It was saucer-shaped and silver. And as it materialized out of underspace, The Traveller brought it to rest by the planet. Piloting the craft into orbit, he couldn’t but wonder at the absolute beauty of this world. Occasionally, he knew, he would find a jewel amongst the dead rocks, but even he never imagined such a magnificent world could exist.
A sunbeam caught the craft, emanating from a hydrogen-fat sun, and The Traveller felt warmth. Looking down, he perused the vast blue oceans and strained to see detail with the lush green forests which seemed to cover the lands from coast to coast. Checking his monitors, he registered an almost total lack of pollution, and this, combined with the total forest cover, told him this was a virginal world.
He smiled as he hung there between discovery and destiny.
Then, with an increasingly light heart, he nosed the craft downwards, nudging ever closer to the atmosphere. Soon, the fuselage became hot. And if any intelligent life could have been below, it would have seen the shooting star as flames seemed to engulf the craft.
The Traveller hated these moments of descent. For a while, he could not be in control of his craft; natural forces were just too powerful, even for his technologically advanced race. And it was a race that could not abide lack of control.
Eventually his fears subsided and the craft found itself in a beautiful sky. Sweeping across an ocean teeming with wildlife, he became excited as the craft skirted a coastline. Straining his eyes once more, he found movement everywhere and knew he had found an ecosystem in balance.
The Traveller felt he could ride this sky, just above the forest canopy, forever. But knew discovery was more than this. Hence, as he found a rocky clearing, he decided it was time to land.
The Primate had no understanding of technology. Hence, she had no conception of the silver craft hovering in the sky before her other than it existed and it didn’t fit her world. The Primate’s world was instinctual, and there was no room for sights such as this. Hence, she cowered behind the lush undergrowth on the periphery of the clearing.
The Primate was a young female. Just over five feet in height, she was powerful and covered in brown hair. Millions of years later, remains of her species would be discovered and she would be known as Australopithecus Africanus. But at this time she didn’t have language to describe herself.
She stared at the silver craft through fevered eyes.
Instinctively, she sniffed at the air, hoping to pick up its scent; give her an indication of whether the craft could be malevolent or benevolent. But she sensed nothing she understood from the air, other than a faint hint of ozone. But this, predictably, told her nothing.
Before her eyes the silver craft seemed to stop its revolving, and slowly – ever so slowly – it began to sink towards the earth. Finally, it came to land with a gentle hiss, and a silence descended over the clearing. The Primate didn’t know what to do during this silence, so she just stared, wondering if the craft was staring back at her.
Finally, the silence ended and an opening appeared in the side of the craft. And as the pilot emerged, she howled.
The Traveller had already analyzed the atmosphere before he landed, and knew the air was breathable. The planet was slightly larger than his home world, so he knew the gravitational pull would take time to get used to. For a while, movement would be slow and laborious, but he was prepared for that.
Almost as soon as he landed he felt the urge to get out of the craft and explore. Hence, rushing through his post-flight checks, he quickly opened the hatch.
He squinted his big, black, bug-like eyes as the brightness of day met him. Then he pushed out his short, grey, blubbery legs and emerged. Some four feet tall, The Traveller was completely grey, and he knew he had to be careful for his was a slight species, physically – almost, to many worlds, fetal.
He heard the howl almost straight away and his long, pointy ears pricked back, and slowly his grey, blubbery face turned in the direction of the noise. The Primate stiffened as The Traveller saw her. She felt an urge to run, but for some reason felt unable.
The Traveller knew well the reason for her inactivity. For to make up for physical weakness, his species had perfected psychism and mind control. And from the moment The Traveller had placed his bug-like stare upon her, she was his to command.
Slowly, laboriously, The Traveller edged towards her. And as she stood there before him, he noted her full breasts, and an urge arose within him. It had been many eons since he had tasted the pleasure of a female.
He expressed this thought and it emerged in The Primate’s mind and she fell on her back and opened her legs. The Traveller became fevered by this power, and as he approached her, his fat, blubbery member emerged from inside his body. And with an obvious arousal on his face, he mounted her.
