Stephen Phillips

Author of Science Fiction stories

Chapter 1 – The impossible artefact

 

His voice rang out loudly across the vast expanse of the plain on an alien planet. “Get over here fast. I think I’ve found an artefact,” called Frank Fielding to his companions. They were on a geological survey of their new home, the planet formally named Proxima Home in the Alpha Centauri system; or ‘Home’ as they had called it ever since arrival. The fifty-year voyage from Earth had achieved more than one tenth of the speed of light on the way. Travelling at such a rate would not have been imaginable even a few years before the start of their mission, because there had been no cost-effective form of energy that could have provided the acceleration required. Nor would it have been possible to generate an artificial gravity field that could prevent them from having their bones crushed in the process. Not possible, that was, until the scientists of project Ozymandias had taken the technology of cold fusion and added the controlling power of a singularity that gave them a virtually limitless supply of energy.


“Don’t be ridiculous, Frank,” said Erica Alder, the chief geologist, as soon as she and the others reached where he had been digging. He had spotted something strange on the monitor, while they were doing ground radar sweeps and the tall Nordic blond had told him to go and dig it up as much to keep him out of her hair as anything. In fact, Frank had only really been included in the trip to keep an eye on Dr Rebecca Nairn and her two children during the field trip. Rebecca had lost her husband, Charles – more properly Prince Charles, of Wales and a former member of the United Nations Council – during the voyage, due to the hostile action of a shadowy group called the Cult of Mithras. Frank had been Charles’s closest friend and sometime comrade in the Special Forces and he felt a special responsibility for looking after his former commanding officer’s widow. The two had a sometimes uneasy relationship because of the number of times Rebecca felt Frank had endangered her husband’s life – and the fact that he had lived when Charles was lost to her. For his part, he deeply respected this tall, striking brunette as one of the leading scientists of her generation and deputy leader of the mission. On the other hand, he adored her children; particularly her son, in whose upbringing he shared.


“You know as well as I do that there has never been any intelligent life on this planet, so how can there be an artefact?” Erica continued, nevertheless excited by the apparent discovery. There were no professional archaeologists on the mission, which currently consisted of about 260 individuals, selected for maximum diversity in terms of race, creed and expertise. One area that had been ignored in building the crew, although more by omission that any particular process of decision-making, was expertise in digging up the past. Nobody thought there would be any need.


“Actually,” said Rebecca, who had arrived slightly later than the others, being encumbered with her baby daughter, Elizabeth, and having had to stop to collect her three-year old son, Alexander, “that is not strictly accurate, Erica. When we ran the spectrographs, both on Earth and during the final approach from space, there was no evidence of industrialisation and we have subsequently seen no surface evidence of habitation, past or present. We cannot, however, rule out that there might once have been some form of intelligence here. Let’s see what Frank has found.”


Erica, a highly intelligent woman in her mid-thirties who was, as Frank put it to himself, easy on the eye, was scientist enough to accept the correction not as an admonishment, but simply as a statement of absolute fact. Suppression of ‘personality’ as a cult was one of the features that had emerged soon after the initial landing, when the five crews who had each taken two-year tours of duty – spending the balance of the voyage in suspended animation – were joined by the 200 supercargo crew members who had been in stasis for the entire voyage. As the mission leader, Professor Anton Savasin, had told everyone at their first meeting, “we are almost all scientists to some extent or other, so we must agree that no idea is ever to be rejected out of hand. When someone says something with which we disagree, we must listen and decide whether it is provable, can be challenged in a reasoned way, or is something that sparks a better idea that can be discussed.” This ruling, one of the few that he ever made in this democratic society, was generally recognised as a positive way forward. In this settlement, there was no place for egos; the whole point of creating a new way of life was for everyone to cooperate and for nobody to take a leading position. For that reason, only academic titles, not civil or military ones, were ever used. And to be honest, even these were rarely referred to.


As Frank gently removed the dust from the cylindrical shaped object he had found, faint markings became visible. At each stage of the cleaning process, images and measurements were taken to record precisely where it was found, in case the information was to be needed for future reference. “Not that there are likely to be any claimants for ownership,” quipped Frank. “I suspect that this has been in the ground for a very long time.”


