This month's free read first chapter is the second book of my Vietnam series EXTINCTION'S EDGE. Together the six books tell the complete story of Vietnam as seen through the mind-melting techniques of the alien Marregh/Riken. Book Two is entitled THE YEARS OF THE WARLORDS.
The alien surveillance continues as the Marragh/Riken sanction the third mind-melt with Vu Phan Quang, the corrupt politician first encountered by Phat Sang in a Hanoi refugee camp. Quang escapes from the horrors of the communist victory in the north to reach the dubious safety of Saigon and immediately becomes embroiled in the battles of the three rival groups who fought for political control before the USA threw its support behind the South Vietnamese government headed by Ngo Dinh Diem.
The bloodshed and suffering resume as the warlords tear apart the new Vietnam, while the Time-watchers struggle to understand the motivation behind the madness.
Rene Chauvel, the first mind-melt, returns to Saigon as a war correspondent for a Paris Newspaper, and Quang becomes captivated by Chauvel’s new wife.
The second mind-melt, the orphan girl Phat Sang, survives the Great Terror of the North Vietnamese Land Reform campaigns to become a refugee again in South Vietnam.
MIND-PULSE: 9E XV723.
PROGRESS REPORT: EARTH/A/IC/V/ KORHL-ONE Z53
In the beginning Marre had been a vast planetary ocean. There had been no continents and no islands, just the endless sun-warmed seas. On the ocean floor there was cataclysmic violence, great quakes split open vast trenches and chasms, volcanoes swelled and burst, emitting writhing streams of undersea lava that boiled the tormented waters. There was great diversity of temperature in the erupting depths, coupled with fearful currents and shock waves.
Millennia passed. The planetary core began to cool, and became calmer. The sea-beds settled, with longer breathing spaces between disruptions. The first life evolved, a simple life form that multiplied by division. It did not diversify; it yielded no division between predators and prey. The natural dangers crushed, or cooked, or dismembered its excess numbers.
Millennia passed. The core was stable. The Marregh filled the life-giving waters. The first glimmers of intelligence dawned. As each life form divided the sum total of its knowledge continued. There was always new knowledge to be learned, but knowledge once known was never forgotten. There was no necessity for re-learning.
Millennia passed. The Marregh constructed undersea bulwarks, excavated their own trenches and enlarged selected caves. The results of their labours gave them added protection from the undersea quakes and shock waves that still endangered their ocean world. They developed manipulative tentacles, with the need for cooperation their mental energy was stimulated and their mental powers increased.
Millennia passed, the Marregh could exist on minimal resources, but even so their vast numbers began to strain the life-supporting potential of their ocean environment. To compensate they learned to extend the duration of each life form before sub-division, effectively slowing their rate of multiplication. With longer individual life came growing mental power, mind-links were bridged between the generation lines. The Marregh became telepathic.
Millions of years went by. The star around which the ocean planet Marre revolved began to overheat. As the star burned more brightly and fiercely the seas of Marre began to evaporate, the waters being steamed off remorselessly into space. As the ocean diminished islands began to appear, and then continents of rapidly baking rock and mud. Large colonies of the Marregh were trapped in the smaller, shrinking seas. Vast migrations began, and where the rising land barriers had completely cut off some of the newly-formed seas it became necessary to emerge for the first time from their liquid environment.
They could not survive outside the seas, and so they built sea-filled vehicles to carry them across the hostile terrain. Many perished as their first crude vehicles crashed and split open, plunged over dry cliffs, or simply broke down to become stranded and immobile.
Millennia passed. Their star continued to overheat. The seas continued to shrink. The urgent need for survival forced the advance of desperate new technology. They surveyed their solar system and located a second planet with inhabitable oceans that was twice the distance of Marre from their dying sun. Again the Marregh mass-migrated in a new generation of space vehicles which carried them to their second planetary home.
