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Anvil of Change

Anvil of Change

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Anvil of Change

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Länge:
445 Seiten
7 Stunden
Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Feb 5, 2012
ISBN:
9781466142619
Format:
Buch

Beschreibung

Seeing the future with ease, the Joon live a contented life. Until the greatest of their visionaries foresees a terrible danger that can only be avoided by destroying a world inhabited by ten billion people who have done them no harm. Sojourning through the deeps of space, the Joon capture a monstrous comet and send it to a neighbouring star and the planet called earth. Their objective is not to destroy the earth but to manipulate the future of mankind in three separate timelines and force them to converge. For only then will the long prophesied Forge of Time be born, a prescient human who will build an empire to rule a thousand stars and bend destiny itself to save three species from an implacable enemy.

Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Feb 5, 2012
ISBN:
9781466142619
Format:
Buch

Über den Autor

Jack started reading grown up books at the age of seven and has averaged four a week ever since. Not surprisingly his childhood dream was to become a writer himself but, as is often the case, life got in the way of his ambition and he finished up working as a costermonger on York market, a fish salter on Grimsby docks, a newsagent at the seaside and all that before attending York University to become one of its first computer science graduates. After university Jack went on to a long career in the computer industry, the last ten years of it running his own software company. When they started making computers that worked properly, Jack lost interest and sold his business to become a teacher. Jack taught at schools around the world, including the Lake District, Egypt and Hong Kong before early retirement to follow his childhood dream and become a writer.


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Anvil of Change - Jack Dash

Seeing the future with ease, the Joon live a contented life. Until their greatest visionary foresees a terrible danger that can only be avoided by destroying a world inhabited by ten billion people who have done them no harm. Sojourning through the deeps of space, the Joon capture a monstrous comet and send it to a neighbouring star and the planet called earth. Their objective is not to destroy the earth but to manipulate the future of mankind in three separate timelines and force them to converge. For only then will the long prophesied Forge of Time be born, a prescient human who will build an empire to rule a thousand stars and bend destiny itself to save three species from an implacable enemy.

By Jack Dash

Humour/Travel

Walking Like An Egyptian

Paranormal

Embers of Avarice

Science Fiction

Anvil of Change

Hammer of Fate

Forge of Time

Sword of Life

___________________

ANVIL OF CHANGE

.

The Edge of Destiny

Book One

.

___________________

..

..

.JACK DASH

Copyright 2011 by Jack Dash

Smashwords Edition III

ISBN: 9781466142619

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be transmitted, copied or stored without the prior written consent of the author. The author has asserted his moral rights. All characters in this book are entirely fictitious and any resemblance to a real person is purely coincidental.

Acknowledgements

Grateful thanks to my proof-readers Margaret and Peter. Thanks to NASA for the images used in the cover art and to National Geographic for the planet Aurelia.

For my family and friends

Thanks for all the help

Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Epilogue

About the Author

Chapter 1: Beta Timeline, 2059

Tucson, Arizona

All the big telescopes missed it. The only telescope that actually caught the event belonged to Joe Calman, an everyday kind of guy out in the backyard with his son trying to find the Apollo-11 landing site, of all things. The cloudless summer night still held a faint remembrance of the long, hot day and not a breath of wind stirred the air. The bright moon hung full and heavy in a black sky as Joe scoured Mare Tranquillitatis for the landing site. He didn’t even think it was possible to see it from earth, but Joe Junior wanted to try so, what the hell, it was quality time.

Joe junior knew it was past his bedtime and he was anxious to get another look at the moon before mom hauled him in, Come on dad, haven’t you found it yet?

Joe took his twelve-year-old son’s impatience in good spirit, Give me a chance boy, it’s not that ... what the hell!

Seeing dad’s reaction, Junior could tell something was up, Did you find it? Come on dad, let me look, but dad ignored him. Junior tried again, Come on dad. Come on, let me look. Pleeease.

Joe had no idea what he was looking at but he knew it shouldn’t be there. He took his cap off as he stood up and scratched his head, Yeah, you have a look son, tell me what you see. Maybe the kid can figure it out, he thought, I sure as hell can’t.

