1 Ceti VI came into focus on the viewing screen before dissolving into static as Simon’s craft penetrated the upper atmosphere. He knew it would return momentarily, but in the meantime, he had to fly completely blind.
The planet had two moons, but he didn’t see any satellites created by intelligent life orbiting the planet. Entering on the dark side would have allowed him the opportunity to search for lights, and possibly cities. Yet he didn’t fancy the added difficulty of spending his first few hours as a stranger in a strange land at night.
Lack of evidence of intelligent life from space didn’t guarantee he wouldn’t crash into some form of an atmospheric satellite or even a large flying creature. Though the odds of hitting something upon entry borderlined non-existent, he still found the thought disconcerting. After all, the odds declared his genetically engineered body incapable of reproducing. Yet he had a son. A son he had never met, and would never meet. A son who had probably aged around thirty years on Earth, while Simon hardly aged at all while traveling near the speed of light. A son who, unless Simon sent the final transmission about his findings on Kapa1 Ceti VI, the government would kill as surely as they had sent Simon into space to search for an inhabitable planet as punishment for breaking into a secret floor of the Pentagon to learn about the Cloverleaf Project. A project involving him, and countless others, and the government’s intent on breading super-humans: advanced in strength, agility, intelligence, and luck.
As far as Simon was concerned, his life only had one purpose now: explore the planet enough to send an accurate transmission regarding its inhabitability back to Earth. He considered his advanced gift/talent/power of luck. Did it even exist? The government tried to find a genetic code for luck, but did they succeed? The closest thing to proof he had was a son produced by two people intentionally bread sterile.
The viewing screen flickered on once, twice, three times before it finally held a picture. The land stopped abruptly at a vast ocean. He identified a river and gave the computer the final coordinates needed to land near the estuary. Having no idea if rivers contained fresh water while oceans consisted of undrinkable salt water like on Earth, he had no choice but to assume at least one of them would be drinkable.
“Computer, magnify the land.”
The view of the planet below shifted and small fern like plants grew over the surface. Farther from shore, trees with dark green leaves towered over the vegetation below.
“Scan for signs of humanoid civilization.”
A series of beeps followed the command.
“No signs of humanoid life within scanning radius.”
“What is the scanning radius?”
“20 million square kilometers.”
“Double the area and scan again.”
Another series of beeps.
“No signs of humanoid life within scanning radius.”
Well, with no humanoids here, I don’t have to worry about the settlers from Earth coming and wiping them out…or the other way around.
When the shuttle landed, Simon opened the hatch and stepped onto a new world. The ground, covered by short, grass-like vegetation, crunched beneath his feet. Examining it, he found a layer of a black, sandy substance covering the soil. A shiny black stone nearby caught his attention.
“I think that’s a meteorite.”
When he picked it up, several long bugs, with sharp pincers on their heads and many fast moving legs, scurried to regain shelter. The underside revealed a hollowed center, giving the whole meteorite the appearance of half of a black coconut shell.
Having no use for it beyond mild curiosity, he cast the meteorite into a patch of shrubs.
The mid-day heat exceeded the temperate climate Simon came from, but it did not surpass the temperature of tropical climates on Earth. He wiped sweat from his forehead and decided he better locate drinkable water before exploring anymore of his new home.
It didn’t surprise him to find the rivers flowed with fresh water, while the ocean contained an unbearable salt content. To his satisfaction, several small animals resembling eels snaked around the rocks in the stream.
Once he had his fill of water, Simon set off to discover the mysteries of a nearby forest. He had no intention of exploring too deeply. Just enough to send a report to Earth with adequate details to ensure the government would not harass his wife and son.
The sound of heavy footsteps and breaking tree branches greeted him as he approached the canopy of trees. He pulled a knife and gun from his belt. The knife was a generic stainless steel utility knife available at any discount department store. The gun, much like the spacecraft which delivered Simon to Kapa1 Ceti VI, was one of his own inventions. Instead of firing a projectile, it shot a beam of condensed sound waves at adjustable frequencies. The damage it could inflict ranged from discomfort to knocking its victim unconscious. It could even stop the heart of anything up to the size of a human.
He cranked the adjustment to maximum. Whatever snapped the tree branches sounded much bigger than a human. His gun hand didn’t tremble when he pointed it into the forest, but he lowered it when seven beasts about the size of elephants crashed into the clearing. They had a face shaped like a rhinoceros’, but the horn protruded from between the eyes. Their bodies had a strange covering; not quite hair or scales. It looked like long, needle shaped scales growing thickest on the backs and shoulders of the creatures, but the hair-scales didn’t appear rigid at all. They blew and swayed in the gentle breeze.
