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I felt the summons deep within my mind, “Rotan I need you.

Whatever you are doing delegate it to someone else. Come to me at my offices as soon as you can.” I was deep within the water-world collecting souls when I heard my master’s call. I sent out a call for assistance and soon saw one of the Lord of Punishment’s flying servants carrying a fresh Ferryman in its claws. I recognised Baal himself as he hovered over the boat. The new boat-master grasped my hand as he was released from Baal’s grasp and said, “Rotan you had best hurry. There’s something amiss in this reality and our master needs someone of your talents to put it to rights.” I held my arms out from my side and Baal swooped down and fixed me within his grasp. The mighty wings expanded, caught the wind and we soared into the clouds. From up here the Netherworld extended in every direction until it disappeared into the mist. I had been collecting souls and taking them to the final lock and the entrance into Gaia’s realm. This was the lands of the dead and time did not pass here as it did in the realm of life. I have no real idea just how many years had passed since my death. I was born during the end of the Würm glaciation period as a hunter gatherer. I killed a false Shaman who had sent us on a fools errand hunting animals that were somewhere else, once too many. Upon my death I found myself in front of the Lord of Punishment who had made me the first Ferryman, collecting the souls of the dead. After some time I decided to stay and serve Him rather than travel on to Gaia’s realm for the redeemed. I was his first Ferryman and had served Him in many different situations. I had caused two cities to drown because of the wickedness practised there and abolished slavery in Egypt during the reign of Ramesses the second, leading the ex-slaves through the Red Sea to other lands. In the end the Lord of Punishment gave up on man’s cruelty and ceased to interfere in human affairs unless unbearably provoked. Baal continued his flight back to the great citadel of Hell and I soon was able to see the towers jutting out of the wetlands below. The Arch-prince dropped into the main courtyard and gently deposited my ethereal form onto the polished flagstones. He bent forwards and spoke directly into my ear and whispered, “All I can tell you, is that our Master is very concerned about something that the humans have achieved with their scientific discoveries that may concern us all, even in this reality!” With that veiled threat ringing in my ears, I quickly found my way into his presence. My Master was sitting at his desk in a vast swivel chair crafted by demons out of iron-wood grown locally to his residence. A flight of stairs led from the smooth, mosaic-patterned floor right up to the level of his desk. I hurried up those stairs as fast as I could and made my

appearance from behind one of his inkwells. The great horned head swivelled round at my approach and he said, “It is good to see you again Rotan, after so many years. Once again I have a task for your unique abilities. Sit and listen while I tell you about the latest of man’s follies! This time I have to intervene or there will be no more souls in the future for us to judge and send upon their ways.” I sat and listened as the Lord of Punishment told me about the progress that mankind had achieved in the last hundred years. It had been some while since I had been involved in the lands of the living and much had happened since World-War two and the dropping of the atomic bombs upon the cities of the Japanese. There had been a great sorting out of souls on both sides after the mega-death of destruction had taken place. Since then I had been wandering the remote corners of the Netherworld collecting the lost souls that had fallen far from the centre of residence. For my master to call upon my ‘talents’ at such a time, put me once again at the pivot point of history. “Rotan, my children have accomplished a great achievement that will certainly wipe out all life upon this world if they succeed in returning to their home-world with what they have discovered. A year and a half ago an international expedition to the planet Mars was launched. It was and is an incredible feat of which I am very proud. Based on the favourable results that the Mars Rover discovered, the team have been sent there to verify that life exists underneath the permafrost layer. It does and it will soon occupy the warm wet conditions of the dome that they live inside. Not only that, the varied micro-organisms will find an enriched environment inside the humans that are at this moment getting ready to return. Rotan, they cannot return to this world, for if they do, what once evolved on Mars will make this their new home. These microbes have stayed alive and mutated to stay that way over billions of years and will find life on this planet very easy. If they get here, then I have seen a possible future, of a world that will be home to microbial life only. Mankind will cease to be and our reason for being here will end. They must be stopped! That is your task, Rotan. Do whatever is necessary my loyal servant, but stop them!” I stared up at my master and asked, “How will I get there? Surely another world is beyond the reaches of the Netherworld?” The Dark Lord shook his head and replied, “In our dimension my realm is infinite. All I have to do is to set you upon the correct canal with a fast boat and the currant will do the rest. I will set a menu of directions into the fabric of the boat and it will know the way. Once again he plucked a number of hairs from his head and gave them to me to wrap around my waist. These hairs will connect you with ‘Me’ and will act as a conduit of power for whatever you need. Now make your way to the docks and you will find that a boat will be waiting. You will also find Baal waiting for you in case you need assistance. He will assume your form until such time that he may need to become the elemental creature that he is. I will leave

