Andy McDermott

For my family and friends


The ocean had no name, nor did the gnarled land rising from it. There was no one to name them. In time there would be, after the scarred primordial world had completed another four billion orbits of its sun, but for now it was utterly barren. The planet could not even truly be said to be dead; it had never seen life.


Had a person from that far future somehow been able to stand on the nameless obsidian sands, they would have seen a world very different from the one they knew, countless volcanoes spewing smoke and ash into the sky. This was a landscape in flux, growing literally by the day as the planet’s molten core forced itself outwards through the cracks in its crust.

The hypothetical observer would have found their glimpses of the heavens through the black clouds just as unfamiliar as the world beneath them. Above was an almost constant fireworks display of bright lines searing across the sky. Meteors: lumps of rock and rubble too small to survive the transition from the vacuum of space, atmospheric friction incinerating the building blocks of the still youthful solar system miles above the ground.

But the larger an incoming meteor, the greater its chance of surviving the fall.

Among the fleeting streaks of fire was something brighter. Not a line, but a shimmering point of light, seemingly unmoving. In fact, it was travelling at over ten miles per second. Its stillness was an optical illusion — it was heading straight for the black beach like a bullet fired from the stars.

The light flared. The rock was surrounded by a searing shockwave of plasma as it ploughed deeper into the atmosphere, its outer layers fragmenting and shedding in its wake. But it was large enough to guarantee that no matter how much mass was burned away, it would hit the ground. An impact and explosion powerful enough to obliterate everything within a radius of tens of miles should have been inevitable.

Until something extraordinary happened.

The meteor flared again, only this time the flash was an electric blue, not a fiery red. More flashes followed, but not from the plunging rock. They came from the sky around it, great bolts of lightning lancing to the ground. The observer, had he or she existed, would have noticed a distinct pattern to them, as if they were being channelled along lines of some natural force.

And the rock began to slow.

This was more than the braking effect of the atmosphere. The meteor was losing speed in almost direct proportion to the growing intensity of the lightning flashes. It was as though the world below was trying to cushion its fall… or push it away.

But it was too late for that. Even as the electrical blizzard raged around it, the meteor continued its descent. Slowing, still slowing, but not enough—

It hit the beach at several times the speed of sound, unleashing the same energy as a small nuclear bomb. A blinding flash lit the volcanic landscape, an expanding wall of fire racing out from the point of impact. Tens of thousands of tons of pulverised bedrock were blasted skywards. But even though it was now only a small fraction of the size it had been minutes earlier, the new arrival from the infinite depths of space, glowing red-hot at the bottom of the newly created crater, was still over a hundred feet across.

Then the ocean found it.

Water gushed over the crater’s lip, the sea greedily surging in to claim the new space. The churning wavefront crashed against the meteorite — and another explosion shook the beach, outer layers of burning rock shattering in a swelling cloud of steam as they were suddenly cooled.

Gradually, stillness returned. The lightning died down, dark clouds rolling in to repair the tear in their blanket. Before long, the only movement was the eternal slosh of the waves.

What remained of the meteorite at the bottom of the new lagoon was now even smaller, only the heart of the traveller remaining intact. But for the first time in unknown ages, that core of strange, purple stone was exposed to something other than compressed rock or the harsh emptiness of space. Water, working its way into every exposed crack to find whatever was within.

It took time, six whole days, before anything happened. Even then, the time-travelling observer would have needed a microscope to see it, and still been profoundly unimpressed. A tiny bubble, the product of chemical processes at work within the ragged rock, broke free and rose to the water’s surface, to be instantly lost amongst the foaming waves. It was not the most inspiring beginning.

But it was a beginning.

Life had arrived on planet Earth.

1 Zimbabwe

Four Billion Years Later

The heat and stench were as inescapable as the cell itself. The thick stone and clay walls of the former pioneer fort trapped warmth like a kiln, and the small, stoutly barred window providing the only ventilation opened out almost directly on to the row of latrines at one side of the prison’s central courtyard.

Fort Helena. Hell on earth for those unfortunates imprisoned within by the country’s despotic regime.

A bearded man sat statue-like in one dirty corner of the gloomy cell; his stillness partly because of the cloying heat, and partly because each movement brought pain. He had been delivered to the prison a day earlier, and as a welcoming gift given a beating by a group of guards before being taken to a dark room where a grinning man had provided him with a hands-on demonstration of some of the numerous instruments of torture at his disposal. Just a sample, he had been promised. A full show would soon follow.

Someone else was in the torture chamber now, screams echoing through the passages. The guards had made a point of dragging the victim past the man’s cell so that he would hear his desperate pleas for mercy. Another sample, a demonstration. You’re next.

A new sound, this from outside. A rising mechanical thrum — an approaching helicopter.

The man stirred, painfully levering himself upright and going to the little window. He ignored the foul smell from the latrines, narrowing his eyes against the harsh daylight as he watched uniformed men hurry into the courtyard to form an honour guard. Behind them came the prison’s governor, a squat, toad-faced man in small gold-rimmed glasses. From his look of apprehension it was clear that the new arrival was important.

The prisoner tensed. He knew who was aboard the helicopter.

Someone with very good reasons to hate him.

Dust and grit swirled as the helicopter descended. It was an elderly aircraft, a French-built Alouette III light utility chopper converted to what was known as ‘G-car’ specification by the addition of a pair of machine guns. A veteran of the civil war that led to Rhodesia’s becoming Zimbabwe in 1980… now being used as VIP transport for a man who fought in that war as a youth, gaining a nickname that he retained with pride to this day.

Gamba Boodu. ‘The Butcher.’

A guard opened the cabin door and Boodu stepped out, head high as if daring the still whirling rotor blades above him to strike. Despite the baking temperatures, he wore a long black greatcoat over an immaculately fitted

Вы читаете Temple of the Gods
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату