The Trell Temple
"Death Worms!" said Rain. "Sharks of the sand! Night hunters" Her pink eyes were wide in her green face.
Grandma's voice crackled on their communication device.
"Jett, m'boy. We've got a fight on our hands. We never run from a fight. Let's show the Hesperans our mettle."
Rain shook her head, her purple hair rippling and bouncing. "Jett, please don't go. The night fish… they're terrible. Always hungry." Her plum coloured bottom lip quivered.
He cupped her green face in his hands. "Well, um… the Death Worms won't get past us, so don't worry." He hoped he sounded braver than he felt.
He hurried down the corridor getting his Phoenix rifle ready.
"Jett, wait!" Rain was calling after him. Her voice sounded upset, but he knew his duty.
Outside, the air was cold and the only lights came from the settlement. The sand looked sort of greyish tinged now, not purple.
Grandma and her staff were stationed at positions around the inside perimeter of the wire fence. Chief of Police Marshall was there too. Jett struggled up onto the tower beside his Grandma.
"Ah good," said Grandma. "If the monsters try and break in here, we'll get them."
The Worms were all around the fence, circling and probing for a way in. The great, grey serpents with gaping maws and jagged fangs, their gleaming yellow eyes with glowing red slits for pupils that gleamed eerily in the gloom… One of them struck the fence with its fangs. There was an electric sizzle and the beast was thrown back.
It was a horrible feeling, watching the night fish from the fragile cage of the settlement and the fence. Jett could feel their cold, evil eyes, staring at him.
At that moment, Marshall's radio crackled and a voice could be heard:
"Ranger Base, this is Red Patrol. I'm about three minutes off you, inward."
"Negative," said Marshall into his Comm device. "We have night fish activity. Tie up and lie back 'til morning."
"No can do," replied the voice on the radio. "I have engine trouble."
Jett saw the light of the Ranger's flier weaving toward them. The flier looked a lot like a grimy motorbike, but it was hovering high above the sand dunes.
Jett suddenly heard a familiar voice at his elbow. "The Worms can't get very high up, but the poor Ranger's dropping fast."
It was Rain. She had sneaked out and was standing next to Jett. She was now in a purple bodyglove.
"What're you doing here? What'll your Mum say?" demanded Jett.
Rain's bright green face seemed almost luminous in the near-darkness. "I wouldn't desert you," she said solemnly.
"What are you talking about…?" he began, but then he broke off at the events that were unfolding and Rain screamed out loud.
The Ranger's engine broke down and he tumbled into the gaping, fang-ringed maw of a Death Worm. He never stood a chance as the serpent closed its terrible jaws around him. Blood spattered all over the sand…
Rain flung her arms around Jett, sobbing. He tentatively stroked her purple hair. What could he say to comfort her? But the problems were not over… The flier careened out of control into the electric fence. There was a flash and an explosion…
"The wire's shorted out," said Marshall tensely. "We've lost the electric fence. And the explosion's torn the mesh."
The Death Worm reared its evil head, the gleaming red eyes fixed on them. Its jaws were dripping with the Ranger's blood. It lunged at the gap left in the fence.
"Hi Ex!" said Grandma.
She flicked the switch on her Phoenix rifle and fired. The rifle shot a tiny laser guided missile at the terrible beast which exploded, shattering its terrible fangs. Grandma held up a remote control. "Summoning the security bots now," she said. "This is a perfect time to demonstrate."
The bots were roughly humanoid titanium alloy robots with domed helmets for heads. They came marching jerkily to help as they fired at the dreadful Worms writhed and slithered in through the hole in the fence. The combined gun fire stuck the slavering carnivores, shattering fangs and rupturing tough hides. But the human defenders had to step back as the night predators lunged at them.
Rain was right by Jett, stepping in sync with him. Why on Hespera had she come out with no weapon? Jade's heart was beating fast and he felt queasy with anxiety.
