Buffeted by the cold wind, Trevor
surveyed the scene before him. He was standing on the edge of a valley. At his feet was a sheer rocky drop of about fifteen
feet. Beyond that, a steep slope strewn with rocks and shingle, slanted away for about a mile. Then the ground levelled to
a flat expanse covered with grass and low shrubs. Scattered here and there, small patches of water glinting in the setting
sun, indicated swampland.
On the far side of the valley, about
seven miles distant, he saw another barren mountain range that rose higher than the mountain on which he stood. To his right,
the slopes of green hills undulated as far as he could see. On his left, the valley curved sharply left hiding whatever might
The only sign of life was the crow-like
birds that were still gliding high above him.
"No, damn you!" Trevor shouted.
His arms and legs ached with the strain of climbing. "I want to rest!"
later. It will soon be dark.
The voice was right. The sun, low
in the reddish sky, indicated the lateness of the day and Trevor didn’t want to attempt to climb down to the valley
in the dark. The thought of staying where he was all night didn’t appeal to him, either. The jagged, rocky mountain
would not offer him any comfort and the wind was cold. He picked out a place that looked easiest for him to descend the fifteen
feet drop and carefully climbed down.
Traversing the slope proved more
difficult than he expected. At each step, the shingle shifted beneath his feet, causing him to lose his balance. At times,
he fell and slid several feet, dislodging small rocks that went tumbling down the slope, some narrowly missing his head. By
the time he reached the bottom the sun had almost set and he was bruised and battered. Small flying insects, smelling the
blood on his hands, swarmed around him seeking a meal. The stench of the swamp reached his nose and he grimaced with disgust.
"What hell is this?" he asked himself.
Although he had seen no sign of life, he didn’t doubt the swamp was home to all kinds of creatures. Possibly some were
Trevor needed no encouragement.
He sank wearily to the ground using a clump of grass for a pillow. The clouds had dispersed but the wind was still cold. As
the last rays of the sun faded, he stared up at the sky, watching the stars become brighter and more numerous. Maybe I will
die of exposure here, he thought. Maybe this will be the last time I will see stars.
He wondered what Gina was doing.
She must be worried that he hadn’t called her. It had become almost a ritual every night to call her before he went
to bed. More than likely, she had tried to call him when he failed to contact her. Did she think he had changed his mind about
the wedding and deserted her? Would he ever see her again? Again, he wondered how long it had been since he was on Earth.
How many months or years had the journey to this strange planet taken?
He closed his eyes wearily and sleep
overwhelmed him like a black shroud.
up. Wake up. Wake up now.
Trevor opened his eyes slowly as
the persistent whisper penetrated his sleepy brain. The red sun had risen, its heat warming his body. He yawned and stretched,
then sat up as a cry from one of the crow-like birds made him look up. The birds, about twenty of them, wheeled gracefully
in the sky, taking advantage of the thermal uplift. Were they following him?
He stood up and stretched again;
surprised that he no longer ached. Even his bruises had gone and the wounds on his hands had almost healed. He felt refreshed
and ready for another day.
"Must be something in the air,"
A slight sound of movement behind
him made Trevor turn his head. The shock of what he saw set his nerves on edge and he leapt backward instinctively, nauseated
by the obscene creature that had been creeping toward him. It reminded Trevor of a monstrous, elongated jellyfish, at least
six feet long and four feet wide but it had a huge head. He saw rows of dangerous looking teeth in its gaping mouth. It froze
at Trevor’s sudden movement and as he backed away, he examined it.
It didn’t have any eyes as
far as he could see. Instead, four antenna-like feelers growing from the top of the head, waved from side to side in his direction,
retracting and extending all the time. Other appendages protruded all around the body like tentacles. The flesh was transparent
and Trevor could see its internal organs. In what he assumed was its stomach, were the remains of some creature it had eaten.
The creature’s tentacles inched
forward one at a time, until all were in a forward position. It lunged toward him with surprising speed for its size. Trevor
leaped to one side but a tentacle struck him sending him sprawling. As he fell to the ground, his head hit a rock, momentarily
dazing him. Shaking his head to clear it, he glanced up. The creature’s feelers, curled over its back pointed toward
him, as it began to turn.
He picked up the rock and hurled
it at the creature. The rock struck its back, bounced toward its head, and hit one of the feelers. The feeler snapped back
and a high-pitched squeal pierced Trevor’s ears.
Trevor searched for more rocks but
the only ones he could see were at the base of the slope he had descended the night before. He had to get past the creature
to reach them. He began to circle get behind it. He knew he had hurt it. The feeler he had hit was extending and retracting
rapidly while the other three remained pointing at him as it tried to keep facing him. Saliva dripped from its enormous mouth
in long sticky trails.
