Painting by Rodney Matthews
Parting the neatly combed moustaches of his dark silver mutton chops, Admiral Cavendish Farlore strode for the high deck to aft of the Martian dreamship. And not just any dreamship either: the Ramses IX, flagship of the First Martian Solar Dynastic Navy. Overhead an escort of thousands of Martian Ra-ships hung in the sky. With their elongated saucer shapes that came to a point at each wing, and their keel turret bubbles of dark tinted plasteel, they looked like unblinking eyes in the indigo of the inter-dimensional sky.
On a ribbon of the Sea of Tears that meandered outside sidereal spacetime to terminate in a massive secret chamber beneath the Pyramid at Giza, the Ramses IX had sat at anchor for half a celestial day.
“You are relieved, boatswain,” Farlore gave a curt nod.
“Aye-aye, Admiral,” In the Martian fashion, the young sailor saluted by touching the serpent arched to strike from the golden brow of his nemes helmet. “Thank you, sir,” he added over his shoulder as he left. The grass-green cloth that hung to his bare shoulders from his helmet fluttered in the breeze. The admiral smiled in his head to note the youth’s surprise at having been relieved.
“Your are most welcome, son. The mess is not yet as lively as it is likely to get tonight. Tell Kator-La, I said to give you the admiral’s special and don’t make any plans before celestial noon.” The Admiral glowed to see the pride come into the boy’s face. “And if you don’t mind, I need you to pass along that everyone is on leave tomorrow until we make port at Memphis Nova I.”
“With all haste due, Admiral!”
Farlore turned his back to the sailor. Memories of his early days in the navy came upon him then and he didn’t want to risk the lad seeing him smile. It made him happy to give his crew some time off. Heavy matters weighed on the First Martian Solar Dynasty. And though he did not know all the factors involved, the admiral was worried that his Pharaoh was over-reaching on this mission.
While it had pleased him to relieve the boatswain, he had done so with an ulterior motive. One he took no pleasure in executing. Indeed, he felt that the moment in cosmic history fast approaching — an event he had been appointed by the Pharaoh of Mars to facilitate — was going to have catastrophic implications for all reality. He scowled. He wanted no part in this.
He looked at a pocket watch he kept tucked behind the holster holding the alchemical sun pistol at his hip. The uniform of the Martian soldier was nought but a skirt to the knees held at the waist by a belt upon which hung a single holster and single scabbard. Feet were sandalled and fastened by wraps, which were intricately woven up to the knees in a morning meditation. Typically there was also a nemes helm of gold from which hung a coloured lappet denoting rank. But admirals, as was the custom, wore no such helmet and shaved their heads completely.
Snapping the watch shut and replacing it, Farlore stepped to the aft railing. Save for the crows nest, it was the highest vantage point on the ship. The world he looked upon, was slightly out of phase from the ship’s position on the Sea of Tears. The effect of the phase variance was such that the world appeared all blue. But Admiral Farlore, who had seen it on occasion from a perspective in sidereal spacetime, knew it to be blue and green and heartbreakingly beautiful.
The world was held in esteem as the sacred jewel of all reality. And it was Mars’s responsibility to protect it at any cost.
For this little world was the sole place of refuge from the sorcerous bedlam of the wider, wilder multiverse. It was the one place in all existence where consciousness could not penetrate inward to the probability vortices.
The one place in reality where magic did not work.
The Eden Edict of the Binary Proclamation forbade meddling in its affairs. This was decreed by no less than the authority of Pentarchy. But Mars, as its celestial steward, had special rights of access and trade. The unique and remarkable effects of its alcohol and the magic-repellant properties of the fabric called denim were much sought after beyond Sanctuary Rim and the unique privilege of trading these Sanctuarian treasures had filled the treasury pyramids to bursting.
Despite its value to his Pharaoh’s Dynasty, Admiral Farlore was never comfortable being this close. It felt unnatural somehow to be here: like a violation of some timeless, sacred truth.
“Metatron k-reysus,” His voice was stern and purposeful. The sky of eyes — the Martian Ra-ships, each with a single pilot in the dorsal bubble and another in the keel — peeled from formation in long curving arcs that brought them into the space below the celestial horizon of the Ramses IX and the blue ribbon of this tributary of the inter-dimensional sea.
None, save him, could bear witness to what was to now transpire.
The admiral did not know how long he waited before he felt the hairs on his arms stand on end. It is time then.
His hand quickly polished his bald head, and he straightened the gold and teal wrap about his waist. After checking to ensure the snap on his holster was fastened, he clasped his hands behind his back an assumed the disciplined posture of an emissary of the high court of Heliopolitan Mars.
Below him, on the pale blue ambient light of dreamship’s main deck a Coriolis of emerald green nimbus twirled from nothingness into an opaque swirling vortex. In the same neon green hue, the thin lies of a dodecahedron faded into his visual range. Admiral Farlore felt the gentle zephyr of displaced air rustle through his perfectly groomed mutton chops.
When the emerald swirl cleared, and the lines of the dodecahedron faded, a perfect physical specimen of middle-aged man was revealed. The subtle, golden aura of Olympian physiology issued from him. He wore the highly technologically advanced running shoes of the natives of Sanctuary and the orange-trimmed sky-blue toga of the Olympian Empire. At his feet, unconscious and dripping wet, lay a boy — he looked to be no more than fifteen roundings of Ra by Sanctuary reckoning.
The arrogant fools have really done it! Farlore pressed the horror deep down into himself, forced a smile and bowed.
“Lord Cronos! Welcome to the Ramses IX, flagship of the Martian Navy of Pharaoh Gatunkhamen IV,” were the words from Admiral Cavendish (Crash) Farlore’s lips. But in his mind, beneath fealty to the lord whom he loved, there was a whisper…
Hubris begets a humbling.