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Alien by Francis G Rayer

This short story first appeared in the magazine New Worlds, Issue Number 85, dated July 1959.
Editor: John Carnell. Publisher: Nova. Country of first publication: Great Britain (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland).
This work is Copyright. All rights are reserved.

This story also appeared in an American magazine also called New Worlds, Issue 3, May 1960, which gave no copyright acknowledgement to Rayer, Carnell or Nova but claimed copyright by "Great American Publications". Most of the issue's content came from UK New Worlds issue 120. GAP published just 5 US issues of "New Worlds".


By Francis G. Rayer

This is one of those rare stories where any attempt at an introductory paragraph would completely spoil the plot. When you have finished reading it do a little thinking about the complexity of the main situation. It would be a tough one to overcome.

The ship came like a shadow out of the clouded sky, her speed of descent decreasing. Around her outline hung a faint blue halo, slowly fading in strength, and vanishing as she came to rest on the dry turf. The summer storm was closer and a brisk wind had arisen beyond the nearby copse, and blew across the field, carrying scattered drops from the thunderclouds.

The ship had come without sound, and remained quiet, giving no indication of what she carried. Fifteen minutes had passed when a boy came along the lane at one side of the field, cycling fast to reach home before the storm broke. At a point opposite a low place in the hedge he glimpsed the ship, wobbled and stopped, almost in the ditch. His eyes astonished, he let his cycle fall, and clambered up out of the ditch to the hedge, grasping two stakes as he gazed across the field. Then he slithered back, lifted his cycle and jumped on, pedalling frantically, coat flying, along the lane.

Barry Miller slid from behind the wheel, leaving the parking lights on. It would soon be completely dark. He wondered why it had taken quite so long for information about the ship to filter through. The boy’s parents had been frankly incredulous, and only after nearly an hour had his father consented at least to look. The rain had gone, the ship was still there — but the local police had seemed to regard the message that reached them as a hoax. Only after a visit, in person, from father and son did they send a constable. The constable’s report brought out the local inspector, who would not commit himself with a communication to his superiors until he had in turn seen for himself. Even then it was a long time before a police car came out from the neighbouring town, and a scattering of sightseers already edged the lane.

Barry studied the ship across two hundred yards of open turf. It was already too dark for detail to be visible, but it looked perhaps sixty feet long and twenty high, of similar shape both ends, and was without any lighted port or other sign of life.

“ What will we do now, sir ?”
Barry found the local inspector behind him. He took down his binoculars and snapped them back in their case, slinging it over a shoulder by its straps.

“ Cordon the area to avoid trouble, and wait until morning,” he said. “ Then to establish communication — we’ll have men working on that. Meanwhile, the main thing is to keep local busybodies away.”

“ We can do that, sir.”

By dawn all traffic had been diverted, idle sightseers cleared away, and initial steps made towards establishing communication with the newcomers. Covered lorries stood in a corner of the field, temporary headquarters until wooden buildings were erected. As soon as it was light Barry left the junior intelligence officers gathered there, and went to study the ship. He had scarcely emerged from among the closely parked trucks when a voice called him.

“ I was looking for you, sir !”
Barry halted. Charlie Rand, his adjutant, was hurrying towards the parked vehicles. His expression was rueful, but that was not unusual with Charlie, Barry reminded himself. Slight, a few years Barry’s junior, Charlie was pessimistic by nature.

The younger man stopped. “ It seems we may have been hoaxed after all, sir !”
Barb’s gaze flashed instinctively towards the ship. The light was still too poor for details to be seen, but the vessel looked factual enough.
“ What do you mean ?”

“ It’s easier to show you, than explain.” Charlie Rand gestured. “ I’ve just been walking round, looking — ”
He left it at that, but turned back the way he had come, walking near the hedge that ran out at right angles to the lane. Fifty yards from the trucks, Charlie halted.

Barry gazed at the ship. The light was improving every moment. Seen from here she was just as impressive, just as inscrutable. Not, perhaps, quite as long as he had supposed, but a good fifty feet.

Charlie Rand pointed back at the trucks. “ The lane only runs along that side of the field, Barry.” He indicated the nearby hedge. “ This is pretty high. The ground rises beyond it, and there are bushes and the copse.” He turned half circle. “ Right across the field there it drops to the stream, which practically meets the copse half a mile farther on.”