you to carry out this task. Do not hesitate to call on me if you have to. Now go! There is a great deal of things that I must attend to. Not too long ago a human opened a hole into the depths of Hell with the Large Hadron Collider that they have built. There are still imps and devils abroad in the world of the living that need to be collected and replaced into their proper place. He picked me up between his thumb and forefinger and set me on the mosaic floor to do his bidding while he began the first of many tasks that needed his attention. I found that I was travelling at an unnatural speed towards the docks and my reunion with Baal. I barely touched the floor as I sped along down to where the narrow boats were berthed. Waiting for me was a tall blond haired man who was busily untying a different type of boat than I was used to. The bow was pointed and slightly raised out of the water, followed by a streamlined hull. At the back was an open roof that was raised on four poles with a bench seat at the stern. Here there was a conventional tiller and a simple lever with plus and minus printed on two panels. Under the hold there came a flavour of wickedness that told of deep sin and torment. Inside that living hell, were the worst sinners that could be pressed into service. They remained trapped inside the Ferris wheel that drove the boat’s propellers. Inside that hold the dimensions were far greater than the space that the mechanism sat in. The boat sat easily twelve people, but the hold held a thousand sinners. It was built for speed and was totally coated with liquid imp! The blackness of the boat made it seem as though you could sink into it. A sinner would of course and find themselves inside the hold! The boat was alive with power and the presence of the Dark Lord permeated every molecule and bound it into service. I jumped aboard and coiled the rope around a stanchion letting the boat clear the docking edge before I engaged the ‘engine,’ steering us into a middle position. We began to travel along the slipway until we exited the docking area. Above us was an arch that I had never seen before and the current carried us underneath. A door came down behind us and the current picked up. Baal laughed and said, “Well wherever we are going it will be somewhere new and after all this time that I have spent in the Netherworld I am happy to be able to do something different!” I turned and appraised the human shaped creature by my side and asked, “Have you been told about our mission?” “No! All I was told was that you were in charge and I was to do anything that you asked of me no matter what I thought. The Dark Lord trusts you Rotan and that is good enough for me,” the Arch-prince replied. “Very well, Baal, I will tell you what it is and where we are going to travel to undertake this mission. What I have to tell you will stop your

laughter in your throat for what we do will affect the future, not only of humankind, but also our kind as well.” I told him everything that our master had impressed upon me and what we had to do. Baal ran his fingers through his long blond hair and said, “Well Rotan it seems that we will be going into unknown territory. None of our species have ever needed to travel this far outside the Netherworld tied to Earth. I would not miss this chance to go where we are needed. My respect for you increases each time I am associated with you! Do you have a plan of action?” “No! Apart from getting there as fast as I can, I can think of nothing else. Once we are there, then will be the time to weigh up the situation and act. In the meantime I think that it is time to put some sinners to the test. We need more speed than this current to be able to navigate,” and with that I pushed the lever halfway towards the plus sign. We both felt the cries of anguish from below the hold, but paid the sound little interest. As we accelerated downstream the boat seemed to be hurtling down a tunnel. The sides of the waterway began to get hazy and we could see stars surrounding us with the familiar sight of the moon receding far behind us. I reached out with the power invested in me and slowed time to a crawl for us and ruthlessly slammed the propulsion lever hard against the plus. This time we could both hear the screams of the damned as the Ferris wheel picked up speed and the automatic gearbox locked onto top speed. Now the bow lifted out of the water and the boat hydroplaned until only the stern and propeller were immersed in the water. Once that had been achieved I could lessen the exertion on those poor unfortunates that were incarcerated in the hold. Far ahead at the end of the water channel I could see a pinpoint of dull red that soon began to dominate the forward view. This was the planet Mars that mankind had finally reached. I felt a tingle of pride in my race’s achievement, but also regret that I would have to ensure that it ended in failure. The water channel twisted and turned until it dived towards the planet’s surface carrying us with it. I hauled back the lever into the minus position and slowed the boat, once more ignoring the cries of physical exertion that floated up from the hold. The Netherworld did not totally encompass this dry and empty place. To my dismay the channel came to a stop by petering out and draining into the sands. We were a very long way from where the mixed crew had established base camp. There was no way that I could sail the boat across this arid desert. A red wasteland stretched as far as I could see, full of mountains and red stony deserts. It had every appearance of a dead world. The sky was empty of clouds and I could see the stars shining down in the thin atmosphere. It was a good thing that I did not need to breathe. I would need to invoke my Dark Lord’s power and change things. I wrapped the lengths of His hair around my wrist over the tiller and over

