Excerpt for Black Angel by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Black angel


A science fiction novel

The Star Journeyer book 1

Written and illustrated by Casper Lucius



Published by Casper Lucius at Smashwords
Copyright 2017 Casper Lucius


 







1. Green is better than blue but red is the best

 



The energy warning light, shining like the morning sun a moment earlier, died during a split second before turning on again: it was green now. A green with a hint of lemon, a somewhat reassuring green. Later, Sid wondered if he had been the plaything of a hallucination, if his desires, or maybe just the daily routine, had made him see green instead of blue. This lasted less than a second. Then all of a sudden the warning light went through the whole spectrum of colors at full speed to a stratospheric blue, dangerously tending towards black night. He did not believe his eyes. No doubt there was a malfunction of the indicator. A little worried, he consulted his various gauges then asked Alf to confirm what his eyes had already taught him. She agreed in a desolate tone of voice: there was no mistake. This had never happened to him before; actually, according to space travel literature, such a thing had never happened to anyone, even if the jump theory provided for the possibility of such an event. Of course, the last jump had cost a great deal of energy. But it should have remained enough to let him do at least six more jumps like the one he had just run.

Before him, the monitor screen indicated that he had indeed arrived at destination. Unless a miracle occurred, it would even be his last destination. He was supposed to orbit Aldoran, the planet of rare metals. For a second or so, the planet had actually appeared, so big that it seemed to be within a stone’s throw although it was several thousands of lias farther. With his naked eyes, he could have had a glance at the sparking crystal on its surface. This one had to be gigantic, at least as great as the mountains on Terra. No traveler’s account told about such a crystal down there. He had just time to see it—and Alf’s devices to confirm his vision was not a mirage—then it disappeared. Everything disappeared but the dark scattered with ridiculously tiny white dots. Crystal, blazing volcanoes, planet: all had gone.

He turned to cast a glance through the port then the starboard window, and still saw nothing. Or rather, he saw a star field much too dense for this region of space, so dense that it formed a kind of funeral veil, whitish and almost transparent. He asked aloud for confirmation that he had well arrived at destination, with a sudden glimmer of hope (perhaps, for some reason which had still to be elucidated, as an impending danger for the ship, the computer had decided on its own, barely arrived at Aldoran, to jump back into the middle of the fleet). Unfortunately, the space quadrant he was heading for neither stuck to that in which the fleet should have to be. Alf’s voice seemed to be uncomfortable, as a little girl knowing that she had made a big mistake but still trying to postpone the admission hour. She confirmed that according to her calculations, they should be arrived at the right place. Sid did not like much her conditional. Becoming more explicit, he ordered her to calculate their new position based on the stars which surrounded them and not on the basis of extrapolated trajectory computations.

“I can’t, Sid; otherwise, I would have already done.”

He thought a moment that she was kidding him, although it was not in his navigator’s character, but he reached the point where even this could not startle him any longer.

“I lack benchmarks,” she added.

“How many do you lack?”

“All of them, I have none. I mean nothing here matches the maps.”

He remained silent for a moment.

“I think... Uh, I think that a phenomenon has interfered upon jumping—a black hole so little that I wouldn’t have detected it—or a supernova exploding at the wrong time in Aldoran area—I’m so sorry,” Alf said in a voice that seemed almost weepy (her model had been gifted with a very empathetic character, even too much for his taste, because it did nothing to cheer him up).

But of course, she was right. There was no other option. Nothing except this famous and tiny possibility provided by the jump theory as an entertaining speculation.

In the perfectly silent cockpit, he looked again at the warning light, stubbornly stuck on dark blue, then turned his gaze on the almost infinite star field without really seeing anything. In a split second, he had just lost his life. If he had died in the incident, it would hardly have been worse.

 


 

“What are my chances of finding the fleet?” he asked when the shock began to subside.

“Nil. Even if we had enough power to perform such a jump, I couldn’t provide the calculator with valid return coordinates, Sid.”

