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Alternative Vegetable Growing

If there is a little space, a pot, soil, seed and water you can grow your own food. Brave comment no doubt but I’m going to prove that you can. It doesn’t cost the earth or you a packet. Well a packet of seed perhaps.

First of all seed. A packet of seed is about £3.50. A subscription to Grow your Own is about the same price and you get a magazine a month which comes with 4-5 packets of seed. In my mind the cheapest way to buy your seed.

A packet of seed comes with many hundreds of seed. If you don’t need them all then why not share them with others? What better way to share seeds than to open a packet with your friends around the coffee table and then share out the seed that you all have? What a way to get to know strangers and for stangers to become friends?

Of course seed can be “saved”. So you may have to buy or trade for your first seed but after that you can save your own. What better way to use those odd jars you would throw into the recycling than to fill them with spare seed at the end of the season and bring them to a seed sharing “meet” in the Spring. That is the circle of life!

You have your seed. You are going to have to put it into something to grow it. It doesn’t need soil. Hydroponics and Aquaponics are perfectly viable ways to grow. I’m going to explore them as we go along but for now I’m only doing more “traditional” methods to get used to the idea. I’m applying hydroponics theories though and soaking the soil so that I don’t have to water so often. I’ll get to that in a bit.

A bag of compost is relatively cheap, about £3.00 and can be got from a supermarket or on line. That gives you your “growing medium”. The plants have to grow in something and they need supporting. With hydroponics they have their roots in the water and you “clamp” them with a sponge like set up. That holds them so they can grow. When you grow in soil the soil holds them and the minerals etc that they need flow through the soil. They don’t “eat” the soil, it is a carrier. So once they are planted you can feed the soil and they will grow or they will use the “food” in the soil to a point until it is exhausted.

Plants want to grow. That helps. They are “born” to live and they want to live. All you are doing is making sure that you are replacing what you have taken from them by not letting them grow in a “natural environment”. Of course you are creating their environment and if you are growing in the house where it is warm all those plans they have for the cold are irrelevant. They can “force” strawberries etc but if you are giving the plants a warm place to grow, plenty of water and nutrients how are they going to know it is winter outside? They don’t need to know and they may well still grow. Be careful though as some seed needs to be straified, it needs to be cold and frost bitten first.

You have your seed. You have your something to grow in so what are you going to put it in to grow?

That will depend on what space you have. With the two litre bottle method then all you need is space to stand a bottle. It is very space saving and the plant has the soil it needs in its bottle and you feed that bottle, it grows and everyone is happy.

Water Conservation

The idea for this came to me while I was trying to get a grant to start a Care Farm.  We were sent to a company to do our business plan.  I had to work out how many food boxes the 13 acre field could generate and cost for a watering system. 

Of course the cost of an irrigation system on a smallholding which had its water supply provided by a spring was unrealistic.  We would have to sink a borehole which in itself is not that expensive when you look at the “grand scheme of things” but it did add to the cost of the project and of course there would be the ongoing maintenance and cost of powering it.  That would be part offset by solar but then there is the cost of the solar etc.

That is most of the problems with using sustainable energy.  Too many companies have “jumped on the bandwagon” and the cost of the equipment is quite high considering that most of it can be built “in house” with a basic intelligence and a diagram and of course the right materials. 

Initially we had to “cost” for a conventional solution to the problem but while looking at it the “obvious” struck me.  I had a sloping south facing field which is ideal as it wasn’t steep yet faced the field towards the sun.  It was close to the estuary which would create a microclimate.  The soil was an ancient stream bed so in a band of good soil and there was a vineyard a couple of miles away which proved that the climate was good.  Spread a couple of clearings out of deep bedded goat manure and there was a good growing medium.

When watering a field a vast proportion of the water is lost to watering “empty” soil.  Another proportion is lost to evaporation.  The plant gets what is left.  Granted on a slope the water would run down but most likely that would be deeper than the roots and the aquifer was of course much lower.

The idea I had was quite simple and was inspired by seeing plants grown in drainpipes on walls where the gardener was attempting to get the most out of his or her garden.

If the crops were grown in similar “drainpipes” then using the idea of hydroponics and aquaponics there could be a controlled environment using materials which already exist and materials that aren’t “one use”.

Literally to set up drainpipes running down the hill in tubes of “mini polytunnels”. If they are put on “stilts” then sheep can graze on the grass underneath and benefit from the shade or shelter if the pipes are planted in “batches” with walkways in between to tend to them. The farmer is then getting more use out of the field and the sheep are getting better shelter which means they need less feeding as well.

The first problem which that throws up is why isn’t the soil washed down the pipe to the bottom?  This can be solved by filters along the pipe which allow the water through but not the soil.  As soil is only a carrier and supporting medium it would also be possible to use something like the materials used in hydroponics and aquaponics.  That in itself might actually be the easier option as when the plant is harvested it can be pulled out with its roots leaving the medium ready for replanting.  The roots then could either be used as animal feed or composted to use in conventional gardening.

That gives you the long growing beds which of course can be at any height so it is possible to stagger them on “legs” so that crops have the minimum amount of space and still be easy to reach to harvest.

Obviously water would have to be provided to these beds and that would have to come from a watering system similar to that provided to a polytunnel/garden watering system where there is a pipe with “offshoots” at intervals to provide water to that portion of the long watering bed.

That is the water provided specifically to the roots of the plants that you want watered. 

There are already plastics available which provide a “cloche” for growing plants.  This is mostly used to protect from frost and they are removed when the fear of frost is over.  If they remained and were set up like long thing mini polytunnels then you have your “environment” for the plants.

I’ve run a mini experiment in our garden with plastic tubs.  The seedlings were put into pots in the tubs with the lid put on with a small ventilation hole.  The plants have grown well and I haven’t had to top the water up yet!  The water evaporates, coalesces on the lid of the box and rains back down on the plants, flows through their soil and back to the water reservoir at the bottom.  The plants in those boxes were only taken out when the tomato plants outgrew the size of the box.  The result is that it works.

As mentioned above, soil is a carrier medium.  I’m using compost but as it says on the bag that will only feed for a month.  After that additional “food” has to be provided for the plants.

I’m fascinated by the idea of aquaponics and of course a pond provides a habitat for all kinds on animals etc.  So then there is the dilemma, do you have a “closed system tank” or do you create a nature pond and have a naturally flowing system?

I’ll not address that at the moment but what you do need is a water tank to collect the water which flows down when it gets to the bottom of the hill.  I’m designing this with the idea of using sloping fields which are unsuitable for normal growing or are mildly problematic as well as flat fields which could be designed in other ways.  The sloping field is ideal for natural flow.  On a flat field you can direct the “guttering” to suit where the sun rises and sets.

At the bottom of the hill you need some sort of pond or reservoir where your fish live.  The fish of course can either be ornamental, commercial in that you can grow goldfish etc to sell, or edible.  They are there to provide the nutrients to the water.

Once the water has been “reloaded” it can be pumped using the magnetic wheel system back up blue pipes to the head of the guttering to start again flowing down.  Of course you can use conventional pumps or a hydro ram.  If a hydro ram then you need a concentrated flow of water at a specific pressure coming out of the fish tank to provide the pressure to work the ram.  If you are using the magnetic wheel then the natural flow of the water and the repulsion of the magnets on the wheel will augment the power provided by the turbine which is powered by water naturally flowing down pipes when the tank gets too full.

In the winter when water freezes the water which is agitated freezes at a far lower temperature or not at all.  We found this out by keeping our water system running in the winter with a small amount being pulled through the blue pipe which kept the whole pipe from freezing.  Similarly the water flowing down the system should stop the plants’ water freezing.

The movement of the water and any evaporation would cause cooling in the summer. 

Of course diverting the water being fed to the plants through a system similar to a “black painted radiator” with and inlet and an outlet would provide warmed water to the plants to extend their growing season.

On a commercial basis this could increase the growing area of a field dramatically as with staggering the height of the “tunnels” if it was better to make the polytunnel more of a tube the plants could grow on many levels making the best use of the sunlight.

When the daylight hours are shorter, should it be needed, the power of the water flowing down the hill to feed the lower reaches could be used to power turbines to power lights in the tunnels.

All the water provided is distributed to the plants and it is not wasted.  When they transpire the water coalesces on the roof of the “cloche” tunnel and is fed back to the plants.  Any evaporation similarly coalesces and is returned to the growing medium.

In theory I can see it working.  The elements all work on their own e.g. plants growing in guttering, the closed system for the water and obviously aquaponics and hydroponics are being used in farming already.

I’d take this system a step further as I’ve seen on Youtube that it is possible to run water through trays which speeds up the germination of seeds.  Currently these speedy germinated seeds are fed to animals at day 8 as that is the time when they have to rely on outside sources for their own food and it is the optimum time to get the maximum amount of nutrient from feeding shoots and roots to animals.  But, if you took these seedlings at day 8 and planted them in a growing medium you have circumvented the long time the seeds spend in the soil germinating.  It is labour intensive though but that in itself isn’t a bad thing where people need salaries!  You can give a lot of people the pride of earning their own keep for the cost of a modern tractor.

On a domestic scale there is no reason why this system couldn’t be created in a decorative way.  The polytunnels on a small scale don’t have to be soft plastic, they could be decorative tubes which look good in a garden while providing a food source.  The goldfish pond could then feed the vegetables.  A wall with guttering in layers down it would provide a vast growing area to provide the food for the house.  The whole system could be in a “greenhouse” lean to if there was a need to conserve the water but in general if there is no problem with a water supply there is no reason why it couldn’t just be a decorative part of the garden fed by an ornamental pond.

I’ve long thought that microgeneration was the way to “go” with power generation.  Every house needs “x” amount of power per day.  Take for example when you have a bath and the water runs out of the bath and down the “downpipe”.  If there was a turbine in that downpipe which harvested the power from the water falling due to gravity that would supplement the house’s power supply.  Even when flushing a toilet the water falls from the cistern to the bowl and that “fall” of water could be harvested to provide power for the bathroom.

The commercial version of the “black radiator” is obviously already in action in many places.  I remember a discussion with the installer came around to discuss solar panels when it was going to pay money through the scheme they had set up at the time.  Why would I bother to put in the water heating system on the roof when it was actually more cost effective to let the solar panels pay for the electricity to heat the water?

That grey water (already used water not suitable for drinking) is technically the property of the house before it goes back into the main system.  If the power is harvested on its way down to a storage tank you then have a tank of water which can’t be used to water anything obviously as it could have bath chemicals in it.  Unless of course you are prepared to be extremely careful what you use in your bath and use only suitable natural ingredients.

You still have a “tank of water” which can be fed through a “black radiator” type set up and if you are able could be run through pipes for underfloor heating.  Of course that needs the sun to heat it… but, yes you’ve guessed it, another plan.  Why can’t the energy harvested by the falling water power an “old fashioned” lightbulb system, the heat from which heats that water which then can be used for underfloor heating or other heat sources?  An ordinary “old fashioned” lightbulb is all that is needed to provide the heating for hatching chicks, believe me that bulb gets hot!

That water having gone through the system will of course provide an excess which you are not going to need.  There is always washing the car and the yard etc. and if you have been very careful watering the garden!  Who fears a hosepipe ban when you can use your own water supply.

Living in a place without its own water supply did make us think.  We got quotes from the companies to put it in and then we thought about it.  At the previous house we had already had a bore hole and house pump.  It can be terrifying if you don’t look at it in a very basic way.  The borehole pump pumps the water up from underground.  It then flows through blue agricultural pipe to the house powered by a pump with a “bladder” which fills, you use it and it fills again.  It fills so quickly that you don’t notice any “loss in service”.  It does have a regulator but the box came with instructions.  We were “supposed to” dig in the pipe which would be very expensive but keeping it running stopped it freezing mostly.  We did lose “service” for the odd couple of hours while we waited for the sun to come up.

The first water system we had was an IBC tank harvesting water from the roof.  This was amusing and highly “rigged up” as it involved finding some old guttering in the yard, bailing twine and literally allowing the water to run down from the guttering on the barn roof into the IBC tank.  It wasn’t until we had a rainstorm and 1000 litres was almost filled in a night that we realised we had something.  We put one in the goat house and ran the water straight into it from the roof.  That saved hours of carrying water buckets to them!  It did involve pulling the pipe out when it was full though to stop the goat house flooding.

How much water is gathered by a roof and flows into the water system without the owner of the house having the benefit of it.  That is not grey water!  If the gutters are kept clear and a UV water filter used and obviously testing to make sure what is in it you have totally pure useful water which just flows away.  When you paid by the year no doubt your response would be so what?  Now that water is metered that is a whole different matter.

Microgeneration on a house by house basis would ease the pressure on the National Grid.  It also gives the houseowner a certain amount of self sufficiency. 

We only had one “camping” solar panel and we didn’t get as far as going “off grid” long term.  We still had to use the generator with just that one panel to watch a bit of TV in the evening.  But, our power needs were high.  When you have goats the kids need heat lamps or ours did as the barns were too big! 

If you wanted to think about it on a house by house basis you’d have to work out your usage first.  There is absolutely no point being “hair shirt” about it, be honest, what do you need without interrupting how you would normally live.  That is your “goal”.  Then you have to break it down into how you can provide that for that time when the amount you provide outstrips what you take from the grid.  There are already solar lights for sheds so that takes them “off the system”.  Solar lights in the garden keep that pretty at night.  Ok they really do need to work on better batteries but with their experimentation into crystals that is already on the way (already powering watches) as they can grow them now.

With a combination of the magnetic wheel and water from the downpipe it may be possible to power a whole house from “waste water” and to put that “waste water” to more than one use before you “give it back” to the main water supply.

Copyright © 2022 Angela Timms

All rights reserved.

ISBN: 9798830916059

1 THE WEAVER OF DREAMS

Wizel looked around the cave.  He was a small, one foot tall, wizened old man with pointy ears and scant hair.  His brown wool jerkin was tied with a bit of twine and hung over his baggy cream trousers which in turn were tucked into his brown cloth boots.  He was supposed to be alone.  Or he thought he was.  He didn’t see Rak above him, lurking in the shadows.  Rak looked like him, similarly skinny but dressed in black, with black hair and much, much younger.  Rak’s long sinuous fingers wrapped around the rocks which allowed him to cling precariously to a nearby flat wall while he stared down at the bald head of the imp with the long pointed nose and long rheumy fingers.  Those fingers were knotted like old sticks and as he tried to tie up a parcel with brown string Wizel made little grunting noises as the paper and string slipped away from him.