Eagerly, Junior put his eye to the glass. It took him a second to get used to the brightness of the lunar surface and then he saw it. At first he thought it was just a crater, but then his brain shifted perspective. It wasn’t on the moon at all. It was much closer to earth. It was ... a dark spot, easily visible against the bright moon but there was nothing to judge its size by, it could be small and close up, or big and far away. Whatever it was, it seemed to spiral in on itself, like water down a plughole. Now that is freaky. What is it dad?

Joe scratched his head again, I have no idea son, I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ll phone...

Suddenly excited, Junior shouted, Holy crap! Something came out.

Ignoring the bad language, Joe quickly nudged the boy out of the way to get a look, I can’t see anything.

Something came out dad, honest. I saw it.

But Joe senior could see nothing at all, the dark object had vanished, Well, whatever it was, it’s gone now. What did you see?

I don’t know, something came out. There was this flash and something shot out. Then it was just gone. What was it dad?

Joe shook his head, I don’t know son, but I’ll call it in. If we’re first, we’ll get credit for discovering it. We could be famous.

Joe junior bounced up and down in youthful excitement, Awesome!

NORAD

Colonel Miller enjoyed being in charge. Every shift in command racked up points on his sheet and took him another step closer to that all important first star. Brigadier-General Miller, he liked the sound of that and, he had to admit, sitting in the big chair did feel kind of good.

His team worked in the pit below, analysing their displays for a threat, but with grey carpets and grey, waist-high walls separating the desks, Miller thought the place looked too much like an ordinary office. To say this is the nerve centre of our nation’s defence grid, he thought, it really should look more impressive. The room itself was double height and at least the top half looked more like it with large display screens on three walls. His office was at the mezzanine level on the fourth wall so he could see all the displays and everything in the pit below, it was like the emperor’s box at the colosseum.

As well as the huge wall screens, each desk in the pit had four displays too, and everything in earth orbit was shown on at least one screen somewhere in the room. Each object had a stats grid showing its location, trajectory and its current threat level but apart from a few orange threats—which hardly mattered—everything was green.

It had been a quiet night so far, but Colonel Miller was about to change that, he had his game plan ready. A few routine exercises to start with and then a big surprise to finish, a simulated meteorite strike right in the middle of the last drill. That’ll stir things up a bit.

He looked down at the three screens on his own desk. They were set low so he could see over the top into the pit. The centre display had his programs loaded but, as he leaned forward to initiate the first exercise, the computer vox suddenly announced, Threat warning, unidentified object incoming at Zulu-four-seven-nine with sub-orbital velocity.

Immediately, the centre screen on the wall opposite zoomed in on the bogey, a red circle surrounded the object and the stats grid turned red showing the object’s ETA and estimated impact energy. A red trajectory line curved down to the projected impact site in southern California and a second wall screen switched to a map of the area. Surrounding towns were highlighted and coloured circles ringed the site to show potential damage, anything within the red zone would be wiped out on impact. In the orange zone, dead from the aftermath and yellow, serious damage. Accessing local census records, the computer displayed the expected fatalities and serious injuries.

Miller felt the tension rise. His people were more intent, examining their screens closely for more threats, half hoping to find something and half terrified they would. Miller’s main display changed to show a list of options. First item, notify air defence – but that box was already checked because the computer had actioned it straight away, better to arrive early to a false alarm than late to a real emergency. Next item, notify the Pentagon – also done. Next, an option to notify the local emergency services and, not being a critical decision, the computer had left it up to him. He felt frustrated. Why the hell am I here if the damn computers are going to make all the decisions?

Colonel Miller looked up at the main screen and then back down at his own displays. The red and blue teams were getting the same feed—his first drill was a training exercise for the blue team only—so it was definitely a live situation. It sure didn’t look like a test but you never knew till it was over, the brass ran the occasional live simulation to test out the commander and it was entirely possible they had hijacked his last exercise.

The question is, he thought, is it the real thing, or just a test? He had to think fast, figure it out. The bogey terminates at a hick town in California, which is certainly not a military target, so it has to be a meteor. Get me a visual, he shouted. The computer should be tasking a satellite but best to make sure. I’ll wait for a visual before I notify the locals, I’ll just look stupid if it’s only a simulation.

