AV SHACKLETON

PLANET WALKERS

Apen and The Snow Child

Once there was a tribe of outcasts, a pale-skinned people in a dark-skinned world. It is said their skin, eyes, and hair were the colour of gold. They could see things others could not, hear things others could not, and do things others could not.

        Their leader, Apen, was a mighty singer with a unique ability. He could travel the land in giant steps made possible by the power of his voice. But for all his strength he could not sing love into the hearts of strangers. Instead, he sang his people away when trouble arose.

Despite their uncertain lives, the tribe prospered and children were born, golden like themselves. Apen smiled at their good fortune, but without a wife and child of his own, on the inside he was sad.

One day he cried out to Bemay, the God of his people, “Bemay, my people flourish. I see their love for each other and the children born to bless them, and I am happy … but I am alone and I can bear it no longer. What can I do?”

Bemay answered, “Apen, is that not enough that you are a good leader for your people?”

“I love my people,” Apen replied, “and they love me. But when the day is done, my loneliness hurts me even so.”

“I hear you Apen,” said Bemay. “Because you are good inside and honest in your heart, I will help you. You must take your tribe northward. If you go north as far as Far North is, you will find a child and that child will become your wife.”

“A child, Bemay? Surely not. It is not right for a grown man to take a child to wife!”

“Do you want my help or not?” said Bemay. “Take your tribe north.”

        So Apen gathered his people and walked and walked under the sun, always heading north. Sometimes they lingered in a particularly pleasant place, but before they could become too settled Apen would sing them away with giant steps, always further north until they reached the northernmost edge of the land and there was nothing before them but water.

“Bemay!” Apen cried. “I have done as you asked. I have reached far north, but there is no child.”

“You have not gone far enough,” Bemay replied. “There is still a long way to go.”

Apen looked out over the waves. “But how can we cross the sea?”

“You must make boats,” Bemay said.

“Boats? On the ocean? Where will we go? There is no land. My people will drown!”

“Your people will not drown,” Bemay assured him. “If you listen, I will teach you the song of the waves. My breath will push you across the waters and you will be safe.”

Apen bowed his head. “But I am afraid. What if we get lost? What if we are swallowed by the sea?”

“Do you want my help or not?” said Bemay. “Take your tribe north.”                                            

         So Apen listened, and Bemay taught him the song of the waves. His people built boats and wove sails to catch the wind of Bemay’s breath, and across the ocean they went. By day they fished and swam, by night they were guided by the distant stars. There were furious storms and mighty currents and many times Apen was sorely afraid, but Bemay kept them safe as promised.

Then one day white breakers and a long beach appeared on the horizon and Apen’s people rejoiced to know their days at sea had come to an end … but when they were on dry land again they missed the roll of the waves and the freedom of the endless horizon.

In the new country they met many new peoples, some friendly and some not, but Apen never lingered. He wanted to find the child, the wife that Bemay had promised him.

On and on they walked, always heading north, until at last they came to a sea of sand that stretched on as if forever.

        “Oh Bemay!” Apen cried. “What should we do now? We can go no further, and there is no child.”

Bemay’s answer came whispered on the scorching wind, “You must cross the desert, Apen.”

“I cannot cross the desert,” Apen cried. “It is hot as flame. There is no water. My people will die.”

“If you listen,” said Bemay, “I will teach you the song of the desert and your people will cross in safety.”

“It worked for the sea,” Apen replied, “but that desert looks mighty hot and there is nothing to eat!”

“Do you want my help or not?” Bemay asked.

So Apen listened, and Bemay taught him the song of the desert.

They set off across the dunes, traveling only at night and hiding from the day. New songs enhanced their special senses so they could find food and water where it seemed there was none. Their skin darkened. Their hair bleached. They learned to cover themselves with cloth and leave only their eyes exposed, and at night the stars blazed in glory from horizon to horizon, showing them the way.

Then one day they saw open water and trees and life and they knew they had crossed the desert in safety as Bemay had promised. Their eyes basked in gentle green, and water was no longer hard to find, but as they crossed this new and temperate land they missed the desert’s silence and the night’s wide dark vault of stars.

The going was easy and Apen was happy, but he did not linger. Even more than before, he wanted to find the child Bemay had promised.