Rak thought about helping but that would mean that Wizel would find out he was there and he didn’t want that.  Wizel had something he wanted and once he was gone he would climb down and get it And a few other things for his trouble.  He’d already looked around the room at the eclectic mix of old furniture and fascinating objects.  He had no idea what they were but they were either valuable or useful, he couldn’t decide which.  It wouldn’t matter, he’d find a use for them once the old one went to bed.

Time passed and Rak’s fingers began to ache and he did feel slightly dizzy from hanging almost upside down.  He could hear Wizel humming but there was something more in the sound, words he couldn’t understand woven into the humming.  He realized too late that Wizel was casting a spell and as he fell to the ground with a thump his dulling mind thought.  “Oh blast!”.  That was as much as he could manage before it all went dark.

Wizel looked down at the Raksasi.  It was still only a foot tall but had become black and scaley as the image of an imp like Wizel faded away.  The magic that had created the illusion of the creature being an imp was gone, the spell broken.  The creature was frozen in a hideous pose with its fingers still gripping empty air where the rocks had been before Wizel had removed them magically from his grip and frozen him.

Rak’s skin was now leathery where it wasn’t scaly, black, his wings folded under a thick carapace like a bug’s wing.  Useless now of course as the creature lay frozen, its unseeing eyes still open, its mouth open in its last comment before it had slid into a forced unconsciousness.

Wizel looked down at the creature and poked it with his pointy boot.  “Are you dead?  No, you can’t be dead, I didn’t use that spell.  Ok you are unconscious so you aren’t just being rude.  Are you unconscious?” Rak couldn’t answer.

Wizel looked down again and went to the fire and found the poker and gave the Raksasi a firm poke in what he estimated would be the ribs if they had ribs.  Nothing happened.

Wizel took out a gnarled old wand from the long thin leather pouch he kept it in and waved it above the prone creature and whispered ancient words.  He pulled a misty stream from the creature’s head which became solid and hung in the air, a sheet of mist with words forming on it.

Wizel read the words and grunted.  “So, you want to steal from me do you?  Well, you will not.  You will now go and never return.  In fact you will never remember you were here and you will not remember what you wanted.” 

He waved his wand and the creature disappeared with a slight popping noise and the smell of violets.  Wizel smiled, he liked the violet smell, it was his own personal addition to his magic.

He rubbed his pointy chin with his gnarly fingers.  “Darn it, the Red Queen won’t like this.  Raksasi in the Queendom.  That is bad, that is really bad.  Something bad is going on and I’m far too old to be a hero again and I bet I get mixed up in all this.  I bet the Queen will have something to say.  Perhaps one last adventure for me then before I completely retire.  Although I am already supposed to be retired.”  He spoke to the empty air.

He looked along his bookcase which was stuffed full of tatty paperback novels he had stolen from Earth gathered on his visits.  “Well is this how a great adventure starts?  At least I didn’t have my village burnt, my family murdered and a huge chip placed firmly on my muscly shoulders.”

He fluffed himself up and looked in the mirror as an elderly weedy reflection looked back and shattered his mental illusion.  “Oh well, never mind.  I will have to do.”

He went to a big dark wood chest and pulled open the bottom drawer.  He reached inside and pulled out a flat black disc with a red label and a hole in the middle.  “I still have it.  Silly creature failed.  I still hold it in my hands and now I have remembered it.  I don’t know how I forgot it.  It was so important wasn’t it?  I must be getting very, very old.”

Wizel looked down at the 78” record and smiled to himself.  “Yes, I still have it but shame I don’t still have “it”.”

There was a crack of thunder and a flash of red light and Wizel and the record disappeared.

The Red Queen sat on her ebony throne.  Her long red curls cascaded down over her blood red velvet dress.  She looked up when Wizel appeared on the thick red carpet in front of her in her gold embellished throne room.

She almost smiled as Wizel found his feet, saw her and then fell over backwards as he realized where he was.

A small white rabbit, wearing a red velvet squires’ livery with the Queen’s flaming unicorn on it grabbed a bowl which held floating candles and threw the contents over Wizel who was just coming around anyway and trying to stand up.  Wizel then jumped up with a squeal and glared at the unfortunate creature who cowered, muttering.  “Please don’t turn me into anything else, I’ve only just got used to being a rabbit.  I was just trying to help.”

Wizel stood up, the water dripping from his pointed nose and was about to speak but the Red Queen cut him off by raising her hand.  “Wizel, you have brought it to us?  I thank you.  You have served us well.  You will be rewarded.  Now you must do what must be done, one last adventure.  Like I told you all those years ago when you first brought it back.  That is old magic you are holding.  The magic of dreams bound into a black disc which came from the Earth place.  The music has power, the song chosen to wake the dreaming one.  She must now return to their world.  The time is right.  Take it and play it on their music box and make the dragon wake up.  It is the time.”

Wizel bowed his head and he could feel his knees knocking together.  He wasn’t sure if it was the chill of the water which was running down his back and neck or pure terror at standing in front of the most scary woman he had ever met.  Or perhaps the thought of crossing the realms and entering the “World of Men” was what scared him.  It was indeed a truly terrifying thought even though he had done it many times before.  He decided it was the Queen mostly and tried to find his courage to look up again.

The Red Queen cleared her throat.  “We will be expecting you to do your duty again.  You must take the black disc to the land of men as it will restore magic to their world.”

Wizel spoke without thinking and immediately bit his tongue.  “Why?”  In his mind they were mortals and their world without magic was their world.  “Many creatures will be awoken or able to return if “she” is awoken.” 

It took a mere moment for all the thoughts of the old times where elves and pixies played in the ancient woodlands to flood through his tiny head.  It took only a further moment before a dark shadow crept over his mind’s eye as he saw the mechanized glass and stone world where magic was for stories and the old fears and respects were buried.  “What space does mankind have for old fears of strange creatures in the horrors of the man created warlike world?  Where will the mystic creatures fit in amongst a world where everything has to be scientifically explained.  Where does faith fit in where people have to know, have to have everything proven and documented.  Of course absolute proof takes out the element of the wondrous and infinite.”

The Queen smiled to herself and drew herself up to her full height on the throne.  “Would you dare to question me?  You will do as you are told.”

Wizel bowed several times as low as he could and nearly fell over.  Over and over again he declared.  “Your wish is my command.  Your wish is my command.”

The Queen smiled a cold smile.  “Yes, I know.  I understand your reservations and in part share them but it must be.”

The rabbit had backed away and was cowering behind a chair which was one of a line of chairs set out for their official occupiers on meeting days.  They were all empty.  The room was empty other than the Queen, Wizel and the rabbit.  The rabbit was nearly hiding himself, it took all his courage to stay standing in front of the Queen.  The rabbit at that point moved from cowering to actually trying to crawl under a chair.  All Wizel could see were a pair of ears which were shaking and the bob of a tail which didn’t quite fit behind the chair.  It was a very small chair, made for the Queen’s court of Fey.  These were of course tiny when they chose to be and huge when they wanted to be.  For the sake of many thousands of chairs which were solid gold the Queen preferred them to appear before her as tiny.  

Wizel looked around the room, looking for something he could use to change the subject but then his eyes were drawn back to the wand which lay across the Queen’s lap.  He knew what that wand could do and he knew she was not afraid to use it.

Wizel shut his eyes as he saw the Red Queen raise her wand.  He felt the ground shift and the softness of the carpet was replaced by a slightly deeper softness and the smell of damp loam from the woodland floor.

He opened his eyes, first one and then the other.  It was dark, not pitch black, illuminated by the soft twinkling of a myriad of stars which created a canopy over his head.  He could make out some of the constellations, the plough, Orion and others.  He could clearly see them through the circular gap in the tree canopy.  The trees were around him, not above making a round disc of stars.

He was also standing in a circle of tree stumps within the circle of evergreen living trees. 

The clearing was part of a garden to the side of a farmhouse. 

To his right, between the garden and the house there was a bubbling brook which tumbled down a small waterfall, slipped gurgling under a bridge made of wooden half fencing posts before it rushed off into the darkness under the road below.

He could hear birds singing and the sound of sheep.  Somewhere a cockerel crowed and he knew he was on Earth.  He took a deep breath.  Not that he had expected the Queen’s spell to fail but with magic there was always the possibility, however slight and however powerful you are.  He took a deep breath and climbed up and sat on the stump which was a little taller than him.  He still held the record which was as big as he was and swiftly slipped it into a bag he had in his pocket with great care.  The bag shrank itself and the record to a small size so that he could carry it easily.  He then began to worry about the horrible things that could happen to him if he did break it and then he spent more moments trying to forget about those thoughts

He looked around and in the shadows something moved.  Something black, velvety and deadly.  He knew what cats were.  Previous visits to Earth had provided a few very close shaves with a furry feline and he had no intention of getting caught this time either.  He saw her emerald eyes and sharp claws and wicked natural intent and he knew if she caught him it would be all over for him.  He took his wand and waved it and the resulting flash meant that the cat gave a surprised yowl and disappeared off back into the shadows.

Wizel froze as he heard a voice.  It was a language he had not heard for many years, a voice he could understand.  It was like a sheep bleat but not quite the same.  It was a fairy sound.  It was one that he had known from the grey mists of time and a creature who had always served his kind as a loyal mount and friend.  He heard a goat.

He followed the sound and crossed the bridge.  When he got to the other side of the stream he could clearly see the farmhouse which was feet away, its lights dark, its white wall glowing in the moonlight under the trees and the huge ancient fuchsia bush which was also as big as a tree.  The walkway down the side of the house was filled with slushy rotting leaves.  Behind the house was a steep bank so he climbed it.  It was difficult to start with as the soil was quite loose.   

Further up the hill he could see the dark shadows of two sheds.  They too were in darkness.  To the right of them there was a grey stone building with three doors.  He tried to move quietly but even his tiny feet made a noise in the layers of leaves and twigs.  He dived for cover at the sound that came from this building.  The hounds of hell were coming to get him.  They howled as they smelt something strange in their territory.  The sound echoed in the stillness of the night waking animals and resonating around the valley.  It was an ancient sound that was primal and wild.  He was certain the hounds would come and get him but as they fell silent his rational thought told him that the doors were shut and he was quite safe as they were locked away.  They had obviously sensed his otherworldly presence which had unnerved them.

Wizel picked himself up from the dark corner he had been hiding in, brushed the leaves off of his tattered brown wool tunic and smoothed his trousers down.  He smoothed his hair and stood up straight, gathering his thoughts.

“Creatures of the Wolfkind, I am not of your realm.  I will not hurt you if you will not hurt me.”  He smiled as he felt he had soothed them and calmed them.  He didn’t like harming or upsetting any animal.

He jumped as one of them answered him back.  “I am Jackeran of the Ukerajkus, Keeper of the Light for Wolfkind.  I know you for what you are and you are welcome in our lands.  I and my canine friends will not harm you.”

Wizel looked surprised as an answer was not what he was expecting.  He had heard of Jackeran.  The wolf spirit could inhabit a wolf or dog to give itself a presence in different realms.  “Great Wolf of the North.  Why are you here and how are you here?”

Jackeran laughed a gutteral woofy sort of a laugh.  “I am tired of the politics of the races.  I am here because I can choose where I want to be.  I wish no more than to be a faithful hound, to be fed on time and to be a loyal dog.  I would not be a man again for all the dog food in Morrisons.  The question is why are you here and where are you going?  To see the goats?  You better not be intending to harm them.  I would not allow that.”

Wizel shifted his weight.  He was feeling increasingly less secure as he knew that the doors of the dog kennel would not hold Jackeran if he chose to break them down.  “It is a secret.”

Jackeran growled slightly.  “You carry hope in your bag.  Why do you not trust me with your secret?”

Wizel jumped.  “How do you know?

Jack spoke quietly, his voice like velvet.  “Fool, I am old, the world is young and what you hold in your bag is old magic.  I can smell it.”

Wizel looked surprised.  He was trying to stop his legs from shaking.  “It is only a record, an old record and not as old as you are saying.”

Jack snuffled the cage bars and thought about breaking them.  He frowned but he sat down.  “The magic is old.  The record is young.  One does not preclude the other.  The goats will not help you you know.  They serve the Frixian in the house and they will not let you take anything from here.  Nor will the mistress and master.”

Wizel grunted.  “You know too much and you assume too much or you are trying to make me tell you.  What I have to do is important.  I cannot let them stop me but that is not a threat.  If they know what I am doing they will want to help me surely.”

Jack cocked his head to one side.  “Well if it wasn’t such a secret that might be the truth.  Speak your truth and you may get some help.”

Wizel looked around nervously.  “I assumed that I had to do a great quest and travel many miles across dangerous terrain.”

Jack laughed which ended up as a half bark, half laugh.  “Fool, you read too much.  You need to play that record, see I know your secret.  That is all you need to do.  Are you a great warrior?  I don’t think so.  So the task you are set must suit what you can do.  It is an old record but I know that mistress has a record player that is quite old and may well be able to play it.”

Wizel looked into the darkness.  “So how do I get it played?  It must be played.”

Jack nodded his big hairy German Shepherd head somewhere in the darkness of the kennel.  “Indeed it must so put it in that shed you can see.  There is a silver metal barrel with other records in it.  Put it on top of the others and when you are finished you must go and find the Frixians who live in the house, Widget and Gadget.  They will help you.  You will find them in the living room.”

Wizel stood outside the dog kennel in the moonlight.  The scent of Geraniums filled his senses.  The loamy earth under his feet was soft and rutted with old footprints and paw prints.  

He didn’t know if the humans in the house would be awake although probably not as it was the early hours of the morning and that made him cautious.  He couldn’t hear anything but that didn’t mean that they weren’t awake so he walked down the hill very carefully.  Step by step, his feet making very little sound as they came into contact with the soil, grass and the rock which protruded between the grass.  He could see where he was going, now that he was out of the trees the moonlight lit his way.  He almost relaxed before the light outside the house came on.  He had been found by the sensor and the hillside lit up.  Without thinking he dived sideways and landed in a patch of stinging nettles.  The tingling sensation crawled over any part of his body that wasn’t covered by clothes and he swore, knowing that he would now feel that horrible sensation for hours.  He also had to lay there, waiting for the light to go out and that was torture.  It didn’t take long, the light went out and he leapt up.  Of course that set the light off again and he dived back into the nettles.  Again the stinging sensation found all the parts of his skin that had been missed the last time and again he lay there, thinking about what had happened until he worked it out.  

The house was dark and quiet.  Wizel guessed that they would be sleeping upstairs so after cautiously peering in through the cat flap he climbed through it and emerged onto the tiled floor of what looked like a kitchen diner.  

