I thought I'd publish Chapter 1 of my first book Genesis 2 to give all you Science Fiction fans out there a taster of what's to follow. It is the first book of the five that make up The Genesis Project series. I hope you enjoy reading it, as much as I enjoyed writing it!
The Nano-ship had been created over six million years before the sun had swallowed a vibrant civilization. It was one of many, hurled towards the stars by the Hammer-drive, a nuclear explosive drive that produced an acceleration that would mash living tissue to a pulp. The radiation alone would annihilate anything alive, but on these vessels, nothing organic lived. Thousands of Nano-ships had set forth to the stars at sub-light speeds containing four nannite artificial intelligences, programmed to recreate mankind.
Here, locked in a solid-state neural net, slept the Nano-ship’s crew. Four hibernating personalities existed here, self-aware and independent from one another. They were not human, nor were they computers, but a remarkable com- bination of both. It had been decided long ago by the project’s directors, that one male and three female intellects would be the optimum mixture for the survival of the only hope to prevent mankind’s complete extinction.
The commander of this undertaking knew itself as ‘Asue’ and was designed and programmed to feel female. She was a Nano-tech expert, physicist, engineer and astro-navagator. The female trait had long proved to be successful in producing a fierce protectiveness for the tasks ahead.
Sharn and Minns were also able to identify themselves as female in their mind structure. Both of these personalities were biochemists, genetic engineers, surgeons, doctors and vets. They carried all the necessary knowledge to bring forth the life that was, onto a new world. These two entities would recreate the race of man in an earth-like habitat.
The forth mind that had been created and programmed was male. He knew himself as Kamiel. In his artificial memories lay the complete history of man’s climb into sapience up to the coming extinction. Five thousand years of mistakes and triumphs were recorded in his memory banks. Keeper of the records, he was also a weapons expert, builder, Nano-tech engineer and mission psychologist.
All four artificial intelligences were independent entities programmed with a single purpose, whatever the odds to bring back humanity, the pan-chimpan- zees and create a biosphere to enable them to flourish. This was the Genesis project and it consumed the civilisation that created it.
Over six million years after the sun had gone into its red giant stage, totally destroying the inner planets, mankind had been given another chance to live.
Knowing that the sun would expand beyond the orbit of the Earth, it had been calculated that the heat of the new red giant sun would most probably change Jupiter. If a liveable world was left, then a second possibility was left behind. A great seeding ship was built and left in orbit around Saturn. It carried every form of life that was thought necessary to start a new world, frozen in suspended animation and also the genetic codes. This great ark carried an artificial intelligence to guide and process the new life and to alter it genetically, if necessary, to survive. The plan was to start the life on the planet and go into hiberna- tion for hundreds of thousands of years and then boost and adjust the life forms to suit, before recreating Humankind.
When the sun expanded, Jupiter boiled. Billions of tons of liquid gas were superheated and blown away by the sun’s photosphere. Without the pressure of the massive atmosphere to hold it down against the internal pressure, the crust tore apart and for the very first time volcanoes erupted. When it began to cool, the rains began to fall and every comet that crashed upon the new world added new organic compounds. Over several million years later, primitive Jovian life had already begun to spread through the warm seas before the seeding ship awoke. Enough bacteria had evolved and spread to start an oxygen atmosphere.
After the sun settled down and took up its new stage, sensors on the seeding ship awoke the main artificial intelligence, leaving the nannite crew still in hibernation. The great ship pulled away from orbiting the gas giant and set out on its journey to the new Jupiter. Pleased with the situation that it found, it began the long process of attempting to create a viable world and a new home for Mankind.
It seeded the seas with fish and every type of life to form a food chain. As the air became richer in breathable gases it dropped vegetation packages in rain soaked areas with attendant insect life. Eons passed and the empty world thrived on its care.
Five times the ship awakened, sending life packages down, introducing reptiles, birds and mammals and carrying out adjustments, as it found necessary.
During a period of hibernation, a comet storm took it out and sent it burning into Jupiter’s atmosphere. What had been started was now very much on its own. Continental plates crashed together, reforming new mountain ranges and fertile conditions for evolution to have its own way. Over everything, the new sun bathed the surface in cosmic radiation, inviting new mutations to take place without a keeper to control it.
That was, until a new guiding hand began to take an interest. The Gnathe arrived, masters of genetic manipulation of themselves and anything else that lived, breathed or put roots into the ground. They soon learned to do without sophisticated tools and altered other life forms to their will, as Jupiter’s metal-poor terrain gave them little choice. The Gnathe also soon learned to harness other bounties to their will and increased their mental science.