He led north again, through lonely wilderness and vast windy plains. Wild animals hunted them, but their sharpened senses kept them safe. After a time, mountains grew out of the plains and the people started to climb. Onward and upward they travelled, through wind and fog and snow, but each peak they crossed led to another higher and taller until at last Apen was faced by alps he could not climb nor sing his way around. 

“Oh Bemay!” he cried. “These mountains are such as we have never seen before – pinnacles like teeth of stone. I can go no further without your help, but since there is no child, I know that somehow we must.”

“Very good, Apen. At least you have learned this much. If you listen, I will help you again. I will teach you the song of the mountains, and you will pass.”

“Will it be as hard as the desert?” he asked. “My people did not like the desert.”

“Do you want my help or not?” said Bemay.

So Apen learned the song of the mountains and led his tribe through hidden passes and deep green valleys. They crossed great canyons by the strength of Apen’s song and heard the endless roar of rivers as they crashed down steep cliffs. Huge eagles soared on winds high above and the people wished they could fly with them and touch the sky. 

Then came a day when Apen stood on a high plateau and saw a vast green plain before them. When they reached that plain, the people rejoiced that there was no more climbing, but they missed the grandeur of the mountains and the majesty of the eagles’ flight.

As they walked the lonely plains, great herds of beasts roamed the grasslands with them. The people were stronger now than they had ever been, their senses sharper and their minds more alert. The children born to them were sturdy and tall; good singers who learned quickly and well, and Apen’s heart swelled with pride. But although life on the plains was good, the desire for the child of Bemay burned in his heart and he did not linger.

                                             

Further northward the air grew colder and the days grew shorter. Snow fell thick. Food became scarce. The tribe weakened, but Apen trusted Bemay and his people trusted him, and so they struggled on. Ribs began to show. Babies no longer thrived. Then the oldest of the tribe began to die, and Apen’s grief was inconsolable.

That day, there was no sun in the sky. Apen shivered with his people beneath their blankets. Tears froze on their faces and he did not know what to do. All that long night Apen’s tribe sang of waves and deserts, of mountains and eagles and stars, and when the sun finally rose – a mere finger’s width above the horizon, they had survived. But Apen knew they could travel no further.

        “Bemay!” he cried. “Oh Bemay, I trusted you, yet my people suffer and die! You said we would be safe, but we can go neither forward nor back. We are trapped and I don’t know what to do.”

The voice of Bemay came to him, falling in the crystal silence of the snow, “Apen, listen and I will teach you the song of frost. There is not much further to go. I will be with you even if you cannot see me, and my warmth will protect you.”

“But Bemay, what if it is all for nothing? What if the child is gone, or never was? What if your voice is only in my imagination? What if my beloved people die?”

This time Bemay did not answer, but when a lonely bird cried out from the north, Apen dried his tears and prepared himself to listen.

Having learned the song of frost he led his people on. Throughout the dark of the longest night the new songs kept them warm and no more died. They hunted for seals and fish beneath the ice and made shelters from skins and bones. The song of the waves helped them cross the icy seas, the song of the desert to find food, and the song of the mountains to endure. The golden rays of Bemay made a path northward and Apen followed until at last he came to a place that was as far as Far North was.

There, he heard a new song – faint, but so sweet to the ears that he longed to hear it better. Bemay’s words wove through it, telling him to on alone.

“It is not much further, now,” said Bemay. “Your tribe must wait here until you return.”

“I cannot leave my people,” Apen said. “Who will sing for them? Who will keep them from harm?”

Bemay smiled. “Others have learned. You have taught them how to survive all adversity. You have been the best leader they could have, and now you must trust them to care for themselves.”

Still he hesitated, but Bemay grew impatient. “Do you want my help or not?”

Apen looked and saw Bemay’s words were true. He had taught his people so well that they no longer needed him, so he turned and followed the song alone.

Louder it grew and louder until it filled his mind. He began to sing with it and the harmonies he made shone and glimmered with colour. When the song grew yet stronger, he sang even louder. Pattern upon pattern formed and flowed, and at the centre of them all he found a girl-child as white as the snow, with eyes as blue as the sky and a voice the colour of rainbows. 

The music they made together swept them up in an intricate dance of voices. The child grew as they sang and when at last it was finished, Apen beheld a female grown, and distilled from their song came the sound of her name.

“Annan,” he whispered.

        Annan came to him and took his hands, and Apen learned at last the song of love.

Bemay smiled. “My daughter, Annan, has taught you well,” he said. “But there is more.”