“You could be right,” smiled Rebecca who as chief scientist took whatever precedence that might exist within the settlement, “but we don’t know how long-lived whoever made this item might have been,” she added reasonably. “Have you any idea what this could be, Frank? You have been working on it for the longest time; any intuitions yet?” It had taken him more than an hour to ensure that it had been fully exposed and had so far made no attempt to remove it from the soil that surrounded it.


“Not really,” he replied. “There are some markings on the surface, but to be honest, it is impossible to tell whether they are pictures, ideograms or some form of conventional writing. Without a Rosetta Stone, I don’t see how we will ever be able to tell,” he added.


“Even without an archaeologist amongst us, Frank,” replied Erica, “things have moved on rather a lot since the end of the eighteenth century when that was found. So even though we have no context for the markings, we may at least be able to discover what it is for; what it does. Perhaps Rebecca and her colleagues in the science academy will be able to identify some purpose for it,” she added.


Frank looked at Rebecca and Erica, ignoring the others, who were standing around watching him work and gestured to Alexander who, at a precocious three and a half, was interested in absolutely everything. “Why don’t you come and help me, Alex?” he asked, adding to Rebecca, “I don’t think it is going to be heavy and I won’t let the lad hurt himself.” She nodded her permission and the toddler bounded over to his favourite uncle to help – or hinder, depending on your perspective. As Frank had surmised when checking underneath for booby traps – a hangover from his military service – the item was relatively light, about a metre in length and perhaps 15cm in diameter. The ends were domed, so that there was no natural weak spot for corrosion to act on an exposed surface, but the markings were largely concentrated round the centre of its length. 


“Striches,” shouted Alexander, using the name he had given to the first large animals they had seen on Home, a flock of migrating birds about the size of Ostriches. That had been about a week earlier and he had misheard one of the settlers describing their size and the name had stuck. Everyone looked towards the broad, slightly pinkish-blue sky of the plain on which they were working, to see where he might have seen this still rare vision.


“Where are they darling,” asked his mother, since nobody could see anything above them.


“There. On Uncle Frank’s tube,” he said in that slightly impatient voice that children use when adults fail intuitively to follow their train of thought. He pointed at the faint ridges and indentations on the artefact that Frank was cradling in his arms, not because of the weight, but to protect it against accidents should it prove to be fragile. As the adults focussed, they eventually saw what clearly did look like a simplified image of the large avian they had seen previously.
“Alexander must have very good cognitive skills to have identified that from the visible markings,” said one of the younger scientists, impressed. “I must admit that I can only just see it now that I know what I am looking at.”


“That might be my fault,” said Frank. “One of the games that Michelle, Anita and I used to play with Alex when he was little on the voyage – while Rebecca and the rest of you were planning for the landing – was to look at images of earth animals and comparing them with hieroglyphics from Ancient Egypt.” This had been something that Charles had asked Frank to do, before his loss, in order to ensure that the boy had at least some experience of non-European cultures. “It seems that those games have enabled his brain to decipher what to me still looks like a jumble of lines. Can you see anything else, Alex?” he asked gently, not wishing the child to become self-conscious about being the centre of interest and thereby close up on the questions.


The response was startling. “Hippo … man,” Alexander said back to him.


“I hope that that was two separate words,” joked Frank, “not a description of one animal.” He knew that this must be the case, because everything Alexander was able to describe was something he had seen in the books; something that looked like a cross between two different things would be beyond the child’s imagination, at least at this stage.


Rebecca and the others ignored his comment, because the import of what Alexander had said was immediately apparent to them. Not only were there large animals on the planet, but there had also been some form of bipedal humanoid – at least they assumed the past tense was appropriate. The key questions were: when were they about; where had they lived – and how. And, perhaps most important of all, what had happened to them, that there was no longer any trace of them at all.


“We need to get this news back to Anton and the others at once,” said Rebecca. “They will automatically have received copies of the images we have taken, but it is unlikely that anyone will have taken any notice of them so far.”


