Mars, the Next Front Ear.
Chapter 4: Echoes of War.

     “Greg, man, I can’t make it to the rehearsal tonight.” Eddy confessed wearily to Gregor’s diminutive image on his commset.
     “That’s not like you at all, Eddy.” Gregor sounded surprised and let down as he’d been busy hustling all the other members of their band, The Flaming Watusis, to rehearse the new set for their upcoming show in the Free Mars Tribe’s travelling Pleasure Dome. “Something wrong?” He inquired gently in the hope that he’d be able to talk Eddy into making to their rehearsal that evening.
     “Bad day at work man” Eddy explained minimally.
     “Must be some thing serious to put you off. Do you want to talk about it?” Gregor asked quietly.
     “Dunno if I can.” Eddy tried to explain. He wasn’t allowed to discuss the accident in the lab that day with outsiders or anyone else for that matter although he’d only just finished telling Crystal who sat silently beside him. Gregor could see her long face in his commset and guessed something serious had gone wrong for both of them.
     “Something happened to little Silver?” Gregor trawled in the hope that he’d be able to say something sympathetic that would lift his friend out of his torpor.
     “No, she’s fine” Crystal spoke up.
     “Have you lost your job, Eddy? You can always come and work for me over here in Montgomery. We can sort you and Crystal out with a place to live if that’s what you need.” Gregor offered sympathetically.
     “No, it’s nothing like that, man” Eddy replied slowly. “I can’t talk about it on the line. We’ll come over tomorrow and I’ll explain it to you then.” Crystal underlined Eddy’s statement, “We’ll see you tomorrow.”
     Gregor could see there was no point taking this any further. “OK, well thanks for calling me. At least I’ve got time enough to call the others to save them all the bother of setting up this evening. You’re not thinking of leaving the band are you?”
     “Oh no, it’s nothing like that.” Eddy lightened up. “Something happened today and I need a bit of time, that’s all.”
     “That’s a relief.” Gregor looked visibly relieved. Good musicians were hard to come by on Mars and it would take a long time to find a replacement for Eddy if he decided he’d had enough. On top of which, Crystal was proving herself to be an adept manageress for their band. “We’ve got to work out something for that little number of Psy’s.” Gregor winked conspiratorially over the commset.
     “Oh yeah.” Eddy smirked and broke into a weak smile. “That ought to be a good laugh!” Gregor could see the faintest trace of jollity wash across Crystal’s drawn face at the mention of their newest band member. “Right, tomorrow it is.” Gregor spoke up cheerily. “So you can put down those pots’n’pans and have supper with us. See you at seven!”
     “Seven’s fine with us” Crystal brightened up in response to Gregor’s good mood. “Tell Anna that’ll I’ll bring over some goodies for the kids.”
     “Sure thing. See you tomorrow.” Gregor waved to them as he signed off. Eddy and Crystal sat in silence for a few minutes. Their daughter, Silver Cloud, had gone out to play with some of her friends. Maybe they wouldn’t have to tell her what had happened after all. Eddy flipped on their Tri-D set to watch a slamball game and forget temporarily about the tragedy in the lab that he and his team had to clean up. He’d just been able to lose himself in the fast and furious game play when the referee’s whistle called the third-quarter break.
     “Well, that’s been one exciting game!” The commentator breathlessly announced. “The Orion City Belters have kept the pressure up the whole way and hasn’t it shown? They’ve managed to widen their lead to an astounding 80 points!” He hyperventilated. “Can the Mariposa Moshers fight back to a tie? Join us after this commercial break to find out.” The commentator’s upbeat demeanour the faded away to a strained, concerned expression. “We’ve just had a news flash about a terrible catastrophe over at the Red Wind Community. We gather that there have been eleven victims of the blight in a tragic incident. More on that story from MarsTel News on channel 17 for all the latest local, planetary and interplanetary news.” Eddy was dumbfounded with the speed that events were beginning to unfold. He switched over to channel 17 and saw Professor Lok-Nur-Kal being interviewed by an attractive young newshound from MarsTel. In the background he could see himself and some of his team workers in their bio-safety suits carrying out the blight victims in isolation tanks. Eddy wasn’t interested in hearing what they had to say and turned the sound off, but left the Tri-D set running.
     “Hey Crystal!” He called out. “Get a load of this.”
     Crystal came into their living room. She watched the replay of the day’s events for a few minutes. “I thought you said you had to sign a confidentiality contract about all that.” She eyed him suspiciously. Was he trying to hide something from her again?