“What must I do?” Apen asked.

“You and Annan must combine all the songs into one. This world is in danger and you and your people must leave. The one great song will carry you far away. Like the small steps you used to take across the country, these large steps will carry you across the stars. Return with Annan to your tribe and I will help you as I always have.”

“Thank you, Bemay,” said Apen.

Bemay smiled again. “You have known me as Bemay, but now you may call me El,” he said. “And for as long as my Breath blows, just as these people are yours, you are mine.”

… And that was the beginning of the annangi, the people of El, the children of Annan and Apen. Through ages untold they continued to travel, but now, with the aid of the navigators who mastered Apen’s song, they journeyed in giant steps from star to star. At last they came to a fair blue planet they called Giahn and they made her their home – but that is a story for another time.

Evolution of the Went

I assume you would love to hear a bit of advanced info about what’s in the pipeline for 2018? So here it is, some inside intel about the enigmatic Went and its (his/her/?) sex-life.

Have you wondered where the worlds and life-forms of fantasy universes actually come from?

Remember John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids? The narrator reveals the “parentage” of the Triffids themselves as coming from twisted scientific experimentation - perhaps influenced by genetic experimentation at the time of writing. But before Wyndham could write it, he had to think it.

So, where do these ideas come from? The answer: it is very much a product of a wild and flexible imagination. But to add believability to the animals and plants that populate your wonderful new worlds, like Wyndham, I think it’s important to approach things in a holistic and logical way. This will make sure they have clear connection to the ecosystems they inhabit.

For instance, my way of deciding how life would respond to the climatic adversity on planet Went was to look at earthly creatures in similar locations (or as similar as I could find) and apply their survival strategies to my invented situation. Then I gave things a twist by giving the planet a biological model with more legs and eyes than the “classic” Terran one – or did the twist come first? (Well, it did actually!) But really, who knows what’s possible out there on the millions of exoplanets we are only just beginning to discover? I could turn out to be prescient!

So, getting into my brain …

I did a little reading and, according to Bergmann’s rule, within a broadly distributed taxonomic clade (look that up in your Funk and Wagnall’s!), populations and species of larger size are found in colder environments. This put me in mind of extinct megafauna; the diprotodon, a giant Australian wombat, and wooly mammoths (another of my favorites). The Went (the creatures after whom the planet Went was named) took on visual characteristics of both diprotodon and mammoth, along with the wombat’s tendency to live in a home burrow.
Nature favors adaptations that result in reproduction, so, on the Imperial Planet Went, many plants and animals have complex life-cycles that utilize geothermal warmth, predictable weather patterns, deep oceans (to escape the ice) and suspended animation to ensure their survival and that of their offspring. On worlds with harsh environments, our own polarized male/female breeding model might not be the most reliable, so gender may take different, indeed fluid, forms and gender roles not so easily defined.

Every lifeform is shaped by the habitat with which it contends. However, as a writer, the purposes of my story influence evolution also. In creating the Went, it had to be that an experienced and sensitive cryptozoologist such as Huldar might not immediately recognize them as sentient: self-aware and intelligent.

As the Planet Walker series progresses it becomes clear that Went have 5 genders of which only two are involved in actual reproduction, and if you want to know more of the wonders of Wentish reproductive cycle you’ll find it in book 3 “Return to Went” (coming soon!)

In the meantime …

Went life cycle redone DLAs you can see from the diagram, (click to enlarge), Went eggs are laid when they wake from hibernation. The eggs are left to mature through the summer while the Went’s migration takes place and fertilized when they return to their burrows at the end of the long season. After fertilization, the eggs hatch into thread-like larvae which travel through aquifers to the ocean where they develop, safe beneath the ice, for the duration of the seven year freeze. As the thaw progresses, the straits of the circular sea open and the larval Went – now long and eel-like with a single eye in the centre of their heads, come ashore to cocoon in the sand. There they remain for another seven years, then early in the thaw of the following cycle they hatch in response to the dramatic, but reliable, weather event – the water-spout season.

Another point – don’t judge a book by its cover …

Organized communication takes many forms, and sometimes the mechanisms are so foreign to our own they are at first overlooked, and so it happened for the Went. These creatures communicate through hair movement, an idea that came from my observation of Tawny Frogmouths, an Australian bird that raises and lowers various feather groups in particular ways. To me this seems meaningful, but unless I could somehow become a frogmouth, I doubt I could ever comprehend what the movements mean.