His little feet didn’t make much sound as he tip toed to the first step which was as tall as he was.  He stood on his tip toes and reached up.  He grabbed the metal edge strip using it to pull himself up onto the next step.  One foot on top and pulled himself up.  He then did the same up onto the next step.  Now rather out of breath but triumphant he stood on the top of the two steps and looked around the room.  It was near to pitch black, the only glow coming from electric equipment in the corner, the television and DVD player.  It did light his way across the floor, past the dining table and chairs and past the dark wood kitchen.  He wasn’t sure if he was going the right way but as the main part of the house was that way and there didn’t seem to be another way but he hoped he was right.  There didn’t seem to be a record player in the room he was in, so next door it would have to be.

More stairs.  This time going down.  He looked down the steps and sighed.  He crouched down, put a hand on the top step, then the other and then lowered himself down.  Then he did the same and then the same again.  

At the bottom of the stairs he stopped.  The door was shut.  He gave it a push and sighed with relief as the door wasn’t locked or latched and although it was heavy he managed to open it when he pushed with all his strength.

The room beyond was dark, very dark.  As he stepped through the slightly open door then froze as a voice made him jump.  “What are you doing here imp?”

Wizel bowed to the three foot tall creature who stood in front of him.  She was three times his height and nearly as tall as a kitchen cabinet.  Her hair was long, black and curly.  Her pointed ears protruded from her curls.  “Greetings oh guardian of the house.  I have come to fulfil a task I was given by the Red Queen.  Jackeran said you might be able to help me.”

The creature physically shuddered.  “If Her Majesty wishes it then we will help.  I can feel this is true, her mark is with you.  So what do we have to do?  How can we help?”

Wizel smiled and he relaxed.  “I came with a record that has been kept for many years.  It must be played now.  It is a song which was recorded by a human called Nat King Cole many years ago but there is something in the words and music which will wake up the Weaver of Dreams.  She is important as mankind needs to dream, if mankind can dream again of the old magic then magic and magical creatures will return to the world.  The darkness of the Goblians and other wicked creatures have grown strong here.  We hope that having good magical dreams will help to fight them off.”

Widget looked as confused as a material faced puppet could look, she tilted her head to the side.  “So, who are you?  Tell me what we need to do next?”

Wizel bowed again.  “I am sorry, I am forgetting all my manners in my haste.  I am Wizel, currently in the service of the Red Queen and formerly of the Purple Watch and various other honorary and other more robust titles that I will not bore you with.  May I ask who you are?”

Widget curtseyed gracefully, or rather as gracefully as a stuffed puppet who hadn’t been in that body long can.  “I am Stellastar Widget, Daughter of the Frixian Realm and Custodian and Guardian of the TAVERN.”

Wizel had heard of the TAVERNS.  They had long been the transport of the Peacekeepers and the Truth Masters but he knew from his history and rumours that they had been lost for many years.  He had no reason to doubt her, she looked sincere but he was surprised.

Widget looked sad.  “How will playing the record and bringing dreams back help?  Mankind is selfish and opinionated and disbelieves what is true just because they can.  They are more interested in owning the latest Audi from the catalogue than caring about their world unless it suits them to make them feel good or to balance the bad that they do.  You never know I suppose, bringing back dreams may bring a change.”

Wizel coughed.  “So you don’t like mankind much?”

Widget smiled slightly.  “I don’t like what mankind has done to such and beautiful and magical world.  I don’t like it that mankind no longer fears the dark or respects nature’s ability to fight back.”

Wizel smiled to himself, a sympathetic smile.  “If the music is played and magic returns to this realm then all the Old Ways will return too.  Magic will be real again and no amount of using group disbelief will banish it again.”

Widget smiled a wistful smile.  “We must play the record then.”

In the darkness someone woke, the mistress of the house.  She looked around the darkened room and felt something she had not felt for a very long time.  She could smell blackcurrants and there was a strange light in the room as three tall white people, a woman, a man and an older man with a very long beard walked through the wall beside her bed and stepped towards https://mail.yahoo.com/d/folders/1/messages/205754?guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly9sb2dpbi55YWhvby5jb20v&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAGLJ3XXZgWqzp17Xu0pYt4WsoipkdeqY4smkNtl3edHoD13Suhh4Eu2Tnd12aPfFpIAUaubUikVrSKvBOf6BxbVD2dsbTmXPhZc0aohSyaBRseFfqaruAKpUi89ZcUGtMz09R_3YDrOyqQxJ4HGEIkOgk31Z2mYky9Ov8Fr9_JYCher.

She smiled, memories flooding back of her childhood when they had visited her before.  “Am I dreaming?”  She whispered.

They bowed their heads and the first of them spoke.  She was very feminine and held her elegant long limbs with poise.  Her long white hair tumbled down her back and over her the shoulders of her long gown swaying gently as she raised her hands reassuringly.  “Are you sleeping?”

The woman looked up into the visitor’s face.  There was a gentle light in her visitor’s eyes as she felt reassured.  “I was.  Am I sleeping?  Am I dreaming?”

All three smiled.  The woman.  The man with a long beard and matching robes who stood beside her and the older man who stood behind them.  Then the younger man spoke.  “Do you remember us?”

The woman nodded her head.  “It has been years.  Was I dreaming then?  Am I dreaming now?”

The younger man smiled kindly.  “In this world there is a boundary between dream, illusion and reality.  Although we are not what you would call real as in we have physical bodies, we exist, and we are.  This is important.  We need you to do something for the world and it is a very simple something.  We need you to go to your shed and open your parents’ record tin and bring the top record back to the house.  We would then like you to play the record.  It is important.  Tomorrow we need you to do something else.  We would like you to go to your small barn, the one you made into the TAVERN and pick up the key that your father used to own, the big old fashioned one and put it back on its hook.  We must go now but please do these things for us.”

Angel sat on the side of her bed.  Her bare feet touched the cold wood beneath her feet.  She slipped her feet into her slippers and slipped on her silken gown before walking to the door in the moonlight.  To get to the stairs she walked through bedroom turned into the walk in wardrobe, shut the door and put the light on.  

The stairs creaked slightly as she walked down.  The narrow stairway as always commanding concentration as there had been a couple of times that she had missed a step and nearly fallen.  When she was on the bottom step she pushed the door open at the bottom and stepped down onto the stone multi coloured floor of the room below.

Wizel and Widget ran into the back kitchen when they heard footsteps so by the time the woman got to the door they were long gone.  They watched from the back kitchen, through the serving hatch and saw her open the front door, slip on some boots and go outside, leaving the internal door open.

The woman stepped out into the chilled moonlight night which bathed her face in a mystical glow.  Her black hair a stark contrast to her pale skin, her hazel eyes reflecting a slight golden tint.  She looked around, sensing the magic that was in the air and smelling the night air.  She took a deep breath, breathing it deep into her lungs so that she could feel the chill.  She walked slowly and carefully as if she was in a dream, trying to work out if she was awake or not.  It was hard to tell as the whole place looked mystical.  She walked across the stone balcony outside the house.  The rough grey concrete seemed to sparkle as the quartz in the stone caught the moonlight.  The ivy and bushes had overgrown and the slightly rusty gate took a little effort to open.  She lifted the latch and opened the metal gate which was partially overgrown.  She had often looked down at the ball shaped stones which protruded from the concrete the other side of the gate and wondered why.  They didn’t make it less slippery, on the contrary she had often wondered if they made it worse but there they were embedded in concrete, a slab of stone which ended with a definite step out on to the grass.  In contrast the grass was soft and springy underfoot and she kept to the edges of the track up the hill beside the house where it grew undamaged by the quad bike and walked slowly up the hill.  The night was chilled, cloudless and the moon bright enough for her not to need a torch as she was very used to the hill in the evening.  The dim light was enough. 

She followed the small hedge on top of a mound on her left hand side until it opened up between the two posts which had long since had their gate removed.  Beyond this it opened up into an odd shape created by previous plans by previous owners where trees and shrubs had been planted which had grown beyond their original size and at least one path which had been steps up the side of the hill went nowhere.  To her right the metal shed where the animal food was stored was silhouetted by the moon beyond.  It was most of the way across the sky so she knew that the hour was late.  She had mastered knowing the time during the day by the sun but she hadn’t quite worked out the night movements of the moon.  The trees beyond the shed clung to the hill and seemed skeletal at that time of the year testament to the winter’s chill.  The young beech was yet to sprout and the leaves were conspicuously missing leaving the whole area vulnerable to wind.   It was mere steps to the slightly chopped up area in front of the dog kennel and as soon as she got close all of the dogs barked.  Jackeran started it, questioning who was outside but they fell silent when they detected the comforting and recognizable scent of their owner.  Jackeran thought about it but he knew what was going on.  He stood on his back legs, his front legs high up the metal dog cage inside the door but it was futile, he couldn’t see out of the front of the kennel, he could only imagine what was happening.

He heard his mistress go to the shed.  He heard the door open.  He heard the tin open and he sensed the movement of magic as she picked up the record.  

Angel carried the record back to the house.  She was careful and bemused as she went back into the main house and locked the door behind her.

Widget put a hand up to stop Wizel as he leant so far forwards from their hiding place that he nearly fell out into the room.  He stepped back with a slight sound on the stone floor.  

The woman walked slowly across the room.  Half of the room was on the same level as the front door.  The other half was raised slightly.  The lower level was next to the kitchen diner, the higher level led to the guest room and had been put in to allow wheelchair access from the guest room which at the time had been the owner’s room when she needed it.  On the upper level there was a long old fashioned 1970s style stereo gram which was a long wooden piece of furniture. 

She lifted the lid and turned the “on” knob.  The machine leapt into life.  The light came on for the radio and Radio One filled the concentrated silence.  There was a loud electronic thunk as it turned on.  There as a crackle as the power ran through it.  The room was illuminated by it as 78 was selected by moving the black plastic bar on the record deck and 33rpm.  The record slipped onto the central bar and sat on the stack bar.  A quick pinch with a finger and it slipped down over the bar and landed gently on the turntable.  Another flip of a switch and the turntable started to rotate.  

Widget was holding what would have been a breath if she could actually breathe.  The woman was also.  Wizel was facing the other way with his hands over his head waiting for something dramatic and possibly dangerous to happen.

The turntable revolved as the arm of the stereogram picked up, the arm swung across to the record and gently settled the needle into the groove.

Music filled the air, the room and the world.  A Weaver of Dreams by Nat King Cole. 

Widget felt the magic as did Wizel.  A tear rolled down Wizel’s face.  He really wanted to step out into the room and share the moment.  He was so tempted but he knew that he shouldn’t be seen by any mortal.  They weren’t ready to see what was really out there yet.  It did make him feel lonely though.

In a cave in North Wales, under Dynas Emrys, something stirred.  Something woke up.

In a cavern a woman lay on a table in a glass coffin.  The coffin was surrounded by eternally living red roses which grew out of the stonework around the cave.  Her face was young, though that was unrealistic for the years she had existed.  Her lips were as red as the roses.  Her pale skin reflected light from the ever burning candles that had been set around her coffin.  Her deep red dress was plain with lacing up the bodice and hand embroidered lace decoration around the neck.  It was meticulously laid out with each fold neatly placed.  Her eyes were shut until the sound of the music filled the cavern.  

She opened her eyes and reached up and pushed the lid off of the coffin. 

It was hinged and opened easily.

She sat up and looked around the room, her eyes blinking as the candles filled the darkness that she had felt for so many years with light that made her eyes sting.  She pulled herself up.  Her muscles lazy from little use.  She got to her feet, wobbling slightly, and stepped over the side of the coffin and jumped down onto the dusty floor.  Her tiny red satin ballet shoes becoming instantly covered in dust.

Sleepily she stretched her long white arms, her fingers reaching into the air and she rubbed her eyes.  Music filled the air and she had to listen.  It filled her very soul and reminded her of who she had been before her enforced long, long sleep.  

She took a step forwards, staggering slightly as her legs were weak from her long sleep.  Then she remembered it all.  The thoughts and memories bursting through her sleep soaked mind.  She was the Weaver of Dreams.  That was her job, her life and all that she had been, was and ever would be and she had been denied this for far too long.  She sighed, holding her hands together in a silent prayer and vow that it would never happen again.  

She whispered even though she knew there was nobody there to overhear and silence her.  “I am the Weaver of Dreams.  I call on my dream mares and stallions.  Come and take dreams to those who need them.  Nightmares, come and take dreams to those who need to know the fear of the night and the dark things in life.  Come my children, we have work to do.”

Silence, a moment when she wondered if things had changed so much while she slumbered in the arms of Morpheus.  Were they all trapped as she had been?  Were they dead, killed by mankind’s neutrality or despair?  A cold chill ran through her and in panic she looked around the confines of her cave which had been her prison for so many years.  What if?  The thought gnawed at her.  There was nothing she could hold onto.  Her faith and hope were leaves on the wind now that she had been trapped for so many years.  Her confident complacency of the previous time evaporated into the ether.  Was she standing alone in a cave beneath the ancient place where once Dragon Kings had met or was this the beginning of the return of dreams where her dream horses would gallop majestically to answer her call?  Her self doubt was debilitating, it was silencing her call and drowning out her inner voice with a cacophony of other unwanted voices.  She knew that to do anything her call must be pure, her intent definite and the sound would then vibrate through the ether can call them, if they were indeed still there.

She calmed herself.  Instinctively she visualized herself as a tree, her roots growing down into the earth.  The red energy of Mother Earth flowed like a river up through her filling her from her feet to her head.  The doubt faded away as the red energy cleansed her and her voice sounded like a bell, calling the dream horses from their rest, from their prisons, from all the places that the darkness had sought to hide or imprison them.

Her call was answered by a thunderous sound of hooves even though the mares would have no solid hoof to hit a solid ground to make such a noise.  Horses appeared everywhere.  They came through the walls, leaping down from heights and through the ceiling and the floor.  Manes and tails flowed free in the non existent wind.  They came to stand in lines then as one their reared up and let out a neigh that echoed through the ether.  Some were emaciated, some bore scars, some bore deep cuts where they had been bound.  Their manes lacked luster and their coats were patchy from years of entrapment by the Goblians.  Every horse on Planet Earth heard their cry of freedom and answered and many horse owners were left wondering what had happened.

Woken from their slumber many horse owners ran to their horses’ aid only to find their horses calm and content.  Social media hummed with the discussions and questions but despite a myriad of theories nobody knew why but they wrote it in their diaries and it was recorded for all time.

A white mare stood before the Weaver of Dreams.  Her body and stance the mirror of the white Lipizzaner horses of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna.  The Weaver had always thought that.  The black Nightmares the mirror of the glorious black Friesian horses.  It had always bemused her that the black Nightmares had long flowing feathers around their hooves, the white Dreammares having none.