     “Of course I did.” He replied defensively as he picked up his holdall from the floor and fished out the paper contract, giving it to her to read. “Looks like it’s not even worth the paper it’s printed on.”
     Crystal gave the contract a cursory glance. She recognised some of the legal jargon from the contracts she’d negotiated for the Flaming Watusis, but most of it was too obscure for her to fathom. “Well, it looks as if they sure wanted you to keep your mouth shut on this one!”
     “Yeah, and I’m forbidden to make any public statement on it or else they’ll expel me from the tribe.” Eddy complained. “They wouldn’t let us out of that old guy’s office until we signed those contracts. He had 3 of the chiefs and a dozen armed guards in there. They were serious.”
     “Well, that’s about as heavy they come.” She agreed. Expulsion from the tribe meant exactly that. He would have to leave Red Wind and find another place to live and work. Maybe the mining ships. He didn’t want to live in a company town. “So why are they going public and who’s that old guy they were interviewing?” Crystal asked rhetorically. By now the Tri-D picture was showing distraught relatives blubbering their sorrows into the camera.
     “That was the guy who made us sign the contracts.” Eddy emphasised expressing his resentment at being treated like an expendable minion. “He’s the big chief over at the labs. I’ve never really seen all that much of him until today. Looks like he wants to make sure the official story is the only one that gets out.”
     Crystal hummed in agreement with Eddy and then turned her attention to the more mundane matters of running a household. “Can you fetch Silver? She’s over at Miriam’s.” Eddy got up, switched off the Tri-D set and went out to collect their young daughter. He’d only just gone out the door when an unusually subdued and solemn little Silver Cloud met him. There seemed to be a cloud hanging over all of them this evening.
     That evening they ate their supper in silence until Silver spoke up. “Sam’s not coming back.” Sam was Miriam and Nat’s eldest son. Nat had once been Eddy’s sisters’ boyfriend a long time ago. He could still remember the night his sister, four longyears his senior, beat him up when she discovered that he’d flushed her stash of contraceptives and ‘Super-Horny’ sex stimulation pills down the toilet minutes before going out on a date with Nat. Fortunately, Nat had planned ahead for their evening and Eddy never heard any more of the incident, though the bruises remained with him for weeks afterwards. Eddy came out of his brief reverie to the sound of Crystal dropping her knife on her plate and Silver’s big brown eyes looking up at him. “Where’s he gone, dad?”
     Eddy was almost lost for words. How was he to explain that Sam had been infected with the blight and was now in suspended animation to his daughter who was barely 3 longyears old? He was still trying to think of a way to explain things to her when Crystal spoke up. “He’s gone to be with the spirits, Silver.”
     Silver’s expression changed as she accepted Crystal’s explanation. Her look of childlike concern returned. “Will they look after him? Petaluna’s mum was crying a lot.”
     Eddy took his cue to explain Sam’s fate away to Silver. “Yes, the spirits will look after Sam very well. Though I think Miriam will miss him.” He patted her reassuringly on her shoulder. Eddy and Crystal spent the rest of the mealtime explaining Sam’s fate in a way that would satisfy her curiosity and concern while shielding her from the truth of what had actually happened. Later, after Silver had been put to bed, Eddy got ready to go to the service being held for the blight victims. As they weren’t technically dead, there couldn’t be a funeral ceremony, so they could only hold a service as a mark of respect for the blight victims who were now in suspended animation. Having been a witness to their fate, Eddy was duty-bound to go. Though now that he knew that Nat’s son was among the victims, he would most likely have gone anyway.
     Later that night, a huge bonfire rose up amongst the totem poles in the middle of the Red Wind village. The mourners were gathered around and the service was led by five of the council chiefs, dancers and drummers. They intoned and chanted in the languages of their ancestors to call upon their gods to look over the spirits of their lost ones. In turn, each mourner took an offering, gave it to the fire and sang their remembrances and praises of the one they’d come to grieve. Eddy was totally immersed in the primal majesty of the ceremony and was about to take his turn to call upon the spirits to guide their lost ones to the happy hunting ground when he looked up and saw Crystal, Psy, Chester and MariElla on the other side of the bonfire. Well, it’s going to be a long night, he thought, at least I can use the incident at the lab to call in for a day off if I don’t get much sleep.