Someone may study this someday when humans start to value their native wildlife a little more.

Went also use audible language, a sort of droning through their long noses or else a long, wailing cry. This gives them the appearance of common herding animals using sound to keep in touch. However, the true purpose of the drone is to communicate with their planet, and fulfill their deeply held belief that they must record everything they see and relate this to the Heart of the World so that when the next thaw comes, all will be restored as it should be.

How about that habitat?

Went have no natural enemies and due to their unique life-cycle they don’t compete for mates; food is plentiful, and those that die during the great migration leave vacant burrows for surviving young to inhabit, eliminating the need to compete for resources. If there are not enough burrows, the Went’s former-life memories of how to make one are triggered, and they do so in time for them to hibernate in safety through the freeze.

Went adjusted smallWith so few areas of common ground between the Went and the Imperial Explorers (book 1) I feel Huldar and his team, the Uri’madu, should be forgiven for not realising the importance of their discovery, a new sentient life-form. However, if Duvät Gok had shared his prior knowledge of the planet and not kept subsequent findings secret, the mysteries of these creatures may have been deciphered sooner.

Will one person’s greed lead to environmental catastrophe and change the balance of galactic power? Find out as you follow my Planet Walker series.

Thanks for reading!

If you have any questions or topics you’d like me to blog about, please let me know! You can contact me here.

Visit my website; A V Shackleton

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     A mature Went displays its colours.

 

 

 

angel

When I tell people my latest book 'Planet Walkers’ is the story of a group of planet exploring archangels and angels, I am often met with responses that indicate a very New Age misunderstanding of the nature of angels and archangels as distinct beings.

Human history is full of attempts to create an Angelic lexicon based on an anthropomorphic view of the universe, so it is completely understandable that the first thing that comes into a potential reader’s mind is an angel with wings, playing a harp, whose whole existence revolves around protecting or harming human beings in the service of God.

So, I thought I might take this opportunity to set the record straight and provide some background to the history of Angels and Archangels in myth and legend.

As many of you would know, the word Angel is derived from the Latin angelus, meaning ‘messenger’, which in turn comes from the Greek and Mycenaean words for messenger. While most of us first learned about angels and archangels during religious study, their tradition goes back to ancient Sumer and references to ‘Winged Messenger Deities’ they called ‘Anunnaki’, or ‘Offspring of the Gods (specifically Anu and Ki).’

annunaki‘Anunnaki-like’ beings were similarly referred to in the Torah and Old Testament as ‘Nephilim.’ ‘Nephilim’ were described as the offspring of angels - indicating that at some time in the distant past angels were physical beings, with whom humans consorted. Likewise in The Book of Enoch, Angels consorted with human women, lusting after them, procreating with them and as a result becoming ‘fallen angels.’

Whether ‘Anunnaki,’ ‘Nephilim’ or Angels, these beings only gained their benign reputation as helpers sent by God in later religious texts and myths.

In the Babylonian creation myth - ‘Enuma Elish’ - the ‘Anunnaki’ are personified as hosts in heaven and on earth and in The Epic of Gilgamesh (from which many Old Testament stories appear to be drawn) as judges of mankind on behalf of the Gods. In later Judeo-Christian and Islamic texts Angels and Archangels are further reduced to messengers or emanations of God, with no free-will. Collectively they are known as a ‘Host’ (remember this for later), becoming unquestioning servants of God in guardianship of humankind.

By contrast the angels and archangels depicted in my ‘Planet Walkers’ series began as a distinct race of dispossessed beings. The first peoples in the realm were angels. The legends say that they were a band of wanderers on a doomed planet, despised by other species because of their unusual abilities. Their leader started to hear voices and received detailed instructions (sound familiar?). These instructions taught him to ‘navigate’ to other planets using song. He was charged with protecting the other angels and guiding them, teaching them this new skill if they were worthy. So began their wandering in search of a new home. Generations later the great grand-daughter of the original Navigator was guided to the Throne of El, where a gate between dimensions was opened. A group of advanced entities chose from among the angels their future hosts, thus creating the first archangels. In this case ‘host’ means to be a physical vehicle for a non-physical entity - literally hosting the entity in one’s body. There were ten entities that took hosts, creating the ten great houses of the Realm, and Tiamat (the entity) was chosen to rule over them all.