”Yes,” replied Erica, “nobody is likely to have thought of monitoring the activities of a geological survey, so we are probably the only ones to know what we have found. Rebecca, why don’t you and Frank take the children and this find back to the habitation, while the rest of us carry on with the general exploration here?”
This seemed a good idea, especially as Rebecca was concerned that the excitement might prove too much for Alexander. Anyway, the breeze was starting to chill Elizabeth, who although snuggled up against her mother, still had her head exposed to the elements. Not that it was particularly cold; the settlement site, to which they were relatively close, had been selected specifically as being in a temperate region of the planet on a broad blue-grassed plain, a dozen or so miles from a mountain range and close to a river. As they got into the halftrack vehicle that had been allocated for Rebecca’s use during the survey trip, Frank was careful to pack the cylindrical object as far away as possible from where they would be sitting; just in case of radioactivity – or any other threat – he thought to himself. They drove back to the main habitation, which consisted of the space craft, the Nelson Mandela, and the largely prefabricated additional buildings that had been linked together with the craft itself in order to provide more varied accommodation than had been available to the crews during their two-year duty rotations.


Once the basic facilities had been constructed, the settlers had paused while they decided precisely how they wanted to develop their society. Many favoured a single group of buildings consisting of individual buildings for those who wanted to live alone, or in small family groups, while those who had yet to establish longer-term relationships remained in the comfortable surroundings that they had created for themselves. Some of the supercargo – those who had spent the entire journey in stasis – were already in some form of relationship with one of the others; several married couples had decided to apply to travel together and this had been encouraged by the founding minds behind the mission, on the basis that this was likely to result in the early procreation of children, to help grow the settlement quickly. It was part of their thinking that there was no guarantee that there could be any follow-up flight for decades, even centuries, so the settlement had to be self-supporting in every way. This included ensuring genetic stability, so in addition to encouraging natural reproduction, every person on the mission other than the 60 or so crew, who had each spent more than ten years of their lives in space flight and deserved a little more flexibility, were asked to have one or two babies using the thousands of eggs and sperm samples that had been randomly selected on Earth and carried deep frozen, once they had had one or two children of their own by more conventional means. 


The decision went far beyond simply genetic diversity that would include representatives of all races and genetic groups within humanity in the new settlement. An important secondary purpose was to ensure a wide range of inherent skills and abilities. Specifically, to provide a broad range of artistic and musical skills that might not be represented within the crew or supercargo. It had long been known that such skills are as much inherited as learned and having a society that truly represented all that was best within humanity was a core value of the settlers. 


As to the physical nature of the settlement, one section of the population seemed to prefer largely communal living for the longer term, whilst some – particularly those involved in agriculture – suggested greater separation of habitations. Decisions were yet to be made and would depend on personal preference, as well as consensus.


The drive to the settlement didn’t take very long; Frank was a careful driver, especially in view of his precious cargo, but he was also driving on a surface that, while it had no made up roads, was perfectly even and over which he had driven before. He was therefore able to proceed relatively quickly. The smoothness of the valley through which the river they had settled next to ran, was something that had surprised the geologists on the mission. As Erica had told them at one of their earliest meetings, a smooth valley floor usually suggested glacial action, since river beds generally cut more of a “V” shape into the terrain; either fairly straight, or mildly meandering, depending on whether the fall in ground level was rapid or more gradual. In this case, the descent was relatively slow, which might have suggested a meandering course with relatively shallow channels. What they actually saw was a straight course with rapidly moving water. It had initially been thought that this was due to it being the outflow of a glacier in the mountains some twelve or so miles away, but Erica had been unsure and the jury was still out, pending more evidence. Now, Frank wondered whether this might actually be an artificial water course, given his recent discovery.
By the time Frank, Rebecca and the children got back to the settlement, Anita Patel – an attractive light-brown skinned slight woman who had served on the Nelson Mandela as a medical doctor and got to know Frank, Rebecca and her late husband, Charles, very well – was already waiting for them in a state of excitement. Anita had always taken an interest in what Frank was doing, despite Rebecca’s fears that she was wasting her time because she felt that Frank was ‘not the marrying kind’, and was the first to realise that something very exciting must have happened on the expedition. Rather than alerting the others, she had visited the control room and seen from the tracking system that one of the vehicles was returning to base at high speed. Only Frank would drive that fast, she thought, so she estimated their time of arrival and went out to greet them.


“What brings you back so quickly?” she asked Rebecca, as she helped get the children out of the vehicle. She and Frank, along with Michelle Huse, who unlike Anita had served in the same crew as Frank and Rebecca, were unofficial guardians to the children and would be increasingly so as Rebecca took her place on the guiding council in a few weeks’ time. “Has Frank been misbehaving and been sent back in disgrace?”