The white mare bowed her head and then shook it.  The horses waited, stallion and mare standing shoulder to shoulder so that they could fit in the cave.  Some were not quite inside as there was no room for them despite the cave being at least a hundred feet long.  They stood half in the cave, half in the wall.  As one their backs sprouted feathered wings, their hooves sprouting smaller wings as they stamped and pranced in an equine tattoo before they stood silent, waiting, wings furled awaiting their Mistresses’ command.  Injuries healed, scars faded and bodies filled out until they stood, as one, majestic and glorious.

The Weaver smiled as elation flowed through every sinew of her body.  She looked down the lines of majestic horses who towered above her and couldn’t help being slightly daunted by them.  “My friends, I have been asleep a long time.  I am sure you all have had experiences, good or bad which are tales to be told and which should be told.  Take your time to be who you are again.  The problem is that I can’t remember what to do?”  She really couldn’t.  She reached into her memory but she couldn’t remember how to make dreams.  She had been asleep in a void of nothingness, steeped in the mundanity of the mortal world, for too long.  

The head mare bowed down so that her nose was level with the Weaver, she reached forwards and put her head over the Weaver’s shoulder.  All was silence, all the Weaver could hear was the drip, drop of water on its eternal journey from the surface to the underground aquifer which flowed to the sea. In her head the Weaver heard a voice.  “You will remember.”

The Weaver looked around the cavern.  It was bare other than the horses and the coffin that had been her prison.  Then she spotted something.  There was an alcove in the far wall, a small one and in the alcove there was a wooden goblet bound with metal.  It looked old, very old and as she noticed it she could feel the power coming from it.  

The Dream Weaver walked towards it.  Her legs were weak and she almost fell as the horses parted to make a path for her.  The head mare stepped beside her so that the Weaver could hold her mane to walk, aided by the mare’s solid frame, to the alcove.  

She climbed up onto the rocks in front of the alcove and reached up.  Her fingers could barely touch it.  But, by climbing on the mare’s back she was able to reach it and she lifted it from its rest and climbed down.  There was nothing in it.  She had expected something inside or something to happen but nothing did.

The horses parted and the dripping water began to coalesce into a rivulet and the rivulet increased into a stream which flowed across the floor of the cavern, growing deeper and deeper.  

Some of the horses were startled by this and backed away but, after recovering their composure, they managed to fall back into line, leaving what was now a deep stream flowing across the cave.

The Weaver thought about it.  “Well I suppose I should put the water into the goblet.”

The water was cave chilled icy cold.  It sparkled as the fresh spring water filled the goblet and it seemed to glow.  It was then that the Weaver thought about how she was managing to see anything at all in the cave which should have been dark.  It enticed her and she knew what the right thing to do was.  She took a deep breath and then took a long drink from the goblet.  The chilled water ran over her tongue, filling her mouth and she swallowed it.

Then she remembered.

She opened her hand and touched each of the horses as they came to her, one by one, before galloping off through the walls.  Through the morning they galloped which was night for some, finding all those who were still asleep.  The rest circled the world, waiting for night to fall and for the rest to go to sleep.  

That night everyone dreamed.  The night air was full of it and by the morning creativity flowed as the dreams were written about, spoken about and thoughts turned to what all the dreams meant.

(c) Copyright Angela Timms 2022

1

 Kel hesitated outside the door and took a deep, dry and slightly dusty breath. He held it for a moment to calm his nerves and then breathed out. Anticipation and doubts ran through his mind in a spiralling twist of excitement and fear.

He looked over his shoulder for a moment as his body tensed. The young man involuntarily brushed the bulge of the Kerillian Blaster that hung underneath his coat. He found it reassuring. He was alone on the dusty windswept veranda that circled the building. Kel could see both ways clearly as light flooded from the windows. This light illuminated a patch of boardwalk as if a spotlight highlighted something of value nearby. The only other illumination on the street came from the houses between the shops, the whorehouse down the road and the livery stable. The doors of the stable were open.  Inside, the lanterns were lit and the owner was busily bedding down the horses as the last of them came in for the night, their riders trail worn and dusty.

Kel turned to focus on the weather beaten bare wood door in front of him. He was a tall man, broad shouldered and muscular. His black curls tumbled down his back over his black leather duster coat.  As he paused at the door, the crow feathers woven into his hair moved about by the gusting wind.

The scent of old wood, stale alcohol and smoke filled his senses mixed with a vague aroma of sweet grass. He hesitated for a moment, his eyes flashing from left to right, trying to penetrate the darkness that hung between every building. Something in a latent memory was troubling him but nothing he could grasp, so he translated it as a feeling that someone was watching him. Deep down he knew it was just the unusual feeling of being outside after so many months on star bases. He mentally brushed it aside as irrelevant, though it lingered disturbingly on the edge of his consciousness.

His six foot six frame almost brushed the top of the doorway. When he opened the door, his muscular shoulders blocked the light from flooding out. He took a deep breath and strode inside. He scoured the room with his gaze, assessing the threat level before he turned slightly and closed the door behind him. With no hesitation, once inside, he took a step. His heavy metal shod boots were noiseless over the hum of conversation. He looked around the bar.  The man’s dark eyes did a visual sweep of the area. Determination accentuated his brow and thick set, handsome, slightly primitive features.  Those who noticed him fell silent and looked away, trying not to get noticed. Others continued their conversation oblivious to the imposing, menacing stranger. He strode toward the bar, his coat sweeping just above the dusty sawdust strewn floor. As he walked it swung away to reveal his blasters which looked to anyone who was paying attention like a pair of Colt Peacemakers, one on each side.   The belt of daggers across his chest glinted in what little light there was. Some saw the guns, some the daggers. Those who noticed either instinctively fingered weaponry to experience the reassurance of its proximity.

The candlelight cast an eerie glow over the faces of those who sought solace and entertainment at the Black Lamb Tavern. The wind outside howled around the buildings making the tavern sign swing. There was little left of the painting of a black lamb, it was blasted by the weather and bullet holes. The gusts of wind blew rubbish and vegetation down the street and around the small tavern in the outback town known as Whitewater on the planet of Kulak. It was a tiny planet almost lost in its solar system. It was an insignificant green and blue ball that nestled precariously between two far larger planets as the three jauntily orbited their shared sun. 

On this tiny planet, the mining town buildings were generally built of wood as they clung tenaciously to the wide main street. Some had obviously been constructed in a hurry a long time ago and the planks of wood that had been nailed together, to make repairs, gave the buildings a patchwork appearance. Paint appeared to be as rare as gold, since those planks were as weather beaten as the others. The only paint that was visible was on the shop fronts where their owners had made a real effort. These were freshly done and a stark contrast to the shabby thrown together appearance of the rest of the town.

Across the road from the Black Lamb and on almost every corner there was a shop eager to supply those who travelled many miles for their specialist stock. The hand painted signs announced exotic bottled white water or other strange white water concoctions.

Inside the tavern Kel was looking around the room again and taking in faces. That made the inhabitants nervous and many tensed their hands involuntarily or voluntarily moved to where concealed or not so concealed weaponry was stored. Conscious that he was alone in a bar full of strangers who were probably all armed, he cautiously eyed his probable antagonists. His body tensed, expecting trouble at any moment. Then, as moments passed, Kel re-evaluated and then adjusted his impressions of this back water place. To even the casual observer it was obvious that what was considered a low level of technology by many, was actually quite the opposite. Although not overtly obvious, as Kel took in the scene, it didn’t take him long to spot the technology. He noticed a watch here, a terminal there, a keypad in an open bag. He noticed one or two eyes that were too bright in the darkness, hands moving small black boxes around on the wooden table tops or wearing black gloves, their owners staring into space with an intent expression as their fingers moved almost imperceptibly. There was enough for him to realize that what seemed primitive concealed an underlying level of development he had not been expecting. He raised an eyebrow when it occurred to him that he was being scanned and targeted by many weapons that were carefully concealed.

Each table was lit by a candle dug into a mound of wax from previous candles and rows of candles hung from the ceiling at strategic points around the room. The tables were old, their wood worn by countless customers over the years and obviously mended many times. The tavern itself was rustic, the windows dusty and the floorboards coated with a dusting of dirty wood shavings meant to soak up the blood of hapless drunken warriors.

The bar stretched across the far wall of the room. Behind it the barman had been busying himself with washing glasses. Kel watched him as he broke off from his task to serve a couple of customers with a shot of whisky and a glass of a blue local drink before sitting down to chat with the  lone customer seated at the bar. He had obviously noticed Kel but he was either being subtle or overtly ignoring him. As Kel got to the bar the barman hesitated, came over and put his hands on the bar, cloth in hand to meet Kel’s glower.

The barman was a tall thin man in his mid-thirties.  His face was clean shaven other than a neatly trimmed moustache and his short, neatly combed hair Although he seemed to be trying to master a friendly expression, all that came through was a weasel-like countenance and a nervous demeanor. A box of broken glasses behind the bar wasn’t lost on Kel. Several lacerations on the barman’s face and hands had all been noted. Kel suspected that more than a bit of dried blood on the floor belonged to the barman.

The bar was crowded. Every table was full or nearly full and the hum of conversation filled the air. Most of the customers were smartly dressed. The men favored black suits, waistcoats and thin ties fastened around mandarin collars. The women elegantly fluttered about in wide hemmed and frilled long dresses which were held out by hoops. The women’s hair was generally dressed in curls which fell neatly to their shoulders.

In the corner a piano player was hammering out a tune and customers around the room involuntarily tapped out the rhythm with their fingers. It was only when the pianist reached for his drink and the piano carried on playing, the keys depressing by themselves that Kel realized he wasn’t playing at all. To the right a poker game was in full flow. Some customers were playing, some watched and the chips were piling up in the middle of the table. To the left was a roulette table, the wheel spinning, the resident’s financial fate hanging in the balance.

The barman took a deep breath and spoke in a broad accent. “And what can I get you sir?”

Kel looked about him, taking in the nervous expressions of those who were watching him, either overtly or covertly. “I’m looking for the Eridian Mercenary, Erasmus Deck. We received your narrowcast earlier today. I’m here to help.”

The barman looked relieved. “Thank the gods that someone was paying attention. He is upstairs, room seven. He has my barmaid with him. Please be careful, she’s a good girl. He arrived earlier today, demanded food and busted up a couple of my customers.”

Kel nodded once and the customers in the bar who had overheard what he had said now visibly relaxed and went back to their drinks. He could almost hear those safety catches clicking back on the many guns in the room.

Kel took the stairs two at a time, pulling his blasters from their holsters and kicking the door in as he sprang cat-like into the room. He fired two shots before Erasmus knew he was there. The red beams cut through the darkness and ripped into the semi naked man who fell back onto the bed. The barmaid screamed and rolled away from the now dead corpse, grabbing what was left of her torn clothing. She covered herself and ran for the door, past Kel and down the corridor.

Kel crossed the room and rolled the man over immediately taking in that everything about this man was expensive. He went through the pockets of the man’s clothes that were strewn around the room, pulling out ID cards and other items which he swiftly pocketed. Then he caught sight of a case in the corner. It was open and the contents lay on the table beside it. A radio transmitter and a small black box, a small book and what looked like a pen. Kel slipped these into his deep pockets, turned on his heels and left the room.

He strode down the stairs and threw a glance at the bar which was now silent. 

All eyes were on him.

The barman looked up and opened his mouth as if he was going to say something, hesitated then spoke in a broken voice. “Thanks.”

Kel strode on out of the bar, leaving a stunned silence as the door swung closed behind him.

The street outside was almost empty. Pockets of people stood around shop doorways and a couple of speeders which looked like carts without horses hovered along the dusty road. Kel stepped around the corner of the building as a Planet Hopper de-cloaked and the rear access ramp lowered. Its cylindrical chrome exoskeleton was starkly modern in contrast with the weather beaten wood of the buildings around it. A cat that had been stealthily stalking a mouse gave a loud meow and leapt to safety up a wooden wall and disappeared into the gloom.

Kel ran up the ramp as it closed behind him and the engines jumped into life. As he took his seat it glided effortlessly away with an almost silent swishing sound. Kel clipped on his seatbelt as the Hopper climbed sharply up out of the atmosphere, leaving the planet a blue and green ball ever decreasing in size.

The slight orange glow as they exited the planet’s atmosphere played on Kel’s face and illuminated the passenger hold. Everything was chrome and black, immaculately clean and efficiently stowed with the panels labelled to show what they contained.

The ship levelled out, inertial dampeners compensating for the acceleration of speed as it sped away from Kulak on the edge of the Nimbus Galaxy.

Kel smiled to himself as the intercom sprang into life and a silvery female voice spoke. “Welcome home Kel. I trust everything went smoothly?”

“Indeed, without a hitch. Style and grace Shantara style and grace.”

“No loose ends? Did you get what you were looking for?”

“He won’t be carrying any more messages and I did, thank you. I trust the wait wasn’t too tiresome.” He smiled to himself. His sullen features brightened as he raised an eyebrow and waited for her to answer.

“Not at all, always a pleasure. After all I had Rowland for company.” Unseen, Shantara scowled and contemplated the switches and buttons on the control panel.

A thicker male voice chipped in. “Thank you, very kind of you to say so.” Kel nearly choked and stifled his laughter. He knew that even Shantara with all her meditation and training sometimes had difficulty around Rowland and his constant irrelevant chatter. “Our informant was right. He did have the communication devices. Now it’s up to the tekkies to see what they can get out of them. What’s on the screen Shantara, it’s just figures to me. Anything I should worry about? The figures are red and they are counting up.”

The intercom crackled slightly. Rowland’s voice chipped in. “Nothing to worry about, I left it working on a power reading and forgot to switch back, it will just keep on ticking up until the numbers go green. That’s the battery recharging its particles as we gather them on leaving the atmosphere and entering the inter-dimensional space.”

Kel stared into space blankly but didn’t answer. The intercom crackled and Rowland’s voice came over it again, this time broken up. “It’s showing the recharge rate of the Eion Drive. I really must fix that intercom. Hold on a second.” It crackled and fell silent.

Kel cursed under his breath and shouted at the now dead intercom.

“Rowland just leave things alone. Great, now the intercom is broken and you are going to spend the next few hours trying to fix it. So what do I do now?” Then he realized he was actually talking to the dead intercom and shut up.

Shantara piped up. “Use the secondary intercom which only links to my headset. Its Rowland’s one that is broken. He is not getting his hands on mine. So, what do we do now to pass the time until we get back?”

Kel smiled. “No idea. I prefer the Hoppers where there’s a connection between the passenger hold and the crew cabin. Why didn’t we take one of those?”

