Perhaps coming to visit his mom on Teral Four without her permission had not been one of Mark’s brightest ideas. But after she cancelled his visit to her archaeological dig, he had felt he had no choice. Now he wasn’t so sure. When his dad, a Colonel in the UN Peacekeepers, found out, he was going to go ballistic.
Unfortunately for Mark, the Llarst, violent aliens who already fought one war with Earth, have taken his mother and the other archaeologists hostage. And if the Llarst find what they’re looking for, all of Earth will be in danger.
With just the assistance of Windracer, a young saurian on her first vision quest, and her elephant- sized groundhog, Mark must rescue his mother and her friends, stop the Llarst, and face his dad.
Piece of Cake.
"An unforgettable, fast-paced intergalactic adventure ... An outstanding innovation on a well-loved theme. The Portal Adventures is well-told and yes, thoroughly believable." - Shelley Davidow, internationally acclaimed author of Shadow Sisters
"... an exciting, adventure filled race against time for two unlikely friends... 5 stars" - Brenda - GoodReads TopReviewer
Trouble on Teral is the 1st in The Portal Adventures series by Aussie author Andrew Harvey and it was an exciting, adventure filled race against time for the two unlikely friends. I loved Windracer’s character, and Mark was a typical youngster, not thinking before acting. I’m really looking forward to the second in the series – "Crisis at Calista Station" – and recommend Trouble on Teral for young and old alike."
Mark stumbled in Teral 4’s unfamiliar gravity, almost missing the first step at the top of the stairs as he stepped out of the small cargo plane that had brought him from the Space Elevator.
“Careful Mark,” Sarah, the pilot, said grabbing his arm. “There’s no hurry.”
Mark nodded, adjusting his glasses to look around as the enormity of what he’d done finally started to sink in. Back on Earth it seemed so simple. Just use the tickets Mom had sent him to visit her at the dig when the trip was still on. Now that he was here, he had serious doubts about the idea. Dad would go ballistic when he found out! Mark would probably be the first to admit he never seemed to think things through, but he’d had to do something, and maybe this would get his parents talking to each other again.
“Are you sure your mother is expecting you?” Sarah asked, frowning at the deserted parking lot next to the small warehouse at the end of the runway.
“She said she was,” he lied uncomfortably.
Sarah looked doubtfully down at him. Mark was small for his age, and he knew the freckles that came with his red hair made him look even younger. He pushed his glasses back up his nose and tried to look older.
“If no one turns up for you after half an hour,” Sarah said, “we’ll phone the dig.”
“Thanks,” Mark said. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, surprised by the faint scent of orange blossom on the breeze.
“I’ll go and supervise the unloading,” Sarah said as two Tereks appeared from inside the warehouse, pulling a flatbed wagon behind them.
Mark studied the two aliens with interest. They looked just like the photographs Mom included with her letters, humanoid and roughly saurian, with a high domed forehead and a short crest that ran over the top of their head and down the back of their neck. Their skin was a soft mottled green and gold, and so smooth Mark’s fingers itched to stroke it. He was disappointed with the overalls they wore though; they should have something more exotic. As Sarah headed towards the back of the plane to help unload, Mark took the time to look around properly at his first planet. He hadn’t had time at the Elevator as the plane was already waiting for him. He’d just had time to grab his bag and take the underground walkway before it left. Now, though ...
The airfield was smaller than Mark expected, just a small warehouse made out of gray PVC clapboards, next to a gravel runway. A row of windows lined the side of the warehouse facing them, the building surrounded by a tired and shabby lawn. A windsock dangled from its pole next to the runway. Beyond the lawn a forest of tall cane formed an unbroken barrier of emerald green that continued to the horizon, a solid wall of vegetation sweating in the heat. Under the pink-tinged light from the red sun, and with the faint scent of orange blossom on the breeze, there was no question he was no longer on Earth.
“Mark.” It was Sarah. “Ready to come down?”
Nodding, Mark started cautiously down the steps.
Heat baked the ground, burning his lungs, as they made their way across to the warehouse.
“Here you are,” Sarah said, opening the door for him. A small waiting room was set up just inside, and a row of empty plastic chairs faced the open window. Overhead a large fan rotated slowly and uselessly against the heat. Mark put his suitcase down next to the first chair.
“There should be some water in the fridge if you’re thirsty,” Sarah said. “Call if you need anything else. I should be finished refueling in about twenty minutes.”