the wrists of Baal. “What are you going to do now, Rotan? It has got to be something very unnatural,” the Arch-prince remarked. “Be very careful about what it is that you intend and whether you can control it!” “Several billions of years ago this small world had water in abundance. Where the Mars Rover examined the shale, was once the bottom of a sea. We are going back to that time so that we can travel to the expedition’s base camp. We had dropped in the north and most of that part of the planet had been under water at the time that we arrived. We plunged out of the regions of the Netherworld onto the crest of a mighty wave. There was enough of a tenuous link between our dimension and this one to ensure that we did not go to the bottom. The Mars Rover had landed just south of the equator on the edge of the northern sea. The Gale crater had been deemed to have been wet, by its close proximity to that sea and it had in fact filled with water and become a large lake with a mountain jutting out of the middle of the impact crater. It was in this shallow lake that microbial life had flourished under the mutational rays of the early sun. The various kinds of microbes had become survivors of the constant war for existence. Wind driven surges provided waves that broke into the crater replenishing the microbial life there with fresh challenges. Isolated from the rest of the sea for long periods they had begun to spread into the edges of that ancient mass of water to try and colonise the empty lands. As the sea dried up however, the life that had evolved there mostly perished as air and water disappeared by evaporation and tiny gravity of this world was unable to hang onto what there was. In the crater the penetration of the microbes into the mud and deeper into the wet ground happened before the surface froze as the planet got colder. A thick layer of permafrost sealed them in and a billion years later they were still waging microbial war against each other. The expedition had been ecstatic when they had drilled down through that icy layer to discover exotic life-forms swarming in the wetness still sealed in after all that time. They had taken them inside the domed habitat to study. This was why my master had sent me to this forsaken place. He had glimpsed an alternative future where the crew had come back from Mars and it was more than bleak. The wind began to pick up as we sailed. We crested waves of a hundred feet or more that were being driven by those winds and the lesser gravity. Sometimes we bounced upwards and the wave retreated beneath us, only for us to be caught by the crest of the next wave before we fell. The two of us strapped ourselves firmly to the poles that supported the roof using our master’s thick strands of hair. Beneath the hold the unfortunate souls of the wicked continued to obey the instructions that I gave via the motion lever. No matter how the boat was tossed from wave crest to deep trough, they continued to climb the great Ferris wheel that drove the propeller. I continued to press on towards the south and the three mile high mountain that sat in the centre of Gale

Crater. It had been named Aeolis Mons that meant Mount Sharp and time had scoured its flanks until it did indeed begin to look like a giant blade thrusting into the skies. At the time that we were making our way across that ancient land the planet was relatively new and the mountain was still quite broad as well as being high. It gave me a strange feeling to realise that my home planet was still a seething mass of volcanoes erupting into foul and filthy seas. It would be maybe a billion years before the first stirring of life began to turn those oceans to fresh salty water and fill the air with oxygen. Here on Mars life had got started, although it was doomed to never rise beyond the microbial stage and become simple multi-celled organisms. The constant radiation from the sun caused the pace of evolution to surge as there was little to stop the hard particle emissions from constantly bombarding the life under the water. We could feel this alien life it as we dipped and plunged through the waves. There was an overwhelming feeling of malevolence that seemed to seep into our minds. This was a soup of lifeforms that would look upon my kind of life as something to enjoy and dominate. It was mindless, yet full of purpose. That purpose was survival of the fittest and at their level of development our kind of life would fall way back on that scale. We now fully understood why our master had sent us on this mission. Baal called out, “I can see the mountain. It’s fast coming over the horizon. We should soon be there.” The curvature of this planet was steeper than ours and distances could be deceptive so I pulled the lever into reverse and slowed us down. As we neared land the winds began to slow down a little and the waves got less intense as we breasted shallower ground. I could see a break in the crater’s wall and headed for that, propelled by a surge of water that sent the narrow-boat hurtling through the gap and into a calmer lake. The entire crater was awash and flooded to a depth of no more than ten feet or more. I dropped anchor and let the boat swing round to follow the flow. I reset the lever to neutral and gave the souls below a welcome rest. They had given their very best and had shortened their time at the Ferris wheel by some considerable time. Now it was time to leave this early time of ‘wet Mars’ and return to the present. Once again we wound the thick strands of hair around our wrists and over the tiller of the boat. I reached out to a time when my master existed and called upon His power. Baal also gave me his strength to send my mind forwards billions of years to the present time until I felt the Lord of Punishment’s mind inside mine. “Rotan! Do whatever you have to. The expedition is making ready to return. They must be stopped and stopped soon,” the Dark Lord commanded. The waters dropped away and the boat sat on the stony ground just in front of the air-filled dome in sight of their only window. The return shuttle was the other side of my vessel and had been primed for flight. Four of the inhabitants of the dome exited the airlock and were making their way