Barry nodded, taking it in at a glance. The field was roughly triangular, with the lane along its shortest side. He saw Charlie’s point.
“ You mean we’ve only seen it from this side, so far, Charlie.”

” Just that ! The trees and bushes prevent easy observation from this side. The ground sloping down towards the stream hides it that way. You can see it from the lane easily enough, but that’s all.”

Barry frowned, wondering where all this led. Charlie was not the man to make a fool of himself, or others. Had he been, he would not have become an intelligence ofiicer chosen for a job like this.

“ And what does the ship’s position mean?” Barry asked.
“ That some joker could have set her up as a stage prop !”

Charlie walked on quickly, and as he followed Barry saw what he meant. The farther they went, the shorter the ship became. It was not the normal shrinkage, as would be expected when coming into line with bow or stern, but much more abrupt and final. As she shrank, Barry’s steps automatically slowed. She looked forty feet long, thirty, twenty . . . Then much narrower than her height, and still shrinking. Mere feet, then perhaps inches, then nothing. Barry halted exactly behind Charlie Rand, looking over his shoulder.

“ See what I mean ?” Charlie said. “She’s cardboard, or paper on a wire frame ! Not thickness at all.”
Barry nibbled his lower lip, his dark brows drawn together. He rubbed his long chin.
“ It’s impossible !”
“ But you’re seeing it,” Rand said factually.

Moving back, Barry saw the ship reappear. As Charlie said, it was exactly as if they now had an edge view of a mere flat card or paper outline, meant to be seen from the lane only.

“ But its size !” he said. “ And who’d waste their time with a game like that ?”

He did not feel convinced. Walking on, he found that the ship again began to appear. He returned to the zero point, and began to walk out across the field. Each time he deviated from a straight line, the ship became visible, as would a flat card outline. Yet he was sure this was no hoax. Nor was the edge of the material, or any supporting frame, to be seen.

He walked more slowly as he drew closer, pausing often. Men by the trucks were watching him. Following a curved path, so that a little of the ship remained visible, he carefully approached its nearer end. He noticed dew on the grass, distant mist under the dawn sky, and felt a slow mounting of inner tension. Then he was at the end of the ship. When he stood exactly in line with it, it remained invisible. Moving a trifle to left or right made it begin to appear. It apparently had all the properties of a canvas stage backdrop, but no thickness. Reaching out, he felt a cool, smooth surface. He could put one hand flat on each side of the ship, bringing his fingers one upon the other. When he pressed, his finger tips flattened, but touch told him it was not one upon the other, but upon a shiny, metallic surface. Drawing his head close, he had an odd stereoscopic effect of seeing both sides of the ship at once, lane side with his right eye, field apex side with his left. There was no visible separation between his finger tips.

He withdrew a pace, looking towards the trucks, and grunted. Vehicles and men were oddly distorted, drawn askew like a twisted tapestry pattern.
He returned the way he had come. Charlie Rand’s round, sober faced expressed curiosity.
“ It’s no hoax,” Barry said heavily. “ It’s real enough — but has infinitesimal thickness.”

He did not try to explain, but started back towards the trucks. Two staff cars had just draw up near them, and three men got out, and a girl who stood motionless, staring out across the field at the ship. A mongrel dog sniffed the earth at her heels.

Barry stood erect behind the chair, a hand on its back. His grey suit was tight buttoned, exact as the uniform he had discarded, and his cheeks were drawn in with thought, accentuating the length of his high boned face.

“ As I see it, our first job is to establish communication with whatever may be in the ship — if there is in fact anything in it,” he said.
A high ranking officer on his right ceased doodling on his pad. “ You’re not certain there is — anything in the ship ?”

“ Not yet.” Barry glanced from him to the others in the recently erected H.Q. hut. “ The ship is apparently without thickness, but we must act on the assumption that this an oddity in its spatial relationship with this planet, unless we admit two-dimensional objects can exist.”

“ There has been no indication of life in the three days since it came,” a girl said down the table.
Barry nodded. He had already learnt to respect Diane Everford’s opinion. “ No. But such a waiting period does not mean the ship does not contain life.”
“ You have plans ?” the officer asked.