“Forget the power issue. Since we got here, there must be traces of the last jump in the logbook. So I guess that you’d have just to set up the reverse jump.”

“You don’t understand. This isn’t an internal error that sent us here; it’s an external force, whatever it may be, which has thrown the ship beyond all known systems. We have no usable data.”

Of course he understood. They were not in the right place. He already knew that. But Alf would never know the difference it made between understanding it and feeling it. And at this point, it was a damn luck to her.

“Can you at least identify this galaxy?”

When she replied, Alf’s voice contained a noticeable blame.

“Neither can I, Sid. It’s not in my maps. If I had the memory card of the flagship, this wouldn’t have happened. If I—”

“Can you identify one around us, Alf?” he cut her off. “And preferably, within jumping range of the ship. How many jumps are we left so?”

“A single jump, Sid, and not so far.”

“Just deal with it: find something.”

Alf became silent, scrutinizing the surrounding space which was within sight of the telescope. It would take her a long time to find a way. To make sure she did not bother him with her undesired comments, he unplugged her voice function then remained to contemplate the field of mute stars almost without thinking. Uncontrollable images of his wife Rima and their daughter Bee were coming to him by sequences then as a continuous flow. He was soon near their home across the river that passed between the two rounded hills similar to breasts (like those of Rima, the left one was a little bigger than the right one). His daughter bathed under Rima’s watchful eyes in a sort of pool fitted out with some stones and he decided to join her. He hovered over the stream, in the shadows of the giant trees then fell into the river, splashing the little girl with the pretty blue hair. He felt the coolness of the water, the sliding stones under his feet, heard the wind whispering in the foliage. Of course, neither saw him. All of these things were into his head, even though the illusion was almost perfect. It was a little like a daydream but so much stronger. They called this a projection and it was really useful when you used to travel alone for a long time. Presently, it is all what he was left.

It hurt too much. He drew back and pondered on the disastrous sequence of decisions which brought him in this lonely place. He wondered why he had gone, in truth. He was no longer able to remember. For the money? No, he had never been interested in money beyond the comfort it afforded to Rima, not that she was more obsessed with money than him. But she was a woman, she had a young child now, and both girls had a lot of material needs he personally used to live without. For adventure so? Not really. To satisfy his ego? Perhaps. Rima had to think of something like that when she had a bad day, namely before each of his departures (but she loved him so much when he came back!). And probably also because he was bloody good for this job. As a matter of fact, he suddenly realized, the question was no more important. In all likelihood, he would never see Terra again.

Then hope glimmered again, like the light warning of his ship turning green again for a second. And if Jon was able to retrieve him? When he became aware of his absence at the rendezvous point in two cycles, he would expect at most a quarter of a cycle then he would launch research. Following the procedure, he would first send explorers on their return. Then, not finding Sid anywhere, he would go up to Aldoran, his last destination before returning to the fleet, and where the unknown phenomenon suggested by Alf had likely happened. The flagship had a significantly higher capacity energy and a much higher flying range than Alma. So, if the phenomenon was repeated, the same causes leading to the same effects, maybe it would be thrown here in turn. Then he realized that it was not something to wish, that he displayed his usual egocentrism, that his life was not worth endangering that of all others.

Anyway, Jon would take at least three cycles for arriving in the area. In the meantime, his last supplies of energy would be consumed and they would find his body frozen or suffocated. He could use his small reserve of energy to find a planet where refueling, but in this case he would no longer have a ghost of a chance to be found. And then he thought that he could leave a radio beacon that would give his destination while proving that he was still alive. In fact, it was the best he could do. After all, he was a first-class explorer. Well, there would never be a better time to prove that he deserved this honor. By the way, he had no other choice apart from letting himself die. And it appeared to him that it was a little early for this ultimate option.