towards their return voyage pulling a cart loaded with specimens. They stopped short, staring at the boat and us. They stopped pulling the cart and made their way towards us. I could not see their faces inside the reflective glass of their helmets, but I could guess what they looked like. “Disable the shuttle by causing the ground to give way underneath one of the legs, Baal and I will make sure that they all go back inside the dome. Show your real self to them and that should do the trick.” The four astronauts stopped short as Baal expanded to his normal size and unfurled his wings and towered over them. In the low gravity he bounded over to the shuttle and began to excavate the ground around one of the feet using his telekinetic abilities and shovel shaped hands. With him were thousands of imps that had shed the sides of the boat and were all busily digging underneath the landing legs. It was as if the base of the shuttle was covered in a black soup that was full of small digging hands. Now and then the imps would amalgamate together and become a larger being working tirelessly with Baal to topple the transport home onto the red sands of Mars. The four stood stock still and then one fell to the ground and began to beat it with a fist. I motioned to them to return to the dome and also changed shape to the demon that only the sinners usually see. That did the trick and they hurriedly returned to the dome. Once they were safely inside and unsuited, I followed them and warped reality to walk through the walls. Meanwhile Baal successfully managed to undermine the landing leg and the shuttle began to topple over helped by him and the imps of Hell lifting one of the other legs. The twelve of them were staring through the window at the damage being done to their only way home. The women were crying and so were some of the men as Baal continued to wreck the shuttle. I monitored the health of my unfortunate captives and detected a slight fever in three of them. They believed that they had incubated a cold. I coughed to get their attention and they turned away from the window to stare at me with disbelieving eyes. The person that I surmised was their leader asked, “What are you? Are you an alien life-form? Why have you done this?” “I was once a man just like you. I serve a being that only acts in times of great gravity. I am a Ferryman and collect souls and transport them for a higher purpose. I do not expect you to believe me at first, as few can accept the reality that exists,” I replied. One of the men grabbed a box of specimens and threw it at me and of course it passed right through my chest. The others stopped looking for weapons after seeing what had just happened. “I’ll ask again! Why have you done this? Why now, after all that we have achieved? We have been here for six months exploring the amazing

finds that lie under the permafrost. We have found alien life that is astounding and may be the key to all sorts of new discoveries,” their leader said. “That is the problem my unfortunate people. Three of you think that you have developed colds. Not so! You are swarming with alien microbes that will soon dominate your bodies. All of you will die here on this world and none must ever come here again. You will radio Earth and tell them of your decision to stay here, because of the living death that exists under the permafrost. Also to make sure that no-one ever comes here you will film and transmit the stages that you go through. The being that I serve has seen an alternative future of a microbial Earth where nothing remains of any Earthly life-forms. Everything will have been transmuted into a microbial soup. You will be the saviours of your world not just your species. There is no other way! If you will do this I promise that I will take you back to your home. You must trust me to look after all of you after you have died. In that state I will take you back.” I stayed with them a month before they all died and one by one they succumbed to the different microbes as one or the other got the upper hand. Some of the effects were so terrible that filming the last stages became too difficult for the survivors. No-one on Earth ever got an inkling of my presence inside the base. The narrow boat did not exist in this reality so was never seen by the anguished people of Earth. The destruction of the shuttle was put down to a desperate and valiant action by the crew to make sure that none could escape. I buried the bodies outside the dome in shallow graves where the radiation of the sun and near vacuum would destroy the Martian life that thrived inside their bodies. The last living person was a woman called Ayesha and she shut off the radio and television link just before she died cradled in my arms. To the end they still protested that they had isolated all of the specimens that they had collected from beneath the Martian permafrost and could not understand how some got through. Some did get through. They had managed to live billions of years surviving off each other in the most hostile conditions. Working their way through rubber-type seals must have been quite easy. Once the last of them were safely contained in the ground Baal and I sailed the narrow-boat back through time and eventually back to the Netherworld’s embrace. I had promised to bring them back and I had done so. The Lord of Punishment did a unique thing and met all of the astronauts before he personally took them to the last lock and the entrance to Gaia’s realm. As for me, well there were still souls to collect and a boat to judge them. I felt that a few hundred years of solitude would suit me well.

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