Shantara took a while to answer. “Sorry, just removing some wires from over my control switches. Thank you Rowland, leave that alone or I swear I will shoot you. Right, that was in case we had trouble. The shielding between the crew cabin and passenger hold on the other Hoppers isn’t very strong, if you came in hot we could have been caught in the crossfire.”

Kel shrugged. “Can’t see why, they never worried on other missions. So, how long until we get back then?”

Rowland was mumbling something as Shantara clicked her intercom to speak. “Not long. So what are your plans for this evening?” Then she coughed nervously.

Kel looked down at the blaster in his hand and slipped it back into its holster and took the other one out. “I’ve booked the meditation room for a bit of unbridled sentimentality. It has been two years since the Followers raided my village. I thought I’d mark the anniversary. But I’m guessing you remembered that.” Kel paused in contemplation, staring at the window. There was a lost look in his eyes. “Well, its time I did the Ceremony of Remembrance. Yes I am fine and no I don’t need any company.”

Shantara’s voice was gentle, soft. “You want to talk about it? You’ve never said much about it.”

Kel looked down the sight of his gun. “I don’t talk about it but that doesn’t stop me thinking about it, but that is my business. It’s not something I’m going to forget in a hurry is it? Me and the rest of Mission Command I would guess. There isn’t one person there who hasn’t lost someone. You included.”

Shantara clicked the intercom. “I doubt I’m the last of my species, someone had to survive. We were spread through many planets, as were your people. Don’t think you are the only one and you know you aren’t alone. I

know it’s hard to accept but there has to be more of us out there. The Followers take prisoners and they take slaves as often as they convert. Who knows the information in that box might give us a lead on where some of these people are.”

Kel took a deep breath. “Your sentimentality is quite charming but I’m afraid your words are lost on me. It just might. Even if it doesn’t it will give us the opportunity to even the score a little and perhaps get some people out before the Followers get to them.”

In the cockpit Shantara was pouting and Rowland looked up momentarily then thought better of speaking. He went back to sorting out the bundle of wires on his lap.

The hours rolled by, broken up by the occasional crackle from the intercom as Rowland attempted to fix the problem. Kel passed the time by checking over his guns.

Shantara broke the silence. “What are you thinking?”

Kel looked annoyed. “I don’t do much by way of that thinking lark. I leave that to you technological and sensitive types.”

In the quiet solitude of the metal shell flying effortlessly through space Kel did think. In his mind he was back home where the camp fires burned brightly in the chilled evening air. The smell of cooking and the smoke from the wood fire, fur and leather mingled with the smell of animals and people to build such a strong memory that he could almost smell it now.

The  ghosts  of  his  life  wandered  again,  laughing  and  living  like  he remembered them. But even in that moment of solace where he could imagine everything was alright, images came to remind him how far it was from reality. Unbidden came the images of its destruction, of his people dead.  He was almost glad when Shantara’s voice crackled across the intercom. “What was it like being a hunter in your tribe? Did you enjoy it?” There was a pause which hung in the silence as Kel scowled. “Look, what do you think? Life was simple back then. I liked my life. I didn’t have people asking stupid questions. You’ve seen enough films where the hero loses his home and his family. Well, there you go. Yes I loved my life but it’s gone. I’m not going into all that again, I’ve told you about it enough. You know very well that I liked the constant trips out to hunt Arlyx as that was the true test of a warrior. Life could have been a pleasure if that had been allowed to continue. So yes, I was happy back then, it was my life and I wish with every waking moment that it hadn’t changed.” His last words were almost growled.

Shantara was a slim woman who, if she had been human, would have been placed in her mid-thirties.  Her hair and skin were a pale lilac, her eyes a vibrant purple. She smiled, her skin slightly flushed darker since Kel’s last words. She was almost boyish in her looks which contrasted dramatically with her ample breasts. Her standard issue blue boiler suit clashed slightly with her skin and was unflattering. She looked at the tubby dishevelled individual who was still welding wires from the impossible tangle in front of him. He wasn’t looking at her, he was trying to balance a manual on his knee and put out the small fire he had caused by igniting its pages with his soldering iron.

She looked away when the fire was out. “So what was your home world like? What was your village like? I saw it in a book I found in the library on base. Those pointed tents looked amazing with their poles ascending to the sky and the smell of the campfire and roasting meat must have been a regular thing. I went camping once on my world, just a night but I’ll never forget that smell, the smoke, the fresh grass.”

Kel scowled and clenched his fist. “All I remember now are those same tents burnt to the ground, my people lying dead and dying and me along with them. And yes I do wish I’d died there too and no I don’t want to talk about it. They are all gone. My family, my wife and my two children, their bodies blackened and charred by the time I regained consciousness. I will never know what my unborn child would have looked like. I will never again feel Shakar’s gentle touch and hear her mild wisdom both to me and to those who came to her for her words. Look these aren’t memories I really want. I know you mean well but for now, can we just be silent.” Kel’s last sentence was more a command than a question. He thrust his other blaster back into its holster and watched the lights of the space between dimensions rushing past the window. He focused on his new home, Mission Command.

Within the hour the thrusters changed their vibration and the sparkles of the inter-dimensional space elongated as they re-entered normal space and he could see the starfish shaped base out of the window in the distance as they made their descent. Its silver tendrils spread over the moon’s crust.

Shantara piped up. “I know you don’t want to hear it, but you impress me. You never give up do you?” She took a breath as she considered her own situation, “Not much has changed really. I train people and then I see empty seats when their crews come back without them sometimes.” Shantara spoke gently. “I don’t know how you cope.”

Kel laughed. “I bet you don’t or you wouldn’t keep asking and reminding me of everything. Nothing really makes me feel that much better but I have a need for revenge, it is my life. If that shocks you, stop asking.”

Shantara’s brow furrowed. “That kind of attitude can’t be healthy. Haven’t they sent you to the base psychologist?”

Kel bit his lip in frustration. “Shantara, not everyone needs to talk about things and not everyone sees it as a problem. Commander Zack no longer sees it as a problem. I’ve proven myself to be loyal and I am in control. They are as happy for me to kill Followers as I am. It makes me an effective killing machine, they appreciate it and they ask little more of me. I have a room, food and that is about the best I can ask for now. They don’t have a problem with it, so why do you? You are going to have to stop trying to understand me. It is not the road to a deep and meaningful relationship. It was one night. You’ll have to get over it.”

She looked down at the controls as the ship brought them down to land. “Ok, I’ll concentrate on landing, we’ll speak later.”

Rowland looked up. “Don’t be silly. There’s little to concentrate on as the computers handle all the minute calculations and adjustments. I can’t see why you…” Her glare silenced him.

She was focusing on a terminal, her flawless skin furrowed by the scowl. Her belt was pulled in to accentuate her slim waist.

Rowland was a middle aged balding man whose boiler suit mostly fitted him but the zip struggled slightly to keep his copious waistline in check. His thinning dark brown hair was unkempt as he constantly ran his fingers through it and his pudgy face was fixed in an almost constant smile. In front of him the communications array lay in pieces where he had taken it apart looking for the problem. Tools lay on the floor around him and wires pointed without purpose into the air.

Shantara cast a cautious sideways glance and almost sighed before she caught herself, focused forwards, relieved that she hadn’t attracted his attention. Thinking that, at this point, silence was golden.

“Fixed it.” Rowland’s voice almost squeaked over the intercom which crackled into life.

Shantara’s voice sounded strained. “We will be landing presently, better buckle up.”

The Hopper lurched slightly as it negotiated the other traffic heading on and off base. Hoppers and other craft came and went. Transporters, supply ships and all manner of other civilian and military craft navigated their way around each other. They hovered slightly as Rowland keyed in the password and codes and then they waited, and waited. They were all waiting expectantly for that moment when the Controller gave them the go ahead to land.

When they got the landing code Shantara brought the Hopper effortlessly in on the outdoor landing pad. The clamps raised and the Hopper was securely grasped and moved forwards, sliding through the open doors of the hangar bay to be placed against the airlocks, one beside the cockpit the other covering the back bay door. There was a hiss as the pressures equalized and the back and side ramps descended to meet the immaculately clean white walkway of the Mission Command docking bay.

Kel sprang to his feet and strode out and down the corridor stopping in the glass booth at the end. Medical and other scanners sprang to life when they sensed movement. A red beam of light ran over the length of this body. He stood stock still as the intercom and recorded message sprang to life. “You are being scanned by the Inselink Medical Scanner, Reference Number SC2341566. Please stand completely still. This will not hurt. The procedure does not infringe your rights as an individual but it is an essential requirement for entering the base. Should you wish not to be scanned please return to your vessel and await further instructions. Thank you, you have been scanned and you are completely healthy. There is a slight strain to your right ankle and this has been logged on your medical record. Please attend a medical officer to have this attended to at your convenience. Welcome back to base KE237 Kel Elyn.” The red light on the control panel switched to green and the door in front of him slid silently open.

He stepped out onto the polished blue floor on the other side of the compartment. His eyes ran along the photographs of planets. Although Kel had done this walk a hundred or so times, he always managed to notice something new. He breathed in deeply, the citrus smell of the floor polish filling his nostrils. The smell of home always conjured up many of the memories he had formed since he had been on the base. He took a moment to think about them, filed them in his mind and strolled off down the corridor. The glass door closed behind him. As he looked back the Hopper’s ramps closed and large metal clamps reached down to encircle it before they took it off to maintenance.

At the second glass door which opened and closed in front of him he stepped out into the pristine white corridor which denoted he was in the main hub of the station. There were no photographs or pictures here, just white walls. He followed it as it turned the corner and rejoined Shantara and Rowland who had just come through the pilots’ arrival lounge. Both wore military boiler suits with their rank and insignia of their planet of origin. Shantara wore the insignia of a pilot and combat medic, Rowland that of engineer. Rowland bore the insignia of Mission Command while that panel on Shantara’s boiler suit was empty. Shantara smiled broadly at Kel and took a step closer while Rowland kept his distance and fell slightly behind, looking uncomfortable. He kept well behind as they strode off down the corridor. Shantara  didn’t  notice,  she  was  busy  reaching  into  her  pocket  for  a notebook. She fell in step beside Kel and they strode in silence down the corridor until they came to double doors on the right. Shantara tapped in her code with her elegantly painted fingernails, 4568, and the chrome doors swished effortlessly open.

The slightly damp air that met them carried the aroma of perfume and bath products. The room they entered was bustling with members of Mission Command. Rows of shiny black lockers lined the walls. Some open, most locked shut. There where twenty soldiers and civilians who were gearing up, dressing down or fetching things from their lockers. It was a communal room. Some individuals came and went from the showers, wrapped in towels or bath robes, retrieving clothes from their lockers before changing in the cubicles to the right of the room.

Kel went to his locker and ran his hand over the identification pad. The locker door swung open. Where other lockers were decorated inside with photographs and mementos of previous happy times Kel’s was bare. He hesitated for a moment, turned and reached into his deep pockets and pulled out the items he had taken from the room on the mission. He looked at them for a moment and then handed them to Shantara. She took them from him, looking more at him than what she was doing, her other hand brushing his as she pretended to steady the pile of things he had placed on her hand.

Kel was oblivious to this, he took out his towel, buckskin tunic and leather trousers and disappeared through the door to the shower room.

Shantara and Rowland went to their lockers and took out their mission logs in silence. Rowland kept looking as if he was going to speak but as Shantara appeared busy and glared when he caught her eye he shut his mouth again. They left in silence and re-entered the corridor. A little further on they stopped outside a door to the right and again Shantara entered her code and the single door slid silently open.

The large room beyond was in two halves. The closest half was painted gunmetal grey. Pictures of different types of shuttles and ships hung on the wall. The light grey floor was a contrast to the white of the floor outside. Three long tables were set out parallel to each other and surrounded by chairs. A low wooden wall divided each table in half. The wooden dividers set at intervals provided private cubicles where terminals waited patiently for someone to use them. The screens displayed the standard Mission Command screensaver. Some were occupied, most were empty.

The far side half of the room had been partitioned off by a glass wall and a single glass door was shut. It was a smaller room and its main feature was a large black stone table with chairs around it which stood regally in the center. The room was currently empty and the table was set with notepads, bottles of water and glasses awaiting the next meeting.

They walked in silence to a pair of terminals next to each other, sat down and logged in their passwords. The logo disappeared and a screen appeared offering a list of choices. They both clicked on “Mission Report”, the report template appeared, already filled in with the mission brief and as they began typing the boxes filled up and the auto correct kept their reports roughly readable. Shantara stopped typing and hesitated. “Why doesn’t Kel have to file a report?”

Rowland smiled. “Kel can’t read or write. The Commander got him a teacher but they gave up in the end. He’ll do a verbal debrief later if there is anything worth reporting. He’s not one for noticing detail anyway and his reports were very uninformative or so I am led to believe.”

They sat in silence and typed, hit send and the job was done. They were about to log off when Shantara looked over at Rowland. “Isn’t it about time that you told me a bit more about the Followers? Come on you are keen enough on your stories. We’ve got a little time while we wait for our next orders to come through.”

Rowland looked a little stunned. “You know about the Followers. Come on, what is behind this? You mean you actually want me to tell you something? That makes a change. Well, ok then but I can’t think that I know anything that you don’t. I’ll have to miss out specifics as you don’t have full clearance yet. You will probably know as it is pretty much common knowledge that the Followers came to the Galaxies twenty five years ago. There was no record of them before then and most people welcomed them initially as a curiosity and then as a new and exciting ideal. They seemed to have good ethics which most people weren’t that bothered about but they made people’s lives better. People always like that and they tend to overlook a lot of they feel they are better off that way.

Looking back on it now they took what was seen as a healthy interest in the galaxies.  Many of their people stood for positions in local government and eventually they got into positions which real influence on intergalactic affairs. Basically they worked their way into every level of government and their policy of having as many children as possible made sure that in a few generations they had control at all levels.

While they were the saviors of the galaxies that wasn’t a problem but a few years ago things changed. Many people couldn’t see it but those who did started to realize that perhaps these people were not the salvation they were made out to be. But of course by then it was too late. Mission Command was here for those who realized the problem. I think the rest is pretty much history.

Some planets had lived in peace for thousands of years without major technological advancement. They were progressing at their natural pace.

Suddenly they had technology thrust on them which in the most part wasn’t a huge problem while everything was peaceful. But, when the Followers started having opposition they needed more resources and places to take them from where they wouldn’t be noticed. They wanted to keep any conflict very quiet. This did not go well for the planets they harvested as they needed more materials and food to feed and provide for an ever growing population as well. They were left with an ecological wasteland as the planets were over farmed and didn’t have the capability to replenish the soil. Many of them are dustbowls now, their inhabitants scratching a living where once they had rich pastures or they were wiped out to keep it quiet.

