We love to spotlight authors we’ve met or who support FVP’s site with comments and are interested in sharing their work with us. Mari Collier’s book, MAN, TRUE MAN is available on Amazon Print & Kindle.
A spaceship crashes into the planet Tonath. The lone occupant, a mutant with two hearts, survives and fights his way to the sunlit part of the planet. A passing freighter finds him and takes him to the Western Starshift Institute of the Way where the Teacher resides. Tonath is a planet being torn apart by the forces of nature. Only the Teacher can predict the movements of the Stars and interpret the prophesies. Will the Teacher be able to recognize True Man and True Foe in time to save Tonath from a thousand years of burning?
You can find out more about Mari and her writing at maricollier.com
Here’s the first chapter of Man, True Man, by Mari Collier
A PLANET DIVIDED
The man knew he was in trouble as his ship squalled in protest against the physical forces that had battered the shields into oblivion and was now shredding the metal surrounding him. Outside the atmosphere had thickened to a liquid gray-green gelatin. The forces of two conflicting dimensions were pulling and stretching the ship’s seamless construction, the stress thinning the hull rapidly. He knew the dangers of a one man flight, but had risked it. When he awoke from his last sleep, the anomaly was there, no longer a subject for hypothetical conjecture in the halls of science: A planet caught between two different space time dimensions existed with life forms.
He locked himself into the scouting craft, his brain calculating the approximate length of time it could sustain him once the main structure failed. He shrugged mentally. Life was life, no matter how long sustained.
He switched on the life support systems and sealed the hatch. A bitter smile snaked across the lean face, the scar on the right cheek barely discernable since his last rejuvenation. What a hell of an end: alone with none to mourn his passing. He had been looking for a new land, not too raw, but a promising land with enough technology to insure more than a primitive existence. He wanted a place where he could match his strength and his wits against nature and physical weariness permitted sleep to overtake the loneliness.
He felt the ship buckle. A quick glance at the instruments showed he had plummeted through the atmosphere into the ocean. With a final, protesting metallic shriek, the outer craft disintegrated, swept away into the roiling, green liquid.
The smaller craft was undamaged, but the vibrating from the force of the rolling water made the craft yaw and the wind pitched the craft as he broke the surface. He kept adjusting the craft’s balance while piloting toward the land mass, hoping that it was more than just rock. Land would offer some measure of safety. The planet circling the sun had shown promise of blue and brown belts. The scanners indicated a safe environment for human life and then the storm had swept in and caught his ship in the changing atmosphere.
Beads of sweat dripped from his dark, curly hair as he looked down, his grey eyes roved the panel, hoping for some reassurance. There was none. Already the craft’s interior lights were dimming and he could hear the metal buckling. The waves caught the ship, first tossing it upward to slam it down into the froth, and then spinning it towards the rocks. The man had fought and knew he had lost.
With rapid motions he belted a sheathed knife around his waist and tied a rope over it, looping the rest around his shoulder; a rope of twenty feet, no more. God knows, they’ve saved me before, he thought. Within seconds the small Scout rammed into the rocks and broke, hurling him into the outside.
Wind and green water tore at his body, knocking him flat and tossing him nearer the rocky shore. One brief glance showed him the high green rocks were being scoured by moving water. Still he struggled in the water and prayed to the God taught to him so long ago. As if in answer, the waves lifted him higher, swept him over the crags, and slammed him headfirst onto the rock covered ledge.
Gradually the wind died as the green rain continued to pelt the earth. He came to and looked blankly at his hands, moving them in front of his eyes as if they were some disembodied tool of strange complexity. The heavy air rasped at his lungs and irritated his throat. His clothes were wet and reeked with the odor of the sea. He looked down at the grey-green water foaming around his perch. Obviously, he had come from the water. What if the sea rose higher?
It was, the brain decided, a bad place to be and time to leave. He glanced upward and realized there was no other way and began to climb. Hand pull by hand pull he brought himself to higher ground, his head and body protesting every inch.