He provided Alf with the nature of the problem. As she had already scanned the nearest stars, the only ones he could reach, her response came on his screen in a minute or so. By lightening at most the ship and cutting off all her systems that were not strictly vital for navigation or for their survival (she had left him in her calculations, generously, enough food and water for three cycles and a half), she had found four looking good systems, of which one was a double star, making a total of five stars. All of them seemed to have at least one planet. One of the twin stars was a brown dwarf, or say red, due to its proximity with its neighbor. It was very tempting. There would be energy in abundance and it had a range of temperatures still bearable by Alma. Its companion, a pale yellow star would nevertheless cause considerable tidal phenomena on its surface and that in addition to temperatures, he preferred a less extreme way. He dismissed the second system for a similar reason: the giant planet was too gigantic, too close to its star and was spinning too fast, which announced ultra-powerful winds that it would be very hard to cope with, even for her. In top of that, if he found some fuel, he needed water too, liquid or solid, but water, and it was unthinkable to find out there. The third system had several telluric planets but too far from their star to find gas or liquids he needed. In the best of cases, he should drill holes in their crust which would still consume energy for a result much too uncertain. Finally, it remained the last, the farthest system with a yellow star. It surely had two giants and probably more. Their number and their distance from their star multiplied his chances: hence it was his choice. He or rather Alf calculated (she was always speechless) the approximate orbit of the second giant. He should anyway run a second jump, a ludicrous small hop this one, either to get into orbit or to reach one of the other giants contained in that system, according to new data that she could then collect.

 

 

The second hop led him on a course almost perfect for entering into orbit. He kept the engines on to a minimum of time, aware that the warning light had reached a dangerous deep purple. The huge globe had a ring even more gigantic, splendid vision to tell the truth if he had been in the mood to appreciate the beauty of the show. He hesitated to dive into the atmosphere of the giant, seeking an area where winds would not blow too hard and yet with gases that would be rich in fluoro-organic molecules. Otherwise, Alf stated his chances of success were at most 17 per cent. In other words, he just had to shoot himself in his head with a flasher which had five out of six bullets.

On the left monitor, data about the unknown planet and the cohort of its satellites continued to flash by. It was then that he regretted having disconnected Alf’s voice. She would have already warned him of his luck and thereby would have saved some energy as they would have had less distance to run. The satellite number three contained number of hydrocarbon lakes, enough to power the entire fleet during at least a major cycle. He checked that the depth of one of the lakes was sufficient then headed towards the little planet.

Upon entering the atmosphere, a veil of liquid fire hid the planet but he saw the silhouette of Alma’s wings which were progressively spreading out, allowing him to see his flight other than on his control screen. The fire slipped on the sides and the wings of the vessel and he hoped its shield would cope with it for as long as required. Then the planet suddenly reappeared and invaded all the portholes for a little while. The wings had then reached their full span so that he could make out their shadows on the golden brown surface of the planet, scattered here and there with vaguely threatening black rocks. Then the configuration of the wings shifted again and Alma plunged to a smooth sea, made iridescent by front beams, while all shutters closed in unison.

Three hours later, lights put in standby mode turned on again, shutters reopened and portholes was again overrun by a storm of fire but it no longer mattered because by now, his energy warning light shone like a dark red giant.


2. Land ho!





He waited nearly three cycles at the meeting point. He had reconnected Alf’s voice and spent most of his free time playing battle-starships with her. Naturally, she should have won every time. But his navigator was smart enough to let him win a couple of games from time to time. She knew he did not like to lose; she knew what his psychological records read, which was both too much and very little. And although he had not read them himself—for he was not given access to such information—he could guess from Alf’s stereotypical reactions the kind of stuff it was written in there: hate losing, might become aggressive facing repeated vexations, prone to brutal reactions, especially towards synthetic embedded organisms (better known as ALF). However, his main activity during this long waiting time was to sleep. He had a great ability to get to sleep in normal time but it was now still stronger; he fell asleep while eating or in the middle of a game with Alf.