It would be wrong to say The Primate was hurt and confused as The Traveller thrust deep inside her. These were thoughts she was incapable of having. But unease did arise in her mind. She knew it was not right, and as her mind commanded her body to struggle, she nonetheless found that her body would not be commanded. Rather, she was in the total psychic grip of the monster, and it was not until he had finished, stood up and moved away that her urges transformed into action and she scurried away, howling.
She retreated back into the undergrowth, a pain evident within her. It was a pain she didn’t understood, following an action she didn’t understand, and as she crouched there, behind a bush, she looked out with non-understanding eyes on the grey creature.
She watched The Traveller for a long time as he went about his business, looking here, looking there as he explored. Never going too far from the silver craft, he knew she was there, but totally ignored her, now his thirst had been satiated.
Eventually, an emotion akin to anger arose in The Primate, although she could not have understood it as anger. Maybe it was the first appearance of a new self-preservation; a forewarning that she must protect herself from future attack.
Whatever the thoughts in her head, it soon became apparent to The Primate that The Traveller was absent-mindedly approaching her again. Perhaps, on a new planet, it was his fatal mistake.
The attack, when it came, caught The Traveller unprepared. With huge hands raised, she dived at The Traveller and floored him with ease. And as she stood by him on her haunches, her long, powerful arms brought those hands down again and again. And as The Traveller’s pained body died, the craft lit up momentarily with a fierce light, sending its awareness of pain through space and time, before slowly becoming still.
The Primate wandered for many months. They were confusing months for her, as she didn’t understand the swelling belly she carried with her. Often her wanderings were curtailed by her growing illness, a weakness taking her over and forcing her to rest.
As she wandered, she several times came upon groups of her own kind. But every time she approached they seemed to shoo her away. She didn’t understand why, and neither did they. They simply knew that something was now different about her.
Eventually, waves of pain shot through her, centred in her abdomen, and she was forced to rest. Yet as the waves of pain consumed her, she understood that rest would be a long time away.
The head, when it emerged, puzzled her. But instinct began to take over and soon she cuddled her child to her breast. And maybe now she realized why she had been shunned by her kind … for she looked upon the face of manchild.
Nicholson gave his back pack a final boost and he edged forward to make contact with the satellite. Staring out through his space helmet, he concentrated on the grab and connected his line to it. It had been a tricky manoeuvre, but he had made it.
‘Mission Control. Phase one complete.’
He waited several seconds for a reply. ‘Roger,’ said Mission Control, a tinny voice in his ear. ‘Well done.’
He wanted to wipe sweat from his brow, but knew it was impossible. Space suits stop little bits of human experience like that. So instead, he allowed himself an exultant ‘yes!’ and pretended to push a triumphal fist to the sky. Not that that was possible either. The sky was many miles below him.
It was his fifth mission with NASA and Nicholson had still not got over that initial fear of hanging, alone, so many miles above Earth. The veterans told him he never would. ‘It isn’t natural,’ they said, ‘hanging around like that in space. But, hey, we’re astronauts. The cream.’
And it was true. At the cutting edge of adventure and science, NASA was the place to be. But he still kept looking out along the dark void to the Orion craft, Fearless, his sentinel just a couple of miles away.
Nicholson was over six feet tall with a toned body, jet black hair and razor sharp mind. Sharpening his teeth as a USAF pilot flying F.16s, he had first made a name for himself flying combat missions in the Iraq War. And whilst he had enjoyed the experience, he always knew fighters were simply a stepping stone to this. Although as he turned off the booster on his back pack, he couldn’t help but hope that one day servicing the satellite would give way to the biggie. One day, he hoped, he’d make it to Mars.
‘Will someone please turn down the heat.’
Mr H sat in the Jeep, a hot African sun burning down on him. With fair skin and short blonde hair, he was not built for this kind of punishment. Twenty five years of age with thick, dark rimmed glasses, he was slight of build and what could only be classed as a nerd – which was inevitable, being Bill Gates’s fifth cousin – or so he often made out.