Once at the top, he fell forward, panting, looking at the water pounding at the rocks below, the weaker limestone crumbling while the heavier rock glistened dispassionately, oblivious to the forces beating against it. His breathing slowed and he stood.
His head throbbed and he noticed his hands were caked with blood. Gingerly, he probed at his skull, wincing with nausea. It’s been cut, he thought, the whole left side felt swollen. I wonder where I am, or how the hell I got here. Then a larger puzzle hit at his core. Who am I? He looked down and discerned he was male, not female, but trying to think of his identity increased the pain. His knees met the ground. Not good, he thought. Just keep moving to some place safer.
He looked at the surrounding strange foliage before moving. He saw green scraggly bushes growing out of ground that seemed covered with reeds or grasses. The ground cover blending into higher shrubs and then becoming a forest of brownish green trunks heading towards where? He forced wobbly legs to move and headed into the forest away from the sea. Once there, he leaned against a tree and considered what he knew.
Nothing, he concluded; nothing but blurred images from a past that wouldn’t focus. He knew there had been a storm and a ship. But what kind of a ship? He gulped at the unsatisfying air. It was heavy, irritating, and his lungs seemed filled with phlegm rather than oxygen. Once again he examined his hands, the green light casting a jaundiced color where instinctively he knew pink flesh should be. He shuddered.
“Water,” he muttered. “First I have to find water.”
This much he knew. Man can live without food, but lack of water on the prairie would kill. Prairie? This wasn’t a prairie, but the principal remained the same. Men and animals cannot live without water. He wondered if animals could exist in this forsaken land. He felt the strength flow back into his body and flexed his arms and hands. He felt himself and discovered a good body. He could survive. Some dim memory of survival said he had survived worse. But where? Can’t think about it. The process made his head hurt and his vision blur. He knew survival depended on all senses being alert and he began to listen: listen to what the forest could tell him.
It was quiet and he was alone. No, not alone. Even on this green, dappled world life fed, propagated, and died. He heard scuttling in the underbrush and spotted an insect, a brown creature with splotches of green and then the forest began to talk to him. Birds flew and chortled in the background, the wind whispered, and the leaves rustled back, the very earth seemed to quiver with the arrival of a new comer.
The bark on one tree was dislodged and he bent over to examine the ground. There was a narrow path that had been beaten down by hoofs. A game trail like those he knew from somewhere long ago. Animals were food and animals knew where water flowed. He had a knife and a rope: tools that animals did not possess. He began following the trail. The pain made his vision blur and his knees wobble, but he kept going, one dogged step after the other.
As the trail led downward, he passed vegetation he could not name. There were huge trunks wrapped with corded vines, ferns that belonged in a climate forever damp, and everywhere the shallow green light highlighted darker shades of green. He stooped once to examine the soil and sniff it. It looked like moss, but it was moldy, dank smelling earth. Then he saw the faint imprint of a larger hoof not obliterated by the others, nor washed away by the rain.
A horse! God, a horse. A horse could be caught and ridden out of this green hell. There had to be a sun somewhere.
The bleeding from his head and hands had quit, but he desperately needed to find water. Follow the trail, he told himself. It means water. Steady, hold your pace; you know you can go for days once you find it.
Hours later the pool appeared in a low area; green, rippling water welling up between green, granite like stone. He circled the spring before approaching. It was obvious that animals watered here, although now it was quiet and devoid of animal life. Was it too early for them? There was still light illuminating this world. He lowered his head and drank, then spat. The water tasted bitter, but not brackish. It was more like the air that didn’t satisfy and had a sting to it. He forced himself to drink. There were no dead mammal bodies lying here. Then he washed the wounds on his arm and head before retreating to the trees.
