Novel Excerpt

The roughest of rough-“Hands Undone”

Total Eclipse of the Art

The planet Valkron existed in the Kanddark system. A majority of the inhabitants that did the business of living and dying there knew little of their relation to other worlds in the cosmos. It was the fourth planet from the sun, and it had two satellite moons that orbited equidistantly from each other on opposite sides of the planet.
To most Valkronians, the stars only showed up as pinpoints against the backdrop of the night sky. The sun and moons appeared a lot closer to the Valkronians, and were equally revered and feared. The mystery of their movement was understood by only the few with unbound knowledge. These few were known as The Creators.
Valkron existed in a delicate balance. This was a balance that was paralleled by its twin moons. The Creator’s used a comprehensive system of beliefs and misdirection to keep Valkron’s inhabitants under control.
Critical thought was discouraged, and any deviation from devotion to The Rote was harshly punished.
The Rote had two dogmatic beliefs at its core. These beliefs were that the Valkronians needed The Creators, and that The Creators always had the best interest of the Valkronians at heart. Neither was true.
Valkronians generally lived a life of service to the Creators, and passed The Rote onto each successive generation without much thought as to why they did it.
Since the last Turn of Years, pockets of rebellion to The Creators were growing throughout the world. These pocket groups met secretly, and interpreted The Rote differently than The Creators. They insisted that The Rote held a prophecy that on the day when the twin moons of Valkron showed in the same sky, a Valkronian would be born that would change the world for the better, and free them from the oppression and ignorance they lived under.
As much as The Creators denied the truth of it, they recognized and were fearful of the prophecy themselves.
They hunted the secret groups down for the threat they posed to the order of their system, as well as the threat to The Creators themselves. They used the strength of their stealth raiders to quell any and all challenges.
The minion raiders of The Creators were knows as Veeters, and they were the most feared and despised creatures on all of Valkron. They were primarily dispatched to abduct Valkronians committing questionable activities.
However, within the last year, The Creators’ worst fear finally came to fruition, as the twin moons of Valkron had impossibly changed orbits and displayed in the night sky together for the first time in recorded history.
The prime directive of the Veeters had changed. They were now to find and capture the one Valkronian that The Rote had prophesized would come.
The search had begun…

Chapter 1.
Phoebe stood at the water’s edge looking out into the bay. The sunlight danced across the waves causing prism like sparkles across the surface of the water.
Over her shoulder, her grandfather emptied his fishnets into the baskets next to the skiff he stood upon.
“Papa, how much do you think today’s catch will fetch?”
“I can’t say Phoebe. They haven’t set the market yet. I suppose it will be close to seven furts per fish, if the market opens ahead,” he said.
The man was practically copper from his long days in the sun. He held a tone of muscle befitting his age, but couldn’t conceal the sagging lines of his paunch. She noticed the drying salt left behind on his skin as he turned his back.
Phoebe marveled at his energy. A man of his age should not be able to do the things that her grandfather could do. For six and sixty years he has walked the world of Valkron. She had been with him for nine and ten of those years.
Phoebe covered her eyes with a crescent hand and looked up at the moon and sun. They seemed very close today. Closer than she had ever remembered them being before.
“Papa. Do you see the moon? It’s rising close to the sun.”
“What?” he said.
“The moon. Look at the moon.” She pointed.
Phoebe’s grandfather dropped the nets into the skiff and looked up to the sky. Cupping his eyes with his hands, he looked toward the sun and moon.
“Yes, I see it Phoebe. The sun and moon are dancing.”
“I’ve never seen them this close Papa.”
“It looks like there’s going to be an eclipse,” he said as he hopped down off the skiff, and put on his shirt and robes.
Phoebe looked at the water again and it noticed that it was less tumultuous than before.
“Phoebe, come over here and help me count the fish.”
Phoebe started toward her grandfather as he squatted beside the baskets. She hopped on a small wall nearby that was made up of cobblestones. The structure was made as a dock for another skiff.
She didn’t realize that there was a crab sunning on one of the stones, until it was too late.