     Eddy made his offering sang and stayed with his work team during the ceremony, as protocol required the witnesses to the death take an active role throughout. The drumming and chanting grew more intense as the fire rose higher and higher illuminating the village circle with its’ wild yellow and orange light. Chief Ozuwaki raised his hands to the heavens and called out to the spirit world beyond. More than that, Ozuwaki knew the healing powers of what he was doing. His adaptation of an ancient ceremony through its’ drama and ritual was a catharsis for the mourners. The chanting, drumming, music and ritual served as a conduit to convey the mourners' sorrow with the other participants. In turn, their strength gave the mourners the strength to come to terms with the loss of their children and loved ones. An alchemy of emotions.
     Afterwards, Eddy, Nat and Miriam joined up with Crystal, Psy, Chester and MariElla as they walked home in a reverential silence. The service had relieved Miriam of much of her grief and it showed. Her tear-stained cheeks glowed with new-found strength she gained from the ceremony. Psy was humming a sombre melody, akin to a Gregorian chant before breaking out in song:

     The seeds of war, the seeds of war from time and time ago,
     Strike again and bring their pain to a foe they do not know.
     The Great Orm gave the order, the Shallens they must go,
     A rain of death fell on their heads that stays with us today.

     The Shallens fought bravely on but were laid to waste,
     Their world destroyed on supreme command in flood and fire and cold.
     Some Shallens they did flee into that inky night,
     In silver ships on a one-way trip, scattered far and wide.

     The Shallen’s children have risen up and boldly ventured forth,
     But now they fall divided, bringing the war back home.
     The seeds of war have lain in wait, they serve their deadly fate.
     Rejoice, Great Orm, rejoice! Your war is almost won.

     “Ugh. That gives me the creeps” MariElla shivered in the cold, night air. “You’d almost think it had something to do with those poor children they’ve put on ice.” Psy said nothing but continued humming that same sombre melody until they arrived at Eddy and Crystal’s adobe house. Once inside and warmed up with hot drinks, they loosened up and found their voices.
     Chester wanted to hear Eddy’s story. It took a while for Eddy to loosen up and feel like talking about the accident. “I was in the garage working on a tractor,” he explained with a sigh. “When we got a call to go over to the Bio-labs because of an emergency. They made us wear sealed outfits and all I saw were the unconscious victims we had to carry out of the place. I feel sorry for them. Most of ‘em were just kids helping out as part of their science classes. I wonder how long they’ll have to stay on ice before we find a cure?” He asked no-one in particular.
     “That blight seems to be everywhere.” MariElla joined in. “We’ve even had a few cases of it in Montgomery. Thankfully it hasn’t affected any people yet, but it’s sure taking it’s toll on peoples’ cats and dogs.” She was desperately trying to steer the evening’s conversation in a positive direction to bring some semblance of comfort to Nat and Miriam over losing Sam to the blight, but had a sinking feeling that she was doomed to fail this time. So far, few people had been affected by the blight. Which made the incident at Red Wind’s labs even more tragic.
     “It’d be nice if they could come up with a cure for it.” Chester added as he tuned into MariElla’s attempts to steer their friends emotions.
     “Huh, I wouldn’t count on it.” Eddy replied expressing his doubts. “We keep on finding it all over the farms. No one here’s got a handle on it yet. All we’re doing is clearing it up as it breaks out.”
     By now, Nat had warmed up to the point where he’d set his coffee down and was having a beer which he’d helped himself to from Eddy’s fridge. He was still feeling quite shaken by events, but needed to talk in order to carry on with his life. “Did you hear the latest? Sentico’s gonna start opening up all their domes around Huygensville and strip out all the soil. They’re shipping up fresh soil from Earth!”
     “Geez, that’s extreme!” Chester was surprised. He was a small town guy from Montgomery whose life was filled up with playing violin in his band and making ends meet for himself and his family. He was out of touch with the sharp end of life working in the farms on Mars. “Never mind expensive. It must’ve got pretty serious.”
     “You could say so.” Nat continued. “It got so bad, they’ve already shut down and written off two of their farms. We’ll probably have to do the same here, only we can’t afford to ship any clean soil up from Earth, so we’re gonna have to find some way of detecting the blight nodules while they’re dormant in the soil and remove them.”
     “Forget it, Nat.” Eddy didn’t have any illusions about being able to beat the blight with a quick fix. “It’d be quicker just to sterilise the soil section by section and start over. And even that would take a couple of longyears at best. The Martian topsoil’s dead anyway, so I can’t see roasting it a bit in a furnace doing it any harm. The heat gets rid of the blight and we can easily re-seed the soil afterwards. There’s no way could we afford to pull the kinda stunt Sentico is pulling off.”