Wherever the Followers landed they “converted” new followers and those who would not convert were left as burnt corpses. Well that is what we know now. At the time it was all done very quietly. It was a join or die philosophy and often there wasn’t anyone left to report what happened if you didn’t convert. Of course once they had an uninhabited planet they moved their own followers there as new colonies. That much I think everyone knows now since there was a major broadcast by rebels a year or so back. Many planets rose up against this but most planets have just caved in and capitulated. The broadcast terrified the inhabitants of some planets into believing if they stood up to the Followers they would die. Which in effect means that the broadcast has backfired. Rather than weakening the Followers it strengthened their position and effectively neutralized the opposition.

In some places where the inhabitants joined them freely they are still heralded as the heroes who saved the worlds. Where they weren’t so welcome they destroyed villages as a lesson to those who would stand against them and as their numbers grew and as they acquired better technology whole cities and even planets were wiped out. Their control of the media meant they were able to explain this away as a natural disaster or even as a good thing that was beneficial to the planet. That was the power of positive propaganda. Then they could impose their rules and regimes and as these came into play people lost their will to fight for free will as on the face of it they had great lives and everything they needed if they did what they were told.

The first thing they got rid of was the meeting places so that anyone who did have rebellious ideas couldn’t spread them to others. Taverns on some worlds are banned. It is only on planets like Whitewater and the ones they haven’t really worried about that you can still meet with other people. Where free spirits had met in pubs and taverns on the planets these became a thing of the past. The Followers banned alcohol where they could and their strict religious doctrine forbade their believers to touch it. From our point of view and with a bit of knowledge you can see why they did. There is something in alcohol which lessens the effect of their mind effecting drugs. We aren’t sure yet how it works and it doesn’t work forever but there is something there. The only places left to meet were the Follower Meeting Houses where obviously it was not possible to say a word out of turn. This in turn destroyed various small economies. Many businesses supplied the now non-existent meeting places. They went out of business overnight. In truth it drove drinking underground. People chose to drink in their own homes and this meant that they drank more and without social interaction there was a greater incidence of depression. This led people to reach for something in their lives and the Followers were more than happy to oblige. It was a win, win situation.

Where they encountered a non-technological planet they harvested it for its natural resources and left it a wasteland. Planets like Kel’s ended up that way. As most of these were under-developed for a reason, be it harsh climate or their location they were unsuitable for colonization, harvested and abandoned.

Manipulating internal struggle for their own political advancement and using bureaucracy to slow everything down allowed them the opportunity to gain a foothold. Subterfuge and some incredibly ingenious minds allowed them to infiltrate all levels of government on those planets with a complex political structure and the resulting discussions they initiated meant that they could take over before there was a chance to rally ordinance and gather troops. In all it was a swift, well thought out and excellently executed take over that left governments in tatters and enough planets under their control after the initial invasion to quell any further organized resistance.

They also managed to manipulate other forms of technology which they managed to eliminate through the same use.”

Shantara looked confused. “I think you’d better explain that last bit. You lost me there.”

Rowland smiled. “Bad way of putting it. Basically we used to use teleport devices a lot. Matter was broken down to its basic particles, or strings, and then reformed at the new location. This was an ideal and very environmentally friendly way of travelling apart from the huge amount of energy required to break something down and reform it. Anyway, before we realized that they were tampering with it most of the major players were eliminated as they were scrambled when they reformed. That had a dual purpose. Firstly it eliminated people who were a threat without the followers getting the blame and secondly it meant that teleport transport was deemed too dangerous to use. That restricted people’s movement and ability to get together. They already had every form of communication bugged and logged so it effectively gave them full access to any information that was typed or spoken. The technology was scrapped and those who made it were put out of work. It is safe to say that anyone who was in Research and Development disappeared shortly afterwards.

They have tried to cover their origins up but initially as you may have heard from Kel they were an environmentally friendly group. They brought about sweeping changes that were definitely for the better on some planets which were nearing extinction through overuse of their natural resources and pollution. They were known as “Fallow Earth” then. They took on the nickname “Fallowers” due to their preaching that it was better to leave planets and areas to recover, to be “Fallow” for a while and to let nature take over again and replenish its resources. I remember reading the writings of Erasmus Deck many years ago. He was an idealist and a visionary. He basically put into words what the rest of us were thinking. He was outspoken and many people believed he wouldn’t last the year but he did. His writings about a Utopian Civilization where everyone could live in harmony with nature formed the basis of what is now the Followers’ philosophy, albeit corrupted and implemented by force. I don’t know what happened to him, he seemed to just disappear. No record of it anywhere. One day he was here, the next he vanished. If you want my opinion he is in a Follower research establishment somewhere.

Way back they started removing some cities that were decaying after relocating their inhabitants and planting whole areas with trees and reintroducing wildlife. That was also how they got into such positions of power. People liked it and even where they had to be voted in it was normally a landslide in their favour. Then it all changed.

They played on the mistrust that they could easily create. Followers look no different to anyone else and wear no insignia or use identifying equipment. Anyone could be a Follower and it was well known that they had “sleepers” everywhere who didn’t even know they were Followers until they were activated. So, who could be trusted? It was mostly the conspiracy theorists that worried about this obviously. The general public was pretty oblivious or was pretending to be. They may have said they weren’t worried about the Followers being everywhere but in general I think that they were happy with their lives and didn’t want to rock the boat. Not everyone wants to be an individual and their controlled lives were very comfortable. It was hard to question them as well. What could anyone really say? They gave everyone a better standard of living. No, I correct myself, they gave their chosen few a better life and those were generally those who were useful.

Only now that we think that they have progressed into genetic engineering do we have a distinct enemy and something that people find distasteful. Their bone soldiers are easy to recognize. Their exoskeleton makes them look like they are wearing a skeleton mask. Few have been caught and when they have their self-destruct ensured that there was little to analyse. As to what they look like under the mask, or if that was a mask and not a part of them, that is unknown. What is known is that their great strength and speed makes them a formidable enemy, totally loyal to the Followers and unstoppable other than destroying them when they were carrying out a command. We have lost a lot of good people to them.

Mission Command only survived because it was well hidden and the genius minds that had gathered here managed to keep it that way. It had been created for just such an occurrence, initiated by a lone scientist many hundreds of years ago. How he knew I cannot hazard to guess. He had been heralded as a nutcase by his peers but thankfully he had been a very rich nutcase with a very clear idea of what he wanted to create. He had set up “The Foundation” and they had then set up Command bases around the galaxies to protect against the event of an incursion such as that of the Followers. Each was a different design and hidden in a different way. There was no communication between them and each was unknown to the others until they were needed.

I remember it well and it had not been long ago that I and Lex, a

Sharathian Warrior, you know the Lizard folk.” Shantara looked blankly at him.

Rowland smiled. “Oh well, never mind, they have green skin and slightly reptilian features. Anyway, we had been seated in the Debriefing Room for a meeting with Commander Zack. Just like any other day really. That was the day he had informed us that everything had changed. The Followers had demanded conversion and had spent time preaching their beliefs. From then on they had another way of spreading the word. They had created a drug and an implant that cut that process out and removed any free will in the matter. Those who were taken were removed to their research facilities and put in pods. The implant was injected and they spent time being indoctrinated with the Followers’ belief system. That way they could guarantee loyal followers and they could also know if there was a spy in their ranks. The implant was not only detectable, it was coded to the person it had been implanted in. They could track any of their followers at any time. Well that is how I heard it back then.

The implant was relatively small but the chemical that was also introduced has proven almost impossible to analyze as we have never managed to get hold of any in a large enough quantity to isolate its properties.

The only positive news that comes from this is that if we could develop the technology then we could possibly be able to detect who is a Follower. That doesn’t apply to the “Originals”, those who came to be Followers because they actually believed and those who had fully converted without the implant and the drug. It is hoped that on one of our missions we will find some intelligence that will give us a way to counteract the drug. Until today we had to work with what we had. That was why today’s mission was so important. That mercenary was an undercover Follower. What he carried was a report but I don’t know what was in it. So you’d better go and get that delivered to Commander Zack.” He pointed to her orders flashing on the screen to report to Commander Zack.

Shantara looked down at the items that Kel had given her. “I suppose I’d better.” She got up and left the room.

I found a notebook which belonged to my father which had an article he had written for the Royal Horticultural Society. It was about medicinal plants and as I’d just published a book on the subject I typed it up and put it on here. I occurred to me that I must have got my wish to write from my father.

When she died I inherited a tin of letters which were letters home to my mother from my father before they were married. They wrote to each other long before they met and were in love long before that initial meeting. They truly loved chased from afar!

I have typed these letters as written but obviously I have extracted the military writing and left the reams of their private expressions of their love for each other.

So these letters are real and what you are reading happened. This is not a fable or a novel, this is an honest account from a Royal Marine Commando writing home.

I am so very happy to hear from you today. I am answering this letter straight away in order that I can find out just how long it takes to write and get a reply now that the New Canberra Jets are running our mail for us.

Well my darling we are suffering now for MALTA is whipped by a terrific wind and with the dry weather the dust is really flying, it is a real gale force wind but thought its dark and very cloudy it still won’t rain.

I think tonight that I will write about the first of the three EX we did while in Anzue. I have just completed the Unit Diary. Its a book which like a ship’s log is a true account of the Unit’s moves. I have got the job for they say that I have a very funny knack of writing, people can fully invision the action from my accounts.

The first exercise was known as “Don Marche I” it began with a new type of landing, it was a combined exercise, the landing forces were to be the French Commandoes and French “Guaves” (infantry) we were to try a new type of attack, whereas in the past a commando had to land, take and hold a beach, it has now been realised that if a raidd was ever to be carried out far inland, a lot of men had to be left behind to work and hold a beach, to hold a beach is comparatively easy, but to work a beach a very complicated organisation, for there are supply dumps and the beach roads to maintain, and to keep a continuous supply of food, ammunition and medical supplies moving up to the strike force the exercise was also to try out a new troop “Beach Troop” they were to maintain the beach, after the beach had been taken and in so doing leave a complete fighting commando to fight inland, each commando has now got a “Beach Troop” which they loan to other CDO’s in the event of raids.

Bon Marche turned out to be rather a lot what the name implies in French it means “The long march”. It began by an “O” group in the COs office, all the officers were sat there. The Sgt Majors and myself, he gave us the story so far, we were to be known as “Blue Land Force”. Our enemy were known as “Red” battle so far was that the French had been trying for months to put down bandit attacks. The Red Land Force had been trying to turn the French out of North Africa and as they were very much in the minority they had tried to pull of raids on the French Legion. It appears that some months ago a film about English Commandoes was shown in the cinemas at ORAN and Red Land Force had tried to imitate the raid shown in the film. These raids though sometimes successful were nothing like raids at all, but were just disorganised bandit attacks.

By some unknown means the Red Land Forces ad discovered “Uranium” in their part of Arzue and were rapidly building a factory. The French realising the danger of Atom attacks had appealed to NATO for action and requested shock troops to smash the factgory. On the 4th of May the 45 CDO RM sailed from Malta to complete this task. The French had been passing round the news that we were on our way and the enemy had built strong coastal defences in an attempt to show up the CDO.

Owing to recent activity in Plagirs this exercise the exercise was also to show real troublemakers here that NATO truly had shock troops which meant above all we had got to be successful for it was obvious they would be watching us.

So much for prelims now for the raid. It began with the loading of vehicles at 1600 hus at Areue the loading went off without a hitch, three ton troop carriers first then landmovers and jeeps. No motorcycles were to be used as it was going to be a wet landing.

The “Streher” headed for sea in convoy with two LCTs and HMS Diana heavy armour support ship and HME Meon our HQ ship there were 3 LSTs of the French Navy all carrying troops in teh LCTs were six sherman tanks and 9 heavy guns. It looked like being a big raid.

The time crept by until at 11.30 we were 20 miles off shore and turning for the run in, the ships were in darkened ship state, all was quiet on board. I think I’m the only one awake, the sailors creep around for its a serious offence for them to make a noise when the troops are asleep just before a raid, a sailor creeps past my stretcher he stubbs his toe against the end of the stretcher and curses. Someone wakes up and curses him for making a noise and everythying goes to sleep again. The time creeps on, the time is 1 o’clock, half hour to go. There are a lot of bangs in the distance, the French landed at 12 o’clock. I get the warning buzz on my radio “Watchdog, Watchdog are you awake.” Watchdog wide awake. “Wake troops quietly we are very close to shore”. I then asked how were things on shore back comes the report. “French having trouble, all vehicles have got stuck on the beach, but the foot troops have gone on without them.” I woke all the troops and told them the score. In 10 mins it would be our turn, we must not get stuck, the ramp grates as it goes down, but outside its like Piccadilly. Flood lights all over, out goes the foot troops, and blimey they are swimming, its deep out there. A sailor tests depth 5′ 6″ its never been like this before. I can see now why for days the MT Sect have been waterproofing the trucks, why the troops are wearing special rubber kit. Out goes the first Rover it completely vanishes and French civilians on the beach cheer and laugh but suddenly about 10 yards from the ramp the top of the rover shows, moving slowly up teh beach it makes it and stands there on the beach with sea water rushing out of it, the driver gets out, lifts his bonnet and tears the proofing off his carberetta to give it air for its one part of the engine that must breathe. Then in he gets and drives off the beach. I looked at the civilians their jaws had dropped open, they had never in all their lives seen anything like it, vehicles playing submarines,t here were only three mishaps, one QL drowned and three landrovers had engine trouble btu as one didn’t get off the ship we haven’t counted that one. I climbed out of my vehicle and sent it on its way fir I had to report on the beach workings, the beach troop had done a good job, for off the beach were roads made of mesh wire and sacks they ran out long conveyer belts which looked like ladders to the ramp and down then came hundreds of waterproofed boxes. The supplies were coming safely ashore. I looked up the beach. One of the French LSTs was getting stones in the water where men with rubber rafts ferrying their stores it was like looking back years ago, it was so very pleasing so see the extent of progress in the English Navy.

An LCT came in, it almost got to the beach for they can float in 5′ of water, down went her ramp and only 2′ 6″ of it submerged. You should see the look on the faces of the French for out of the tank decks came the Shermans towing guns. Everything got ashore including teh BRIGS caravan, why he takes that I don’t know, but he takes it everywhere. I called on my radio to my 2 IC L/CPL Woodman “Watchdog 2 give location”. “Watchdog 1 we are still climbing at 10 miles.”

I looked at my watch it had been 30 mins since we landed. The first troops mut be 15 miles away for the transport was five miles behind them and Woody was in the vehicle. I know it sounds slow but my darling please, they are in a strange land and without lights on a pitch dark night.