As he had guessed, Jon did not come to the rescue and Alf, who had achieved scrutinizing the surrounding space told him that she had finally identified a known galaxy, belonging to the constellation, as viewed from Terra, of Helgyar the Hunter, which was both good and bad news. The good news was that he knew something about his location now; the bad is that he knew that even with his energy reserve at the highest level, he could never reach the inhabited world and return to the fold.

Meanwhile, data about the new system continued to flow out from Alma into his screen. The planet number three was rocky, with abundant liquid water and three continents of which one was an icy dead desert. It was rare enough to be noted. At the end of the first cycle, he launched a scouter probe to number three. Even before it was back, he had enough data to know that the blue planet was not only habitable but also inhabited. By an intelligent species. The probability of such a thing was so infinitesimal that he shivered with stupor and fatalism.

 


 

On the surface of the unknown planet, Sid’s probe was fragmented into a myriad of tiny scouters, each of them heading to a different destination. One of them discovered a village or a nomad camp where men—because they seemed unquestionably to be humanoids although they were indubitably flightless—and animals lived together for the most part, inside their huts. The probe, which had the size and the shape of an elf deprived of aura entered one of the huts, the largest of the village, and listened to what they were saying. And with a few minutes time lag, Sid could hear their words mixed with cries of strange animals and see their very pale faces with indistinct features almost lost in the smoke rising from their mouth pipes and the fireplace. Of course, he could not understand what they were saying. Some of them were wearing thick beards and Sid deduced that it was to endure severe cold in this part of the world, unless they did not have the right tools to shave. Others were smooth-faced but it might not be due to a shaving effect. They protected themselves from the cold thanks to a kind of fatty coating that made their faces as shiny as masks of wax. Some signs, such as the amazing amount of gold and colored stones that adorned their ears, their wrists, ankles or neck, as well as the amazing amount of skin left bare despite the temperatures hardly above the freezing point, even in the hut, Sid deduced that these smooth-faces should be the females of the clan. Just primitives, he thought, primitives who had not yet discovered the use of iron and steel. And he dreamed of Aldoran, the planet of metals from where he had taken from a previous exploration gold, platinum, niobium and yttrium.

“This is where I want to go,” Sid said in the belly of the ship.

“Why there?” Alf asked, unwilling (she had to argue all the time and for every matter). “I can see there is a number of islands with fresh air and very mild climate on this planet. And Islanders are more like you.”

“I don’t like boat rides: I got seasick.”

“It seems that islanders don’t have. No real boat in any case.”

“Well, all the more reason so: I don’t want to get stuck with a band of wild fellows in the middle of the ocean.”

“I don’t understand,” Alf said stubbornly, or at least it seemed to him.

He ignored the implied question, not wanting to discuss his choice with a synth.

“I’ll also need speaking their language. Can you decipher it?”

“It will take me a little more time, Sid. It’s a bit more complicated than a code.”

“Two cycles, that’s all you have. After that, whatever happens, I’ll have to go down. And you’ll come along with me.”

“Oh Sid, you know it is impossible! You know that I can’t leave the ship.”

Naturally, Alf was somewhat a piece of furniture. A more or less solid emanation of the ship. She belonged to Alma. As a matter of fact, she was Alma, even though the reverse was not true. Sometimes, he compared her with an organ, or an appendix whose range could not exceed the length of her umbilical cord (entirely virtual, except when she stepped into space to support him in carrying out a repair or some maintenance work on the hull of the vessel). But it was a rather poor comparison, he was well aware of this.

“Naturally,” Sid repeated as an echo of his own thoughts. “I mean you’ll be everywhere with me. I’ve neither the time nor the inclination to learn this language. You’ll be my prompter.”