‘You’ll live,’ said Gee, stood by the Jeep with his hands on hips.
‘That, my friend, is a matter of opinion.’
Physically, Gee was everything that Mr H was not. Tall and dark haired and good looking, he was thirty five years of age, British, and an ex RAF helicopter pilot – although he had aimed much higher than that, making it to the British contingent of NASA, until …
‘Well if Donovan doesn’t hurry up and get here,’ said Mr H, ‘I’m leaving.’
Gee smiled as he looked at his friend. Always moaning was Mr H, always something to complain about – but that aside, he had never met a braver man.
‘He’ll be here,’ he said, as he looked once more into the hot African sky.
Nicholson’s problem was not a hot African sky, but a lack of sky and a most definite absence of heat. Although the space suit compensated for both, that urge to be in a normal environment just would not leave him.
‘It’s not a jaunt,’ said Mission Control in his ear. He cursed. What was wrong with him today?
‘Sorry,’ he said.
‘You’re behind schedule,’ Mission Control replied.
Maybe it was the routine following five missions, or maybe he just couldn’t get Mars out of his head. But Nicholson was finding himself bored. And in space, if the adrenalin of excitement didn’t pump, nonchalance and melancholy soon set in, and performance suffered, as such.
He pulled himself together; reached down; took out the spanner. Gripping it tight, he reached over and placed it on the first nut of the panel.
‘Beginning on the panel now,’ he said.
At least, he thought, I’m here. Which is more than can be said about …
Nicholson was at the controls of the Lear Jet. It had been their last break before the final two weeks intensive training prior to the first Fearless mission. Beside him, Gee was almost day-dreaming. He often did that, hardly able to believe his luck at being picked for NASA. He looked sideways at Nicholson. Said: ‘What?’
‘Do you feel the buzz? You know, thinking about going up into space?’
Gee smiled. ‘How can you not feel it?’
‘You know,’ continued Nicholson, ‘If I never do anything else in my life, I’ll feel I’ve really achieved something.’
‘I know what you mean.’
A silence descended then. It was like that between Nicholson and Gee. They seemed to work so well together that words were not really needed, as if they had some kind of psychic bond. Maybe that’s what the NASA psychologists had been looking for when they married these two together as a ‘team’.
The hypnotic effect of the flight added to the silence; to the dreamy effect. The Lear Jet was a quiet machine, and flying at night in a clear sky, with only the stars above, it could easily be seen as if you were flying to heaven.
Momentarily, Nicholson looked down at the scope, making sure he had clear space to his front. He did this far more often than he needed to. Maybe it was his fighter training, where the Head-up Display gave a continual image of the scope in front of the eyes. Yes, that was it, he thought, I need to see that scope all the time when I’m flying.
Not that there could be anything on the scope this night. They were not in a commercial lane, and only military and NASA traffic flew in this region of airspace. But as Sod’s Law would have it, no matter how often Nicholson looked down at the scope, it was inevitable he would miss a contact when it came.
‘What’s that?’ said Gee as he looked absent-mindedly at the scope.
Nicholson immediately snapped his head down, saw the silver blip, alone in empty space.
‘I don’t know,’ he said, clicking the mike to transmit.
‘Flight 429 to Control,’ he said.
‘You got anything on screen?’
‘Negative, Flight 429.’
‘Strange,’ said Nicholson, feeling a slight nervousness at the unexplained contact.
‘It’s moving fast,’ said Gee, also feeling the tension.
Nicholson agreed. ‘I know. It’s flying too darn fast.’
The contact raced across the scope. Gee calculated it must be travelling at least ten thousand miles per hour.
‘That’s ridiculous,’ said Nicholson.
‘I know. But look at it.’
Seconds later, a bright, silver light appeared to port, and as the saucer-shaped craft whizzed past their front, Nicholson offered an expletive and pulled hard to starboard …