     “I wonder where this blight came from.” MariElla piped in, miffed at the way men always seemed to hijack her conversations. “Veronica reckons the Martians are behind it”
     Miriam, who’d been chatting with Psy and Crystal heard MariElla’s last comment. “More like the blight is your Martians, MariElla. No-one’s ever seen or found a Martian yet.”
     “What about the forts and the Psionic crystals? Who made them?” Chester rebutted Miriam’s suggestion. He was convinced that there had been Martians at one time and that they had died out. “You think they just appeared out of nowhere?”
     “OK, OK.” Miriam conceded wearily. She wasn’t really into a heavy discussion about the blight right now. And she was in no mind to take on the generally held belief that the forts and Psionic crystals were the work of a long-lost Martian civilisation. “But the Martians died out long ago and all that seems to be left of them seems to be the blight.”
     Chester wasn’t going to push it any further. He could see that Miriam was still upset about losing Sam to the blight. “There never were any Martians.” Psy purred in hir smooth, sensual tones.
     “What?” Eddy couldn’t believe his ears. Here was the first real expert on Psionic crystals he and his friends had ever met and shi was demolishing the current orthodoxy. “So who made the forts and the crystals then?”
     “Others.” Psy responded mysteriously. Shi had no intention of telling these people the truth. At least not for the moment as it would cause too much confusion. Better to be as oblique as possible. “Others. Not of this planet.”
     “Do you know who built them and made the crystals?” Crystal asked clutching at the straw Psy was holding out.
     “No.” Psy lied convincingly. “But I hope to find out through studying the crystals. I have studied some of the timelines embedded in the crystals and none have pointed to an indigenous civilisation ever having arisen on this planet.” Shi added truthfully before continuing with hir smokescreen of deception. “If I make any discoveries, I will share them with you. Maybe we could write a song about it.”
     Nat was amused by Psy’s last suggestion. “Hey, that’d be well rad, huh, Eddy? The Watusis doing the real history of Mars live down at the Wobbly Goblin in town!” And started to laugh at his own idea.
     “Why not?” MariElla cut in as Chester nodded his head in agreement. “It’d be a great theme for a show. Otherwise all you’ll get is the Huygensville Symphony Orchestra doing some crummy pastiche of Wagner or Holst.”
     “Look, it’s all very well talking about getting in there first.” Eddy, ever the realist, gently punctured their illusions. “But we haven’t yet got a history to build a set around.”
     “So, what’s the problem?” Chester liked the idea and wasn’t going to let it go quite so easily. “We’ve all got a few tunes kicking around that we aren’t using. And between the lot of us, we could write a new set in a month or two.”
     “Fine, Ches.” Eddy decided to play the devil’s advocate. “What if it turns out that the history of Mars, if and when Psy ever discovers it, doesn’t fit the music we’ve got ready for it?”
     “Minor details.” MariElla cheerily came to Chester’s rescue. “We just juggle a few parts around until it all fits.”
     “That all right for you guys.” Eddy realised he was losing ground. “You’ve been to that fancy music college, it’s not so easy for me.”
     “Hey, don’t worry about it man.” Chester reassured Eddy between hearty swigs of beer. “Even if Psy never finds out the truth, we’ll end up with a show that could blow away that big city orchestra. That’s something to go for in itself.”
     Nat and Miriam made their excuses to leave but were stopped by Psy. Shi rummaged around in hir bag and fished out a crystal that had a mild glow to it and offered it to Miriam. “This is for you. I’ll give you another one to place with Sam. It will help you to keep in contact with him.”
     “Why that’s so thoughtful of you, Psy.” Miriam thanked hir. “But Sam and the others are sealed up now and I don’t know if we’ll be able to get near him for a long time to come.”
     Psy looked genuinely disappointed. “Please, take both crystals. You might get an opportunity sometime.” Nat made a comment about Psy’s extravagance giving away two beautiful, glowing crystals, but Psy had made hir mind up. “I’ve got more of these crystals than I know what to do with, Nat. I want you to have these ones.” Nat looked a bit sceptical, but Psy continued. “Remember to place one of these crystals with your son as soon as you get a chance. It will bring you into contact with him.” Miriam cupped the glowing crystals in her hands, thanked Psy and left the party with Nat. They walked in a peaceful silence for a short distance before Nat spoke.
     “So that’s the one Eddy was telling me about. Wow, that is one spaced out freak or what? Dishing out Psionic crystals like candy at a kid’s birthday party. Do you think it would help putting one of those crystals with Sam?”