But then a nasty thought struck him. This bogey is way too slow for a meteor, and the Near Space Net should have picked it up at lunar orbit. It should have been on track for hours. He shouted into the pit, Where the hell did this thing come from people? Get me some answers, he knew his people were already working on it, but he had to say something.

Then the computer vox added to his problems, Trajectory change. Projected impact is now in Nevada and moving north.

What the hell? A trajectory change means it’s manmade! Christ, it really is a threat. On the big screen, the impact site moved steadily northwards. Things clicked into place and Miller shouted, It’s headed for Groom Lake. Warn them now. Scramble everything. Splash it.

Colonel Miller relaxed and sat back in his seat. Whatever it is, the defence grid at Area 51 will take it down. It’s toast, panic over, Someone get me a coffee. Oh, and wake the general, he’ll want to brief the Pentagon himself, but, despite his attempt at looking calm, Miller still had a niggle. If it is an enemy strike, why only one missile? They hadn’t picked up a launch bloom either, so it must have come from space, but weapons were not allowed in space. Where the hell did this thing come from?

Then a voice from the pit interrupted his thoughts, Sir, the bogey’s broadcasting a distress call.

_______

Chapter 2: Gamma Timeline, 2134

Hope Station, Earth Orbit

It was finally time to go and Major Clifford Henry Walker headed for the capsule lying in the cradle at the centre of the launch room. It looks like a big coffin, Cliff thought to himself again. The thought occurred every time he saw the capsule because he knew there was every chance it would end up as a coffin – his coffin. Made of titanium alloy, the three-metre capsule had a pale-pink sheen and the lid was open, inviting him to step inside.

The room was white and sterile, as was the bubble-suit the technician wore as he moved the steps into position. Cliff had been sterilised too—inside and out—they couldn’t take any chances. The last thing they wanted to do was cross-infect the very timeline they were trying to save.

The technician held Cliff steady as he mounted the steps and squeezed himself into the tight confines of the capsule. Trying to keep the mood light, the technician said, Breathe in sir, I think you’ve put on a few pounds. The words were a variation of English. Speech pattern drift produced distinctive dialects across timelines in the same way as it did over geographical regions.

I hope not, I starved a month to get into this coffin, Cliff said as he squeezed into the capsule. There was no room for comfort because it had to be narrow enough to fit through the metre-wide barrel of the twister-ring. Once through the ring, the capsule would expand sideways a little, to give him some extra room, but he had to breathe shallow until then.

The technician fastened the restraint buckle and pulled the straps tight, Good luck sir, we’ll all be praying for you, and he patted Cliff on the shoulder before leaving the room.

On his own now, Cliff powered up his mule. Everyone had a mule, intelligent computers that handled all the donkeywork of daily life. They were marketed as personal assistants and butlers and a few other fancy-sounding names, but most of the work the computers did consisted of interfacing with other computers to make appointments, turn on the lights, switch TV channels and a thousand and one other menial tasks. Occasionally, they took care of something important, but mostly it was just donkeywork and, despite everything the marketing companies could do, people called them mules.

Cliff already had his contact lenses in and the bio-film overlays projected a Heads Up Display over his field of vision. The HUD displayed the capsule’s controls, a visual feed from the main control room and ghostly images of his hands that mimicked the movements of his real hands that were tucked out of sight. His mule picked up wireless signals from dots fastened to his fingernails, even with full voice control, people still preferred to control things by hand.

Jackson? Cliff said, and a three-dimensional, semi-transparent, computer generated avatar materialised off to his right, an elderly, black butler dressed in a red, eighteenth-century, gold-braided tailcoat complete with knee britches and a powdered wig. Coming from an old-money Kentucky family, Cliff appreciated the anachronistic avatar, it appealed to his sense of history and he didn’t care if people thought it was in poor taste. The avatar was his mule’s visual image, it gave the computer a personality to interact with and it stood silently, waiting for instructions. People found it easier to communicate with a human image and the term mule was loosely applied to both the avatar and the physical computer itself, which was embedded in a bracelet or a necklace, or some other piece of jewellery.