He watched her head outside. Halfway across the coarse grass she paused, turned and looked back at him. Caught watching, he quickly pulled his reading tablet out of his bag and opened up the latest edition of UN Peace Keeper. He looked up, halfway through the technical specifications of the UN’s new all-terrain attack-vehicle, to see someone talking to Sarah. The newcomer was wearing faded blue dungarees and matching jacket. A dark brown fedora and wrap-around shades completely hid his face. Sarah gestured, and as the stranger started towards the building Mark bent over to put his tablet away.
Mark looked up. The man in front of him had his hand out. With the dark glasses off, his eyes crinkled with good humor. “Jake Grisholm. Sarah says your mother works out at the dig.”
“Yes, my mother’s Muriel Cole.”
“Of course, you’re Mark. Sorry I didn’t recognize you. You look shorter than you do in your photograph. Muriel talks about you all the time though.”
Pity she hadn’t wanted to see him then, Mark thought.
“Do you want to bring your suitcase outside?” Jake said. “I’ve got some supplies to load and then we can head off.”
Mark followed Jake through the main doors to the vehicle waiting on the concrete pad outside.
“Nice,” Mark said, catching sight of the solar-powered Mercedes JT 400 with gyro-battery. A scale model of a similar vehicle Mark had built last summer took pride of place in his display cabinet back home on Earth.
With Mark’s help, Jake stacked the stores for the dig onto the buggy’s back-tray, tying Mark’s suitcase down beside them.
“So what’s the power on the gyros?” Mark asked, settling himself into the passenger seat.
“Don’t know,” Jake said, as he swung himself in. “All I do is drive it.”
His disappointment must have shown because Jake grinned. “I’ve got it up to 120, if that’s any help.”
“Cool.” The Regiment’s JT 401s only made 160, and that was with military-grade gyros, so that probably put the power at about 150KW.
“Mark.” It was Sarah.
“Just wanted to say goodbye,” she said. “You got everything, Jake?”
“It looks like it.”
“Good, I’ll pick you up in a month then,” she told Mark, squeezing his shoulder.
“You secure?” Jake asked as Sarah headed back to the plane.
“Yep,” Mark said, snapping himself into the racing harness.
“Hold on then.” Jake spun the tires and they slewed sideways, before bouncing off the pad onto the unpaved track that led north away from the airstrip.
Mark couldn’t help an excited, “Yeah!”
Jake grinned at him.
“So how far is it?” Mark asked, raising his voice over the whine of the electric motors.
“The dig? Couple of hours,” Jake said. “We should get there just after dark.”
He flicked the headlights on as the track plunged into the cane. The plants were about three meters high, with broad green leaves that spread out over the track, throwing everything beneath them into deep shadow. The smell of orange blossom was stronger now, and Mark wondered if it came from the cane. He took a deep breath, releasing it slowly. He was finally here. He’d done it! Dad would probably ground him for a year, but even if Mom wanted to, she couldn’t send him back for at least a month. Stretching around, he caught sight of the building growing steadily smaller behind them. An abrupt twist in the track put it out of sight, leaving the vehicle alone in the tunnel of cane.
Something scurried out onto the track. There was a muffled bump, and the vehicle bounced over whatever it had struck.
“What was that?” Mark asked, craning around to see.
“Probably a wabitt. They’re a little like a large ground squirrel. The cane is full of them.”
“Aren’t you going to stop?”
Jake shook his head. “The scavengers will be along in a moment, and you don’t want to meet any of them if you can help it, even with this.” He patted the holster on his belt, and Mark’s eyes widened as he recognized the handle of a blaster.
“I didn’t want to say anything in front of Sarah,” Jake said. “But I thought your mother had canceled your visit to the site about a month ago?”
Mark looked down at his feet. “She might have done.”
“So how did you manage to get here?”
Mark shrugged and then sighed. “Dad’s been on maneuvers with his unit, so I just told Mrs. McKenzie he’d canceled the tickets Mom sent, and she never bothered to check.”
“Muriel said your father’s with the Peacekeepers.”
“That’s right. He’s the Colonel of the Townsville regiment.”
“And Mrs. McKenzie is who?”
“And where does she think you are at the moment?” Jake asked, raising an eyebrow.
“At a school camp. I was going to let her know as soon as I got here.”
Jake laughed. “Oh well done. I couldn’t have done it better myself.”