When Phoebe pulled her foot up to look, there was slimy residue on her sandal. She felt terrible. She hopped down off of the wall and picked up the crab in her hands.
She glanced at her grandfather and saw him separating the fish by size. He wasn’t looking at her.
Phoebe covered the crab with her hands, and started to blow into her palms. She could feel the sharp surface of the shell beneath her hand, and readjusted so that it wouldn’t hurt so much. After a few seconds she opened her palms, and the crab was still dead.
Again, she tried by cupping her palms around the crab and imagining it crawling around on the beach.
Her palms started to get warm and she could feel a wetness forming. It moved from her palms to her wrists, and then up her arms toward her shoulders. She started to shake a little bit. She couldn’t let go. She thought about the crab advancing toward the sea, and getting swept into the ocean.
The warm wetness that was spreading across her, started to get hotter and through closed eyes she could see prism like sparkles.
Just as the energy seemed to reach a critical point, she felt the firm grasp of another around her shoulders shaking her.
When she opened her eyes. She could see her grandfather in front of her. His lips were moving, but no words were coming out. The sound had diminished and seemed a distant echo within her mind.
Phoebe tried to pull herself back into focus, but she was competing with the energy leaving her shoulders and heading back down her arms to her hands and palms.
Her grandfather continued to speak, and she started to make out some the words.
“No…Phoebe…no! Don’t…it…last time…danger. Phoebe…stop!”
She felt the last of the energy leaving her hands, and then she relaxed. Her hands opened and the crab fell to the ground. It scurried away. Phoebe collapsed into her grandfather’s arms.
“Phoebe. Phoebe, honey.”
He slumped to the ground with her in his arms, and cradled her head. He rocked back and forth, and noted the smell of burning hair.
As Phoebe started to come to, she noted the metallic taste in her mouth. Her head contained a dull throb that hadn’t been there moments ago. The sun seemed to sear her eyeballs. She covered her eyes.
“Are you all right Phoebe?”
“Yes, yes. I think so.”
“I thought I told you not to do anything like that?”
“I’m sorry Papa, but I stepped on a crab.”
“I don’t care. You know that it’s dangerous to reveal yourself. What if others were watching?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.”
“You can’t do that anymore. They’re always watching. We can’t afford to have any attention on us. We need to stay hidden.”
“I felt bad that I killed the crab.”
“You have to be more careful.”
Phoebe’s grandfather caressed her forehead, and kissed her on the cheek.
“I can’t lose you. I lost your father and your mother. I can’t lose you too.”
Phoebe wiggled out of his embrace and steadied herself on the wall as she tried to stand up. She looked up at the sky again. The moon was even closer the sun.
“Thanks Papa.”
“It’s okay Phoebe.”
He stood up and hugged her. Looking toward the shoreline he could see the crab that she dropped advancing to the water. A wave came up and swallowed it, leaving behind only smooth sand.
They walked to the fish baskets and started to count the catch.
Phoebe looked at her grandfather and thought of how much she loved him. She felt a deep pang at the thought of him not being there one day. She studied every crease in his skin and focused on all of his actions as he counted. She wanted to always remember this moment.
“Phoebe, I need you to understand. Everything up until now, everything I’ve done is for your protection. Do you understand? I ask you to not reveal yourself for your own protection. I have hid you for all of these years, and it hasn’t been easy. You have to be smarter. You can’t ever let anyone know your true nature.”
“But I don’t’ know my true nature Papa.”
“Give it time Phoebe. Give it time. You’ll be twenty-one soon, and you’ll have your answers.” He grabbed her left hand and smiled.
“You mean I can find out.”
“Yes Phoebe, you can find out.”
She smiled and piled the last of the fish into the basket.
“That’s one hundred and ten. How many did you count?”
“Phoebe,” he said, “I need you to promise me something. I really mean it now.”
“What Papa?”
“You have to do whatever I tell you from now on, no questions asked.”
“But Papa.”
“Phoebe, I mean it.”
He looked deeply into her eyes and made her promise him that she would abide by his instructions.
