A Bridge to Earth
by Richard Merlin Smith
Chapter 5 : Back Again
The history begins millions of years ago and light-years away. The story commences a few thousand Earth years ago: a brown dwarf a rogue star with its attendant planets travels on a collision course toward the system of a yellow sun. Soon their disparate plasma sheaths begin to interact, and the Guardians and Stewards must make fateful decisions.
The Guardian moved rapidly over the smooth, drifted sand below the entrance to the holy place. At the base of the hill it paused to scan the rocky slope above. The intruder had disappeared into the opening that led to the interior of the vaults.
The shape of the intruder is similar to that of the gods but this creature’s body is quite gross, it observed.
Still, it is the time specified by the prophecy of the ancients.
Perhaps the gods have changed since the old days. It is quite possible that this is a god.
I must approach the creature and issue respectful greeting, it thought. There is a proper form for such a meeting.
If it is a god, will I perform it to his satisfaction? it wondered. The ceremony has not been performed in my memory nor in the memory of the Others.
It paused, struggling to dredge from its ancient memories the protocol for respectful greeting of the god-like beings that once shared the world with the Guardians.
Yes, it thought, I have it now. The proper greeting and correct stance. If this creature is a god it should be pleased with me.
* * *
As he trod carefully down the shadowy corridor Fred began to get the eerie feeling again that he was being watched. Finally, he was overcome by the urge to look behind. It was no simple task.
He stopped and shuffled around to his right to swing the faceplate of his helmet so that he could look back down the corridor. He had to avoid stumbling on the rubble that was strewn about the floor.
As he turned his body, the helmet lamp lagged behind a little and the light reflecting from the walls cast only a dim glow back down the dark tunnel.
In the seconds that it took to turn and realign the lamp beam he could see an indistinct something in the corridor where he had just been.
“What...” he began an exclamation but his words were cut short by what he saw and heard.
In the full illumination of the helmet lamp he saw a huge grey shape virtually filling the corridor behind him. It was like an enormous slug, almost featureless at first, but in the space of just a few seconds its shape literally unfurled and elongated.
Its “head” flattened and rapidly grew large, bisymmetrical flanges that spread quickly until the shape had the appearance of the front end of a triceratops. In the same moments a slit appeared where a mouth might be and it opened wide until it became an enormous gaping cavity.
Instantly the thin atmosphere resounded with a piercing high pitched wail that began a rapid glissando down scale until it reached a pitch that Fred could feel more than he could hear.
Fred shouted incoherently both in fear and pain. The creature froze for a moment then repeated the long descending trumpet blast.
Fred instinctively tried to put his hands to his ears but it was a vain effort because of the helmet. Failing that, he shouted back at the creature in desperation.
Again, the trumpet blast sounded. Fred stood with his arms extended on either side of his head and gritted his teeth against the impact of the sound.
In the Harts’ house, Margie was in the den listening to Fred’s narrative. There was a sudden squawk from the communicator, a few seconds of rattling static, then relative silence.
“What was that?” Sam exclaimed in alarm, returning from the kitchen with coffee.
“I don’t know.” Margie was sitting on the edge of the chair in front of the transporter. Panat had showed her how to use the communication features to monitor Fred’s progress.
“He was walking down the corridor, a few yards past the vault door and suddenly there was an awful commotion.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just that. He stopped narrating. I think he gasped, but I’m not sure. There was a loud noise like a trumpet, but it was so powerful that it swamped his microphone.”
“No. There were more trumpet blasts and between them I could hear him saying something. I couldn’t understand it but he may have been cursing. I don’t really know. It was too garbled and distorted.”
“We’ve got to find out what’s happened.”
“All we can do is wait for him to respond.”
They stared at the transporter.
* * *
The Guardian finished its greeting and waited for the strange looking god to respond. So far the god had behaved in a most unexpected manner.
Perhaps my remembrance is faulty, it thought, this is not the proper response from the god. He just waits there with his appendages extended. Perhaps the procedure has changed. It waited a few seconds.
“Damn, damn, damn, don’t do that again.” Fred’s voice was shaky and he was weak from the impact of fear and the high intensity sound. His voice sounded muffled in his ears.
The god speaks, the Guardian thought, but I cannot understand the words.
Quickly, the Guardian reformed the ritual flanges around its head and carefully extended them toward Fred, mimicking the shape and posture of the strange intruder.
Fred thought about retreating but his body would not respond to the urge. He still stood with his arms extended, waiting for another blast of sound, his body swaying slightly in its weakness.
