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30

But maybe they couldn’t cry. Maybe they didn’t have in them what it takes to damn the Gods and curse the Universe. Maybe even they took pride in their self-contained ways. Certainly, what little we know of the Huylee seems to paint them as a fairly stoical race. Stiff upper lip and all that, if only they had lips. Big, fat, murderous worms with a mouth worthy of nightmares and a heart full of Victorian values.

Do you know that we have no real proof that they ever came to Earth? We believe that they did and there a kind of… evidence if you like, written in the very oldest language of our planet. Plus we have found traces of them all over the galaxy and, compared to that, the Earth is really just a short hop. But the rest is just… faith, I suppose.

Sometimes, my mind wanders far from its habitual moorings, you could say, and I wonder about what a strange expedition it must have been. The crippled warriors of Mars in the jungles of early Earth. Were they ever afraid of the giant creatures dwelling there? Did they get lost? Did they ever have to go and rescue their comrades sunk without trace in these oceans of giant ferns? Did they even invite one another for tea, desperately contriving, by the utterance of some trite greeting, to display an invented nonchalance in the face of this green, humid hell, so different from their ever drier world? Did some of them go native, looking after a greater truth, before dying of some strange local disease, forever alone, on their face an expression of sombre pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror – of an intense and hopeless despair?

But please forget and forgive the rambling of a fevered mind. This is pointless speculation, indeed the most abject form of speculation, that of pure fantasy not even dressed as facts, but used to coat the facts, to borrow from them a semblance of reality. We know for sure that they didn’t die here. They came home for that, from all the corners of the galaxy. They came back to die with their world, a process that must have taken several generations. The twilight and death of the worm-gods.

31

Richard E. Sains looks at the creature standing in front of him, in front of them all, broken-backed and menacing, some strange, inhuman idol which no propitiatory gift could ever satisfy. Its eyes seem made of bone and all of its will seem turned toward evil. Maybe the life-sized sculpture is an idol after all. The creature at the semblance of which it was modelled died eons ago, after all, yet its destiny is forever entangled with his; its actions have shaped his life and the lives of countless others, on this planet and across the wider galactic arm.

Richard, though, is not afraid. He has had to come here, in the Great Hall, under the watchful gaze of the statue, every day of his short life. He simply wonders: how does it feel to wield such power?

32

“ … We were neighbours after all. So, in their time of need, you may say it was only natural for them to come here and ask for help. We were not able to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ at the time, obviously. we did not even exist! But, children, I see you all here assembled today, and I think… I like to think…”

33

Power is something about which Richard thinks a lot, nowadays. Some would tell you it’s only natural: his time, his every minute, his very future is fated by others. Surely, even at such a young age, a small measure of control must be yearned for? But do not be mistaken, the dreams of Richard are not the dreams of an ordinary child; his games, in the little time he is given to play, are subtly disturbing; his comrades, future psychopaths all, raised from infancy to be soldiers of the Empire, tend to shun him.

34

“ … They left a message for us, then, in the very oldest language of Earth. A language so ancient it preceded even complex life on both of our planets. This message… how do I describe it to you?… For most of our history, we could not even read it. We did not even know it existed. But that does not mean it wasn’t there. That does not mean we could ignore it, as some would like us to. It is there, children, at the most intimate level of our bodies. Corrupted sometimes, yes. Very corrupted even by the passage of time. Much, much time. A lot more certainly that Huylee ever intended. But we must now, each and every one of us, read it, and, each and every one of us, we must decide if and how we are going to answer it …”

35

She pleads, Richard realises. Why does she plead? She has been in charge of us all since we were little. Before I can even remember. The power is hers, she doesn’t have to plead. She only has to order us.

This is another weakness, he decides, and he despise her the more for it.

36

“ … And that message, what is it? You will laugh, I am sure, because it is after all a very ordinary one. A small request, such as that a man may ask his neighbour, over the fence separating their two houses. “Hey, good neighbour”, he may say before going away on some trip. “Would you do me a favour?” And that favour is so small, it can barely be called a favour at all. It would be churlish to refuse. “Hey, good neighbour? Would you do me a small favour? I will be gone for some times and there is no-one else to ask. Would you look after my dog?”…”

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