Grandma fired three explosive shells into the ravening maws of Death Worms. Another Worm had clamped its jaws around a security bot, but was finding it a tough morsel… The bot's self-destruct mechanism went off, and Death Worm guts rained down on them all. The other bots fired continually at the Worms
"Rain, you've gotta get back inside," said Jett through gritted teeth. Then he noticed something. A Death Worm had its gleaming red eyes fixed on the Loper pen. The placid blue beasts were making soft, lowing noises in fear.
"Oh no you don't," said Jett, firing into its mouth. "Eat this."
But too late, he noticed another lunging for them from the opposite direction. Rain gave a weird cry, and glared at it, gesturing with her green hands, her pink eyes going all weird. And then unexpectedly it recoiled and hissed as though it had been struck a heavy blow. The delay was enough for Jett to fire on it, blowing the red gleam out of one of its glassy eyes.
Now Grandma was here. She was out of explosives clearly, because she now had a metal pole from somewhere and struck the slavering serpent hard over the head with it. "Get away from my Grandson! Take that! And that!" She hit the worm hard as Rain glared at it. It writhed and hissed on the ground and then lay still.
"The Worms are in retreat!" called Marshall. "I suppose they've had their fill now."
"They know when they're beaten," growled Grandma.
"Your Grandma's a real fighter," said Rain.
They were back in Jett's room. Rain was back in her pink nightie. Jett's heart was still hammering after the excitement of the Death Worm attack. Rain's plum coloured lips twitched to form a smile and she touched Jett's cheek with a soft green hand. "You saw how Grandma got that extra burst of strength when defending you. Perhaps I did too."
"Yeah, how did you make the Worm flinch by glaring at it?" said Jett.
Rain rubbed her green cheek pensively. "Hmm. I wish I knew. It would be more useful if I could control it."
"Oh yes. You'd be deadly without a gun. You'd be able to deliver psychic blasts with unlimited ammo. You're a special girl alright."
She took his hand in both of her slender green ones. "I was thinking about saving you. Like you thought of saving the Lopers. I'm no more special than you are. Now…" She leaned closer, her warm breath tickling. "You've had adrenaline pumping through you. Don't need to be psychic to tell that. Would you like a crystallised Blatchie egg?"
If whatever egg she was talking about was as gross as a Zipper egg, Jett didn't want to know. "No thanks."
She peered at his face. "You're exhausted, but you're wide awake. I can help. I know how to take away negative energy before it builds up. It's important in darkness. The darkness brings madness as well as the night fish."
"Oh… alright." What was she talking about?
Rain smiled. "All you have to do is lie back. You can close your eyes if you want to. You can focus on my face. You can look around. You can do anything you want."
Jett lay back. Rain crouched on his bed, leaning her beautiful green face close to him, so that her fragrance filled his nostrils. She gazed at him, her pink eyes unblinking. "It won't hurt, I promise, I promise." She began to weave her green fingers in complicated motions in front of his eyes. "I'm going to take this worry, and that one…"
It was hard to follow the twining patterns her bright green hands were making. He began to drift off as she murmured, "take…. Take…" Then slumber took him and he did not wake up until the Hesperan dawn.
The next morning, the air was cool and brisk and the sunlight glinted off the purply red sand. Grandma wanted them to take arms and security out to the interior the next morning. The screeching of weird reptilian birds could be heard in the distance. They clambered into the land buggy, a vehicle with heavy treads that ran over the flat desert terrain north across the scrubland to the Trell temple.
They stopped on the way to view a field of sponge rocks.
Ranger Rachel was acting as a tour guide. She was a sinuous lady with a bold, freckled face and the pinkish tinged eyes typical of the Earth-Born Hesperans.
Rain's eyes were a much clearer pink. Her shiny green nose crinkled as she smiled at Jett. "I believe the rocks here are very different to Earth rocks."