Millennia passed. Their dying star was an expanding red giant. The process of evaporation that had extinguished the oceans of Marre began to be repeated on the new planet. In renewed desperation the Marregh were forced to look beyond the confines of their own solar system.
Circling a young star they had called Rike they located another ocean planet which appeared hopeful. But hope was twelve light years away in the intervening vastness of space.
Centuries passed. The Marregh could now think as one focussed racial mind, and all their mental effort was concentrated upon solving the problem of the great leap from one solar system to another. They explored all the possibilities of space and time, and finally came to understand the principles of time-slip and time-warp.
The first timeships carried them to Riken-Four with a bare few hundred years to spare before their first star boiled dry the last ocean on their second home planet. By then Marre had already been totally engulfed in the bloated red mass of awesome fire. Two million years later the old star collapsed and exploded in a spectacular supernova.
By then the Marregh/Riken, as they now called themselves, were exploring the far reaches of the galaxy in their timeships. They mapped every planet with life-supporting oceans, and in many they left new colonies of their own kind. Never again would they be at the risk of extinction because of a dying star, or a drying planet.
They surveyed the Earth, but its saline waters were polluted with oxygen. They passed on.
Millennia passed, and then from the ignored planet they detected a strange and unexpected surge of radio wave activity.
Ever curious, the Marregh/Riken came back.
Korhl-One understood now what Jarhl had been through. Telepathy only conveyed up to eighty percent of the actual physical experience. For the experiencing mind there was an excruciating, agonized edge to the pain that cut sharper and deeper to the very core of his being. Normally each Marregh triad divided at maturity, the second and third minds separating in their own compartments of the body vehicle, each of them to eventually evolve into a new Marregh triad while the first mind slowly declined and deceased. Mind-melting with an alien life form was only possible in the period prior to natural separation when the minds were fully developed, although the Marregh body was not yet ready to divide. The departure of the second and third minds left those compartments of the body vacant, and all the stress and shock to the combined system was felt in full by the first mind which remained. It was worse, much worse, than Korhl-One had expected.
Jarhl and Serhl floated bedside him, their mind pulses impinging gently as they sought to soothe and sustain him. Korhl now felt a unique intensity of fellow-feeling with his two companions. He and Jarhl fully understood each other, and Serhl was destined soon to join them. They had become, he searched for a definition and found it in the memory of one of the mind pulses that had come from Jarhl-Two and Chauvel, they had become an elite.
He was aware of Revehl and the Timeship awaiting his report, but first he concentrated on strengthening his mind links with the planet below. Korhl-Two and Korhl-Three had each in their turn made a millisecond timeshift. It was the only way to transfer to another mind, for the Marregh/Riken could not exist for more than milliseconds between minds. Again both mind-melts had been achieved without either of the Earth hosts showing any awareness of what had happened.
When he was satisfied that both of his mind brothers were undamaged and functioning clearly he turned his own mind outward, pulsing his report to the far reaches of the solar system.
"We are successful. Korhl-Two is now with the Buddhist priest who is called Thich Quang Duc. Korhl-Three is with the Vietnamese male Vu Phan Quang.”
'We are uncertain about this." There was a ripple of questioning behind the focussed mind pulse from Revehl. "Why were these subjects chosen? We understand that neither of them are participants in the fighting, and also that the monk is extremely old."
"The war appears to be temporarily over now that the French have been defeated at Dienbienphu,” Korhl-One mind-pulsed his explanation carefully. "However, the signs are that on many levels conflict will continue. The humanoid feelings of anger, grief, frustration and outrage are all extremely volatile."
"But why chose a priest? This humanoid is passive. He has withdrawn from these conflicts."
"The mind of the priest is a rich storehouse of historical knowledge and religious lore. It will repay a detailed study.”
“The purpose of our study is to understand the innate aggression of this species -- to learn why they are driven to fight and destroy each other." The collective mind-pulse from the Timeship was heavy with criticism.