“You are reaching an age when you will soon know a great many things. It will become burdensome in a way, but also liberating. I need you to remember everything I have taught you since you were young. I need you to remember that The Rote is not what The Creators say it is, and that it is for each person to find their destiny within the message put forth. Each according to his or her gifts. Promise me you will remember all that I have taught you.”
“ I promise Papa.”
Phoebe turned from her grandfather, and noticed that the moon was almost eclipsing the sun. The light started to change, and shadows played across the beach and water.
“Papa look.”
They stood side by side, and watched the moon eclipse the sun.
“It’s an eclipse Phoebe.”
Lunar eclipses on Valkron were pretty rare. When he had been a boy, and known as Trantaxus, he had see one, and then his mother died. That was long ago though. The second eclipse he saw before Phoebe’s parents disappeared. In his heart he didn’t want to admit that something bad would likely follow this eclipse.
They now stood enveloped in darkness.
“The eclipse will only last for thirty five minutes.”
“How do you know that?”
“I’ve always counted the time during lunar eclipses.”
Phoebe noticed that the water had grown preternaturally still.
“Papa. Look at the water.”
Phoebe’s grandfather started to feel a tug at his stomach, and then his knees buckled. He realized that the signs had been there, but he hadn’t seen them.
“Phoebe. Go to the hiding place. We won’t make it back to the cottage in time.”
“But, Papa”
Suddenly in the distance there faint moans approaching from the South. Phoebe’s grandfather couldn’t believe that he had been so careless.
He grabbed Phoebe by the elbow.
“Go! Now. Cover yourself and stay hidden. No matter what happens stay quiet. Listen to me. You promised.”
The sounds of the moans in the distance seemed to advance and became more pronounced. The moans started to get shriller and seemed to be approaching very quickly.
“It’s the Veeters Papa.”
“I know.”
“But it’s not night”
“I know Phoebe. The eclipse, the darkness, the crab, the still water. We have to hide.”
Phoebe turned with her grandfather and ran toward the hiding place he had built for them. It was a dug out depression in the sand that was cut into the ground at an angle. There was a way to slip down inside it and remain unseen even if someone walked over it. Phoebe’s grandfather had used the hull of a boat turned upside down for the structure. He had also blended it into the hill pockets in the mid-beach.
As she reached the shelter she turned to ask her grandfather why the Veeters were attacking. He wasn’t behind her, or anywhere nearby. She looked back out over the beach the way she came and she could see nothing.
The sounds of the Veeters advance became louder and she knew that they were almost upon the beach. She glanced back towards where she came from again as she slid herself halfway into the shelter. She wanted to scream, but she promised to be quiet.
She heard a loud whirring of air and sensed a change of wind and airflow in the area nearby. She saw a shadow, and then another. This was followed by a high-pitched whine.
The sound was unlike anything she had ever heard before in her life. She couldn’t stop herself from trembling. She was scared. She didn’t know where here grandfather had gone.
As she hid in the hovel she could feel the Veeters hover sleds passing by overhead. Once, twice, three times the hover sleds passed overhead. She couldn’t tell how many of them there were.
She rolled to her left side and felt a sharp pain. When she reached down to search for the reason, she pulled a small branch from the floor of the shelter.
Again the hover sleds passed over here. The sound was deafening and terrifying. She covered her ears and put her head down.
Papa said to stay quiet. Papa. Where did Papa go?
She moved to the entrance of the hiding place and peered out through the covered up hole. As her eyes had adjusted to the dark she could make our faint images in the short distance.
There were dark images moving about the beach. Some of the Veeters had dismounted their hover sleds and were searching the beach in a sweeping motion.
Phoebe couldn’t believe how big the Teeters were. They were twice the size of a normal man, and despite their size, they moved very quickly. This scared her most of all.
They had enormous shoulders, and some sort of metallic mask covering their heads. Ropes hung from their belts, along with many other foreign objects that she had never seen before.
She could hear them communicating through some sort of device, but couldn’t make out what they were saying.
One of the Veeters broke off from the pack of four that were sweeping the beach and started to walk in her direction.