As soon as the mule was visible, Cliff said, Interface with the capsule and start the power-up sequence.

In a lazy, southern drawl, Jackson replied, Connecting now, sir. The mule had actually interfaced with the capsule before Cliff even entered the room, but it kept up the pretence that humans were in control. Unless physically powered down, the mules were always active and communicated with each other to ease the anticipated wishes of their masters.

Looking at the control room feed, Cliff spoke to the man in charge of the operation, Start-up sequence activated Professor Bell. The old man had become like a second father to him over the years, but the formal title seemed somehow appropriate in the circumstances.

Behind the hermetically sealed observation window, Professor Francis Bell looked down into the launch room. He knew this was the last time he would see the young man below and he was feeling a little emotional as the moment of departure drew close, Very good my boy, we have green lights across the board up here. How’s the data-core? Delivering the data-core was the central purpose of the mission and the professor could not stop fretting about it. It contained full specifications on every technical advance they had made in the last hundred years and, more importantly, all the data they had on the impending cataclysm.

Cliff smiled at the professor’s needless anxiety, The data-core is nominal sir and it’s too late to fix it, even it if it’s not. He continued with the start-up sequence, Recycler on, the recycler converted carbon dioxide back into oxygen and freed up the need to carry extra air. Space in the capsule was at a premium. As the recycler came on-line, the capsule’s lid closed and the bolts made a silky clunk as they sealed Cliff in. Cliff’s HUD darkened and then projected a realistic virtual image of the launch bay, easing the claustrophobic feeling.

An indicator activated on his display and Cliff said, Gravity on and inverting now. The small, internal gravity-spinner powered up, creating earth-normal gravity inside the capsule. The capsule’s larger, external spinner manipulated gravity to lift up the capsule and rotate it until it floated head first in line with the exit door, the whole room being one big airlock.

Another indicator winked on as a MEC shield enveloped the capsule, the pseudo-matter shield would protect the capsule from radiation in space and the heat of re-entry, Shields on. The professor could see it for himself on his own display, but talking through the sequence was standard practice and kept everyone focused.

All set at my end Professor. Over to you. They had practiced the launch sequence a dozen times during the last few days and the procedure had become routine. Except that today it was for real and tension was running high.

Activating the warm up sequence on his own console, Professor Bell said, Venting, as pumps extracted air from the launch bay and Cliff heard the external noises quieten down as the room approached vacuum, Opening the door. Servomotors lifted up the circular hatch covering the exit, exposing the room to the cold, dark emptiness of space. A faint cloud of ice crystals froze out from the slight trace of air left in the room and blew out into space. Well my boy, I think it’s time to go.

Yes sir, Cliff gave instructions to his mule and the capsule slowly floated through the hole and exited the station. A window popped open in his HUD showing the forward view. Against the backdrop of a full moon, the massive bulk of the twister-ring looked dark and menacing as it orbited a few hundred metres away from the station. A huge MEC shield powered up behind the capsule to protect the station from the ring should anything go wrong – which was not a comforting thought for Cliff.

The torus of the twister-ring looked like a huge, fat doughnut with a small central hole. The capsule moved forward to take up its launch position and lined up with the metre-wide barrel in the centre. When fully powered, the ring would twist the fabric of space-time, punching a wormhole for a short distance through mirror-space and then back into normal space on the other side.

Cliff remembered the explanation Frank had given him on the technology, Researching the quantum properties of super-conductors, I discovered that normal space is only half the story and the universe has a mirror twin that’s filled with super-symmetric anti-matter. Not only that, but mirror space is shrinking instead of expanding like normal space. The universe has two sides you see and space has six dimensions, three big ones of normal space and three tiny ones of mirror space. Mirror space is too small to see but, with enough energy, it’s possible to punch a hole through it and, being so small, it reduces the distance you have to travel. With my twister ring, you could get to Jupiter in seconds instead of months.

Most of it had gone over Cliff’s head but he got the gist of it, So the twister creates a shortcut through mirror space?

Well, that’s a simplistic way to put it, but yes, I suppose so. But that’s not the end of it, my boy. After building my twister-ring, I discovered it can make a wormhole through the time and possibility dimensions as well, making it possible to travel to alternate realities and even through time itself.