Korhl-One paused. He felt the agitation in the mind pulses that were now coming up to him from Korhl-Two and sent calming pulses down in return. Then he relayed his mind-brother's defence outward:
"The mental nature of this species is extremely complex. Because they develop from birth ignorance into separate minds they evolve with different beliefs about the way things should be, and the way things are - any two can have different understandings of their own situation. These differences in what they call religion and philosophy are the proclaimed causes of much of their large-scale fighting. Their perceptions of their past history and the injustices they see there are also claimed as causes for their madness."
"Much of this we already know from interceptions of their radio and television waves."
Korhl-One hesitated. He was uncertain of how to respond to disapproval. "I/we feel that this study within a learned mind will be fruitful.”
"And this other one?”
"Vu Phan Quang has powerful political ambitions. The Earth qualities of aggressiveness and selfishness which are most alien to us are strongly represented in this man. He too will repay a detailed study."
"This recommendation was made by Jarhl-Three?"
"Yes. For a short time the child Phat Sang and the man Vu Phan Quang were refugees together. Jarhl-Three sensed that the man was a suitable study for the next mind-melt."
"Why has Jarhl-Three remained with the child?"
There was more doubt in the cold mind pulse from Revehl. Jarhl-One was aware of Korhl-One's uncertainty and felt it necessary to intervene and answer on behalf of his mind brothers.
"It seems that attractions form between ourselves and our hosts." The vibrations of his mental pulsing betrayed Jarhl-One's own perplexity at the phenomena. "The humanoids have simple mind structures compared to ours, but their emotional and nervous systems are much more complex. They are much more physical than we are. And this and the insulated state of their minds leads them to develop different temperaments and characteristics. Thus there is a form of uniqueness to each humanoid. My mind brothers find this of great interest. They believe that no other humanoids will be exactly the same as Chauvel and Phat Sang with whom they have formed attachments. They do not want to return until it becomes necessary.”
"We must consider this." The central mind pulse was cautious, and behind it a flutter of conflicting opinion.
Jarhl-One felt a tug of loyalty toward his mind brothers that may have been against the race and the Timeship. It was a slight feeling but one that was rare enough to be uncomfortable. "Jarhl-Three believes it will prove useful to study one of these creatures as it develops from childhood to adulthood." he mind-pulsed defensively. “Jarhl-Two also believes that there is much more to be learned from Chauvel. The Frenchman is angry and deeply involved. I/we do not think that he has finished with Vietnam."
"We will consider.” The closing mind-pulse from the Timeship was abrupt and again cold. "In the meantime Serhl-Two and Serhl-Three will remain with the observation capsule. Future mind-melts will only be made with humanoids who.are engaged in actual fighting.........
The Hanoi office of Cathay Pacific airlines was crowded when Quang entered, mostly with Chinese businessmen and foreign nationals, although there were a few prosperous looking Vietnamese. Quang felt conspicuous in his shabby shirt and trousers beside all these lightweight city suits, but he took his place quietly behind a group of French civilians in the fluid, shapeless queue. At the head of the line a flaccid-faced American was flourishing his wallet before the booking clerk and saying briskly.
"I want three seats on the next available plane to Saigon. That's for me, my wife and my daughter."
The clerk was a dishevelled young man who looked as though he was on the point of a nervous breakdown. He said in the voice of a man who has repeated himself many times:
"I am sorry, monsieur. All of our flights to Saigon are fully booked for the next three weeks." He turned over the sheets of his passenger lists and added: "The next flight with three vacancies will be on the seventeenth of next month."
"But I can’t wait that long. The people at the U.S. Consulate have advised me to get my family out to Saigon immediately. That means now."
"I am sorry," the clerk repeated. "Every flight is fully booked."
"Then lay on some extra flights."
"We are already making as many flights as we have aeroplanes. We can do no more."
"Then screw you, I'll try another airline."
"As you wish, monsieur," The clerk shrugged. "But you will find them all the same."