“ Ideas, sir.” Barry pulled his chin. “ We already have an excellent radio technician in Rand, my adjutant. He will try to communicate with the ship by radio, and search for signals from her. Miss Everford has been sent here because of her ability as a linguistic decoder. Other specialists are available. By one means or another communication should be possible.”

The meeting left it at that. Outside, Barry stood bare-headed under the sun, studying the ship. She remained exactly as at the moment of landing, except that a hazy green ring about six inches in diameter hung at one end, nearly at ground level. It was without visible support or purpose, and had appeared when he was not watching.

” You’re wondering what it is,” Diane Everford’s soft voice said at his elbow. She whistled, and the wire-haired mongrel that had arrived with her in the staff car shot out from under a truck.

Barry watcher her fondle its dappled ears. “ At present, my guess is no better that your dog Trotter’s, Miss Everford,” he said sombrely. He studied the ring for the twentieth time that day. It was hazy, rather like a weak electrical discharge. “ It may be some manifestation of the drive. If so, I hope that doesn’t mean they’re leaving.”

Her keen grey eyes sought his quickly. “ You’re keen to establish communication, aren’t you.”

He did not deny it. “ This is much of a test case for me. I’ve been working upwards of five years to hold my place in the first manned ship to leave Earth. If I can’t establish contact with the beings in her,” he jabbed a finger towards the ship, “ what chance have I of getting the selectors’ vote for Mars or Venus ? What’s more. I’ve always told myself that it would be possible to set up intelligent contact with any alien life form, with no intermediate steps, go-betweens or translators.”

She nodded. “ What’s your first step ?”
“ To get Charlie’s radio equipment set up. To watch and listen for signals from them, and try to signal back.”

“ Was that what you were doing before dawn this morning?” He looked a trifle sheepish. “ Signalling with a torch ? Yes. I admit it was a bit primitive, but worth trying. Just one flash, a pause, two flashes, another pause, then three. The inference is, that we’re showing we can count. When they realise that, they signal back four, five, and so on —

She stopped him. “ A first step, I know — a lot of my work begins with things just as simple.”

She left him, going off towards the covered truck which had become her temporray office. Barry stood considering the ship, wondering what she contained, if anything. She had length, height, but no apparent thickness. Theoretically, she could not exist. A mere plane, having only length and breadth, was an abstract, never found on Earth.

The commander of the Flatlander ship turned from his instruments, discouraged, and locked himself in the temporal continuum of his aide. His cilia vibrated.

“ Has any significance been found in those aurora observed in the arrismeter ?”

“ No, sir. They appeared to be fairly regularly spaced, but without temporal extension. When beginning, each was of 9,000 pagliton units, but that soon fell to about 7,000 PU’S. That, and their lack of uniformity in spacing, suggests they were some natural phenomena.”

“ According to the arrismeter, their source moved slightly.” “ Yes, sir, but motion does not necessarily indicate life.” That was so, the commander agreed. So far, their instruments had only yielded chaotic information from outside. There were no pauses or interruptions in the temporal flow, to which instruments could be locked, only a ceaseless avalanche of impressions too brief to record or observe.

“ Possibly this planet has no intelligent life,” the aide suggested.
“ It may be so.” The commander reviewed his scanty store of information. “ There is a body in continuous movement some short distance from us ?”

“ Yes, sir. Its length is so great it cannot be charted. Its width and depth are very variable. Its movement so far has always been in one direction.”
“ Could it be some kind of — of serpentine being ?”
The aide’s cilia hung limp for a long time. “ I do not know, sir.”

“ The many thousands of tiny objects which were recorded as striking our hull, when we landed, were believed to be of somewhat similar constitution to the continuously moving serpentine object, I understand?”

“ So our computer stated, sir.”
“ Could those thousands of tiny objects have been this serpentine object’s young, attacking us ?”
“ I do not know, sir.” .

It was clear that they must gain more information, the commander decided. He returned to the arrismeter, but nothing showed on its screen. The temporal observation screens, with the time locks off, were worse, and the senseless flurry they presented sickened him. With the time locks on, the screens were alike blank.