     “Oh, I’d do anything to get Sam back.” Miriam sniffled quietly. “They might help. Maybe not. I don’t know enough about these crystals to be sure. Maybe they’re useless and Psy was trying to cheer us up. Still, they are pretty. I’ll put them beside our bed.” And they walked off arm in arm hoping that their son, Sam, could return soon.
     Meanwhile things were buzzing along back at Eddy and Crystal’s home. Chester and MariElla were energetically bouncing ideas around for their ‘Martian’ concert whisking Eddy and Crystal along with their excitement. Psy soaked up their conversation, saying little, but paying close attention. Shi took a large blue translucent crystal out of hir bag and placed it on the coffee-table for all to see. It glowed with a luminescence that almost seemed to drip from it onto the table. Psy focused on the crystal for a few minutes while the conversation died down as the others shifted their attention onto the crystal.
     “Wow! Dig that crystal.” Chester exclaimed with excitement spilling over from his animated conversation with MariElla about their concept concert. “Hey, Psy, we gonna do a crystal session?”
     “That’s the general idea.” Shi replied nonchalantly. “Come, take a seat around the crystal. It’s time.” Gesturing for the others to take their places around the table.
     “Time for what?” Eddy asked quizzically. He’d never experienced a group crystal session before.
     “Oh, you’ll see.” Crystal replied. She’d heard about crystal sessions, but had never taken part in one. “It’s a shame Miriam and Nat aren’t here for this.”
     “I don’t think so.” Psy spoke dreamily. “They need their rest.”
     “What happens now?” Eddy, beginning to feel out of place in his home was desperately trying to get a handle on things.
     “Just relax, clear your mind of thoughts and focus on the crystal, Eddy.” Psy guided Eddy in a gentle voice. “Don’t force anything. And don’t worry if nothing seems to happen for a while. We have to attune ourselves with this crystal.” Shi added to reassure Eddy. And so they sat in silence around the table, focused on the blue glowing crystal.
     An amoeba-like luminescence rolled around the base of the crystal and grew as they focused on it. Minutes later, tendrils of luminescence began reaching out towards the five people gathered around the crystal. Eddy could see the luminescent tendril reaching towards him and was beginning to get worried. ‘Is this what’s supposed to happen?’ he thought as he glanced over at Crystal. She sensed his movement and felt his doubts washing through her mind. Crystal had heard that Psionic Crystals were able to amplify empathic feeling. So it must be true after all! She found this very reassuring and turned towards Eddy giving him a warm, loving wordless smile. No words were needed, Eddy’s mind was swamped by an embrace of Crystal’s emotions.
     ‘Everything’s all right.’ He heard Crystal say in his mind and the he became aware of Chester’s thoughts about seducing MariElla. MariElla’s thoughts about not getting home until the morning and what she was going to tell Stan when she got in. Then her giggling when she sensed Chester’s thoughts. Who almost started laughing when he heard Psy’s feelings of sexual attraction to Eddy and Crystal, Eddy being taken aback by it all. Their minds and emotions were slowly becoming interwoven through the crystal. Psy was holding a lot of hirself back from the others who were revelling in their newfound group consciousness. ‘Let them dabble at the poolside awhile.’ shi thought before taking them any further. Eventually, the luminescence form the crystal surrounded them all and suddenly to their utter amazement, they found themselves standing on what seemed to be the surface of Mars in broad daylight without pressure suits and nothing seemed amiss. Psy stood off to one side looking smugly pleased with hirself while Eddy, Crystal, MariElla and Chester looked around in dumbfounded amazement.
     “Where are we?” MariElla asked no one in particular. Chester had resigned himself to an evening full of surprises and was readying himself for whatever came next. Crystal felt their surroundings were familiar, but wasn’t sure. Eddy, on the other hand knew exactly where they were. He recognised the low hill where Sam and the other children were entombed in Professor Lok-Nur-Kal’s cryogenic tanks. Only all the buildings were missing. As a matter of fact, the entire Red Wind community, its domes, buildings and structures were all gone. Have they gone into the past, the future or a parallel dimension? Eddy nearly swooned at the thought.
     “We haven’t gone anywhere.” He announced puzzledly. “As far as I can see, we’re still in our living room. See that hill over there? That’s where we buried those kids.”
     “Quite right.” Psy condescendingly congratulated Eddy.