These were triple sexed beings, male, female and a different type of female. They were known as Brood-mothers and were the egg carriers for the other two. Once the egg had been placed in the breeding pouch, the Brood-mother could genetically alter the offspring and decide on the sex or physique of the young. It was not long before they discovered that they could alter the other species of this world to their needs and did so to their own advantage.
On the other side of the high mountain range separating the human colony from the Gnathe, a course of events were taking place that was about to directly affect the lives and destinies of the human and ape civilisation. At the Imperial City of the Gnathe, an incredible audience was taking place. In many generations of civilised life, no Brood-mother had ever been subjected to an interrogation by her peers with such terrible consequences. The high vaulted chamber reflected the red-gold sun’s rays in crystalline splendour. On the dais perched Link-soo-shan, Ultimate Ruler of the Gnathen Empire, thrashing her tail from side to side and by her side stood her egg sister, Chang.
She surveyed the spread-eagled form of the young Brood-mother with an icy stare and hissed in fury, “Ender-whann-soo, you have been brought before us, accused of heresy and sedition. Have you anything to say? How do you plead?”
“I do not understand,” Ender-whann-soo replied. “What have I done that you should treat me so? I have achieved great new standards amongst my kindred.”
“What have you done? What have you done?” Link-soo-shan screamed implacably at the recumbent Brood-mother’s face. “You know full well the crime you have committed. For countless generations, we the Brood-mothers, have chosen the mating partners of our kindred. We and we alone control the gene pool. We shape, they are shaped by our will. The very stability of our civilisation is controlled by the will of the breeding pouch. The kindred are born to serve and they serve us.”
Ender-whann-soo looked up at the ring of triangular faces in hopelessness. Expressionless heavy-duty guards held down the Brood-mother’s arms and legs. In vain the young Brood-mother argued back to the assembly.
“I looked for another way, to improve the standards of the kindred. I allowed them to choose their mates with minimal interference and increased their intelligence.” The helpless Gnathe cried out desperately: “I did no harm!”
“The very ideas you put forth are dangerous. They are an abomination. I will hear no more of these heresies. Have this Brood-mother’s arms and legs broken and cast her out of the city limits to die on the ‘Killing Stones’. Let none come near, under pain of death. I have sat upon this dais for many generations of kin- dred and the Empire has remained stable. My sister and I built this Empire from chaos. We have held it together by force and obedience. Always the Brood-moth- ers have chosen the breeding partners of our males and females. We manipulate the gene structure to suit our needs and my household controls the outcome of this process. Take her out!” Link-soo-shan cried at the waiting guards. “I will see this person no more.”
“What of her possessions and deviant household? A decision needs to be taken, my sister,” retorted Chang-soo-shan, commander of the Imperial Guard.
“The Brood-mother’s dwelling, off-spring and goods to be divided as I see fit,” Link-soo-shan decreed. “I want all traces of this deviant removed. All! Do you hear me? All! Now break this creature and cast her out!”
The guards twisted their powerful arms and Ender-whann-soo’s limbs snapped with an audible crack. The Gnathe fainted as she was carried out from the assembly. Her triangular head hung down, beads of moisture trickled down the slender neck and the ruined arms. The strong muscular tail dragged in the dust of the council floor. The doorkeepers opened the ornate polished doors and the oiled living hinge clasps made no noise. A breeze sang in the hanging crystals and a melody played to the packed crowd.
At the back of the chamber, standing in the shadows, was Shoo-lin, master of beasts. He stood quietly, in shocked amazement, as the heretical ideas chased themselves through his keen brain. He had heard of the Brood-mother’s heresy. Long had he thought about it. He had been dissatisfied with the mating alloca- tions for some time. It was unheard of even to think of change or complaint. He had discussed some of his ideas in secret with like-minded males and had carefully broached the subject with some of the more aggressive females he felt he
could trust. He must warn and alert certain members of Ender-whann-soo’s household, before the ponderous bureaucracy divided everything up and separated or had destroyed Ender-whann-soo’s kindred young. He must organise a rescue during the hours of darkness. Therefore, he must move swiftly. There was no time to lose.