All night we wait on the beach and at 0430 hrs the dawn breaks, what a sight. There are mountains of boxes on the beach, and the only vehicle there, are the ambulance and three landrovers and they are waiting to take us to the front. The vehicles that drowned had been fixed and went on their way during darkness.

We climbed into the landrovers and off we went, it was hard going and I know it must have been touch during the dark hours. We passed 11 gun positions that had been captured in the night and arrived in time to see the destruction of a big wood and cardboard factory. The OP had been a success.

The French are still marvelling at the speed of our landing but they were to learn more in the next few days.

Well my darling, I didn’t get a very active part, but the next EX is better.

I am happy to say that we have certainly got the EOKA well in hand, they threaten us everyday but they haven’t got the nerve now, we have raided them, harassed them and generally we have them upset.

We (I think I told you) have 108 miles in our sector, its over a week since we had any kind of incident the last one, a week last night was one that I don’t think has ever worked before, it proved slightly exciting so I’l try to tell you in detail of it, in my commentary I want to bring out, a bluff, a plan and an operation all so brilliantly operated.

It began at 20.15 hrs on Thursday 23-9-53, we are all gathered in a big marque that is out DET just a handful of men; 34 marines and CPLs, 5 sgts, 4 officers, they with 2 men on camp guard go to make up the Boghas Patrol, the OC enters and says “Good evening boys” he always calls us that, he then goes on to explain that each time we go on a raid, we have no sooner left camp than the camp was raided, and even though 7 men are left to guard the capt and have as yet beaten off all the raids we tonight will try to fox them, in ten minutes time the reserve troop will arrive, they will be scattered between 12 trucks arriving in ones and twos they will leave here at 23.00 hrs in convoy and set up road blocks 15 miles away, the idea being that it is known that an EOKA agent lives in Boghas Village it is thought that he contacts another agent in Tricono as soon as he knows we have left, if he sees X troop leave the camp he may think that B Troop has left and that the camp is almost deserted.

Our job is to move out in the following order, 6 section to move north and set up an ambush, 7 section to move south and do the same, 5 section to remain in camp. H.Q. and Sgt Sections to lay up on the west, our east flank is covered by the sea, if the enemy appears they are to be allowed to come within 20 yards before we fire, on the order “FIRE” the section CDRS will fire a green varies lights to illuminate as soon as the section in camp see the flame they will fire 62in mortar flares each man in the sect will fire rapid and shoot to kill.

At 22.00 hrs we dressed blackened our faces, took a roll of spring barbed wire and away we went. We circled the camp and headed south. 500 yards from camp is Boahab Village on the edge of this we spread the wire and spread out, we waited for an hour, it was bitterly cold. I was frozen. The man next to me touched my arm. I looked and saw he was holding a mug of tea. He passed it to me, it was a real luxury on a night like this. Here’s to the chap that went back for it, I drank it and sent the mug back, it came back full. I crawled to my right for 13 yrds with it to the next chap and what do you know, he wa fast asleep. I felt like throwing the tea all over him. You may think I’m a bit hard, but my darling please try to understand the EOKA are no fools, it would have been easy for one of them to crawl up and knife him and so get behind our lines and finish the lof ot us just becasue he went to sleep.

I woke him up rather roughly. Nothing happened until 23.00 hrs. We heard the convoy leave down the road through our section lines, we all hugged the deck, for any one of us getting caught in the headlights would spoil everything. They got through without mishap. They had been gone about 3 mins when there was a high pitched hum in the air, the sect CDR crawled up to me and said “Your an old hand in the corps have you ever heard that noise before”. So I said yes. “What is it” he said. “Well I should say that somewhere near is a telephone line and there is a message going out”. He said find it and cut it. I thought to myself thats just typical of teh JNCO’s of today. Here was the old man trying to keep it a secret that we were still here, and here was the young breado napper trying to ruin everything by snipping the phone wires. It didn’t strike him as obvious that if the wires were cut, someone had to go out to do it, which means 3 men, the EOKA would know at once taht there were men in the scrub waiting for them.

At approx 1.30am we saw them leave the village, a small party of 20 men. You could hear the clicks as the safety catches were pushed forward. We were ready in the moonlight. I could see the 5 CDRs arm raised he had the varies pistol ready. I began to wonder would he fire too soon for the ground in front of us was very rocky on they came to 400 yds when low and behold the bloke on my right sneezed. It sounded like an explosion, the yran in all directions back to the village. We started firing but we were too late, not one was hit, maybe we scared them. I don’t know, but now they leave us alone.

This Cyprus air has done me the world of good. I’m as fit as a fiddle, my eyes give me no trouble. I’m still waiting patiently for that photo of you.

Letter 2

Tonight we hae one of our biggest raids, for they have found the H.Q. of EOKA at last, and at 0100 am we hope to crawl into the village where it is hoped it is, once more we have a 7 mile march over the top of mountains. Its moonlight so things won’t be so easy, for the success of this raid depends on a silent undetected approach that’s why we have been chosen.

If you could see me now you would laugh, my face is black and I am wearing my skullcap. My weapons, a rifle, trip wire, truncheon and fighting knife, my angel please don’t get the idea I am a killer. It’s not that, but if it comes to a showdown I’ve got something to look forward to when I get home so nothing is going to happen to me.

Police Station, Cypress

We have been a little active of late, and thank god we have been lucky. I will enclose a cutting but mainly life drags tediously on with nothing really exciting happening, not that I want anything to happen now. I prefer thing to be quiet.

I have grown to hate this police station. Just a garden about 25 yards square with wire all around. I feel like a prisoner and my legs are stiff from lack of exercise. The police are friendly enough but they are forever scrounging food and cigs. Some of them work with us but mainly they don’t understand what we are talking about.

I got two live rabbits today. I really wanted them to cook but they are so nice I haen’t had the heart to kill them. I managed to get a little fresh veg, a cabbage, celery and 5lbs of tomatoes. These can only be got on black market or echange and the best exchange we can give is hard tack. The Turks really like them we detest them.

FAMAGUSTA, CYPRUS

I have nothing but bad news to tell you tonight my darling, it began really on Sunday night. I was at a wedding in the Paulo Malta, it was a good wedding and everyone was a little tipsy at 1.30 am Monday the band struck a chord, everyone stopped dancing, everything went quiet and it was then the host stepped up to teh mike and said “I’ve just had a phone call from the CO of 45 CDo’s, all men of 45 are ordered to return to camp. We left quietly enough though we all thought it was just a joke until we reached the camp. The place was a hive of turmoil. The lights were blazing and all the men were packing as quickly as it was possible as quick as the kit was packet it was stowed into trucks and then we all turned to packing all the stores, in four hours it was completed, away went the convoy, then in came ten 3 ton Troop Carriers belonging to the RASC and away we went down to the docks. It then occurred to us where are we going, some one said “Cyprus”. We loaded onto to the LSTs, Striker & Reggio, 600 man on a mission, we headed east and there was no doubt now where we were going.

On Tues morning we were given an address by the CO. He said that he was proud to say that from the time he had received the signal to getting the whole commando to sea had tkaen only 7 hours. He then explained our mission, the CDO was going to Cyprus to stop the terrorist activity, through the army IT we have learned that a terrific amount of arms and ammunition was being smuggled in from Greece, we were going out to the deserted north coast to stop this smuggling. We will be doing a lot of patrol work.

As I write this letter the ship is well out at sea. We have been at sea for 4 days but it’s been far too rough to write. It has calmed down a lot.

We are going to do the funniest thing I’ve ever heard of tomorrow. Instead of landing in proper CDO style we are going to march through FAMAGUSTA in whole webbing, just because the News Pathe Gaumont Brigith and Movietone are going to be there. We are to carry our colours. What a way to go into action.

I am writing this letter in very bad conditions, its sandy and really hot, I really don’t like CYPRUS. I haven’t liked it from the beginning for right from the word go the Cyps have been hostile, after leaving the Craft we were loaded into 3 ton trucks and moved out to our locations on teh way up to this camp the terrorists threw broken bottles on the road, but though two trucks crashed, there was noone injured.

We arrived here at “Beaugas” after a two hour ride, what a Camp, the only buildings here is the Galley there were three tents but the Regt we relieved were Artillery and the lived in trucks. We have had to live in bivvies. The area we have to control is 108 square miles and there is only 34 men here, we are very busy. We have to send out 2 patrols by day and 3 patrols at night, besides which we have to guard our own camp.

The first night here we were awake all night as we were fired on at 8.30pm by the Commies, they hit noone. We are being issued with the new F.N. Rifle next week at the moment we have only the old type rifle and a few Bren Guns, if we keep firing at the rate we fired that first night we will be out of ammunition within a week.

I haven’t heard when I will be home, but i know it will be soon but out here we seem forgotten apart from the ration truck we never see anyone of the British services, most of the things we have are what we have scrounged from the Inniskillings, they are 40 miles away, but let us send them a wireless message that we are short of anything and down they come with it, and if we ask when they want it back they say “Ditch it” thats how things are out here, we beg our H.Q. to give us things and they say they haven’t got it, but ask the army and its yours.

Our camp here is typical of a lonely military outpost, just an area of ground about the size of a football pitch, around it we have put 3 coils of wire in it we live and make our amusement not very big for thirty men, but we don’t get a lot of leisure time we are out patrolling most of the night, so most of the day is spent in bed but sleep is hard to come by for its very hot here, even far hotter than Malta.

Letter 2

Maria Police Station, Cyprus Undated

I didn’t think the hotel would last long, we were there for two hours, then repack and off we went to this dive, its a little police station in a Turkish village way up in the mountains, we live in a disused stable, we are crowded out by flies in the day and bitten to death by mosquitoes at night, but my darling I am not letting it get me down for its just 20 days now before I’m home, that’s what I have looked forward to for such a long time for I’m dying to meet you.

I am the cook, and I have had some really good dishes and though the arrangement was that I shoudl cook for one day only the boys have insisted that I remain as cook and have no night watches so I took it for I need the sleep.

It’s very lonely here for we can’t leave the station, and as everyone here is Turkish its very awkward, we talk to ourselves most of the time, but there is only five of us.

We have to live off the veg we can buy around the station, but we are living better than we have lived before.

We get a supply truck once a week, so the mail is a very awkward thing as we can only send and receive once a week, but we finish here on the tenth to return to base for our repat.

Now I’m really looking forward to coming home to you my darling, it will be the first time I’ve had a girl of my own waiting for my return, I’ce had girls before, quite a few, but they all seemed different to you, two or three letters was all I ever got from them, you have been a real angel and I hope you will never be sorry.

I love you my darling, I’ve known it for a long time but I didn’t know just how much until now, I can only hope that when you meet me you will love me half as much.

Letter 3 Aghirda Camp, Cyprus

I’m only too pleased to let you know some good news. B Troop has been drawn out of the forward area and I’m writing this letter from base camp. We leave here on Wed and believe it or not we are going to live in hotels, the army have requisitioned 6 of them, the one we have got is the “Grand”. It hs 60 bedrooms, its a tourists hotel and they have left all the furniture there, two troops are going to the ski camp at Freeda.

Its very quiet just now. I’ve done things here that I haven’t done for ages, I shower 5 times a day not because I need to but I’m living in a servicemans luxury, plenty of water and the finest thing of all I sleep in sheets at night oh its so very wonderful three whole nights in bed and I sleep without my rifle beign strapped to my wrist, we live in bigger tents now about 4000 feet up a mountain overlooking Nicosia, it really a wonderful camp, but we have to move as the Leicesters come here next week and the army didn’t have a camp for us, so they got us the hotels the best of these the “Splendid” is for the officers but they can’t have it for 5 weeks as its still occupied but all round I think we are really going to have a good time, even though it doesn’t snow til December they have sent us all the snow warfare equipment for our role will be patrols in the mountains.

I’ve never used skis but I should imagine ski patrols should be interesting. I think I’ll only be up there for a couple of weeks as my leave starts on the 20th of next month.

We are now fortunate enough to have a table and stool to write on, it makes things a little easier. I have had a quieter day today for my section is on guard detail, and all we have to worry about is guarding our camp, but even so we have to keep very alert for in the CYPRUS MAIL yesteray the EOKA threatened to burn down all CDO camps but as yet they haven’t tried anything but we watch and wait. We are not afraid of them, they can try just what they want, though I must admit that I feel a little uncomfortable carrying a rifle around all day. The worst part is the night, we sleep with our rifles strapped to our wrists and a bandolier of 50 rounds tied around our stomachs. I’m fed up of sleeping fully rigged, roll on the day when I can come home and sleep in Pyjamas again. Wearing my denims all night is as bad as going to bed in my overcoat.

A Patrol has just returned from searching a village, they have found nothing but they report that in the village are slogans. “Death to the COMMANDOES” and “No mercy to the Green Beret”. It seems we are not liked at all, still we don’t worry for people that fear us give us no trouble.

It seems like the big noises are really expecting trouble for they are sending 6,000 troops to CYPRUS. I’m not surprised for at teh moment we are a small outpost of 38 men and our area is 108 square miles. In it is some of the worst forest and mountainous sectors I’ve ever seen, some of the forests are so thick they are not passable.

As yet our morale is very high, btu I don’t think it will last long for at the end of the month comes the rains and as yet we are still living in holes in the ground, and when these fill with water I’m afraid we will be very unhappy.

I don’t know what is the matter with the Government at home for we are here, fighting to hold one of the most important islands in the MED and yet we are short of everything, we haen’t had a shower or bath for over a week, we have a laundry operated by the army but to send anything there means a wait of a week or more, we have only two pairs of denims and out here, a clean pair is needed every day so on the whole we are getting pretty manky, still I hope to get a bath before I come home.

Well my darling I’m afraid I will have to love you and leave you now for I will be going out to the perimeter wire in five minutes, so I’ll say Goodnight and God bless you for I love you so.

Letter 2

Everything is going well here as you have no doubt read in the papers. They seem to know more of whats going on than we know ourselves, still we know we are on top of EOKA has retired into the hills, so now we have to go for miles to hunt them out. They are elusive but they now have realised that we are specialists and they run at the mention of a COMMANDO but to achieve this situation we have lost a lot of sleep, in the papers they say the CDO’s have surrounded a village deep in the heart of the mountains but they always forget to say how we have got there, often it means climbing 20 miles over mountain ranges to reach these villages.

From the beginning of man’s existence on this earth, he has realised that plants and trees have held properties which properly utilised for the basis of medicines, and with a little processing could provide commodities for writing on and help keep the human race clean by providing one of the essential ingredients of soap and disinfectant.