“Well, almost,” replied Rebecca, smiling, before Frank could spring to his own defence. “He has taken something that clearly does not belong to him; he is getting it out of the vehicle now.” Anita’s obvious pleasure at seeing Frank sent his already ruddy complexion almost scarlet, but he pretended to assume that this was more to do with what he was carrying than simply seeing him. He was actually very fond of Anita; they had spent a lot of time together with Alexander, during the difficult period after the loss of Charles, and had grown to care deeply for her. But he could not imagine that she reciprocated his feelings. This was partly due to the fact that few women ever looked at him twice and Rebecca, in particular, had been unfriendly towards him for much of the first five years that they had known each other. This was largely based on the fact that she had held him largely responsible for some of the injuries that Charles had suffered, both on Earth during the fraught planning period for the mission and subsequently during the voyage. He did not recognise that she had subsequently come to rely on him in so many ways and to trust him as much as she had Charles. She would never marry again, she was certain; but Frank was a constant that she had started to depend on.


“Look what Uncle Frank found,” chirped Alexander. “It has pictures on it.”


Anita was stunned. Everyone knew that Home was previously uninhabited – at least by intelligent life. She moved so swiftly over to where Frank was walking towards her that they almost collided; something that Frank would not have objected to, had he not had the tube in his arms. “May I look at your new toy?” she asked him. “I must see the pictures.”


“It’s got Striches, Hippos and a man on it. Show Auntie Anita; show her, Uncle Frank,” said Alexander, whose excitement was starting to infect Elizabeth. The baby became fractious, so Rebecca said she would take her inside their cabin, while Frank reported to Anton and the others.


“Would you mind taking Alexander with you, Anita?” she asked. “I want to change and feed Lizzie.” This was a good suggestion because there was no way an inquisitive three and a half year old was going to be kept away from the action. He became rather subdued, however, as he realised that they were going to see Anton. It was not that the old man had ever done anything to frighten Alexander, more that his great age, compared with everyone else in the settlement made him uncomfortable. To a boy of his age, everyone over fifteen, which was everyone he had ever met, other than his little sister, was ‘old’. But Anton fell into a different category altogether. He was naturally less openly friendly than most of the others and more austere in his manner. This was partly due to his Russian ancestry and partly because he had carried the burden of command during the entire voyage; and because he had been older than the others to start with. Of course, he should only have been awake for two and a half years at each end of the journey but, as an emergency half way through the voyage demonstrated, he was also ‘on call’ for the remainder of the mission and he had been awake for more than a year then, meaning that he was physically much older than anyone else in the settlement. This was one of the reasons that he had altered the mission plan so that he did not retain sole command for two years after the landing. Instead, he had worked with the four Captains of the other crews in council for six months and they were all handing over to their Pilots – who had acted as their deputies – six months after the landing. It was in this capacity, rather than as Chief Scientist that Rebecca was about to join the new council, for a year. She was confident, however, that she would be able to undertake some scientific research at the same time. After all, she reasoned, how much time could managing a settlement of fewer than 300 souls take?


Anton listened carefully to the tale Frank related, of the discovery and what Alexander had seen. When he had heard all they could tell, he said: “I know my eyes are not as good as they once were, Frank, but I could not see the patterns as images until you told me. Alexander must have very good eyesight – or a totally uncluttered mind,” he added thoughtfully. “This had massive potential ramifications for us; not least that, if there is a civilisation here, do we have the right to remain, or should we press on and find an alternative planet to settle?” Nobody, Anton included, could really face another fifty-year mission; but the settlement was not about colonisation. Earth history, they all knew, contained too many examples of civilisations thinking they had the right to impose themselves on others in the name of progress. This was an important discovery and if whoever made the artefact that Frank had dug up was still about, the settlers would either have to move on, or come to some sort of accommodation with the ‘natives’. “Let’s hope they are extinct,” he added aloud.


By the time everyone had assembled to discuss the day’s events, dusk had fallen; at least what passed for dusk on Home. The star about which the planet orbited was actually part of a triple system, so while there was a natural daylight cycle, even in the depths of night, which lasted slightly less than twelve hours at the equator and varying times in the temperate latitudes at which they had settled, there was almost always a very bright light from one or other of the two other stars in the system; not sufficient to read a book by, but certainly sufficient to see objects clearly at night. Only under certain alignments were nights completely dark.