Back in the forest, he selected the moss and ferns that resembled some he must have seen or used sometime somewhere. Sheer instinct guided him now as he applied the mosses to his wounds and used the vines for tying the improvised bandages. Once finished, he used the heavier vines to fashion a small snare and covered it with the fern fronds. It was as though his hands remembered how to do this while his brain could not. He hoped his smell would not be so alien as to drive any creature away. With luck, the strange smell might make them curious. He then used the rope to pull himself up into a tree and lash himself into a crook. Light or no light, he needed sleep.
He awoke to the light of green-grey moonlight and the feeling of being totally lost and disorientated. Then he remembered the pool and the snare. Something gurgled below and then skittered away as a small animal squealed. He loosened the rope and leaned over. Something was thrashing in the bushes where he had hidden the snare. He rappelled to the ground.
The caught animal was no larger than a rabbit, but its teeth were sharper, the ears shorter, more like a rat’s, and it was busy chewing at the vines clutching its forelegs. It probably has green fur, he thought, as he approached. The creature struggled and hissed, baring long teeth. He threw the knife, impaling the animal and ending its struggles.
He set about skinning his catch, wondering at the two musk glands in the hind quarters. Strange, musk glands aren’t part of a rabbit’s anatomy. On some level, his mind could still reference past events. Where did I learn to skin an animal so efficiently? Instantly, the throb returned to his head. Quit thinking, he told himself and carried his catch up to his perch.
In the morning, he woke early and watched the rising sun spilling its green-gold rays to illuminate the darkened world with lighter shades of green. In one direction (he presumed it northeast if the sun rose in the east) he could see golden haze spread out like an arc. That would be his destination. There had to be a safe earth away from this green world and air that clogged his lungs and his head.
It took considerable effort to light a fire with rock flints and his knife before the dry fern fronds caught flame and his small fire burned bright and clean. Once cooked, the creature tasted like slime. His stomach protested, but the food stayed down. He scaled the tree again and marked the lay of the land by the high rock towers to point as a guide. He clambered down the tree, coiled his rope, and drank from the bitter pool. He began to run at a steady lope toward the northeast. His arm was better, but the head still throbbed.
He spotted a camp about midday. It was deserted, but man, or man beings, had left their imprint. Their sign was like a letter to him. They had used furs to sleep on. A few scraps of grease and splintered bones were scattered about the fire pit. These were beings not worried about an enemy. They had also ridden horses, or hoofed creatures.
What kind of man beings lived here, he wondered. If they slept in furs, were they primitives? He examined a long strand of hair from the ground. Was it black or dark green? In the canopied forest he could not determine its color. He straightened and considered. It would be best to keep away from them. They couldn’t possibly be like him and certain to be distrustful of any stranger. Hunger and thirst gnawed at him. He sniffed the air. There it was: water on the air. He knew water should be near a camp. Primitives would not befoul the water or scare away game by camping too close.
He found the spring several yards away. It was green water again, but water. He bent to drink his fill. He would survive.
Once sated, he continued in the general direction of the far off golden glow. His movements were slower now, the air sticky, scraping at his lungs. At nightfall, he sought another high tree after setting his snare and eating the last of his cooked meat.
Morning brought a soft, green light filtering down through trees and rocks and showing an empty snare. His hands seemed overcast with green and he was afraid that if he had a mirror it would show green eyes in a green face. Careful, he told himself, sanity can slip away. He lowered himself to the ground and squatted. Then he sat still, letting the forest and ground talk to him. Something big was stirring, silencing the wild life.
The morning sound of birds had stilled. When he first looked out from his perch, there had been a large, dark bird swooping in the sky. It had not been a familiar hawk, but the outlines were similar. Now the bird was gone and the forest was quiet, too quiet. Something or someone was hunting and he moved behind a boulder. Wildlife became quiet when man hunted, and instinct told him that he was the hunted.
Some mechanism, deep within him, enabled him to ignore the throbbing pain in his head. Instead, he concentrated on the clopping hooves bringing the beings nearer. The vibrating earth carried the news that there were two quadrupeds. He slunk closer to the ground, easing the knife into his right hand, waiting until he could smell the stink of rancid grease before moving enough to tense his muscles.