He pointed to her the small metal briefcase with the syringe-gun which he had just taken out of a compartment. He had thought that he would never need it. And perhaps he had even hoped so much he hated the idea of what he would have to do. He did not like cohabitation, except with Rima and Bee—sometimes. Compared with this, the surgery operation he had to undergo to mingle with the people down there seemed to him almost a trifle.

“Heard of this gizmo?” he asked.

“I have, Sid.”

“And you understand what it means? Now we’ll unite as I’ve never done with anyone, even my own wife. Your voice will be inside my head, meddling with my own thoughts. And this day in day out.”

“Yes, Sid, I understand.”

“Then you understand that you have to be very careful about what you say. Speak only if I ask you or if only you’ve something important to say. Basically, you’ll just translate the words of natives. If you begin to jabber mindlessly as you usually do on board this ship, you’ll quickly drive me crazy.”

Alf promised with good will. But he knew her; she would be soon unable to bridle her inclination: it was in her character and the character of a synthetic organism is much more rigid than that of a human. Why had her designers thought it was useful to make a scatterbrained chatterbox? And especially why did she come across him? There were lot of sensible, wise or easygoing navigators in the fleet, yet.

 


A species that has not yet reached the Iron Age, he reflected, cannot have highly-developed weapons. The natives would endanger neither Alma nor himself. Nevertheless, he wished to be discreet and decided to leave the spacecraft in geostationary orbit. It would serve as a hub of communication for himself and all the probes which were orbiting to weave a network throughout the world.

He had all the time to study the planet, which would be in all likelihood his new holiday resort (a very long holiday, he predicted, with a heavy heart). The fact that the dominant species of the planet seemed barely out of caves, at least from his vantage point, was both an advantage and a disadvantage. They probably would not be able to bother him with their bows and stakes if they did not like his face, which was very likely too. But on the other hand, it would be impossible to build a new ship more powerful, even using parts of Alma, in an attempt to reach a more civilized world. There should be factories, refineries, communication routes by land, sea and air, power plants, computers, millions or rather billions of skilled hands and educated brains. In short, he realized, it would have required the whole wonderful civilization which Terra had achieved after millions of years. And he could not make it on his own, even if he were to live about ten thousand more cycles.

The planet looked like his with its blue oceans, its golden ochre and emerald green islands, mixed with the white of the clouds. However, the planet was wetter, more oceanic and yet colder, more cloudy, and this is why he dubbed it the blue planet, early on, without even having to think about it. Before jumping into orbit, he ordered probes to do another scan of the surrounding heavens. But as he could expect, they detected no sign of unnatural radiations, air activity or communication in usual wavelength range. On the other hand, several of them appeared having spotted maritime channels and what could be interpreted as the ruins, or rather the buried foundations of ancient big cities. However, there were other possible explanations for the so-called channels as for the ruins.

The humanoid species included different races, so dissimilar at first glance that he first believed to deal with several distinct species. He had to admit that Alf’s reflection, about his (very relative) physical sameness with the islanders, and therefore his exotic appearance for the hut-men was not unfounded. But he did not intend to blend in with the crowd, on the contrary. He knew by instinct that it was impossible, that strangers—and down there, it would be difficult to appear stranger than him—always and quickly ended up getting spotted. And strangers, on Terra as elsewhere, always started by rousing negative feelings like fear and hostility. Well, let them be scared or truculent if they want! It would fit him just fine. And if they gave him a reason to vent the huge anger he felt deep inside on some of them, it would be even better. Of course, it would be against all ethical issues. But what is ethics worth when you have lost everything including hope?