As the creature’s appendages slowly extended toward him, Fred had thoughts of being eaten alive or being slowly absorbed osmotically by the thing.
Then the Guardian’s extensions reached Fred’s gloved hands and, very gently, made contact. And for the first time it could see through the faceplate of Fred’s helmet.
Startling! it thought.
At that point Fred’s legs collapsed and he fell to his knees. His motion would have continued and put him face down on the corridor floor had it not been for the fact that the Guardian’s appendages were firmly clasped around his forearms.
This is the creature that appeared on the Hill of Contemplation so long ago. He is encased in some sort of artificial covering. The Guardian was truly startled.
October 20, 7:45 a.m. PDT — Glendora, California
Paula Garrison’s cell phone rang just as she left the 210 freeway heading down the off-ramp toward Glendora.
“Answer,” she said to activate the phone, then, “Yes?” she said noncommittally.
“Paula, this is Jerry.” He sounded excited.
“What have you got?”
“We know where that last transmission is coming from. The Sugar Grove antenna got a precise fix on it before it went out of view.”
“Went out of view?” Paula repeated the phrase as a question.
“Yeah, they tracked it for only a few minutes before it went below the horizon.”
“Jerry,” she said in exasperation, “you have a habit of dragging things out. Where’s that signal coming from?”
She recovered barely in time to avoid rear-ending the car ahead of her.
Shaking from the near collision and Jerry’s unexpected revelation, she managed to negotiate the intersection and drove north toward the center of town
“Mars,” she said aloud. “What in the world is going on?” She smiled wryly at the irony of her words.
* * *
It took a few seconds to realize that the Guardian was not going to hurt him. Slowly, Fred steadied himself and, very carefully, rose to a standing position.
The Guardian sensed Fred’s unsteadiness and carefully relaxed its hold on his arms.
They stood unmoving for a few moments, Fred staring in awe at the great shape looming before him, the Guardian scanning Fred with its electromagnetic sensors.
“Well,” Fred exclaimed softly, “you seem to be a gentle giant. What happens next?”
The Guardian shuffled slightly and withdrew its pseudo-appendages until it looked like a large mushroom with no stem.
“Look,” Fred said, conversationally, “I’ve got to find the Martians’ transporter and get back to Earth before my oxygen runs out.”
Another slight shuffle from the Guardian.
Fred raised his right arm and waggled his fingers. “Yo,” he said, “are you with me?”
The Guardian shifted the focus of its optical sensors to Fred’s upraised hand. This is a new ritual. The Guardian extended a pseudo-arm, accurately mimicking the shape, color and action of Fred’s appendage.
“I hope this means we’re friends,” Fred quipped nervously. He turned slightly and took a slow sideways step away from the Guardian. “Shall we be off?” he asked.
This is very strange. The god’s speech is unintelligible but I sense that he wants me to accompany him. The Guardian moved several inches toward Fred and stopped.
“That’s it,” Fred exclaimed, and took another sideways step. The Guardian moved again.
Fred turned back toward his original direction and took several slow steps. He stopped and turned enough to bring the Guardian into view in his faceplate.
Yes, the god wants me to follow.
* * *
Several blocks west of the Hart’s house, Paula Garrison’s red Camaro pulled into the parking lot of Von’s supermarket. She drove slowly up the center parking lane toward the store entrance and made a left turn at the last cross lane. At the next lane she turned left and rolled slowly down the row of parked cars.
She noted two men in grey suits standing idly at the rear of a dark blue Lincoln sedan about half way down the aisle. The man looking her way nodded his head toward her as he spoke to the other. As the second man turned to face her she recognized an old acquaintance, FBI agent Mark Baker.
“Hi, Mark,” she said, as she rolled to a stop. “You guys ready?”
After a brief conversation the two men climbed into the Lincoln and both cars drove briskly out of the parking lot.
* * *
“I don’t know whether or not you can hear me,” he said for the benefit of Sam and Margie, “but everything seems to be okay here.”
He could see the alcove at the end of the tunnel.
“It seems that Mars isn’t entirely devoid of life. That commotion a little while ago was me meeting up with some kind of animal. He’s big and noisy, but we seem to have become friends.”
He stopped because he had reached the junction of the tunnels. “Okay, here we are at the alcove.” He stood for a moment, directing the beam of his headlamp down the ramp. “It doesn’t look very good,” he said. “There’s a rock wall about twenty feet ahead. I’m going down a little farther,” he explained as he took several careful steps down the gritty, gently sloping ramp. “I think I see what happened.”
The Guardian waited at the top of the ramp.
* * *
To be continued...
Copyright © 2011 by Richard Merlin Smith