Cliff’s reverie was interrupted as the capsule reached its launch position and Professor Bell initiated the ring’s warm up sequence. Fusion-reactors ramped up and poured energy into the field generators whilst liquid nitrogen carried the heat away. As he waited for the fields to stabilise, Professor Bell said, Considering the fabric of the universe is getting raped inside that ring, it looks rather boring, don’t you think?

Glad of the diversion, Cliff replied, Yes sir. At the very least, there should be plasma clouds pouring out of the hole and lightning bolts shooting all over the place. We’ll not be getting our mad scientist badge for this poor showing.

They laughed together and then fell into an awkward silence as they waited. After a few minutes, Professor Bell checked all the indicators to make sure the ring was stable, Sequence complete and the ring is nominal. Time to go Cliff.

Yes sir. It’s been an honour and a privilege working with you Frank, I won’t let you down.

Professor Bell said, I know that Cliff and it’s been an honour to work with you too. Good luck and goodbye my boy, goodbye.

Goodbye Professor.

The Professor lifted the safety flap covering the red launch button. He was hardly able to speak for the unexpected emotion that gripped him as he pressed it, Hold still Cliff, twisting now. He pressed the button and the generators ramped up to full power, feeding enough electricity into the twister to power a dozen cities. Inside the twister ring’s protective MEC shield, massive super-conducting gyroscopes spun up a huge gravity well that pushed space in on itself, deeper and deeper. Intense electric and magnetic fields twisted the spatial dimensions inside the hole, forcing them to spiral inwards until the very fabric of space itself was tortured beyond endurance and ripped through into the tiny dimensions of mirror-space. A MEC shield slid into the hole to hold back the anti-matter, any contact would detonate the entire station in an explosion to rival the sun itself.

Having punched into mirror-space, the twister reversed the direction of its electro-magnetic fields and the twist ripped back into normal space, leaving a shielded wormhole that bypassed millions of kilometres of space to another earth lying seventy-five years into the past of a different timeline altogether.

As soon as the wormhole formed, the capsule’s gravity-spinners ramped up to maximum and shot the capsule through the barrel like a bullet. Speed was everything. At the power levels they were using, the ring was not expected to last very long – and it didn’t. A circuit shorted. It was only a small failure but, like a Judas kiss, it betrayed everything to destruction. A fraction of a second too soon the wormhole collapsed and the ring’s emergency shield snapped into place to contain the anti-matter but it sheared through the weaker shield of the capsule, cutting off its tail end. The capsule’s main gravity-spinner, computer and half the vital data-core floated silently off into space but Major Walker and the rest of capsule were gone.

_________

Chapter 3: Beta Timeline, 2059

Earth Orbit

The twist opened into the target timeline and the damaged capsule spiralled out into low earth orbit above the equator. The mechanics of the twist had been calculated so the capsule would emerge with just the right velocity for its main gravity-spinner to glide gently down to earth, but the main spinner was lost and the capsule fell to earth under the full force of gravity.

Detecting the failure of the capsule’s computer, Jackson took control and used the internal gravity-spinner to compensate for the external one. It made a bumpy ride for Cliff but that hardly mattered, half the capsule’s air had been lost and, despite the best efforts of the recycler to maintain oxygen, Cliff soon passed out.

The internal gravity spinner was just not up to the task and could only slow the capsule to a half-gee descent. Calculating the options available, Jackson modified the MEC shield as much as possible, flattening it out to form a rudimentary air brake and tried to glide the capsule down. There was little else he could do and it wasn’t very effective, but at least it levelled out the angle of descent and avoided a head on collision. It was a six-minute burn through the atmosphere and the MEC shield at least managed to keep out the intense heat. As soon as the capsule emerged from the burn’s radio blackout, Jackson began broadcasting an SOS.

The capsule hit the ground and skipped like a stone on water, and again, and again, leaving three long furrows in the Death Valley salt flat before finally smashing into a rock face. Broken and bleeding, Cliff desperately needed help. But it was too long coming and, three minutes after impact, Major Clifford Henry Walker died. But his death was not in vain, for he brought a faint glimmer of hope to a humanity that didn’t even know it was doomed.