     “So how come we’re still breathing as if nothing’s wrong.” Chester asked Psy. “The decompression would kill us. I feel nice and warm, too. It’s more like a dream. Look, I can move my hand right through myself!” He added as he swept his hand through his chest. To make his point he went over to MariElla and thrust his hands through her breasts. “See!” Chester grinned stupidly as MariElla jumped away and tried to slap him in his face. But her hand went painlessly through his face as if it wasn’t even there. Neither had felt any pain. Just a little embarrassment that melted away as they laughed at each other.
     “Right again, Chester.” Psy replied joining in the levity. Shi made a grand, sweeping gesture. “Think of this as something like astral travelling. We are here and our physical bodies are back in Crystal and Eddy’s house.”
     “Help, I’m sinking into the ground!” MariElla called out in alarm.
     Psy ran over and levitated her back out of the ground. “Just keep a mental image of solid ground under your feet and you’ll be all right, dear.”
     Crystal was watching Phobos arcing across the sky like a daytime star when she noticed a black, triangular craft flying low across the horizon. “Look!” She called out as she pointed in its direction. The others turned to watch it. Chester went slack-jawed. “Who? What?” He’d never seen anything like it. As far as he knew even Earth Fed didn’t have anything like that. And it was huge.
      Moments later, other black triangular craft appeared over the horizon. They appeared to be fanning out. One was coming their way. It was flying so low it would surely see anyone on the ground. “We’ve got to hide.” Chester called out. He didn’t like the look of these huge, black flying triangles. “I don’t think we want to be seen by those guys.” He looked around in vain for somewhere he and his friends could hide. They were sitting ducks on flat, open ground. Not even a crater deep enough for them to jump into and hide in.
     “Don’t worry, they won’t be able to see us.” Psy replied in the calming tones of an ‘old hand’ teaching the new recruit. “We’re not physically here so we’re effectively invisible. For the moment just watch and learn.” By now the black triangle was passing overhead at extreme velocity. There were some large pictograms painted on its underbelly, but it was moving too fast and the markings were too alien for anyone to make any sense of them. It was almost a kilometre to a side, its deep hum making the ground resonate beneath it. They could feel a supersonic whine left in the thin Martian air with its passing.
     “Is this the past, the future or a parallel universe?” Crystal asked. Psy said nothing in reply, but kept wandering around watching hir companions reactions to their new environment.
     “Let’s get some answers.” Eddy exclaimed in an attempt to take control of his own fears and their present situation. “Follow me!” He called out as he set off towards the hill where Sam and the other children were entombed. When they climbed to the top of the hill, Eddy looked around and announced in a disappointed voice. “There’s no sign of the entry shaft or anything else for that matter. If this is the future, it must be so far ahead in time that the underground chambers are lost and there’s not even a trace that Red Wind was ever here. Not a mark on the ground, or a single piece of litter remaining.” He then turned to Psy. “If we let ourselves sink into the ground, would we be able to see anything?”
     “Try it and see.” Psy remained stubbornly opaque to their questions.
     Eddy tried sinking into the ground and only managed to sink up to his ankles. “I don’t think I’ve got the hang of this yet.” He muttered to himself and then turned to MariElla “You managed to sink into the ground before. Maybe you could try again. The main chamber is about 30 metres below us. It’s a long steel cylinder with a cement jacket.”
     MariElla looked around hoping that someone else would volunteer. She didn’t like that sinking feeling the first time around “How do I get back up?” She asked plaintively hoping that she could get out of it.
     “You just think your way back to the surface.” Psy replied blandly before offering MariElla hir help. “Hold my hand, we’ll go down together and take a look.” MariElla reluctantly took Psy’s hand and together they began to sink slowly into the ground. By the time they were up to their necks, MariElla was looking distinctly worried. Psy, on the other hand, had a calm, almost bored expression. “Nothing to worry about, MariElla. Let’s take a look around and then we’ll come back up and tell the others what we’ve seen.” After the crowns of their heads disappeared below the ground Chester, Eddy and Crystal remained staring dumbly at the patch of ground before lifting their heads to look around.
     “Do you think we could see Montgomery from here?” Chester asked, hoping to find some familiar landmarks in this new environment.
     “No.” Eddy replied sanguinely and pointed in a northeasterly direction towards the distant horizon. “But we should be able to see part of the monorail that goes to Huygensville over that way. South of that we ought to see some of the relay towers along that low ridge as well as some flier traffic going in and out of the Montgomery terminal, but I don’t see any of it. Do you?”
     Chester and Crystal shook their heads and strained their eyes for a sight of anything familiar. “No, nothing. Maybe this is a parallel universe where we never existed.” Crystal offered up her suggestion. “That might explain those flying triangles and why Red Wind and Montgomery are missing.