Its mouth almost closed and suddenly
its body contracted. A gob of saliva shot from its mouth and hurtled toward Trevor. He dodged, holding up his arm to ward
it off, but not quite quick enough to avoid it completely. He yelped as he felt a searing, burning pain on his forearm as
some of the sticky saliva brushed it.
Acid! The thought sped through Trevor’s
mind as he glanced down and realized what the pain was. A two-inch long portion of his forearm was red and raw.
He broke into a run, heading for
the steep slope at the base of the mountain and scrambled up it. Rocks and shingle shifted beneath him, almost taking him
down toward the creature. Panting with exertion, he clawed his way higher to put himself out of range before the creature
spat at him again.
When he felt he was high enough,
he turned and saw the creature trying to follow him. Its tentacles trying to get a grip on the loose shingle but only to slide
back helplessly as more shingle and rocks rolled down the slope.
Trevor stumbled to a larger, more
stable rock and, gasping for breath, he watched the creature. He hurled rocks down at the creature to hamper its progress
further. After several minutes it gave up, scurried away toward the swamp and disappeared, sinking slowly beneath its surface.
Trevor hurled a final rock in its
direction and yelled; his face twisted into an expression of hard-earned victory. He again felt the pain of his forearm and
turned his attention to the acid burn. It was two-inches long and half an inch wide. The skin had already burned away leaving
it raw. He realised with horror he had been fortunate the gob of saliva hadn’t hit him in the face.
He scooped up a handful of sand
and, wincing, he rubbed it over the wound to clean away any of the saliva that may have remained. The dry dust clung to the
weeping sore acting as a temporary dressing.
Trevor ignored the voice and made
his way down the slope to the valley floor and sat down, keeping a wary eye on the swamp.
on. The Scuddar must be destroyed.
"So you keep telling me," Trevor
said, "but how about some breakfast? Something to eat and drink?" Even as he said it, he realised he was neither hungry nor
Hurry. Half a day more.
"Okay. Okay! Damn you!" He sensed
an increased urgency in the voice. Half a day more, the voice said. Maybe he would get some answers then. He didn’t
know why but he began walking away from the closer hills. He paused, turned and looked at the circling birds.
"Hey, we’re going this way!"
he yelled, and then added under his breath, “As if you didn’t know.”
He kept close to the rocky slope
where the ground was firm and dry. He had gotten used to the smell of the swamp. The flying insects still swarmed around although
they were not biting him. As he walked, he thought about the birds. Something was not right. He couldn’t figure out
what bothered him. He looked up expecting them to be above his head but they weren’t. He stopped walking and turned.
They remained circling high above the spot where he had slept.
Trevor cursed beneath his breath
and continued walking. Maybe they’re not following me, he thought, but there’s something not right. The harder he tried to think, the more the answer eluded him.
It must have been about three miles
further when he realised what was bothering him. He stopped and scanned his surroundings once more. There were no trees. Most
birds nest in trees. What were these birds doing at this altitude? He had never seen the birds on the ground. Maybe they feed on insects in the air. He was certain they were important in some way.
the birds. They are nothing. Press on.
Trevor continued at a leisurely
pace, glancing over his shoulder often to check if the birds were following. He was scanning the sky behind him when something
snatched at his ankles causing him to sprawl headfirst. He reached out to break his fall and his hands and forearms sank into
warm, slimy mud. The mud seeped through the knees of his pants. He had strayed from the drier ground and tripped over a low
Cursing profusely, he scrambled
out of the swamp back to firmer ground where he grabbed handfuls of grass to clean the mud off his arms.
the birds. You will learn about them later.
Trevor paused, his hand half-way
to grabbing another handful of grass. So the birds were important. Could he be hearing
the voice of one of them? His lips curled into a cynical smile. The idea he was following the instructions of a bird-brained
alien seemed preposterous. He shook his head and finished cleaning himself up as best he could.
on. You are very close.
The knowledge his journey would
end soon urged Trevor on. Another mile and he was around the bend in the valley. In the distance, the valley ended with hills
similar to the other end. It had taken two days of walking, climbing and much discomfort to get here. If they could bring me from Earth to this world, why couldn’t they have dropped me here? Trevor thought.
is a reason. You will learn.
The voice was becoming more talkative.
Trevor walked on for another half mile keeping his eyes open for anything that might emerge from the swamp and attack him.
He didn’t relish having another beast sneak up on him.
here. You are almost there.