The two approaching dark, horse-like creatures each carried a biped being clad in furs and buckskins. One leaned over towards the right, watching the ground for changing signs. Indians on mustangs his mind whispered, they’re tracking me.
They stopped when they realized his stride had changed and they caught his alien man-scent. With a scream they rushed forward swinging their clubs of rawhide wrapped sharp stones. Tomahawks registered in his mind and the muscles in his legs bunched and launched upward. His knife flashed and a yell tore from his chest as he leaped to meet them.
The quadrupeds reared and screamed, his unknown odor frightening the beasts into a frenzied fight to flee. The man jumped and caught the weapon arm of the being on his right, the extra weight causing the horse-like creatures to collide. No longer was he thinking consciously, but patterns of training and past deeds worked his muscles and his hands. He pulled the man down and forced the knife through and across the throat, then flung the man from him, stuck his knife into the sheath, and picked up the tomahawk as the other regained control of his beast and wheeled toward him.
He flung the tomahawk directly into the male chest. The being toppled from the bolting creature and in a second he was on top, driving his knife down into the heart, or where the heart should be. Realizing that perhaps this being was different, he used his knife to rip the throat and stomach of the man beneath him and rolled to the side. There was no movement from the two prone beings and a darkening teal liquid pooled the ground beside them.
The reins of one quadruped had caught in the vines and underbrush. The beast was pulling, but the reins remained fast and the creature quieted. Good, he could use it for transportation.
He turned to look at the slaughter and felt no revulsion. It was as though the scene was a replay of long ago events and he knelt to examine the victims.
They were small, compact men with muscular builds, dark, green hair and eyes, olive skin, and wide chests. The chests were probably necessary to utilize the air that dragged at his lungs and left him feeling in need of more. He stripped a rawhide vest off one and put it on. He did not bother with the bows or quivers of arrows. He emptied the bundle tied to one waist and sifted its contents.
The contents of a small, leather pouch smelled like pemmican. He sniffed at the lump and cautiously chewed a bit. It was tough and bitter, but whatever the dried contents were they would sustain life.
The other man had a twisted rawhide rope wrapped around his shoulder and slung under his arm. The man removed it and then coiled it loosely, fashioning a noose at the end. Slowly, he approached the horse caught in the bushes.
The horse had caught his smell and was trying to rear, its eyes rolling wildly. The man’s head was still throbbing and his arm was bleeding again, but he started twirling the rope over his head, keeping the noose moving in a circular motion. The lasso whirled over the beast’s head and settled around the neck. He dashed in and leaped on the beast’s back. There was no saddle, but he managed to slash the longer reins free, grasp the mane, and dig his knees inward to send the creature loping along the bank towards the light.
Bushes and rocks blurred as he urged the creature forward and he fought for control. The golden light crept closer and he knew there were others following. They would want revenge for the olive bodies lying in their dark life-liquid.
The air seemed to lighten and turn a softer, yellow-green. Something whistled past his head as he guided the beast towards the hazy light. There had to be real life sustaining oxygen in that golden light.
Half-way across a low, running river he broke through into brilliant sunshine. He was temporarily blinded and almost lost control of the beast as it fought his every move. He had managed to turn the animal towards the opposite side again when something thudded into his back. Another missive hit the animal. The animal rose on its hindquarters and he slid into the stream.
The cold water revived him and he used his hands and knees to crawl to the sunlit side. He could hear his pursuers screaming at him, but they were not following him. He gulped in the air: real, life giving air. He threw back his head to howl his survival and liquid gushed down his back and his legs buckled. He forced his way up the bank onto beige sand strewn with white and brown-rose boulders.
He rested. Pain wracked his body and thirst burned his throat. Did he dare go back for water? It was a necessary decision or soon it would not matter. He tried to stand and instead sprawled onto the ground.
All Rights Reserved – by Mari Collier
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