Alf could not understand the sort of attraction that the land of hut-men had over him. It was not in her program. When the ship passed over this land, although it was quite away from the equator, he did not miss the opportunity of pointing the telescope towards the mid-latitudes and their huge continent almost devoid of colors. It was winter, as the planet’s tilt with respect to the sun in this part of the globe hinted. And winter down there was really cold. White was a rare color in nature on Terra, at least not on such a scale. There were no continents near the poles. Here, more than half of the continent, even in mid-latitudes, was completely covered with a full range of whites, so to speak. There were altitude clouds of fluffy white, the greyish white blankets of low clouds, certainly meaning a kind of fog for those who lived down there, a little dirty white, speckled with black, and this wide patch of immaculate and bright white, veined with an incredible blue, more clear and light than that of a swimming pool. Intellectually, he could guess what those whites, those greys, those dark speckles and that translucent blue should be. But he felt that he could not really be convinced without seeing the land with his own eyes, without touching it with his hands.

When the time had come that Jon could arrive was well exceeded and his own food supply was almost reduced to nothing, he began preparations for his last jump. He gathered up some belongings and gears that he carried into the remaining scout shuttle (the spare shuttle had served him to put the distress beacon and should have continued on its momentum in the direction of the ringed planet). Then he gave final recommendations to Alf and finally injected the myriad of nano-components contained in the syringe-gun into his veins. He tried it out. “Do you hear me, Alf?”

I can hear you, Sid; you don’t have to speak aloud; now, I can hear the least of your mutterings loud and clear...

“Are you kidding me? What do you mean by my mutterings?”

Oh, you’re very often muttering, Sid, in fact almost all the time. You almost always ended your sentences on grumbling I didn’t know what. But from now on, I know. It’s much more comfortable for me. Can I still tell you something, Sid?

“No,” he said aloud, and he triggered the ejection system of the small shuttle.

The landing point that he had chosen was on this large white patch veined with light blue. Thanks to the probes, he knew that the area was an enclosed sea almost entirely frozen and whose waters were so crystal-clear that the ice had become translucent blue along fault lines due to tidal movements (there was indeed a big moon orbiting the blue planet). The dark speckles that surrounded him were vast snowy forests, mostly coniferous forests, as he had never seen on Terra.

His arrival could not be unnoticed because of the blazing trail of fire that he would draw in the sky. But these people had neither telescope nor radar nor any way of knowing that it was not a comet like others. They would think of a shooting star, a very common thing in the sky for sure, if he judged by the lumpy aspect of their satellite. This comet would merely fly a little closer than usual so that they would hide into the bottom of their hut praying their gods that heavens do not fall on their head. He would aim at one of the fault lines in the ice which covered the enclosed sea and would send a torpedo to completely clear the way before diving. There was very deep water at the chosen target, too much for those primitive fishermen to take a look at the bottom of the sea and discover what the comet really was.

 




 3. The man in black

 



Before the plunge, he had time to identify a village of huts to approximately ten lias west of the drop-off point. His armor had remained on the shore, buried under frozen snow thanks to his ice ax. However, his undergarment—another suit, but much lighter and more flexible with integrated air conditioning, not to mention its other functions—which resulted from the most advanced space technology of Terra, was obviously too conspicuous for the region. He should quickly have to find native clothes, warm clothes, even very warm if he believed in the thermometer of his space suit when he had emerged from the sea. He had had a great deal of difficulty in doing so. A relatively thin layer of ice was already frozen again at the surface of the gaping hole left by the shuttle. And later, he could have congratulated himself having carried an ice ax when we had to climb upon the slippery and steep bank. Nevertheless, this bitter cold was also a chance. He had understood that when he had turned to watch the landscape plunged into a strange and wonderful silvery glow. Of course, this had to come from the satellite, he thought. It shone, round and white over the snowy mountains. If it had been warmer, it would not have been a hard crust of snow over the frozen surface, so he would have left clearly visible footprints and even a moderately intelligent and observant mind would have noted that footsteps were not headed towards the sea but went from it. And a somewhat curious mind could even retrace his path and wonder how it was that they emerged from this hole.

He remained a moment on the shore to enjoy the night landscape. He had left his suit slightly open to feel the crisp air on his face and had picked up handfuls of snow on a conifer branch to feel this cold biting whiteness on his bare hands until it was painful. Then he had set off for the chosen village, after having asked Alf to guide him.