Rebecca had quickly assembled a team of scientists to look at the object and see if they could determine what it was – and whether it might represent any form of threat. Anton and his colleagues on the outgoing council had also considered the possible meaning of its symbols and the moral issues were something that needed to be discussed in open forum. No longer could society have an elite who did whatever they thought was best for the rest of the population; on Home, everyone had an equal voice – and vote, should the need arise.


“Rebecca, have you and your team anything to report?” asked Anton.


“To be honest, Anton, very little,” she replied to her old friend and – since the death of Sir Julian Crighton who had been their colleague and her boss while they were still on Earth – something of a mentor to her. “There is nothing whatsoever to suggest that this represents a physical danger to the settlement. Our tests show it to be completely inert; there are no electrical or other fields that we can detect; and I am confident that we would be able to do so. There are no apparent openings and the only effect it has at all, is that Elizabeth seems soothed whenever she is near to it. I suspect that this is coincidence, but we should not ignore the possibility that it projects some form of psychic field that is beyond even our instruments to detect. For this reason, I suggest that we hold it securely, away from the main settlement.”


“Do we need to put up a ‘Lost Property’ sign over it, in case anyone comes to reclaim it?” asked Brad Gregory. A former journalist who had retrained as a nurse in order to make the trip Brad, along with Frank, was a self-appointed humourist in the settlement. Nobody minded, because the two were not only popular, but both also avoided being intrusive; they simply used their jokes either to emphasise a point, or to break the occasional tension that must inevitably arise even amongst friends. During the early part of the project and the voyage itself, all the members – with one or two notable exceptions – had been precisely that; friends. Now that all the crews and supercargo were living together, there were bound to be occasions when views differed about what to do for the best and having some minds that could see the funny side of most situations sometimes helped. But because all the settlers were open-minded, disagreements generally tended to be over details, rather than principles. This was perhaps just as well, because the next section of the debate was likely to be more contentious.
“We have been unable to ascribe any meaning to the images on the object,” reported Anton. “Indeed, the interpretation we do have is down entirely to the observations of a three year old. It is interesting to note that nobody, on first seeing the object, has been able to discern anything, until told what Alexander said. I have tested this on a large number of people, and it is true. Either he had acute observational powers, or there is some other agency at work. It is for this reason that we must consider the possibility that those who manufactured this object – and there is absolutely no doubt that it is a manufactured artefact – might still be around or may have been very recently and left evidence for someone to find. It just happens to be us. The question is: who were they and what did they want to say?”


These were intended to be rhetorical questions; nobody could possibly know the answers, at least at this stage. In asking them, Anton wanted to start a structured discussion about the morality of what they were engaged in, which could even prove to be tantamount to the colonisation of an inhabited planet; something none of them had signed up to. The first to respond was George Matan, a former submarine commander in the South African Navy, who had served as one of the Captains on the voyage from Earth and was now responsible for planetary exploration.


“The observations we made from orbit make it unlikely that intelligent life currently exists on the planet, nor is it likely that there has been any for centuries – even millennia – otherwise we would have seen some evidence,” he suggested. “Unless, of course, they were subterranean dwellers; but even were that the case, we should have seen some form of ventilation or access hatches. They might, of course, be underwater dwellers, but if so why leave evidence of themselves on land; we would not have left proof of humanity’s existence on Earth under the oceans, so why should an aquatic species have done so on land?”


“Perhaps they would not have,” replied Michelle, an exobiologist, before she had acted as one of the mission’s medical officers. “But in any case, the possibility of evolution of intelligent life forms under water that use tools and make artefacts is something that zoologists on Earth have long discounted. The general view is that the manual dexterity required to manipulate objects with sufficient accuracy is inimical to underwater conditions. At the very least, the pressure gradient under water is far steeper than in the open air, so the practical operational range of any appropriate animal would be severely limited. Take dolphins and other cetaceans, for example; they are certainly intelligent, as evidenced by their family structures and communications. But they never resorted to creating tools. Conversely, some lower life forms in the avian sphere have developed the use of primitive tools without the same level of intelligence.”


“You mean like birds using twigs to root out grubs from trees?” asked Clarissa, who had grown up in the Cuban countryside. “But this raises a question about what we consider to be intelligence. Is it simply the use of tools, or communication, or something more complex?”