He impressed a memory crystal and attached it to one of his Fletch. Mentally, he imprinted the destination and person into the small creature’s mind and he threw the Fletch out of the window. Wings stretched wide, the little flying beast turned around the tower of the council, flying towards the home of Ender-whann-soo, to find Coen-soo. She was chief of the household protectorate and would organise things at her end.
Shoo-lin hurried through the twisting corridors of the ancient Banilik tree. Every so often he would cross chambers grown into the living wood. Living mirrors that tilted to catch the sun and reflect it onto the ever-present crystal growths jutting out of the living walls provided light. None of the Horde paid him any attention or questioned his passage. As Beast-master, his rank was high amongst the chosen. None would dare to challenge him. What he had in mind to do would be dangerous, both to him and the others who believed in Ender-whann-soo. In a quarter of a day it would be dark. There was much to do.
Finally he found his way to the stables where the riding Zanth were kept. A carrier or a draft beast would be required. The young male quickly passed though the stalls scattering handfuls of Bindweed into the Zanth’s feeding troughs. The stringy weed would ferment in the beast’s stomachs overnight. By morning they would be impossible to ride. He hoped the Fletch had reached Coen-soo in time. She must ready the members of the renegade group and start out from the home- stead before nightfall. The Fletch would fly faster than the Imperial Guard could march or ride. He doubted that Link-soo-shan would even consider that anyone was planning a rescue. What he had in mind to do would shake the Empire. By the time they had crossed the river and the outlying farmland, Ender-whann-soo’s household should be safely on its way to the mountains. For the time being there was nothing he could do, but hide close to where the broken frame of Ender-whann-soo had been cast upon the rough craggy ground of Link-soo-shan’s execution place. The ‘Killing Stones’ were a sharp-edged outcrop of hard bedrock jutting from of the earth besides the edge of the city walls. There were many shiny bones scattered about the area where other Gnathe had been punished.
Shoo-lin entered the stall where his Zanth lazily chewed on his meal of seeds and stalks. The beast snorted as Shoo-lin slipped the guidance harness over its horny head. He dug his foot into the bony mounting hole and swung himself into the riding hollow. Curling his tail around the vanes on the back, he turned the obedient steed out of the box and into the courtyard.
Coen-soo sought the shelter of the fruiting pod-vines. The sun was hot and had passed overhead. Plants and animals basked in the late afternoon heat. She sat on a bench grown on the edge of the field. Coen-soo began to worry about the result of the council meeting. The young Brood-mother had been openly cheerful about the outcome. Coen-soo had thought otherwise and had warned Ender-whann-soo to flee the summons from the Imperial council. She recalled the conversation with the Brood-mother that very morning, three days ago.
“Nonsense my child,” Ender-whann-soo exclaimed. “These new ideas of mine are not wicked. We can show the benefits of our system to the ruling council. What could they do? I have been careful and discrete. We live in an unimportant area of the Empire.”
“I fear for your safety Reverend-Mother,” Coen-soo replied. “There are many on the council, who it is said, would profit by your removal.”
“How can you know of Brood-mother policies? You are a female, one of my kindred and far from the Imperial City,” stated Ender-whann-soo.
“Reverend-Mother, you forget, to most of your station we are invisible. They see us, but they do not think of us. We serve. We have always served, but we listen. I have a friend in the Imperial Household. More than a friend perhaps, if things change. We correspond by Fletch and Crystal. He has followed your ideas for many years and fears for your safety. His name is Shoo-lin, Beast-master for the Imperial household. Do well to notice him if you can. I will organise things here, to be able to leave at a moments notice. If things go badly, we will be ready to do whatever is necessary.”
“Do all my household keep these views?” Ender-whann-soo gasped. “Would they follow me into the wilderness blindly? I find this so difficult to believe!”
“My lady, you have given us so much, we could hardly do otherwise. For the first time in all our generations, you gave us a choice of breeding partners. You do not realise what that means to us. You treat us like we are of importance, not just here to serve. We have come to love you, Reverend-Mother Ender. We would follow and protect you anywhere. You have friends in places you do not know. I pray no harm will come to you and that you return safely,” Coen-soo anxiously replied, holding her Brood-mother’s hands in a tight embrace.
Underneath the shade Coen-soo pondered the situation. It would be three days travel at least, before her Lady, Ender-whann-soo, returned from the council
hearing. All she could do was wait. A cry from one of the field hands alerted her. She looked up and saw Shoo-lin’s Fletch circling over the ripening pod-vines. She gave a shrill chirrup and the flying beast dived for her outstretched hand. It carried a memory chip strapped securely to its leg. Quickly she fed the little creature from the pouch she always carried. Coen-soo detached the crystal and pressed it into the hollow in the middle of her forehead.