     “Maybe this is the past.” Chester began to sound hopeful. “That might have been a Martian airship that just passed over. We might even get to see what the Martians looked like!” He was beginning to sound more like his excitable self again.
     “Well, we’re sure not seeing any around here.” Eddy deflated Chester’s exuberance. “If we’re back in the days of your Martians, Ches, then they’re obviously somewhere else because I can’t see any signs of a civilisation. Not even a mud hut or a flint axe.”
     “They’ve gotta be somewhere.” Chester doggedly defended his hypothesis. “Someone had to make those flying triangles. They looked pretty advanced to me.”
     “Could just be giant gas-filled fliers. Like some of the ones we’ve got, only much larger. Any idiot could make one of them and you can power them by pedal power.” Eddy replied sceptically.
     “At that speed?” Chester was amazed at Eddy’s mental conservatism. “It didn’t sound like a flier either.
     “OK, OK. I’ll give you that one.” Eddy conceded reluctantly. “But so far all we’ve seen are those flying triangles and nothing else.” He saw MariElla and Psy rising out of the ground a few feet away. MariElla’s expression gave it away. “Did you see anything?” Eddy asked her.
     “Nothing.” She replied, the disappointment hanging in her voice. “Just rock strata. I think that pretty well rules out the future. We’re either in the past or a parallel universe.”
     Crystal felt they were getting nowhere fast. “Have you ever seen those flying triangles before?” She asked Psy directly.
     “Yes.” Shi replied diffidently.
     “Here or in our time?” Crystal pressed on.
     “Both.” Psy answered. Hir answer brought a low whistle from Eddy, an ‘Uh-Oh’ from Chester and MariElla put her hand over her mouth in surprise.
     “Any idea of who’s flying those triangles?” Eddy joined in the quizzing.
     Psy began to feel worried, but made no show of it. Shi felt that they were asking too many questions and might get answers that they weren’t yet ready for. “I cannot say.” Shi replied blankly in hir mysterious tone of voice hoping they’d be satisfied with hir vague answer.
     “So that means they’re either able to travel between parallel universes or they’ve been around for quite some time.” MariElla deduced.
     “Or both.” Crystal added for good measure. While they were talking, six of the black triangles appeared over the northwest horizon in the far distance. They were flying south in a simple low, parallel formation. They flew in a straight line and disappeared back over the horizon. Our fivesome watched them in silence.
     “Did you notice something about them this time?” Eddy asked his friends. “There seems to be some sort of clouds trailing them.”
     “Uh huh.” Chester agreed quietly. “Like they’re spraying the ground or something.”
     “Yeah, sorta like the vids I’ve seen of crop dusters back on Earth.” Eddy added. “Maybe they know something about terraforming that we don’t. They’re certainly doing things on a big scale.”
     Crystal and MariElla walked around looking for any artefacts, however small that might be evidence of the obvious intelligence in the flying triangles. They saw a lot of rocks, rubble and sand but found none. The triangles reappeared this time from the southwest horizon flying northwards in a path parallel to their previous path.
     “There they go again.” Crystal observed. “At this rate, they’ll be passing over here soon. I want to get a good look at their markings. I’d like to draw them when we get back. Psy said they exist in our time too. Maybe we can find other examples of their language in some of the ancient cultures on Earth.”
     “I wish Stan was here.” MariElla sighed and mused openly for Crystal to hear. He’d always been fascinated by all things Martian and the Psionic Crystals. This was the kind of experience he had in mind when he wrote their hit song ‘Crystal Power’. She felt uneasy in this alien environment. Crystal was so at ease because Eddy was here to keep her company. Oh, Chester was nice and even fun at times, but right now she needed that same sort of solid reassurance that she knew Eddy was giving Crystal. ‘Come on girl,’ she thought, reaching for what was supposed to pass as inner strength. ‘No time for soppiness and petty jealousy! I’ll try and get into the here and now and tell Stan as much as I can remember when I get home.’
     Crystal turned to MariElla. “Don’t worry, we’ve all got each other here.” She thought straight into MariElla’s mind. MariElla looked shocked as she realised that Crystal had overheard her thoughts just moments before. “Of course, our minds have been linked by the crystal. I’ve been so absorbed by all this that I’d forgotten where we really are.” Crystal flicked her eyebrows and showered MariElla with her view of the time Chester put his hands through her tits followed by a hefty dollop of sex jokes. They both started giggling and were soon falling around laughing madly. MariElla had forgotten all her worries and jealousies.