Rachel gestured around at the round, purplish rocks. "The sponge rocks act like giant sponges, absorbing moisture from the air at night, gradually releasing it during the day. Each one supports it own small ecosystem. The rocks grow by attracting mineral particles from the air. In time, entire forests will form around colonies of sponge rocks, as you'll see further north."
"The rocks propagate themselves, do they?" said Grandma.
"Yes. Fragments blown off by the wind can themselves grow into sponge rocks," said Rachel, pointing at a little rock glinting in the sun. "There's a young one."
Suddenly, Jett noticed Rain's purple brows drawing together. She was twirling a strand of her purple hair in her green fingers. "Something's wrong…" she murmured.
Now Jett could feel the ground vibrate. Was it a quake? But then a beast like a great, hairy green rhino appeared over the hill. It had an ugly, bony head, with a jagged horn. Was its skull on the outside?
"Sawhorn!" cried Rachel. "They're stampeding at us."
"They're panicking," said Rain, rubbing her temples.
Grandma fired a shot at a Sawhorn's skull. It bounced right off. "Skull too thick…" she muttered. "Hi Explosive then…" She fired at the legs of an oncoming Sawhorn and there was an explosion, causing it to keel over. The other hairy beasts made weird, screeching sounds and turned to stampede in the opposite direction.
The cause of the stampede soon became apparent. There were human hunters from the settlement on a speeder in pursuit. "Sorry," one of them called. "We didn't expect anyone out here."
As they left, the hunters carved up the fallen Sawhorn with serrated blades. The beasts purple guts spilled out of the gash in its hairy hide.
"They only take the most delicate parts," said Rain. "The hindquarters. The rest is left to rot. The best meat fetches the best prices, and there's no shortage. Not yet anyway…"
"Such a waste," said Jett, shaking his head. "Poor dumb beasts."
Rain wrinkled her shiny green nose. "It's like it's human nature to destroy things. Here too, not just on Earth. Will it ever change, Jett? You're a thoughtful human. Will the rest change?"
"You think you're not a human too?" said Jett.
Rain rubbed her green cheek and gazed at him, an oblique expression in her pink eyes. "I don't know… maybe I'm not."
An hour later, the the buggy drew near the towering structure of the Trell temple. It was a dome carved into the rocky cliff face of a great hill, weird Trell faces carved all over it, and over the dome.
"The Trell temple," said Rachel. "Carbon dated to be almost fifteen thousand years old. The principle figures in the temple and on the cliff face are definitely Trell. Why their civilisation collapsed and how they became the nomads they are today remains a mystery. Many find the temple too disturbing to remain for long…"
"Not me…" whispered Rain.
The Hesperans lit wooden torches – how retro – and they all filed towards the entrance. Rain had taken Jett's hand as they strode under an archway carved of blue mineral and decorated with carvings of Trell and Hesperan beasts, one of which seemed to have a skull like a Sawhorn's…
The tunnel beyond was rough, purplish rock. It was cool here, and the only light was from the burning torches. As they went deeper, they heard an eerie sound, a strange, undulating wail.
"What is that?" demanded Grandma.
"You'll see," said Rachel.
They emerged into a vast cavern of purple rock with a domed ceiling. All over the ceiling were carved faces of Trell. They seemed to be making the strange wailing…
"It's the hall of voices," said Rachel. "The sound is from the wind blowing through the carved heads."
It reminded Jett of a recording he had heard once of a whale song. Low and mournful, as if they knew the fate in store for their kind.
"It – It's beautiful," he blurted out to Rain.
She gave a small smile. Her torch lit up her shiny green face. "Isn't it? I come hear a lot to think. This is the song of the Trell. They're telling us their story."
"This is Trell language?"
"Yes," said Rain. "It's like writing, but in song. The Trell still leave song messages for each other in the rocks. I'll show you if we find one. Now listen to the music…"
Jett listened and felt the wailing echo around him. He was spinning and the rocky cavern was blurring. The carved faces towered over him and seemed to loom closer. What was happening?