“In a way, this is one of the most basic questions that humanity has ever asked – and probably failed to answer satisfactorily,” replied Michelle. “Some philosophers have suggested that the development of higher mind functions is directly correlated with adopting speech patterns that allow the communication of abstract thought. If this is the case, then we observe another inhibition to the development of what we interpret as being ‘intelligence’ under water. While dolphins and whales can send messages over vast distances in Earth’s oceans, these tend to be fairly basic, as far as we have been able to interpret them. There is more work to be done by those who remain behind on Earth, but I think we can discount an underwater civilisation here, until there are no other options.”
“I suppose one alternative might be that the artefact was left by visitors from another planet, just as we are,” suggested Brad, returning to his fertile journalistic mind-set. “But all this does not preclude the option of a troglodyte community living below ground.”


“No,” replied Anton, “but as George says, we have so far seen no trace of such a group. At the very least, we would have expected to see some evidence of industrialisation within the spectrographic data taken in the run up to landing. We had been carefully looking for something of this nature all the time and there was nothing.”


Nobody had much else to contribute at the moment and it was getting late, so Anton decided to wind up the discussion.


“I suggest that, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, we continue to develop our settlement here,” he concluded. “But with a firm understanding that we must be ever vigilant for any evidence that intelligent life remains and that, should we meet any, it is we who are the interlopers, not they.”


“Before we break up for the evening,” interrupted Michelle, “I want to consider the question of larger life forms such as Alexander’s ‘hippos’. I can see how he interpreted the image on the cylinder as a large African mammal – although its actual appearance and lifestyle are likely to be dramatically different from those on Earth – it raises the issue that we have not so far observed anything of this size where we currently are. This might, of course, be a matter of chance but given where we have been living for the past five months – besides a river apparently abundant with life, in a temperate climate – I would have expected to see some evidence of large animals sooner or later. This leads me to suspect either that they did live here but have become extinct (at least locally) or do not live here at all, because it is not a large enough island for them. I must say I consider the second option unlikely, because this is about the size of France and large animals roamed there in prehistoric times.”


“Surely, those animals could have entered France from anywhere in Europe, or Pangea prior to the continents drifting apart, if we go far enough back,” countered one of the others. “So that analogy is invalid.” 


“No, I accept your point, although we do not know how long ago continental drift might have affected this planet,” replied Michelle. “However, as a working theory, I suggest that either they were here and have been hunted to extinction, or the artefact comes from somewhere else. No, Brad, not from outer space,” she added, as he drew breath for his inevitable quip. “Probably from one of the other two continents, both of which are much larger, more like Africa or Asia. If that is the case, not only was intelligent life about, and able to manufacture sophisticated objects with advanced decorations, but also that they were able to roam the planet at will; no mean achievement, when you consider how very far we are from the other land masses; as least as far as across the South Pacific.”


“A fair comment,” said George. “But we know that ancient mariners on Earth traversed vast expanses of ocean in primitive craft, so I do not think we can ascribe global travel such a high score in intelligence rating.”


“True,” replied Michelle, “but my main concern is more about finding what we can about the animals themselves and whether they – and others of the same size – might still exist on Home; and if so where.”


“That sounds like a project for the not too distant future,” concluded Anton, “and one which I am delighted to say, I will not have to decide on, as my term in office ends next week and Rebecca and the other former Pilots take over for a year. At the end of that period, there will be open elections for a six person council, but I have no intention of standing; I want to go back to focussing on Academia and forming the first university here.” This was by no means unexpected. The decision to found a university on Home might have appeared perverse, given that there were no children who had completed primary and secondary education who would need one now; nor would there be for decades to come. However, the primary function other than teaching for any academic institution is research and this was better organised within some sort of structure, to ensure the exchange of ideas and the avoidance of duplication of effort. In addition, many of the settlers had already expressed a wish to retrain in new areas. Everyone was expected to participate in all aspects of the settlement’s life, including the basic tasks that had to be undertaken wherever people live together, such as building, farming and sanitation, and so on. This did not, however, preclude people from wanting to achieve personal development and intellectual growth. It was important to the success of the settlement that individuals were able to set and achieve their own goals, while contributing towards the common good. It was for this reason that founding the university had been such a high priority.


“With that, I wish you all a good night,” concluded Anton and they all went to bed, excited by the prospect of whatever might come next.


Click here to buy