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Chapter 1

It was the day after the the third child disappeared.

A storm had interrupted the spell of hot dry weather that Bespia had enjoyed for several weeks, and under ordinary circumstances Damian would have enjoyed the coolness resulting from the storm. But now, as he sheltered in a thick patch of trees from the wind and rain, he lay in wait.

One week ago, little did he know how abruptly the chosen calm of his life was to be broken. But on this night, and for many nights to come, his life would be turned in a new and strange direction. He had never before experienced any premonition of the coming of those dark forces which were to change the whole tenor of his existence, suddenly, now, in sight of the forest before the dark shadow of the Terran ship came into view.

The ship's searchlight struck through the thick thicket of brush and Damian lay against the ground, heart beating wildly. He listened and waited, not daring to move until the light moved away.

A gust of wind brought the ship closer, interrupting the quiet of the night save for the dripping of rain from the leaves and the vague and remote roar of the town.

This was the second time this week that he was almost discovered. He needed to know where the ships were going. The town people were getting nervous since the night another child had vanished. No one could explain the disappearance, since no remains of any child was ever found. The woods were full of predators who had the sense not to stray close to the village, and the children had been cautioned to stay away from the perimeter of the forest. A search party had gone out the night that Sylvan had gone missing, but nothing was found, not even a shred of clothing. No footprints, nothing, almost as if the child had vanished into thin air. But Damian knew that it had something to do with the Terrans.

He looked up at the sky and followed the path of the light. It looked like the ship was swooping in for another pass near to where he was. He edged closer to a thick patch of brush, his eyes never leaving the sky. As the light came closer, he held his breath and waited. If the Terrans decided to send a landing party, he would be sunk.

Crouching in the shelter of the brush, he listened to the rain dripping from over-reaching branches and to the gurgling of a turgid little stream which flowed along the path near his feet whilst now and again swift gusts of the expiring tempest would set tossing the branches of the trees which lined the way.

After what felt like hours instead of minutes, the ship finally sailed away and he breathed a sigh of relief. He gathered his tool bag and slung it over his shoulder. After one last look at the sky, he walked towards his home, picking up the pace until he was jogging through the thinning brush. The clearing came into view, and he breathed a sigh of relief.

It was a lonely spot at night when all of Bespia had turned in for supper hour, and the darkened houses seemed to withdraw yet farther into the gardens separating them from the highroad. Bespia was a relic of days on old Urth, before trains and buses; dusk created an old-world atmosphere to the village street, disguising the red brick and stucco which in many cases had displaced the half-timbered houses of the past. Yet, in still weather, it was possible to hear the muted sounds of the city, and when the wind was in the north, to count the hammer-strokes of the great bell of St. Paul's.

It would not do for his family to think that he'd been up to something unsavory. He slowed his pace and continued the trek home.

Damian unlocked the door and walked in to the the smell of fresh baked bread. His mother poked her head out from the kitchen. He leaned down and gave her a peck on the cheek.

Eva Mathiessen, a short and slender woman with short curly red hair, had been a town beauty in her youth. Damian had inherited her green eyes and dimpled smile, and often had to avoid the village girls who thought that he was pretty. His sister Margrethe complained about how unlucky she was to get Dad's brown eyes instead. Damian would gladly exchange eyes with her if it kept from being followed by the village girls who thought that he was pretty. Margrethe was older than him by only two years, as he often reminded her when she tried to boss him around.

"Did everything go well?" his mother asked, stirring the pot on the stove.


Eva glanced up at her son with a scrutiny that only a mother would give. "Then why are you sweating? Did something happen?"

Damn, she noticed. Damian swiped his hand across his forehead. "I was eager to get home," flashing her a charming smile. "I'm starving, and I didn't want to miss the first hot bowl of your delicious stew."

His mother scoffed. "Oh stop. If you don't want to tell me…"

"Ma, nothing happened," he insisted.

She narrowed her eyes at him, then smiled. "Call everyone for dinner. And go wash up - you stink."

"Pass the rolls."

Erik shoved a huge amount of stew into his mouth.

"Pass the rolls, PLEASE," his mother admonished.

"Please." Erik rolled his eyes and continued eating.

His younger brother Erik did what was required of him, but his interests were elsewhere. Life on agricultural Bespia could be difficult, and Erik didn't like getting his hands dirty. If he passed the coder skills qualification exam, he could escape off-planet to study. Ma wasn't thrilled with the idea; so many of the young village men transferred to job posts elsewere in Irra system, and rarely returned to Bespia.

"So, the search continues for Sylvan?" Damian's father asked calmly.

"Yeah." Damian chewed slowly, aware of his mother's worried eyes upon him. In her job as the village's systems operator, Eva knew went on in Bespia and beyond, from the north and south poles of Catun to all the other planets in the Irra system. And although he tried to shield her from his activities, she knew her son all too well. He was, after all, the child who was the most like her.

Damian's father Ethran, a tall, sturdily built man with a thick head of sandy hair and warm, welcoming brown eyes, loved working with his hands, carrying on in the woodsmith profession of his father and grandfather when they arrived on Bespia from Urth. Ethran was content with his life, and steered away from the troubles that ailed their small village.

He was content to know that his oldest son loved the work that they did together. In his mind, Damian had no interest in any place other than their little hamlet.If only he knew what was really going through his son's mind.

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