_______

Chapter 4: Alpha Timeline, 1851

Hoomaji

Master Pathfinder Nootian Jalaam was desperate. He could see no way out. Time after time he had looked for a way to save his people but without success. As the greatest of the Joon farseers, it was his duty to study the future possibilities and guide his people in the ways of peace and harmony. But peace could no longer be found and Nootian had failed in his duty.

As a last resort, he summoned a conclave and the pathfinder of every clan arrived shortly after the summons was issued, even though some had had to travel half way across the planet. Being farseers, they had foreseen the summons and set off in good time. Of the many strange things that humans would one day discover about the Joon, the strangest by far is their inborn ability to see the future. For the Joon, déjavu is a way of life.

Nootian made his keynote speech to the assembled pathfinders before he set them to work, "Being farseers, we know that everything that can happen, does happen, somehow, somewhere and so there must be a future where our people survive. The timeline we seek is highly unlikely, or we would have found it by now, but it must exist and our task is not without hope. All we have to do is find the nexus we need, that point where the right decision, the right action, will take our people down an improbable pathway into an unlikely future and lead our people away from the nightmare I have foreseen."

In guiding the conclave, Nootian felt his age. He had been master pathfinder and leader of his people for more than four hundred seasons—a season being about fourteen months by imperial reckoning, not that the human empire was established as yet, that was still centuries away and unknown at this point even to Nootian—and, in all that time, he had never faced a problem like this.

For many seasons the conclave scoured every future possibility. Being able to see the farthest, Nootian checked the results of the conclave far into the future and, paradoxical though it might seem to the limited human time sense, Nootian extended his range, by checking the future results of the conclave’s explorations but, in every timeline he looked at, the conclave failed to find the nexus they so desperately needed. In spite of his hopeful words, Nootian found nothing. There must be a way out. We must keep trying.

Nootian ambled over to the mouth of the cave set high in the tallest peak in the Eternal Forest. Close to the North Pole, the cave currently faced eastwards but it would, in time, face every direction, for the face of Hoomaji was not quite gravity locked to its star. Hoomaji orbited so close to its sun that its year only lasted four imperial days but the planet was ten seconds short of completing a full revolution during that year and it took the planet almost a thousand imperial years for one sunrise to follow another. To all intents and purposes, Hoomaji always showed the same face towards Soondajee—called Proxima Centauri by the humans—and so the bright side of the planet was hotter than a furnace and the dark side cold enough to freeze carbon dioxide. The temperature extremes would be far greater but for the spiralling jet streams that carry scorching heat from the bright side to the freezing cold of the dark side and in so doing, make the twilight regions of the planet eminently habitable.

Fortunately, Hoomaji’s hot, metallic core produced a magnetic field strong enough to cope with Soondajee’s weak stellar wind. But the red dwarf was a flare star and its occasional, high-energy bursts rendered much of the bright side uninhabitable to all but a few specialised creatures. In contrast, however, the twilight zone between the bright and dark sides of the planet thrived and a balmy rainforest encircled the planet.

Nootian gazed out over the Eternal Forest that reached from pole to pole and back again in an almost unbroken riot of colour as thousands of varieties of flowering vines competed for the never ending twilight. Like almost all of the creatures living in the unchanging warmth of the Eternal Forest, the Joon were cold-blooded and, being forest-dwelling fruit-eaters, convergent evolution had given the Joon a physical body similar to that of a terrestrial ape, albeit with the head and scaly, colour-changing skin of a chameleon.

Nootian swivelled his eye stalks to watch the flying reptiles, some had leathery, bat-like wings and others had wings with feathered scales similar to birds and they competed for the great clouds of flying insects that swarmed through the orange-tinted skies. Even at this height, the atmospheric pressure was still five times that of earth and it made life in the air so much easier. The oxygen content was higher too and some insects grew large enough to turn the tables and prey on the birds and bats.

Flying was so easy in the thick atmosphere, that many creatures never touched land at all, even to breed, keeping their young in pouches until they could fly by themselves. A variety of creatures floated around with hydrogen filled sacs, catching small creatures with sticky strands dropped into the crowded air below and some were large enough for birds to nest on, despite the protective spines.