“Really,” Jake assured him.
“Do you think I should phone Mom, then? Let her know I’m here?”
“You mean, let her get used to the idea that you’re here before she sees you?”
“Sort of.” He frowned at his wrist-watch with its inbuilt phone which wasn’t showing a signal.
Jake grinned at his expression. “We’ll need to give you a new phone when we get to the dig. Only satellite phones work this far away from the Elevator.” He pointed to the small box attached to the dashboard to show what he meant, and then tapped the smart jewelry he was wearing clipped to his ear.
“Can I use that?” Mark asked, admiring the intricate silver serpent.
Jake shook his head, then seemed to reconsider. “Well, you could, but your Mom’s probably underground so the phone still won’t get through. You’ll just have to wait till we get there.”
Mark relaxed back into his seat, more confident now he had one ally. He yawned. It had been a long trip, and he’d been awake for nearly twenty hours.
“Why don’t you close your eyes,” Jake suggested. “It’s going to be a while before we get there.”
“Thanks,” Mark said, settling himself back into his seat.
He woke to the ringing of a phone. It was dusk, the temperature was already noticeably cooler, and the buggy was halted by the side of the road. By the sounds coming from underneath the buggy, Jake was working on something there.
There was a muffled oath from Jake before he could get a hand free to tap the ear-phone to receive.
“Hi Masuto, yeah I’m almost back,” he said. “Fifteen minutes or so, just got a loose wire to one of the wheels.” He lowered his voice, forcing Mark to strain to hear. “We’ve got a problem though. I picked up Muriel’s son at the airport. Looks like he’s run away from home.”
Masuto obviously said something.
“No, I couldn’t just leave him there. We can lock him up with the others. It won’t be for much longer.”
For a moment Mark forgot to breathe. Lock him up? he thought frantically.
“You’d better tell the Llarst to hurry up though. His father’s a Colonel in the UN Peacekeepers, and I don’t want to be here when he finds out what’s happened.”
The Llarst! What were they doing here? The UN had fought a war with them less than ten years ago, and from what his father told him relations were still pretty strained. He had to get out of there. Without thinking, he released his harness and swung his legs out of the buggy.
“Mark?” There was a loud bang as Jake’s head hit the underside of the vehicle, followed by an explosion of swearing.
Without looking back, Mark took off into the cane that lined the track. In the dim light of dusk the plants formed a continuous curtain around him, their tips whipping from side to side overhead as he ran. Their stems were slippery under his hands as he forced his way through, unable to see where he was going, the scent of orange blossom now almost overpowering.
After twenty meters Mark started to bear right, trying to move more cautiously so as not disturb the tall stalks. Five minutes later he was sure he’d lost Jake, but he’d also seemed to have lost the track. He heard Jake crashing off to the left and decided to stop.
“Mark, get back here. Come on lad; I won’t hurt you.”
Mark held his breath and a moment later Jake tried again.
“Come on Mark, your mother will be waiting. It’s dangerous out here at night.”
There was another moment’s silence, followed by a curse, then he heard Jake start back to the vehicle. Taking his bearings, Mark started to follow him at an angle, and almost stepped out onto the track. Quickly he pulled back into the cover of the cane. The buggy was about thirty meters away, almost hidden in the shadows, and it wasn’t long before Jake emerged onto the track beside it.
Angrily Jake kicked the tire, then jammed the loose wire into its housing on the wheel motor and tightened the connector savagely. The buggy started first try, and spinning the wheels Jake goosed it back towards the airport.
Mark was just stepping out onto the track when he heard the whine of the buggy approaching again, and pulled back into the cane just as Jake brought the buggy racing back along the track towards him.
The buggy slid to a stop a short distance away. “Come on Mark,” Jake called.
Mark remained motionless, and after a couple of minutes, Jake checked his watch. He swore and angrily slammed the steering wheel with the palm of his hand. Getting out of the vehicle he started to rummage through the supplies. Mark watched him, puzzled. What was he doing?
After apparently finding what he was looking for, Jake got back in the vehicle. Mark heard him muttering about being too soft. “I’ll be back in the morning,” he called as he headed back towards the dig.
Mark watched him disappear into the distance. What should he do? He frowned, wishing he’d thought this out properly. The safest bet was probably to head back to the airstrip which would have a satellite phone, but that was, what, a day’s walk away? He wished Dad were there. He always knew what to do. He’d even put up with the grilling he’d get for running off. Still, Jake said the dig was less than fifteen minutes away, so perhaps he could have a look at that first.