As the crystal warmed up in Coen-soo’s bony niche, she began to feel the first stirrings of the message. It was as if she were behind Shoo-lin’s eyes. With mounting horror the whole scene was acted out in her mind. She gave a soundless scream as she heard Ender-whann-soo’s bones snap under the cruel treatment of the massive Imperial Guard special battalion. Tears filled Coen-soo’s eyes and ran unheeded down her pointed face as she saw her beloved Brood-Mother dragged from the council chambers to die a slow and lingering death.
Shoo-lin’s voice echoed in her mind. “Flee, my forbidden love. Gather all you can to start the homestead again. Run for the mountains and the ravine I found, when I was last at Ender-whann-soo’s home. You must go through the edge of the marsh. The carriers will get you through. I believe we will find a way through the Saw-Tooth Range. There must be lands on the other side where we can settle. Once into the ravine we can landslide the sides into the entrance and block the mouth. I will attempt Ender-whann-soo’s rescue at nightfall. No one will even think that anyone would dare. Go now, as fast as you can. You should have at least three days or more head start. When the Imperial Guards come, they will not know what to do and will have to send a rider back for instructions. It will not occur to Link-soo-shan and her council that you would dare to flee, before they get a chance to divide Ender-whann-soo’s property.”
The voice faded from her mind. Decisively, Coen-soo took flight across the field. Bounding through the stalks of the grain crop, unheeding of the damage, she fled towards the homestead. Arriving at the entrance of the Banilik tree house she opened the doors wide and called out to the members within the household.
“Assemble! Assemble! All to me,” she called and beat the alarm crystal that hung in the entrance hall with the side baton.
A dull penetrating frequency began to resonate throughout the tree. Each crystal growth sang wherever they grew upon the household walls. Soon the household had assembled in the hall and waited expectantly for Coen-soo to speak.
“It is as we feared,” Coen-soo told the members of Ender-whann-soo’s house- hold. “The Reverend Mother has faced execution for her heresy. At this very moment our Lady lies broken on the ‘Killing Stones’, outside of the Imperial City. One of our fellowship, Shoo-lin, is to attempt a rescue at nightfall. For all our sakes let us hope he is successful. Without Ender-whann-soo, our bloodline is doomed. We would be refused the right to breed anyway. Gather all that can be carried and be useful to us. Load the Carrier-Beasts and harness the Zanth. We go as soon as we can. Work through the night if we must, but come what may, we leave in the morning at the first rays of dawn with what we have.”
Whann-lin, the head of the field hands, asked. “Where do we go? What is my egg-brother’s plan?”
“We go to the to the mountains, to the Saw-Tooth Range,” Coen-soo replied. “There is a way through, un-explored and not known to the Empire. Shoo-lin has been there. It has a narrow opening into a deep ravine that cuts well into the range. We will go through and block the entrance behind us, after Ender-whann-soo is safely in our midst. If anyone can get the Reverend-Mother to us, it will be him.”
As the hours of darkness rapidly began to make their effect felt, the city streets became deserted. Very few of the Gnathe would be moving about as the first dark quarter came to a close. Shoo-lin had ‘acquired’ a carrier beast from the Imperial stables and had tethered it nearby with his personal Zanth. The many hours of patient instruction had paid off in training this beast from infant-hood. The creature would kill for him if required. It had a fierce attachment for him and would allow no other rider to mount him without Shoo-lin’s command. He had called into the infirmary on his way to the ‘Killing Stones’ gathering splints and materials. Shoo-lin had managed to find a powerful knockout drug to keep the Brood-Mother still. The carrier beast held provisions and ropes to secure her into the hollow in the animal’s back.
Now had come the time to add murder to his catalogue of crimes. There were four guards standing watch over the broken form of Ender-whann-soo. Two of them were tending the fire in the guard hut under the spreading outer branches of the Banilik tree, sheltering from the night-cold. None of the guards would be expecting a rescue attempt and there must be no warning. These unfortunate soldiers of the realm must be disposed of in silence and the escape unnoticed until morning. Quietly Shoo-lin crept towards the hut, careful to keep in the shadows. He looked through the window slot in the wall. The two male Gnathe were slumped against the wall squatting down on the sleeping perch, wrapped in warm cloaks. One was dozing while the other fed the fire. Carefully Shoo-lin took out of his pouch a Kryte. The creature was about the size of his hand with a ridged hollow nose shaped like a straight pipe. He inserted a thorn, wrapped with fuzzy down at one end, into the nose of the creature. The sharp end was tipped with powerful venom.