His first encounter with a humanoid was a shock for him. It was completely different to find himself face to face with a native than spying on him through the remote eye of a probe. He felt a mixture of fear and excitement as intense as when he obtained his first serious appointment with Rima (no, no, he shouldn’t, he had promised himself, however, not to think about her, Bee and all that he had lost anymore!). The humanoid was male given the shaggy hair on his cheeks, almost as thick as that of his strange cap covering his ears. There was also one of those noisy creatures he had already seen and heard through the probe. The creature, not higher than men’s knees seemed eager to pounce on him. And it was not to welcome him judging by its facial expression and its big mouth open to powerful fangs. Instinctively, he put himself in safety mode. His garment changed color from black to red and radiated a strong light that he hoped being deterrent for the animal; instead of that, the damn creature cried and growled, so the native, his owner without any doubt, had the greatest difficulty to prevent it from pouncing on him with the disastrous result which was predictable. Meanwhile, the beast’s master also shouted but he felt not useful to ask Alf to translate his words.

“How do you say: I’m coming in peace, I’m a foreigner who’s made a long journey and I would buy food and warm clothes like yours if you agree?” he whispered for Alf.

The answer reached him after a couple of seconds and he tried to repeat aloud the odd intonations of his navigator. It was a weird language, so hard to pronounce that he wondered if these humanoids had the same internal organs than him, especially in their throat and mouth.

It would be a poor imitation judging by the grimace on the hut-man’s face. No doubt the latter forgot then the creature he was holding back because it freed itself in a powerful jerk and, in spite of its master’s shouting, pounced upon him.

There was a sudden flash of light, out of control. Light could destroy too.

The hut-man stayed still for a moment, gaping at the dead body.

Then he stepped back first very slowly then with an increasing pace and soon, he started running. Something told him not to try to follow him.

When he finally saw the village of huts, it was already dawn. Nights and still more days, since it was winter, were strikingly short on this planet. At one point, he feared the villagers, frightened by the runner’s report, had deserted the place. Then he noticed a lamp lit at the doorway of the largest barrack. All the shutters of the windows were closed, preventing him from peeping inside. A flame was burning in the lamp, and this produced a strong, unpleasant smell that he assumed to be due to animal fat. Nevertheless, the lamp had glass parts and others were unquestionably made of metal.

“Didn’t you state this species knew nothing about metal work?” he said to Alf in a tone of reproach.

Yes I did, Sid. I could find no steel industry throughout the planet. Perhaps they are at the very beginning of the Iron Age and have already managed to develop a small handicraft.

But looking more closely at the lamp hung above the door, he saw the paint which had coated the metal part was almost completely removed and rust covered it now. One of the glass facets was broken and had not been replaced. Other than these details, the lamp displayed high quality workmanship as some stylized ornaments proved it.

He cautiously pushed the door which was not locked and noted that it was carpeted inside with skins of beasts. The big hut seemed a little too lit for holding a trap. He crossed a kind of short hallway, pushed a second door and found himself suddenly in a vast room, no doubt lavishly illuminated according to the standard of this world, where at least half of the village’s inhabitants had gathered. The floor, composed of small dovetailed boards, was also lined with fur. Little brass or another golden metal lamps were hung up here and there. But apart from benches and an odd cramped platform which was only reachable through a barred staircase at the back of the room, it was almost empty. On the other hand, the walls were covered with various ornaments, like this great statue of wood painted in bright colors and gold, depicting a woman with one bare breast breastfeeding an infant with a delighted smile, or these paintings and shiny tapestries that covered the walls with their varied scenes, not understandable for him. The natives had risen to their feet as he entered the room and instinctively huddled together while glancing at him with a palpable fear. Some waved in his direction a small wooden object that they wore around their necks, probably a good luck charm, or rather an amulet, muttering imperceptible words. Indeed, there was an atmosphere of magic and secret here.


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