He’d just started to move along the track when he noticed the bag of ginger-nut cookies on the ground, next to where Jake had parked. Puzzled, he checked the cane but there was no sign of a trap. Warily he picked them up, wondering how they’d fallen out of the buggy. The packet seemed untouched, so he opened it and tried one. His stomach rumbled and he quickly finished a second one, before doing the bag back up. They might have to keep him going for a while.
He started north, trying to keep to the cover provided by the cane. It was difficult to do that while still keeping the track in sight, and he had to stop and cast around every fifty meters or so to make sure he wasn’t veering off course. It was a trick his father had described once, and it was harder than he’d expected.
He’d been walking for about fifteen minutes when, from one step to the next, the soft gray of dusk deepened into the black of night; a night so deep that even the stars were invisible. He remembered Mom writing about it in one of her letters, how the density of Teral’s Oort cloud hid stellar objects from sight, but he hadn’t expected it to get so ... black. He couldn’t even see his hands in front of his face. The temperature had already started to drop, and now he remembered how cold Mom said it got at night. He wished he had his coat with him, but it was in his suitcase.
Something roared in the distance, a sort of yowling cough, a little like the jaguar Mark had once heard at the zoo. All of a sudden escaping from Jake didn’t seem such a good idea. Mark started back towards the track, but after five minutes of blundering through the cane he knew he was lost, and somehow he had also dropped and lost the cookies. Fighting back tears, he settled down to wait for morning. There wasn’t anything else he could do. If he kept walking he’d probably just stumble into whatever was out there. As though to echo his thoughts another yowl filled the night around him.
The smell of orange blossom faded with the disappearance of the sun. Overhead, the movement of a breeze through the cane created a soft whisper that gradually faded into utter silence as Mark shivered himself to sleep.
He woke several times during the night from a confused dream of space shuttles and angry aliens. Finally, he roused to the first, faint, watery light of the sun, and stiffly pulled himself to his feet. He’d made it through the night, and with the sun up had some idea of direction again. He hoped Mom was all right. The first thing was to find the dig, he thought, as he cleaned his glasses on his shirt, wishing once again that his father were there.
Several hours later, hungry and thirsty and with no idea of his bearings, Mark staggered out of the cane onto the banks of a shallow river. The river wound itself lazily through a narrow strip of meadow. Crimson butterflies hovered in the air, wings glinting in the sun, over a meadow of low-lying grasses and purple flowers. With no thought of what the water might contain, Mark threw himself full length on the bank of the river, and after removing his glasses, thrust his face into the chilling water to drink his fill.
When he raised his head, he found himself being watched from the other side of the river by something that looked as though it had emerged from a nightmare. Putting his glasses back on, he peered uncertainly across the river. The monster – it must have been a hrak from its appearance – was about three meters tall, with a powerful flat face, massive jaws, and two upward pointing tusks. It surveyed Mark mournfully as it chewed on a mouthful of bulrushes that dangled from its mouth in a dripping beard. The hrak’s hairless, tan skin wrapped its immense frame in loose rolls, while its front feet were tipped in massive curling claws, each longer than Mark’s arm.
It took Mark a moment to realize the monster had a rider, a young Terek who studied him with interest from the back of the giant beast.
Mark got to his feet slowly. Both hrak and rider continued to observe him without blinking.
Mark felt like a mouse being watched by two cats. “I don’t suppose you speak English?” Mark said hopefully.
“A little,” the Terek said, carefully pronouncing each word separately.
“My name’s Mark Spender.”
“Name of this seeker is Windracer,” the Terek announced, sliding down to the ground. Mark was surprised to find he was taller than the young Terek; it always seemed that because he was short for his age everyone was taller than him. The Terek’s skin patterning was tighter than that of the two Mark had seen at the airstrip, its mottling smaller and more regular, and the short crest over the top of its head was a deeper green.
Windracer wore a long tunic, covered with hundreds of tiny scales that refracted the sun like a hologram, a broad leather belt, and breeches that finished just above the knee. Now that’s what a Terek should wear, Mark thought. Windracer was barefoot, however, and Mark winced as Windracer’s feet settled into the mud up to their ankles. Then again, maybe it was a good thing the Terek wasn’t wearing boots.