This was an assassin’s tool. Shoo-lin aimed the pipe at the busy guard, feeding the fire and squeezed the Kryte at the base of its tail. The creature’s lungs filled at a tremendous rate and the beast sneezed. The dart flew into the victim’s neck and he fell back against the wall, choking. At the next instant, before the drowsy guard fully awoke, Shoo-lin had entered the hut and slit his throat. Not a sound had been made. Looking out into the darkness he could see the other two guards walking around the spread-eagled form of the young Brood-mother. He wrapped one of the dead soldier’s cloaks around himself and, checking that the Kryte had recovered, he reloaded it with a fresh dart. Making no attempt to hide himself, he walked slowly towards the two remaining guards. Shoo-lin’s mouth was quite dry and although both of his hearts were pounding fast in his chest, his hand was quite steady. This is not the time to panic, he thought to himself. Keep calm. He waved to the facing Gnathe as he approached, in a friendly fashion.
The facing guard looked up at Shoo-lin as he saw him approaching and exclaimed, “You are not one of!”
Shoo-lin aimed the nose of the Kryte at his chest and triggered the creature again. The guard fell, choking and dying, to the ground. With one leap he planted both taloned feet into the back of the remaining soldier and reached around his neck. Shoo-lin cut his throat clear to the bone with his syther, before he could utter a cry of warning.
Another pair of eyes had watched this deadly scene from the shelter of darkness. They looked on with bloody approval.
Shoo-lin approached the broken form laid carelessly over the sharp rocks. The Brood mother was breathing unevenly and a pair of gold-flecked eyes looked up at him with amazement.
“Do not speak, my lady,” Shoo-lin whispered as he cradled her large head in his arms. “Drink this water and trust me.”
He gave her a drink out of a water gourd and when she had finished, he brought out the knockout drug and held it under her nose. The Brood-mother stiffened and passed out. Shoo-lin quickly bounded back to the carrier beast and collected the materials necessary. He then splinted her broken limbs and bound her to a number of ridged poles. Next, he dragged her into the shadows to leave her for a few moments, to fetch his Zanth and the carrier beast tethered some dis- tance away. As he approached his Zanth the beast snorted uneasily. Shoo-lin spun round, sword drawn. There, looming over him, was the imposing tall form of a Brood-mother.
“Be not alarmed, little one, I came to do the same thing,” said the larger form in the darkness. “You did better than I could have managed. Besides, I am very old and you are very young, Shoo-lin.”
“Who are you, that you should know me?” gasped Shoo-lin. “I cannot see you.”
“I am Ender-whann-soo’s grand, Brood-mother, Khann-link-sool. Enough of this! What are your plans? What do we do next?”
Shoo-lin asked the old Gnathe, “Can you ride a carrier and control it?”
“Of course I can,” the Brood-mother replied. “I was doing it long before you were hatched.”
“Well, help me get Ender-whann-soo into the carrying hollow of this beast and tie her in place, then follow me and keep close,” he ordered nervously.
They led the beast back towards the recumbent form laid in the shadows. As they led the beasts to Ender-whann-soo he outlined his plans to his strange accomplice. They soon had the Brood-mother tied securely in place and they set off across country, with an incredulous Shoo-lin in the lead. Khann-link-sool controlled the carrier beast with ease. She was a living legend. One of the oldest surviving Brood-mothers, she had helped to form the Imperial household of Link-soo-shan’s rule and lay the foundations of the Gnathe Empire. They were ploughing a swath straight through the crops spread across the lands towards the bridge over the river. The company of fugitives were heading towards one of the few bridges that crossed the swiftly flowing torrent. Shoo-lin allowed the carrier beast to stump over the bridge and turned his Zanth against the piles supporting the main arch.
“Quickly my lady, back the carrier up against this pile support and force it over!” Shoo-lin shouted, against the sound of the torrent. “If we can bring the bridge down into the river it will delay the pursuit quite some time.”
The old Gnathe coaxed the large form of the carrier against the arch support and brought its horny backside hard against the ancient stones. There was an audible crack as the old and crumbling stonework began to give way. With both of them pushing and releasing, the bridge began to shudder and the support gave way. Great blocks of stone rumbled down into the swiftly flowing river.