The sky was so full, it was almost as crowded as the forest below and the raucous cries of the airborne creatures hammered Nootian’s ears. Whilst the Joon have no sense of smell, they have an extraordinary sense of hearing with four tympanic membranes embedded in the top of their skull to collect ambient sound, and a pair of small ears at the end of their snout, to isolate specific sounds. Nootian heard the screeches of birds in the air and the cries of the animals in the canopy and, most importantly, the songs of the Joon living in the forests below.

As it always did, the view from the cave mouth calmed Nootian’s mind and his breathing slowed to a steady rhythm. Having no heart as such, four muscular lungs sucked air in through slits behind his jaw and pumped it into a pair of air sacs that squeezed out his breath in a continuous stream up through a lattice of passageways inside his skull to emerge through flute like rows of openings on each side of his head. A new pair of these flutes had developed every hundred years or so until he had the full set of seven pairs and each flute had its own set of vocal chords, giving Nootian fourteen individual voices.

Music is everything to the Joon and they do not speak as humans do, they sing with all the majesty of a chorus of divas and their music carries far in the dense air. The older Joon, with their great lungs and many flutes, sing the songs of what will be—for they have little interest in the past—but they also sing of clan activities, important news being passed from one clan to another until every nest around the world knows of it. More than any other planet, Hoomaji is alive with sound and the songs of the Joon fill the twilight air in a dawn chorus that lasts a thousand years.

After listening to the music of the forest for a while, Nootian was at peace with himself and turned from the cave mouth to settle into a nest of leaves and relaxed his body. Tuning out the cacophony of sound, Nootian vibrated his air sacs to produce a deep, steady background rhythm as he sang an accompanying melody with the flutes on the left side of his head.

With the flutes on the right side, Nootian sang of what he saw, each flute describing a different aspect of his future vision. Beside him sat his recorder, an elderly Joon of enormous bulk. Like the big reptiles of earth, the Joon do not die with age, they just grow larger. Accidents being rare because of their future sense, death only comes to the Joon through illness or by choice and the eldest Joon had seen almost twelve hundred seasons.

Nootian freed his mind and sang the song of farseeing. Focusing his thoughts, he went within, to the centre of his being and waited. When all thought had ceased, he surrendered his being to the All and in surrendering he gained everything. His consciousness expanded to touch the Everlasting Now, that oneness in which exists all space, all time and all possibility. Being one with the All, he cast his mind forward into the pathways of the future.

Nootian pushed his mind forward and drifted across the countless timelines that stretched before him far into the future, splitting apart and recombining like the branching river deltas that flowed into the deserts of the sunward side of the planet. Once again he pushed his mind forward, seeking a path to safety but like every time before, all he found was death.

Nootian sat, hour after hour, singing of what was to come. The recorder sitting behind Nootian made notes of the pathfinder’s mournful songs, but it had been too long and he trilled his concern, You must rest Master, you are weak from your efforts, the strain could kill you.

With his base flutes, Nootian trumpeted back, No, I see further than I have ever done before and I will not rest until we are safe. His eyes open but lost in his visions, Nootian settled back into his leafy nest as he scanned the future possibilities. Pushing forward again, he sang the ritual song of farseeing, "Floating on the rolling breath, I sing the holy song. I cast my mind to what may be, flying rivers of choice and destiny…"

The melodic song reverberated off the walls of the cave as he floated over the endless possibilities before him and Nootian pushed his consciousness as far forward as he could. Before him, the alternate futures branched out and blended back together as the futures diverged and consolidated, the images flowing smoothly like a holographic image. Without understanding the science, the Joon understood that the branching of the timelines was fractal, it happened on a large scale with big events and the pattern repeated on smaller and smaller scales until it was too small to see.

Dipping into the timelines here and there, Nootian looked for a time of peace but all he saw was destruction. In his mind, he swooped into the maelstrom of possibility to merge with a future reality, bringing it into conscious focus as he did in daily life.

Phase. Nootian watched as a group of Joon fled through the forest, running from a strange, high pitched, thrumming sound.

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