               Some of the ese plants are common and their properties are not always realised by the people who grow them.

               It may be of interest to know why certain plants, shrubs and trees are grown commercially, and so I have collected examples of some of these, which I will try to describe.

HYPERICUM

The oils extracted from the leaves of this plant are used extensively by Commercial Wine Growers to improve the bouquet of Wines, the leaves also provide the basis for many antiseptics.  The oils are used as a base perfume in the manufacture of WHITE WINDSOR SOAP, often used in oriental areas as frankensence, this is achieved by drying the leaves which when ignited will smoulder and fill the air with fragrance.  This should not be confused with incense which is obtained by a similar process using the dried leaves of conifers.

YUCCA

The Yucca plant is not so common now as it used to be.  It has many properties which can be used.  From it comes such things as Cordova Threads, Tapioca, Lime, inlaid paper and wax.

               Most of the old linen canvas used by the old masters of Europe for the great paintings which have survived the ravishes of time were made by the beating together of the leaves of this plant to give them their manuscripts or paper for painting on.  But by cutting the leaves and interlacing them as for basket work, laying them flat on a slab and beating them gently with a leather faced hammer or mallet causes the leaves to weld together, when dried out turns a creamy white and becomes what is known as inlaid linen, the most expensive of which is still made in this way.

PAPYRUS

This plant especially to the Egyptians and other Nile dwellers forms their staple diet obtained from the centre pith of the leaf stalk, also the famous paper, or papyrus from the leaves, laced as the leaves of the Yucca, beaten, the wax in them acts as a glue and produced their paper (papyrus) the heavy mass of fibre roots form the main fuel for cooking and heat, the oil produced from the seed for lighting.

PERILLA

The wax and sap extracted from the leaves of this are the source of printers ink used for newspapers it being both waterproof and lightproof.  It was first found in China by Dr Perilla who was very curious as to why the old hill flags withstood the wind and the wet as far as the writing went, it did not wear out of fade.

EUCALYPTUS TREE

The leaves of this are heavily impregnated with a volatile gum, used in oilments, cough and chest mixtures and confectionary.

THE CHAMACROP PALM

The leaves of this plant are the main source of the famous and expensive cannaupa wax which is the basic wax for lipsticks and mascara eye pencils, wax for crayons and the more expensive car waxes.

TAGETES

The extraction from the leaves of this very popular bedding plant is the main source of orange flavouring used in soft drinks, cooking oils and confectionary.  The greatest value of all is in the horticultural world, for on any land devoid of humus, or infected by eelworm, the growing of this plant over a period of two years, in which the land will be highly cultivated will eliminate all traces of eel worm.  Another great  value is that where one is troubled by convolvulus, the growing of this plant in the area, or where convolvulus roots are found will destroy the convolvulus.

THE COPPER BEECH

The leaves of this tree when laid over paper and used as copy paper make the famous copper plates as depicted during many centuries past.

BLACK FIG TREE

When tapped with a knife or cut the sap flowing from this tree is used extensively as an ingredient of chewing gum.

SPEARMINT

The oil from the leaves of this plant is used extensively in medicine, confectionary and toothpaste.

ARALIA SIEBOLDII

The black berries of this plant produce laundry marking ink, and the ink preferred by tattooists.

OLEANDER

The leaves produce a heavy stomach drug and if eaten in very large quantities will be found as a deadly poison.

LOMBARDY POPLAR

A recent discovery of an old manuscript which records that in the 15th Century we could cure pain by chewing the young buds from the tips of the twigs of the poplar.  It has now been discovered that the buds contain quite an amount of the drug known as aspirin.

ACANTHUS SPINOSUM

The leaves of this plant are famously used in all types of sculpture, architectures and carving and are known as the Acanthus.  The curious part of this plant is, it has a common name called “Bear’s Breeches”.  As the wind blows over the plant it will swirl under the hood and the little hairs on the stamens termed the Bear’s Breeches vibrate and pollinate it.  The seed having ripened into quite a hard ball, pointed and about a quarter of an inch in diameter, and at any time it is placed in any fairly high heat it will explode with sufficient power to split a window pane.  At times the seed carpet has been used by older Monks as the voice of God in many of those parts of the world where one hears reference to the Oracle.

ARUM LILY (ZANTEDESCHIA AETHIOPICA)

This is referred to often in many parts of the world as the “Pig Lily”.  The great value of this plant is its roots, quite tuberous, is the source of ARROWROOT used in the healing of stomach upsets.

GLOBE ARTICHOKE (CYNARA SCOLYMUS)

The great value in this plant lies in the heavy basic fleshy base of the flower holding the seed and the hairs which cover it.  It is one of the world’s most nourishing foods.  The name artichoke is derived from the swallowing of the hairs which would cause the eater to choke.

               The seeds contain a very fine oil and when crushed produce oil most valuable for cooking, or taking as a means of healing stomach inflammation.

FRENCH MARIGOLD

This plant is not French at all but is grown extensively round the perfumeries of France.  The origin of this plant is India and Japan.  The oil extracted from the leaves is the base of many toilet soaps, bath salts and perfumes.  It also contains antiseptic properties and is a valuable deodorant.

MYRTLE (MYRTUS COMMUNIS)

This plant produces astringents as a mouth wash and deodorant.  The powdered and crushed leaves of this plant produce the gum known as “Tincture of Myrrh) and myrrh perfume from dried and smouldering leaves which often replace incense, or is an aromatic addition in places where conifers are not grown, or not so readily grown.

               Also, it is an additive to certain cosmetic oils as an antiseptic.

YEW TREE

The great value of the Yew lies in the fruit which is surrounded by a red, very sweet, pulpy matter.  From this pulp comes the sweetening for many soft drinks and foods.  The hard seed in the centre is very poisonous and must be destroyed, likewise the leaves contain a potent emetic.  Even a small quantity of these leaf shoots can cause severe vomiting.

NUTMEG TREE (LEYCESTERIA FORMOSA)

This is one of the most popular shrubs grown throughout the world.  Each race having found some use for it.  For instance during the building of the Pyramids of Egypt a rube of wood cut from the branches was used to make a spirit level for the craftsmen.

               The Chinese used it as a case for their fireworks also affixed to the side of buildings for making whistles which were activated by the wind and according to the tone created indicated the wind direction and force.  The South Americans from whom we first leant the Hypodermic Needle.  It was their plunger tube, also used as a whistle for call signs used by hunters to imitate bird calls when hunting or tracking.  The Greeks used the tubes for their ACOLIAN lamps and the “Pipes of Pan”.

               Today in our orchestras all our woodwind instruments are produced from branches and stems, instruments such as clarinets, recorders etc.  The reason being it is the one plant in the world having sections sealed off such as bamboo and hollow space running through the centre is a very fine hard smooth surface.  The fruit of this bush, black when ripe contains in the seed and the juice a taste similar to concentrated nutmeg.  Many of the embrocations of the old masseurs of India used the juice to stimulate blood action in the muscles and it is ground as flavouring for hot curry.

ICE PLANT (MESEMBRYAN THEMUM)

This plant is used throughout the world in its various forms and varieties.  By close planting around any building it makes the ground fireproof by preventing bush fires reaching the buildings.  This is due to the heavy saturation of water in the leaves and however arid the terrain the cover is so heavy that weeks will not grow through it.  This is the plant extensively planted around oil wells in arid regions.  One interesting point about this plant is the seed capsules which when set carry a cross over the top similar to that marked on hot cross buns.  When a drop of water is placed on the cross the capsule flies open and ejects the seed, similar to “Busy Lissie” (IMPATIENS) and the Shamrock.

               This attribute is why often in the East it has been associated with the cross, eternity and rebirth.

WITCH HAZEL (HAMAMELIS MOLLIS)

This plant has been used for many centuries, the sap extracted from the bark is used as an astringent most particularly used where eyes are inflamed or the skin has been grazed or is slightly burned.  It will heal and harden again very rapidly.

CLERODENDRUM (FOETIDUMOR BUNGEI)

This plant is one which around 1911 helped to start our present knowledge of vitamins, being introduced by Dr Casimir Funk.  The reason was some explorer had seen the braves of a certain tribe prior to embarking on a long hunting expedition eat several of the leaves of this plant.  When crushed the leaves give off a very pungent smell which smells between burnt rubber and raw yeast from which derive Vitamin B.  Taken by people of low nervous disposition or temperament, under nervous strain, or suffering from nervous exhaustion, it will help overcome the effects of the aftermath of antibiotics. 

               The flowers, a purplish red, emit a beautiful perfume.

RHODODENDRON

The gum found on the young unopened buds of the rhododendron are collected and used in the manufacture of Gun Powder, the plant itself is a native of India.

HYDRANGEA

This plant is a native of India and China where it was discovered that when suffering from anaemia (mountain sickness) by chewing the pith of this plant then spitting it out after sucking it great relief was experienced from this pith today comes the base of our blood tonics as the plant is heavy with soluble iron.

BARBERRY (BERBERIS MAHONIA)

There are many varieties of this plant and their main value lies in the very valuable dyes, both yellow and vermillion which are used for dying robes, gowns, temple walls, carpets also for colouring lipsticks.

MAIDENHAIR FERN TERR OR GINKO

This tree has never been found anywhere in the world in a fossil state, but has survived through thousands of years by the care and attention of the priests of different shrines and monasteries, as it is always part of a monastery garden.  The fruit though covered with a nasty bitter tasting pith is most edible inside and is considered to be an aid to longevity.  In 1966 a chemist in South Africa found from the leaves of this plant a cure for the Common Cold.  Now do remember when one often learns of things like this being discovered it may take some time to either grow in quantity, or find another plant or source of producing the same chemical.  This may be the reason why for many centuries it has been grown by the side of Shrines.

SMOKE BUSH

The leaves of this plant were collected, pounded, soaked in water, the liquid then collected and used as a very effective dye fixer.

LEPTOSPERNUM

This little bush is used often to replace tea.  It will grow at a higher latitude and hotter regions than it is possible to grow the Camelia, which is of course the tea bush, also it is used as an additive to vary the flavour of blended teas.

GUELDER ROSE (VIBOURNUM OPULAS)

The fruit, which hangs in large bunches is the source of the red dye colouring of many hard and soft drinks and confectionary, also a number of thirst quenching fizzy type drinks which are slightly acid.

BAY TREE (LAURIS NOBILIS)

The laurel of the ancients, the leaves are the ones always used for laurel leaf wreaths.  An aromatic oil is extracted from the leaves which is used for cooking.  It is valuable for preventing the feeling of sickness from foods which contain oily fat.

PINE TREE

Growing on dry dusty plains is used by natives, they will cut into the bark after a short while a translucent gum exudes.  They chew and place the crystallised gum into hollow bamboo cane and inhale the fumes to clear their throat and lungs.  This gum is now called menthol.

CYPRESSUS LAWSONIA

The tall growing conifer bears a little seed cob and is used when no menthol is available.  These seeds are crushed in the mouth, sometimes mixed with menthol and used for inhaling or as a cough mixture known as paragonic.

GINGER PLANT

Of its many uses, firstly the leaves contain a great deal of oil when dried and tied to the top of a bamboo cane they serve as torches.  When the oil is crushed out it is used as lighting oil in temples and lanterns.  The pith taken from the stem to be dried or crystallised in the syrup from Maple Trees.  The ginger bulbs or heavy tubers which are often eaten fresh or used for preserving are sun dried in cane sugar.  Should the region be too cold to grow sugar cane Maple Syrup is used.  The hard dried root is the one ground to powder and sold as ground ginger.  The young roots running from the bulbs are dried and are commonly known as root or bruised ginger.

BAMBOO

The first thing about bamboo is that the young shoots often grow as much as six inches in a day are pulled off and the nutty tasting centre is eaten.  They are also collected and shipped al over the world to confectioners to be used as grated or ground nuts.  That rather pleasant young nut slice one gets on confectionary comes from the sliced young shoots of bamboo.  The canes which are allowed to mature have for years provided travellers with drink, this is achieved by cutting the bamboo and sucking the cut end of the cane, one is rewarded with an ice cold drink.  During the evening and night each of the young leaves will drop pure clean water, the shoots are used in the Far East as Panda food.  The cane fibres themselves are the original carbon filament of the first electrical light bulbs and the bract which covers the young unopened shoots of fully grown cane are opened, pressed flat and used as inlaid ivory or ivory marquetry work.

SAGO PALM

This 15ft high palm is so called as the pith and fibres from the centre of the trunk, washed out will produce sago.  From the leaves a very valuable wax is obtained.  From the trunk itself they make tiles for buildings by cutting the trunk in half longitudinally.  By not cutting but by drawing the pith from the centre they make drains for the roofs of their houses and the floors.  The leaves themselves due to their tremendous powerful fibre structure and the tapering formation are used as ropes, whereby men in one part of the world, tied by the ankles with ropes made from these leave jump and the extension of the leaf under pressure with a correctly tied knot, pulls the man up slowly as might the opening of a parachute.

POKEWEED (PHYTOLACCA)

This is the plant which produces the beautiful Ochre colour, used extensively in Temples of the East for adornment of buildings and provide the dyes for Monk’s clothing.  The colour prevents the sun’s rays burning the flesh.  The pith from the centre of the stem was the origin of cornfado.  The root also supplies a glycoprotein to assist the body in resisting diseases.

LOTUS TREE

This tree produces the fruit known as the Lotus Bean often confused with the destructive insect the Locust.  One peculiarity of the seed of this bean is that each fertile is exactly the same weight, namely one carat, the standard adopted by the Diamond Industry.  Thus one Lotus Bean seed is one carat

               The used pod, rather like a runner bean in shape, is dried and is a most valuable food as it contains a tremendous amount of vegetable glucose.  Today after the extraction of the glucose the bean is used as cattle food.

I’m not keen on this upside down growing malarkey. In my mind it doesn’t work. The tomatoes are confused! They are trying to grow up and when they get fruit on their branches they are going to snap! The ones growing upwards in pots are doing far better.

But, what really does work is to put the basil in swings using the top of the bottles. They are doing really well, better than the ones in pots.

The best use of space seemed to be to get some of those shelf greenhouses. Then I can use multiple levels for the same floor space. It will have to be seen yet whether they get enough sun but but keeping the door zipped up they keep the water inside.

I found a fruit cage in a charity shop for £5. It hadn’t been used so it is now the “keep the dogs off” cage for a few selected trays and pots.

I’m behind with the potting on as we are out of compost! The potatoes took the last of it.

Oscar’s garden is coming on. The two Mint Plants I got from Sainsburys are going well. They will spread on their own so I only wanted two so buying them there made more sense than a pack of seed. The Night Scented Stock are starting to come up.