He left that at last, and floated through the slot into the plane of his second-in-command.
“ Have significant electro-magnetic vibrations been detected ?”
The second was morose. “ No, sir. There is a high background level, but nothing intelligent has been found. We are trying the effect of radiating signals of basic significance, beginning with numerals.”

“ Good.” The commander drifted on, but paused in the slot. “ You are using the universally accepted time standard notation ?”
“ Yes, sir. Infinity minus 1, infinity minus 2, and infinity minus 3. If any intelligent being is reached, and has the means to reply, we expect the infinity minus 4 numeral — ”

“ Good.” The commander felt all within his power was being done, and propelled himself towards the beam slot room from which a report could be sent back to base, many worlds away.

“ Only a lot of static and interference,” Charlie Rand said. He wiped his brow and sat back in his chair, gloomily surveying his equipment. “ Unfortunately the direction finder doesn’t give a reading on it.”

“ Then we’ll assume it’s from the ship,” Barry said. “ If you get anything definite, or anything which might be a signal, let me know.”
Rand grimaced. “ If I saw a needle in a haystack I’d stop you sitting on it — but I wouldn’t promise to find it.”
He returned to his equipment, slowly adjusting dials as he searched the bands.
Barry surveyed the equipment. The bright bulb over the bench gave him an idea.
“ I’d like to run a wire out and signal with a powerful light. My torch was none too good.”

Charlie Rand did not look round. “ Help yourself. Any other ideas ?”
“ The square root of the product of the squares is a fairly generally accepted phenomena. I’d like to get it set out in lights. If we establish only one point of contact in mathematics, it’s something.”

“ Could be,” Rand agreed.
Barry went out, sending a man to hook up the lead. Diane Everford was approaching with the dog Trotter at her heels.

“ Any information, Mr. Miller ?”
“ Not a thing you can work on.”
She seemed disappointed. “ I thought you looked purposeful — ”

“ Only with a stronger light. Meanwhile, I’m also having rigged up a board with the old hypotenuse theorem. Four lights for the horizontal, three for the vertical, and five for the hypotenus. Four squared plus three squared equal five squared. A universal truth that demonstrates at least some appreciation of science.”

She clicked her fingers, calling back the dog. “ I’ve seen it work in stories.”

Barry sighed heavily. He had noticed that people seemed to think that he should automatically produce immediate success. Yet all he could do was try everything, to obtain one point of contact from which they could progress.

He saw the board wired up, connected, and had it propped vertically fifty yards from the ship. Then he took the mains lamp and switch, on its cable, and returned to his original position, where the hand lamp had failed to evoke any response.

The Flatlander commander jerked out of repose as his aide’s arm came through the slot, stirring him.
“ The arrismeter is responding, sir !”
The commander was fully awake, now, and propelled himself through the slot into the instrument chamber. A waving line danced on the arrismeter screen, crossing a circle that drifted from right to left.

“ The aurora is much stronger, this time, sir,” the aide pointed out, “ and it is modulated.”
“ Give me the readings.”

“It is nearly uniform at its peaks at 180,000 PU’s, and modulated at just over ninety-eight standard units per interval.” Lines danced across the screen, interlacing. “ There is a background of secondary aurora, but the arrismeter cannot deal with the simultaneously presented data.”

They observed the screen for a long time. At last the dancing lines showing the characteristics of the more powerful aurora ceased. The commander remembered the very powerful aurora discharges at the time of their landing.

“ You think these manifestations are from the intelligent beings ?” he asked at last.

The interval before the reply was long. “ No, sir. First, we have observed no living beings whatever on the planet. Second, the aurora appear to carry no information. I have had the time lock on each individually, without success. I believe they are some natural phenomena.”

“ You are probably correct.”

Disturbed, the commander went again to his own observation screens. As depicted by his instruments, the surface of the planet was in a state of continuous flux. Great volumes of material were constantly in motion. Some, only dimly recorded on the monor-echo screens, apparently extended for many miles above, and in all directions. Nearer, heavier objects slid along, following the same wandering course. At other points, more or less solid objects seemed to move at random. As a background to it all was the constant rush of time, and nowhere could his instruments detect a time lock, or the quiescence of temporal stability. The endless cataract of time outside the ship sickened him, and he wondered if it were indeed possible that any being could exist in it.