The American left. The queue moved forward, and although there was much reluctance and arguing most of the would-be passengers accepted places on the flights three weeks ahead. When Quang's turn came he had carefully opened his shirt, and for the first time in eight weeks he showed the fat money belt that was strapped around his waist. He smiled and said in a low tone:
"I need to get to Saigon quickly. If there are any cancellations I can afford to pay."
The clerk shook his head, ignoring the inference in Quang’s bland smile.
"I am sorry, monsieur. There is already a long list of people awaiting cancellations. The next flight that now has vacant seats will be on the nineteenth."
Quang bit his lip and fastened his shirt.
"That is much too late," he said. He was afraid that other eyes might have seen the money belt and hurried away.
Quang tried the other airlines without success, and then began the round of the shipping agencies. Again the offices were crowded, and all sea passages were fully booked weeks ahead. He was becoming desperate for he felt that it was urgent that he left before the Communists took over the city. It was dusk as he emerged from the last agency office and he stood for a moment pondering his next move. A young Vietnamese wearing a light grey suit watched him for a moment, correctly reading the look of thoughtful agitation on Quang's face. Then he moved up to Quang‘s side, smiled and asked:
"Are you trying to get a ticket to the south?”
Quang turned to look at him. He noted the young man's knowing smile, the western suit, and the long, carefully manicured nails on the little fingers of each hand, an indication of the youth's pride in the fact that he did no manual work. Quang nodded slowly and the youth smiled again.
“I have a ticket,” he offered. “It is for a ship that sails from Haiphong n two day’s time."
Quang guessed that the youth had bought up a number of tickets as soon as the mass exodus began, and now he was re-selling them at a profit. It was the sort of thing that Quang himself would have done, but it annoyed him that he was the one who was being cheated. He said cautiously, "How much?"
"How much money do you have?
Quang pursed his lips, which was an unconscious habit when he was both frustrated and angry, "Five hundred piastres."
The youth laughed. "It is not enough."
"Six hundred piastres."
The youth started to walk away and Quang said desperately, "Eight hundred. It is all I have!"
The youth hesitated, and then came back. He smiled at Quang and held out his hand.
"Let me see."
Quang reached one hand inside his shirt to touch his money belt, and then hesitated. Dusk was a quickly passing phase and although it was now dark there were too many people and too many lights on the open street. There was a narrow alley nearby and Quang nodded towards it.
"Let us first get off the street."
The youth eyed him doubtfully for a moment, and then assumed that Quang had not come by his money honestly, which was a fairly accurate guess. He nodded and they moved together into the alley-mouth. Quang faltered again, and demanded:
"Let me see the ticket first."
The youth shrugged. He was confident that he had made a sale and he had the goods to deliver, He produced a ticket folder from his inside pocket and showed that it was all in order. It bore the official stamps and only the name of the passenger was left open. Quang was satisfied and backed deeper into the alley to unfasten his shirt and draw out his money belt.
The belt was actually a long sock stuffed with notes which he had fashioned himself and contained almost a thousand piastres. Quang knew that if he started to count it out then the youth would want it all, and he had planned on having almost half of that sum left after paying his passage to stake himself on arrival in Saigon. He simply could not bring himself to hand it all over, and because he had no love for physical violence he began to sweat. He held out the money belt, fumbled and deliberately dropped it.
They both stooped quickly to pick it up again, but Quang's hand fastened over a large stone that lay nearby. He brought it up with a savage swing of his hand and struck the youth square across the forehead. The youth cried out, stumbling to one side with blood spilling from the broken skin, and in an agony of fear and nausea Quang hit him again and again with the stone until he fell down. He was like a frightened rabbit now as he scooped up his money belt and stuffed it back inside his shirt. The youth lay groaning and whimpering in the dirt of the alley, but Quang rolled him over and took the vital boat ticket from the inside of his jacket. He had just sufficient self control to check that the youth had no more boat tickets on which he in turn could have made a profit, and then he scrambled up and ran away fast down the alley.