“That is enough, my lady—now follow me,” Shoo-lin cried to the revered Gnathe. “We will use the road system towards Ender-whann-soo’s household until we get to the crossroads at the Trading Post. There we will cross country to the marsh and edge round it to the mountains, to the split in the cliff-face I described to you.”
“Keep going Shoo-lin. I will follow you as fast as this creature will go,” the Brood mother answered. “I suggest we briefly rest at dawn, attending to Ender-whann-soo and allow the beasts to forage a little. Agreed, young one?”
“Yes my lady, but it must be a brief stop. If we push the beast hard we may make the cliff in two days. They will expect us to go to the homestead. I have alerted the household by Fletch and Crystal. At dawn they will be preparing to leave and should be well in front of us. When we get to the ravine they should be well inside and ready to tumble the rocks into the mouth and block it from the pursuit of the Imperial guard.”
He stood up, astride the racing Zanth and looked over the horny spiked head towards a lightening sky. They were travelling down a dusty road with the cultivated fields stretching away on each side. Pod-vines were in various stages of growth. Some were in flower and the scent carried on the cool pre-morning breeze. In the distance, the Trading Post was just visible in the morning mists and the crossroads would soon be in front of them.
“Slow down my lady, we will walk the beasts through. I can see many Imperial Zanth, at the corral. The soldiers will still be asleep inside their quarters. If we can be quiet, they will never even know that we have passed by.”
They reined the beasts back to a slow walk. The mist grew thicker as they approached and the fugitives passed the front of the household, in the direction of the corral. Shoo-lin dismounted and opened the gates to the pen. He walked amongst them, taking some nuts out of his carrying pouch and offered them to the curious animals. After they had sampled a handful each, he walked out of the enclosure with the Zanth following him.
“Greed is a wonderful tool,” he thought to himself, as the large beasts ambled down the road behind him.
He remounted his waiting Zanth and soon caught up with Khann-link-sool seated astride the heavy neck of the carrier beast. The Brood-mother perched easily over the broad neck with her tail wound around the bony plates behind her.
“I have met very few males with your resourcefulness, young one,” she said approvingly. “Your line must survive. I could do great things with your progeny. Now where do we go, Shoo-lin?”
“Drive the Zanth into the pod vines towards that stand of young Banilik trees. We will slip away through the pod vines away from these greedy Zanth. With luck they will have trampled down plenty of the crops by dawn and no one will see where we have gone. Besides which, when the Imperial Guards awake, they will have a choice of four directions to search, before they find their steeds. Remember, they will not even know of the crimes we have committed, let alone that the loose Zanth was a deliberate act. I frayed the ropes to look as if it was age and rot that allowed them to escape.”
As the sun rose over the mountains, Shoo-lin signalled a halt by the side of an irrigation ditch, under an old fruit tree. He hobbled the two beasts and allowed them to forage amongst the crop’s foliage and also to rest. They both turned their attentions to the injured Brood-mother. She had regained consciousness and was regarding the unlikely pair from pain filled eyes. Shoo-lin checked the splints and bindings of the larger form bound to the poles of the makeshift stretcher. He gave a stiff nod of satisfaction.
“I am sorry for the accommodation my Lady,” Shoo-lin said to the injured Gnathe, “but there was a bit of a hurry and it was dark!”
Ender-whann-soo replied to the young Gnathe, “Shoo-lin, do you realise what you have done, you young fool? Link-soo-shan will not rest until you are stretched out on the ‘Killing Stones’ with me. Coen-soo told me to watch for you. I did not think in my wildest dreams that it would come to this! As for you, my most Reverend, Grand Brood-mother, why are you here? You will face a terri- ble fate helping me. Tell me why?”
“The Empire is senile, little one,” the old Brood-mother replied. “Your ideas were the first new ones to come to my attention in many generations of kindred. You show promise. This young male has alerted your household to flee and we are to join them. He thinks he has discovered a way through the mountains to the lands on the other side. If we get through we can make a fresh start. Your house- hold will provide an adequate gene pool. He is an amazingly resourceful young male. Trust him. Now drink this and rest. We must press on and keep in front of the Imperial Guard. They as yet do not know where we are. Let us keep it that way.”
Shoo-lin re-captured his Zanth, climbed into the riding hollow astride its back and led the way towards the marsh in the dawning light.
To be continued...