At length he returned to his communicator slot, and beamed out a provisional message. In his view, the planet was not inhabited. It had no temporal stability permitting life as he knew it. But if the planet were irradiated for eventual occupation, that could be overcome. Settlers would require personal time lock equipment, until conditions were modified, but that would not be impossible.

A reply came soon, with a request that data be furnished as obtained. The commander signed off, feeling the heavy burden of his responsibility. The Flatlanders could not afford to miss a good planet, like this might become. Yet they would never risk the total elimination of any life it might contain.

He descended a slot to the lower deck of the ship, and located the deck officer.
“ You have had nothing in the spatial extension ?”

“ No, sir.” The other referred to instruments linked to a dim green ring outside the ship. He could not observe the ring directly, because it was locked to the chaotic temporal progres- sion of the planet, but his equipment showed that it was undisturbed.

“ Inform me at once if anything arises,” the commander ordered. “ This planet experiences a conjunction of gravity fields which limits our stay.”

He made a brief tour of the ship. His officers were each at their posts, and had in no way relaxed vigilance. Electrostatic discharges were going out regularly on 300, 400 and 500 eneries, and the time lock screens were in constant use, with the vague hope of chancing upon some manifestation which would show life existed on the planet. But every locked screen was blank, and every running screen presented such a mass of confused data that sifting and intelligent study were impossible. The commander doubted whether any creature could indeed live outside the ship, enduring the relentless, impossible cataract of time there.

“ There’s a bit of a hiss just under 30 megacycles,” Charlie Rand said. “ But I doubt if it means much. It may be some kind of direction beacon for other ships to home on.”

He turned up the volume on a speaker. A series of dots jabbed endlessly at Barry’s ears. They conveyed no more than the 50 cycle whine of Rand’s other equipment.

“ Personally, I doubt if there’s any living thing on the ship,” Charlie said, turning down the volume. “It’s thin as a shadow. How can anything be inside ?”

Barry sat on the edge of the bench, swinging a long leg. “ You have a point there, Charlie. But they may have other dimensions to compensate for that, or be able to do without them.”

“ Then why no radio messages, light signals, or the like ?”

Barry sighed. “ If I knew the answer to that, I might have the answer to my own problem — how to communicate.” In his mind’s eye he could see Earth’s first manned ship taking off; without Barry Miller. And in addition to the personal challenge, there was a challenge to humanity. Mankind apparently had an alien race’s representatives in its back garden, and couldn’t communicate.

A junior Officer tapped on the half open door, looked in, saw Barry, and saluted.
“ This was for you sir.”

Barry took it, thanked him, and slit the envelope. Its code heading was that of his immediate superior. His face was without emotion as he read the contents. He folded the sheet, replaced it, and put the envelope in an upper pocket.

“ Good news,” Charlie Rand asked sadly.
“ For those who envy my job. I’ve a week to get results, then will be removed.”

It was not unexpected, he thought. Someone would have been sitting on his superior. It was inevitable. He wondered if the ship, thin as a shadow as. Charlie so aptly put it, could indeed carry intelligent beings with whom even a single common point of contact could be established.

Later in the day Charlie reported two other signals, on different frequencies, but apparently not an attempt to establish contact. They resembled the endless series of dots first heard, though the periods were perhaps infinitesimally longer. Rand classified them as some kind of radio beacon. They did not vary in power or speed, and no specialist at the camp could read any significance in them.

Several times Barry walked slowly round the ship. From the lane and apex of the field she looked real. But seen from each end, she vanished to a line, then to nothing. Her thickness was zero. One very essential dimension, required to make a complete solid, was absent.

He studied the hazy green ring, squatting before it. Strangely enough it was the only manifestation which did not shrink to nothing and vanish, when he stood in line with the ship. He decided that test equipment must be brought to bear upon it, in an attempt to analyse its purpose or nature.

As he went round the ship, and back along near the stream, he heard rapid feet scurry in the grass. Trotter came from behind trees, followed by Diane Everford.
They walked in silence side by side, then she halted. “How many dimensions do we have ?”