"Then let’s go on. I’m
not really tired," Trevor said, keen to get to wherever he could find answers to his many questions.
Trevor knew arguing would be useless.
He chose a suitable rock and sat down.
down the valley. What do you see?
Trevor looked. He saw nothing unusual.
The birds were back overhead, circling as before.
"What am I looking for?"
Even as the voice spoke, Trevor
saw something unusual. He had thought it was refraction from the heat until he noticed its uniform shape. A huge dome began
at one side of the valley and ended at the other. It was transparent and almost invisible apart from the slight shimmering.
spacecraft. It is approximately seven of your miles long, five miles wide and two miles tall, oval in shape.
Trevor stared in disbelief. He could
not comprehend a space vessel that size. The voice answered Trevor’s unspoken question.
It is not ours. It is the world of the Scuddar. It contains the remnants of their species. But they are of immense danger
to all intelligent life.
Questions raced through Trevor’s
mind. Was he being fooled by the voice? What could he do if the voice was speaking
the truth? Why was he chosen out of the billions of humans on Earth to come here?
are the only one we have found with the power to destroy them. Relax and we will show you the truth.
A paralyzing numbness began at Trevor’s
feet, rapidly spreading up his legs and torso. Fear and panic flooded his mind as he tried to move his arms.
"What are you doing to me?" he asked.
You are safe.
His mind seemed to be crushed by
the numbness. He saw nothing but blackness. A velvety blackness darker than one sees with eyes shut in a dark room.
on the blackness.
A point of light appeared followed
by another, and then another until thousands of three-dimensional pinpoints of light filled the blackness. It was as though
he were floating in space amid stars and galaxies. The lights began to move toward him, increasing speed until they became
streaks of light rushing past him. A distant point of light grew and became a galaxy and then he was orbiting a strange world
that grew larger every second.
The streaking lights stopped with
dizzying suddenness and he was hovering over a decaying city. At one time, it must have been a magnificent city of strange
but beautiful architecture. The stars streaked by once more and he was taken to another world. He hovered for a minute over
another decaying city. The architecture was different and alien.
The tour continued and he saw many
different worlds, the cities of which were all in various stages of decay. Finally, he was over a sprawling city. The roads
were built in concentric circles. Other roads radiated from the centre to the rim like the spokes of a wheel.
is the city of Lasna on Neum the fifth planet of Ladra. Ladra has seven planets.
As Trevor gazed at the city in awe,
he was reminded of ancient children’s fairy tales and books. Fairy rings, he
thought. Mushroom shaped buildings, with tall spires painted in various colours on the rounded roofs lined the roads. He almost
expected to see winged fairies flitting from house to house but could see no people or vehicles.
people are humanoid. We are very similar in appearance to the people of Earth. This was our home before the Scuddar came.
"This is a residential city. Where
is your industry? You have space travel so you must have very advanced technology," said Trevor. He was sure the voice was
still concealing many facts.
do not need spacecraft to visit other worlds. See the spires? They are what we use. You would not understand our technology
any more than we understand all of yours. One day perhaps we will share our knowledge.
"There is no sign of war. How did
the Scuddar defeat you?"
us, the Scuddar share a collective brain. The difference is they feed by draining the life energy from other creatures and
absorbing their intellect. We, like the inhabitants of those cities you saw, had no chance. Only a few hundred of us had time
Scuddar are a comparatively new species and can only survive by absorbing life energies of intelligent creatures. That is
how they grow. They destroyed all intelligent creatures of their own world. That spacecraft is really like a huge brain that
can divide into billions of smaller portions then return.
"How do you know so much about them
if they defeated you?"
also have a collective brain. Some of us who were absorbed retained a limited contact with those that survived. With their
help, we have been monitoring the movements and plans of the Scuddar. That is how we found Earth and… you. The Scuddar
plan to attack Earth when they need to feed again.
A chill ran through Trevor as he
thought of Earth becoming devoid of human life.
“When do they intend to attack
are not sure. What we do know is that it will be soon. It is losing energy and that is why it searched for new intelligence
and found your planet. It could move on and attack at any time.
"What’s so special about me?"
Trevor still could not understand why he was chosen.
you were cloned, a mistake was made when they filled your brain with data. They erased your mind and replaced your memory
and identity. It was the first and the last time such a mistake was made. Unknown to them, it also did something else. It
gave you certain abilities of which you are unaware. These are qualities that can destroy the Scuddar.
"But I don’t know how to use
any “power” that you say I have."
will show you when the time comes. Now it is time for you to awake.
The city dissolved into blackness
and Trevor opened his eyes. He was no longer paralysed.