thought, and did not reply.
Leopold Elphberg’s cool warrior’s head was not panicked at the imminence of discovery by the alien creatures. Silently he grabbed Lucacz’s arm and hauled him up to the ceiling, and there they roosted, concealed among the ever-present tangle of conduits and cables.
The two boys peered down as, with a pounding that made the tumulus tremble, its builders charged into the room. There were a dozen of them, and they resembled black lizards at first sight, but then Leo noticed wings tight to their sides and reclassified them as draconic. They were of some length, perhaps six metres from snout to tail tip. They ran heavily on their back legs, their upper bodies jutting forward, helped along by their front limbs, which appeared to possess clawed fingers with opposable thumbs. Their jaws were long and ferocious and their red eyes arranged to the front, like hunting carnivores. The din they made as they swarmed up the ramp into the vault was phenomenal. Somewhere in the bellowing and screeching must be communication, but it would take an angel-born to work it out.
The row went on in the upper vault after the aliens had disappeared into it. Eventually Lucacz whispered in Leo’s ear. ‘Shall we move? It’s clearly not us they’re interested in.’
Leo was still thinking about it when a new vibration became evident in the mound around them. They paused, then an almighty groaning resounded through the tumulus, followed by a very final and resounding clang and boom.
They looked a question in each other’s faces. Neither had had a chance to react before the vibration intensified, bringing with it a sense of motion.
‘Shit, Luczu! This damned mound ain’t no mound, it’s a craft, and it’s going up!’
The Apollo 18 mission was gathered around its evening campfire, sorting out the baggage and who was to carry it for the return flight. The dominant mood was elation. Against the odds, they had answered a lot of key questions about the moon and the fate of its inhabitants. Of course, further and more dangerous questions had been raised by their discoveries. The alien aggressors had long left this world, but they had left at least one operating station on it, and there might be more. They did not have the resources, even with Henry’s powers, to search the moon systematically to find what other traces the aliens might have left. So they must return to the Petakh planet to regroup and plan.
Danny pushed it. ‘Can’t you do your consciousness trick and try to find all traces of these alien guys on the moon? Then you can take us there by your hoppy thing.’
‘Hoppy thing?’ Henry shook his head. ‘I may have these powers, but they’re all filtered through a human brain which never managed to complete a crossword in a major newspaper. I retain major limits, kid. It would take me a while to scout out this world in any way thoroughly.’
Reggie concurred. ‘Our major concern must be to get the news back home, and to begin analysing this technology. We can be confident that these aliens will be as hostile to the petakhij as they were to the people of this moon they exterminated. So we must discover their weak points and limits. It’ll take us years, and our time may be limited.’
It was at this point that a warrior shouted. The familiar crescent of the Petakh planet was bright in the sky above them. But now it was rivalled by a star-like object, increasing in brilliance, clearly heading towards the satellite they had been exploring.
Reggie groaned. ‘Jeez! Me and my big mouth. Our time is totally limited. The fuckers were lurking on our planet all the time. And here they come.’