     Chester, Eddy and Psy were a little distance away discussing the black triangles when they caught wind of Crystal and MariElla’s laughter. “I wonder what’s got into them?” Chester asked Eddy. They were still talking using their spoken voices. It hadn’t yet dawned on them that they didn’t need to. “Girl talk.” It was Crystal’s voice laughing in their minds tinged with farcically smutty overtones. “That’s women for you.” Psy added wryly with masculine overtones. The squadron of triangles reappeared over the horizon flying southwards. This time they would pass overhead.
     They could see the triangles racing towards them trailing their grey-brown clouds. Suddenly, a swarm of white ovoids raced towards the triangles and opened fire with what looked like laser cannons on the near edge of the triangles’ formation. The triangles returned fire. Their firepower easily outstripped the smaller ovoids as they shot them out of the sky in their droves. The ovoids persisted like a pack of hyenas worrying a herd of elephants. MariElla and her friends watched as the triangle began breaking up as it flew towards them. The triangle maintained course concentrating their firepower on the attacking ovoids.
     By the time it was directly overhead, it was on fire and large sections of its bodywork were falling to the ground and still the ovoids were going in for the kill. The cloud trailing the triangles descended around them. It was a cloud of brown hailstones raining down on the ground. Eddy watched them pass through his body as they hit the ground. The hailstones looked familiar, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. The others didn’t notice the hailstones whizzing through their bodies. They were too busy watching the stricken triangles’ dying moments. The ovoids must have realised their job was done and broke off to attack the next triangle. Seconds later, it hit the ground and a thermonuclear explosion lit up the sky. No wonder the ovoids cleared off! Eddy was just about to say, “I think I know what the brown cloud behind the triangles is” when he and all the others were swallowed up by the searing light of the explosion. It seemed to go on forever. Gradually the light shifted until it was slightly bluish, somewhat like the luminescence emanating from the Psionic Crystal Psy had used that evening. That, in turn, dimmed until they found themselves in Crystal and Eddy’s living room staring in stunned silence at a depleted blue Psionic Crystal on the coffee table.
     “Was any of that real?” MariElla asked in a small, frightened girl’s voice.
     “As real as this is.” Psy replied philosophically. The room lapsed into silence again.
     Chester finally broke his silence. “You said those triangles are also here, Psy. I’ve never seen any. Where are they? And who are they?”
     Psy was about to answer Chester when Eddy broke in. “Blight nodules! That’s what they were doing. They were spraying the ground with blight nodules.”
     Chester was stunned, this was turning out to be a very different sort of evening. “Are you sure?”
     “Sure, I’m sure.” Eddy was finding himself again. “I have to pick them out of the ground in the farm domes every week. I’d know one when I see one.”
     “So that means we were in the past and saw a battle that happened here.” Crystal summed up both awed at the concept and terrified by its implications.
     “Oh shit.” MariElla groaned. “That means they could come back and lay down more blight nodules.”
     “Yeah and those triangles look pretty mean.” Eddy pitched in. “I don’t think Earth Fed would be able to put up much defence against them.”
     “You’re right.” Chester glumly added. “I doubt if Earth fed has got as many fighters on all of Mars as what we saw taking out that triangle. Well, at least we know what we’re up against.”
     Crystal realised that they needed to go back again to find out more about the past. “Psy, can we go back again? We need to find out more about what was happening at the time of that battle we saw. Not just here, but on other parts of Mars.”
     “I would have to recharge this crystal first and that takes a long time.” Psy replied cautiously. Shi didn’t want to spend the rest of hir life being a tour guide for hir friend’s crystal trips.
     “Maybe if we got another one.” Chester suggested.
     “They’re very rare, I doubt if you’ll find any. I’ve only ever found this one blue crystal. If you ever come across another one, I’ll buy it from you.”
     “I’ll ask around the market back in town.” Chester realised that he could just about ask any price he wanted. He wondered how much Psy was prepared to pay. “All kinds of things turn up there. I might even be able to source you a regular supply.” He casually bluffed in order to gauge Psy’s reaction.
     Psy wasn’t about to fall for such an easy gambit. “I’d be very surprised if you can get hold even one blue Psionic crystal. But if you manage to, I’ll pay you well for it.” Psy could read the keen look on Chester’s face. He probably needed the money. Shi knew that Chester was building some new rooms on his house to accommodate his growing family and that he wasn’t earning all that much between playing in the Flaming Watusis and his market stall selling jewellery and clothes in Montgomery.

Scribbles & Scraps
Chapter 3
Chapter 5