She tried to remain perfectly still, as she didn’t want to draw the attention of the Veeter. She suddenly felt the urge to pee and her right foot had fallen asleep.
The Veeter continued unimpeded toward her shelter. He was sweeping a device back and forth at the area in front of him. He kicked at the sand around his feet as if by displacing he would find something.
Phoebe had to remain quiet and still. She had promised her grandfather as much. She couldn’t stand not knowing where he was, or that he was not safely in the shelter with her. She hoped that he had made it back to the cottage, but she knew in her heart that he would never leave her here alone on the beach with the Veeters.
The Veeter that had been searching was now very close to the shelter. He pulled the instrument in front of him in an arc once to the left and then to the right. He stopped in the middle of the next sweeping arc with the instrument pointing directly at the shelter.
All of a sudden, there was a loud crack and Phoebe could see a shining light a short distance from the shelter. It started to move toward the water.
It was her grandfather Trantaxus holding some sort of a staff and at the end of the staff, there was a bright light. She could see him aglow in light as he ran toward the beach. His white robes were flowing behind him as he ran.
Phoebe saw the group of Veeters that were sweeping in a group turn towards her grandfather and pursue him. They were moving too quickly and would soon be upon them.
The Veeter that was closest to her held his device dead center on the area of the shelter, but looked at the commotion down at the beach. He looked back at the device and then holstered it on his belt. He reached up and slapped a button on his chest. A hovers sled came out of nowhere, and he jumped up onto it in a fluid motion. Phoebe couldn’t believe the movement he made, and that the hover sled could hold his weight.
He spun the device toward the pursuit and a loud shrill whirr erupted from the side of the hover sled.
Phoebe wanted to come out of the shelter but her grandfather had insisted that she stay quiet and stay put.
As the hover sled met the crowd of figures bathed in the light of her grandfather’s staff, it parted, and Phoebe saw some sort of line shoot out from the sled and upend her grandfather. He was caught in some sort of trap, and was hanging upside down from the hover sled. His robe fell to the ground and he dropped his staff in the water. Phoebe could see a glow emerge from the shallow water, but then nothing.
The hover sled made another pass overhead and for a brief moment she saw her grandfather’s face. There was serenity to it that she hadn’t seen. He seemed to be scanning the area, but she knew that he wouldn’t be able to see the shelter, as he had built it to be unperceivable from above. She saw the hover sled loop back and head towards the water.
The shrill whine of the other hover sleds joined the air, as the other Veeters must have mounted their own vehicles. The sound was very loud at first, but then started to abate. It seemed to pass into the distance. The shadows started to break and small ambient hues fell upon the beach.
Phoebe realized the eclipse must have been ending. When she was convinced that the Veeters were gone, she started to sob uncontrollably. Somehow she got sand in her eyes and it stung. She needed to get the sand out. She couldn’t wait any longer. She moved toward the water, and she could hear the waves. The water was no longer still. The sun and the moon were no longer dancing but were again two separate objects.
She stumbled towards the water’s edge and splashed water in her eyes. When she looked up she realized that the beach was empty. There was no one around. She looked back toward the baskets of fish, and then down the shoreline. She could make out a white material. It was her grandfather’s robe.
She immediately ran toward the robe and scooped it up into her hands and pressed it to her face. She could smell her grandfather. It was as if he wasn’t gone. As she held it tighter, she suddenly saw a vision of water rushing beneath her. She got dizzy and dropped the robe to the ground. She started to get nauseous and moved toward the water again to splash more water on her face.
When the nausea subsided she spied a stick floating in the water a few feet away. She thought that it must be the staff her grandfather had used to distract the Veeters with light.
She walked over and picked it up. She then used it to pick up the robe. She didn’t want to see the vision again and get sick. When she gathered these things up. She went to the fish baskets and collapsed on the sand. She started to get angry with the Veeters for what they had done. She didn’t know what she was going to do. She knew sundown was going to be in a few hours, and that the Veeters might come back.
She left the fish there, and took the robe and staff and headed toward her cottage. Phoebe Tertia had lost her grandfather, just as she had lost her mother and father all those years ago.

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