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He is only seven, but sometimes that is old enough. Old enough to recognise when he is being lied to. He glances again at the monstrous form standing in the middle of the Great Hall, dwarfing them all. Instinctively he knows that a creature like that one would not ask. A creature like that is not some fat and tired old Colonel. What it wants, it takes. If it needs help, it obtains it by bending others to its will. It understands the meaning of power.

He realises that they are trying to feed him a fairy tale. Why, he doesn’t know yet. He can only presume that they will be more, and bigger, lies to come.



A long time ago, everything died.



I would be silly to ask a seven year old boy to understand everything at once, to pick up all the lies. But, in this instance, Richard E. Sains did not do too badly. One could admire him, really, if he was the kind of person one could admire.

The oldest language of Earth is not a language. We could give the Colonel, and Richard’s teachers, the benefit of the doubt – it is a commonly held misconception – but since they are members of the Breihat, it is safer not to. Safer to believe that such a mistake was made deliberately. These people are supposed to know their genetics, after all.

The oldest language of Earth is merely a set of instructions. There is no speaker and no listener, no intelligence and no consciousness, only an incredibly long and complex chain of molecules that softly talks to itself in the silence of the cell.

The old Martians knew what they were doing, they understood the meaning of power all right.



The day following his fourteenth birthday – not that he knew what that day was, or even the meaning of such a thing as a birthday – Richard tried to run away. That was not a problem. It was actually expected, considered part of his normal development. His instructors would have been disappointed, had he not tried.

What was surprising, and rather worrying, is how far he managed to go.