He looked at her. “ Three. Height, length, breadth. They make up a solid.” He pulled his long chin. “ Some call time the fourth, but not in the same sense.”

She nodded, looking at the ship, just visible over the rise. “ That ship has height and length, but no breadth. Could time be their third ?”
“ I doubt it.”
“ Then how do you explain this effect we get of her having no thickness ?”
“ I don’t explain it,” Barry pointed our morosely.

He watched Trotter run on ahead, sniffing at an abandoned rabbit hole. His nose went in enthusiastically, and emerged covered with old leaves.
“ My investigations have been about as useful as that,” Barry said.

He left her, and walked back towards the huts and trucks. He was beginning to wonder if Charlie were right, and the ship empty, or some kind of mock-up or remote-controlled model sent for unknown reasons.

The Flatlander commander thought for a long time before energising his transmitter. Arrismeter, monor-echo, and all other instruments had given negative results. Repeated broadcasts of [10x-1] and allied symbols had brought no response. Privately, he was of the opinion that no life existed on the planet. Lacking any control of the important dimension of time, intelligent life could not exist, he thought. And nowhere within range of the time-lock apparatus had any halt in the temporal progression been found. Lacking an essential dimension, the planet must be empty.

Contact established, he began to give his report. The coincidence of gravitational fields was imminent, and they must soon leave. No intelligent signals had been located on any electro-static or other band, and no time lock had been found. His headquarters base was cautious.

“You have seen nothing whatever which could suggest any form of life exists ?”

“ Nothing. There are many natural phenomena of unknown origin, as would be expected. The inter-spatial ring has been out with no result. Personally, I cannot conceive that any rational being, or life form as we know it, could exist on the planet. There is no indication of any control whatever of the progression of time. In such circumstances, there could be no stability. Indeed, exterior conditions, as they now stand, are intolerable. We will make final checks, but I see no reason why the planet should not be set down for irradiation. Settlers will require personal time-lock units, until conditions have been improved, of course.”

“ Very well. We will list the planet for irradiation and colonisation.”

The commander signed off, and drifted down through his slot for a final check of the screens. The mad dance of time outside the ship sickened him, stealing away reason and tranquility, and he switched off the equipment hastily. It was unthinkable that any being could survive when exposed to such temporal currents, he thought.

The monor-echo and arrismeter technicians had relaxed, knowing no further discoveries were possible. The instruments had conveyed all the information of the external world that was within their power. For a time he had supposed that the grouped aurora located by the arrismeter might be an attempt to signal, but each source had been of slightly different intensity, and they thus had to be dismissed as natural phenomena.

The commander ordered that the ship’s drive motors be made ready. There was obviously no life on the planet. He would personally be glad when the ship could leave. Holding her there was like having anchorage on the lip of a cataract.

Outside the headquarters building, Barry chewed his lips, seeking a solution where he knew none existed. The remaining period of his command could now be counted in brief hours, and he had accomplished nothing.

A truck was coming in, bringing equipment which had been used to analyse the green ring. Charlie Rand got off it as it slowed, and Barry went to meet him.
“ You’ve found nothing ?”

Rand’s expression had shown it, and he nodded. “ Nothing useful. The ring has a very localised oscillatory field, stable in frequency and power. Exact information is in the truck. It could be to do with their method of propulsion, or have some association with the radio beacons.”

Barry felt keen disappointment. “ You’ve made nothing more of the radio signals ?”
“ No. I’m convinced they’re location or identification beacons.”
“ They’re not trying to get over some information to us ?”

“ Not so far as anyone here can see. The signal around thirty megacycles is just dots. You heard it first. The transmissions around forty and fifty megs are almost identical. None of the signals has varied by a hair’s breadth.”

Barry admitted he could make nothing of the signals himself. They had the regularity of auto-coded radio beacons. He wondered at their own inability to get any radio response from the ship.

“ None of your transmissions raised them, Charlie ?”

“ Not a one. I’ve just been explaining one possible reason to Miss Everford, who is longing to have something to work on. Their radiations have characteristics ours lack. So we can hear them, but they can’t hear us. I’ll give a simple example. If you’ve got a transmitter radiating Morse in the form of modulated radio-frequencies, I can hear you on any set. But if I’m radiating Morse as an interrupted radio-frequency, you can’t hear me unless you’ve got an oscillating detector or beat frequency oscillator to beat with my signal and produce audio.” He sighed. “ I’ve not got any signal over to them because our transmissions lack something their receivers need, if you ask me.”