“What Mark do?” Windracer asked, wading across the river towards him.
“I’m trying to get to the dig. My mother’s an archaeologist there.”
“Mark’s mother is at the Place of the Old Ones?”
Mark nodded – that’s what Mom had said the Tereks called the underground city.
“What does Mark do here?”
Mark shrugged. “It’s a long story,” he said, not sure how much he could trust the Terek. “I don’t suppose you know where it is? The Place of the Old Ones?”
Windracer assented, using its chin to point towards the left. “That way. Windracer is never lost.”
“So what are you doing here?” Mark asked, unimpressed.
“What are you seeking?”
Windracer’s brow furrowed for a moment. “A dreaming. Windracer saw, now Windracer find.”
“So what – you saw something in your dreams, and now you’re trying to find it?”
“What did you see?”
Windracer’s head reared back in alarm. “Mark should not ask. Is between Windracer’s Gisha and Windracer.”
“Sorry.” What was a Gisha? He didn’t want to risk upsetting Windracer anymore by asking. “So how long have you been looking?” he asked instead.
“Many sleeps. Perhaps thirty.”
“What does your family think?”
Windracer bobbed its head. “Is hard. Windracer’s clan believed Windracer too young to leave because Windracer had not had first clutch.”
Clutch! He blinked. His mother had told him that the Terek laid eggs, but that meant – Windracer was a girl! He looked her up and down again. She didn’t look like one!
“But Windracer is fit, yes?” Windracer said, pulling back a sleeve to show Mark the muscles on her smooth, green and gold arm. “And Windracer still searches.”
“So how far is the dig?”
“Windracer take,” Windracer announced. “Mark ride Matak.”
Windracer jerked her chin at the monster on the other side of the river. Mark looked at the huge beast doubtfully.
“Is safe,” Windracer promised. “Matak is,” she thought for a moment. “Big baby.”
Windracer had a strange idea about babies, Mark thought, as he reluctantly stepped down from the bank, into the water and mud that lined the bottom of the stream. Cold water immediately flooded over the tops of his boots. As he made his way across the river, he had to struggle to maintain his balance against the pull of the mud. It would have been easier to remove his boots, but the mere thought of sticking his feet into the muck that covered the bottom of the river made his skin crawl.
As he pulled himself up onto the far bank, Matak raised its head to stare at him. Uncomfortably Mark paused to empty his boots. As he did Matak watched him without blinking, then let out an enormous fart. Mark gasped at the stench, but Windracer simply ignored it and waved Mark up onto its back.
A large strap went around the animal’s stomach, another over its chest. They were attached to a blanket that covered the beast’s broad back and supported two large panniers that hung down on each side.
“How do I get up?” Mark asked.
Windracer gave a very human sounding sigh. Grabbing a handful of Matak’s loose skin she demonstrated, pulling herself up by her arms, and digging her feet into his side. Mark tried to follow her example, but his mud-covered boots simply slid off Matak’s warm skin.
“Pull harder,” Windracer said as Matak turned his head to watch.
“Stupid hrak,” Mark muttered as he tried to get a better grip. Why couldn’t Windracer just have a buggy or something?
It wasn’t any easier when he reached the top. Matak’s back was so broad that Mark found it impossible to sit astride the huge beast as Windracer did, almost doing the splits. He was still trying to settle himself when Matak turned and lumbered off towards the north.
“Matak go,” Windracer said, as Mark frantically grabbed at the strap to stop himself from falling off.
Mark glared at her. She could at least have warned him.
ANDREW spent his high-school years in the school's library lost in the worlds of Andre Norten, Robert Heinlein, and Isaac Asimov. Reading in turn led to writing, with the first draft of the Garden Adventures originally completed to read to his two sons at night. Now his children have left home he lives in Perth with his wife, one dog, and sixty four gold fish.
Andrew's first published short story (A Messenger to the Dragon) appeared in Aurealis - Australian Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1992. In 2016 he signed a three book deal with Canada's Peasantry Press for a series of three young adult (middle grade), action Science Fiction adventures. The open ended series is a combination of Caroline Lawrence's Roman Mysteries and Andre Norton's juvenile speculative fiction.
For more information visit Andrew's author page.
TROUBLE ON TERAL
Book 1 of the Portal Adventures
The moral rights of Andrew J Harvey to be identified as the author of this work have been asserted.
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