The front creature lowered its head, scooped up a mouthful of ferns, and began to chew. It cocked its head sideways, as it must have discovered Simon. It tilted its head in different directions, keeping one of its eyes fixed on Simon. The animal froze for a few seconds, rose on its hind legs, and thundered to the ground in three rapid stomps. The six trailing animals darted into the woods. The leader turned to run, but two bipedal carnivores, only slightly shorter than Simon, darted from some underbrush concealing them and attacked. The predators, with long beaks like vultures, sprinted lion fast—cheetah fast—and when they couldn’t possibly run any faster, they each expanded two monstrous wings and soared after the larger animal. An earsplitting screech emitted from their beaks.
They struck feet first, and the sound of tearing flesh was drowned out by the shrill scream of the dying animal. Simon dropped his knife and steadied his gun with both hands to shoot the two assailants, but lowered it again without pulling the trigger. He resolved himself to only disturb the natural ecosystem of this planet enough to maintain his own survival.
The elephant sized creature stumbled to the edge of the woods before succumbing to its wounds and collapsing.
Simon picked up his knife only to find two of the long insects like he had seen before clinging to the blade. He shook it, sending them sailing in different directions. As he returned it to his belt, he noticed rough patches in the normally smooth surface. Two small, semi-circles of metal had disappeared from the knife.
He dropped the knife to the ground. An instant later one of the long bugs had latched itself to the blade.
“Insects that eat metal. They can’t possibly get nutrition from it.”
As the insect gnawed away at the blade of the knife, Simon pondered.
“They must need the metal. Maybe it aids them in their digestion.”
He picked up a handful of the black sand covering the ground under the plant growth.
“It’s small pieces of meteorite. They do eat metal—”
Simon spun so fast he almost lost his balance.
The loose sand provided a poor foothold when Simon jolted for the ship. He stumbled, almost regained his balance, and planted himself face first into the ground. The rough gravel skinned his palms and left cheek. Thrusting himself back to his feet, he made as much haste as possible without another wipe-out.
Bugs swarmed the surface of his ship. A screech, almost a scream, resonated from somewhere behind him, but he couldn't worry about it now. He had to get his final transmission sent before these vermin rendered it impossible.
Another loud screech. This one so close he had no choice but to turn. One of the vulture-faced predators swooped feet first, and its talons ripped open Simon’s abdomen. He instinctively grabbed the gun with his right hand and blasted the beast. It toppled to the ground and convulsed. Simon’s left hand tried to conceal the opening from which spewed his intestines. The snakelike feel of them slithering between his fingers repulsed him, but one obsessive thought pushed him forward: “My son.”
Simon half crawled, half stumbled, up what remained of the ramp. His surroundings faded in and out of focus as he flung himself into the cockpit.
“This is Simon. I have landed…on Kapa1 Ceti VI. Terrain…atmosphere…similar to Earth. No intelligent or humanoid…life…discovered. Two meter…bipedal…predators. Unknown population numbers. One attacked me. I’m…dying.”
A coughing fit overtook him. The thought of death consumed him, and he welcomed it. The pain faded as death approached, but his obsession revived him. My son.
“I’ve done my part. I’ve sent information…about this planet. Leave my family alone, you bastards!” Another coughing fit. “Leave them alone.”
Simon took a few deep breaths to steady his voice. His only remaining desire was to die with dignity.
“Computer, send transmission.”
“Unable to comply.”
The surrounding darkness subsided once more.
“Computer, send the damn transmission.”
“Unable to comply.” The computer’s voice sounded different. Slower. More drawn out.
Simon fell to his knees, barely aware of the squishy mess he knelt in. Wiping a swarm of bugs from the computer terminal. He entered the manual sequence to transmit the message. Nothing happened.
The latch under the computer slipped through Simon’s blood soaked fingers. He fumbled with it a second and third time before it finally opened. The wiring had vanished. In its place dangled more of the atrocious metal eaters.
“My son…My son…Leave my son alone.”
Another loud screech shook the walls of the cockpit. Simon looked at his gun, considered his options, and cast it across the room where it instantly became food for this new life form…this new growth. Every ounce of his remaining life swelled within his chest. He wouldn’t die crying. He wouldn’t exit life the way he started it. He had come too far. He wiped the tears from his eyes, no doubt replacing them with streaks of his own blood.With his last remaining strength he held his head high and looked death in the eye when it stuck its vulture head through the cockpit door.
To be concluded… May 17Dedicated to Robert Heinlein (1907-1988), though I’ve only read a few of his stories, his writing style has influenced me as much as anyone’s.
Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud, received the Children’s Literary Classics Seal of Approval and the Literary Classics Award for Best First Novel. His second novel, The Squire and the Slave Master, continues the Saga of the Wizards. It is scheduled for an August 4, 2015 release. Find him online at authorericprice.com, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.