Charlie Rand went on into the radio hut, and Barry unslung his glasses to study the ship, perhaps for the last time. He wondered what odd interaction of dimensions made it seem without thickness.

An exceedingly faint blue halo hung completely round the vessel, just visible because of the light-collecting power of the large lenses. Diane Everford came from among the trucks. He handed her the binoculars silently. She gazed at the ship through them, and her brows shot up.

“ You think it’s leaving ?” she asked quickly.

“ Could be ! If it does, with no communication made, the remains of my career wouldn’t be as valuable as one of Trotter’s old bones.” The dog sat pawing Barry’s trouser leg. Barry patted his piebald head. “ Apart from that, it’s pretty damning that we’ve been too dim to establish contact some way or the other.”

His face heavy, he started off across the field. If the ship was going to rise, he might at least witness that at close quarters. If there were personal danger, it did not seem important.

As he drew nearer, he noticed a faint humming, as if equipment inside was reaching operating trim. He walked completely round the ship, aware that the hum was steadily increasing. The green ring still hung at ground level, but he would not be surprised if it vanished any moment.

Small feet came scampering across the turf. Bary halted, patting the dog’s wiry back.
“ You’re as good as I am at this, Trotter ! Find ’em !” Barry knew he was trying to make a joke of it, delaying the impact of his superior’s criticism.
Trotter shot round the ship, disappeared, and reappeared beyond one end. He halted, nose twitching, pointing at the green ring.
Barry’s interest quickened. “ Rabbits !” he said. “ Find ’em !'”

Trotter arrowed for the ring. His nose went through, and half his head, but his ears seemed to stick. His back toes sank into the turf, as if he was pulling a rabbit from its hole. Then he came out backwards with a rush, his teeth closed on something that glittered brightly.

Barry ran, squatting to take it. Metallic, so thin it seemed to have no thickness, it was etched with ideograms. One series showed the ship amid pairs of wavy lines, then rising. A long space, while the wavy lines disappeared, then the ship returning.

“ You’ve got something here, Trotter !” Barry said.
Abruptly the green ring snapped out. The blue halo round the ship increased, and the vessel began to rise. It seemed to recede, rather than move, and went like a shadow into the blue sky.

Barry turned from the spot, composing his words, the ideograms in one hand. The ship was leaving . . . but it would be back . . . and there would be communication . . .

The Flatlander commander sensed his aide’s urgency as the aide came through the slot from the lower deck.
“ We’re well away ?” he asked.
“ Yes, sir.” The aide’s cilia bristled with excitement. “ A moment before rising, just as we were going to remove the inter-spatial ring, part of a living organism came through it, and took away the prepared ideogram.”

The commander felt astonishment. “ You are sure ?”

“ I witnessed it, sir ! At the last moment. The organism cannot be classified as yet, but showed intelligence and purpose — ”

“ Very well.” The commander began to propel himself towards the communications equipment. “ I will send out a cancellation of the irradiation order. When the interaction of local gravitational fields has ceased, we must return.”

He paused a moment at the arrismeter screen. On time lock, it was blank. Keyed to exterior time, its presentation of the remote planetary surface below was chaotic. He wondered what manner of beings could possibly exist there, living amid the cataract of moving time, apparently with no means of isolating themselves from it. He shuddered involuntarily, personally glad that some time must pass before the position of the planet’s satellite permitted the ship to return.

Francis G. Rayer.

Return to story index

[This story is listed on the cover of the magazine, but is not listed on the contents page. You can locate the tale on page 46 of the magazine.]

[The completely unrelated but more famous film called Alien was released in 1979].

[Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions is a satirical novella by the English schoolmaster Edwin Abbott Abbott, first published in 1884. Yes, his name included Abbott twice. ]

This work is Copyright. All rights are reserved. F G Rayer's next of kin: W Rayer and Q Rayer. May not be reprinted, republished, or duplicated elsewhere (including mirroring on the Internet) without consent.

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