From the slightly elevated highway above it we looked out across the vastness of the sand ocean. Close to the horizon we saw another elevated highway angled slightly to ours. An Over the Horizon (OTH) scan showed the two highways intersecting at a nexus point in the great sand ocean. A nexus point containing a peculiar building. Then each highway went on its separate direction across the vastness.
“Teeming with life,” said Janelle looking down at the sand ocean. Like an Earth ocean but sand instead of water.”
“Let’s do a preliminary scan of this world, and get a reliable fix on our objective,” I said.
“Miniature low orbit probe as well Michael?” asked Janelle.
I nodded “everything we can reasonably do.”
Before moving off in our specially designed land wagon we wanted at least a partial picture of this world we had crossed to via the temporary gateway.
Imagery from the mini satellite indicated the sand oceans were extensive. Also that much of the non sand ocean surface consisted of rocky terrain. Terrain that gradually rose, eventually to mountains, the further one got away from the sand oceans.
“Our land sonar equipment has categorised at least 100 distinctly different species in a small part of the sand ocean,” responded Janelle. “None of them even vaguely resembling anything we’ve ever seen before.”
I nodded thinking also of the strange anomalies we had detected. By a combination of OTH scans and the mini-satellite imagery still coming in. They looked like areas for us to avoid. If we could.
“We are only here for one purpose,” I said “we don’t need to unlock this world’s secrets. Just rescue our good lady and return home to Earth.”
“If the gateway is still open,” offered Janelle.
“Or we find another gateway,” I countered.
“I’ve been saving the best news till last,” smiled Janelle “take a look at this.”
“Wow!” I replied viewing the 3D representation ‘it looks like an old Drorne station. If it is that’s the next best thing to finding a gateway. I’d take a guess that the Drorne built the highways traversing the sand oceans,” I added more as an afterthought.
“Have you got a fix on our objective?” I asked.
“She is 1500 clicks from here, in a semi-mountainous location. On the far side of this current sand ocean we are traversing,” replied Janelle. “She does not appear to be moving at present.” Janelle brought up a 3D real time map illustrating our objective’s general location. Though the images were very fuzzy. Of course that could mean she is dead I thought.
“Her life energies are detected,” said Janelle as if reading my thoughts.
“Where she is located,” I said “she is not so far from the Drorne station.”
“That could be convenient,” came the reply.
We set out at a sedate speed of 150 clicks per hour and soon revised that downwards as a thick dark elastic entity emerged from the sand ocean and spread itself across the full modest width of the highway. We came to a screeching halt but not before running into it slightly. It gave, in an elastic way, but did not yield and covered us with secretions that were slightly acidic according to our equipment.
We reversed right out of there and putting our automatic laser cannon on manual hit it repeatedly with heavy duty laser fire. Which seemed not to do a whole lot until with Janelle on the laser I added in some ordinary heavy duty machine gun fire from another turret of the powerful land wagon. Begrudgingly the unusual entity slowly withdrew back into the sand ocean.
It was to be the first of a number of encounters with the denizens of the sand ocean. Encounters that, without exception, I prefer to forget. Each entity quite different from the last. One that particularly shook me was a shape shifting mass that formed a huge semi-elastic vaguely human form. At least it had two apparent legs and two apparent arms. It rose out of the sand ocean and towered above us. We had the distinct impression it had taken the shape after observing us and drawing something from our minds. None of our weaponry bothered it at all until we teleshunted a mixture of aggressive biological viruses into it. Never the preferred option but they seemed to give the thing pause. Having gotten past it during the virus attack and upping our speed to 200 clicks per hour we were able to easily outdistance it.
Some might have questioned the release of such viruses into the alien sand ocean eco-system but they were in fact very short lived viruses, lives measured in minutes. In any case our survival was always paramount against that of an aggressive alien eco-system.
Thankfully almost 1,000 clicks later the sand ocean finally ended and oddly the highway ended just about a half a click beyond it.
I was about to pull over as the highway ended when Janelle using our land sonar suggested I drive on a little further. “The ground near the sand ocean is still somewhat fluid. It looks like some of the sand ocean denizens can travel through it at least for a small distance. Until it hardens and becomes rockier up ahead.”
We drove on and up for a while quite slowly through increasingly rocky outcrops. Stopping only when the land sonar showed no trace of burrowing “nasties” and we were pretty confident that nothing was going to attack us from below.
We tried to get a better fix on the individual we sought to rescue. She who had inadvertently crossed through the temporary gateway.
For several years now such gateways had appeared on Earth and from time to time unknowing people accidentally entered them and arrived on other worlds even other realities. The major powers had combined to set up a rescue service for just this. Our little rescue station had been the closest to the temporary gateway when the lady inadvertently went through it.
“Unless we want to go the long way around,” said Janelle “we are going to have to skirt one of those major anomalies we noticed earlier.”
“How so?” I asked “I thought we had plenty of room for manoeuvre.”
“They move,” explained Janelle “not fast but since we last looked at them this one’s definitely moved a lot closer to our projected path.”
“Knowingly?” I asked.
Janelle didn’t reply. Perhaps she thought I was sounding a bit paranoid.
”I’m getting a much better reading on the anomaly now,” she said eventually. “It seems even weirder, even more out of place than when we viewed it earlier. A slow moving small city sized area totally different to its surroundings. As if it was wrenched from another world or reality and just dumped here.”
“From what we can see from the satellite and OTH scans all of these anomalies appear to be just that. Alien to this sandy, rocky world and at the same time quite different from each other.”
“None of the others were anywhere near our projected path,” I heard myself say “even allowing for some movement.
“Yes.” nodded Janelle “no worries on that score unless we have to go vastly out of our way.”
Up close and personal the anomaly was eerily confronting. It looked like what was once an advanced alien city now fallen into ruin and partially overrun by vegetation quite alien to the surrounding environment. There was a slight shimmer about it that suggested some form of barrier around it. Whether it was to keep things in or keep things out we had no idea. Nothing registered on our instruments. There was just the sense that it may even have been mystical in nature..
We kept as far away from it as we could without hitting the side of a nearby mountain. Also we were travelling quite fast for the terrain. Several times we thought something came out of the anomaly towards us. Each time it appeared to be some form of mirage/hallucination. Almost too late we realised that the last hallucination wasn’t a hallucination. Two apparently android soldiers were coming our way. At a speed fast enough to catch us. We couldn’t begin to guess what their intent might be.
“They look positively fearsome,” shuddered Janelle. Yet even so we held our fire at least until their intent was clear. Eventually we outdistanced them. They seemed more tenuous the further they got away from the anomaly. Ultimately something drew them back to it. As if they had a limited range away from the anomaly.
“Unnerving, something unnerving about that,” said Janelle “let’s get plenty of distance away from here.”
The shimmer surrounding the anomaly obscured our vision into it. Yet we had seen many other android soldiers moving among the ruins. Possibly fighting each other.
“We are still not getting any communication back from our objective,” I said “it must be that she has no communication devices of any kind.”
“That and maybe some peculiarities about this world,” offered Janelle “something limiting communications.”
We were now close enough and had a good enough fix to launch a beacon. A returnable just over the horizon holographic message advising her of our rescue attempt. Thankfully she had enough technology to respond to the hologram. “I am well. SUV not working. Hostile terrain. Please extract digit and come get me.” Both Janelle and I smiled at the last comment.
“What took you so long?” was her first greeting. Though there were smiles of relief behind the cheekiness.
She was a tall, attractive woman possibly in her late 40’s. An eminent surgeon that happened to be the wife of the United States Attorney General. Not that her eminence had anything to do with the speed of our response.
“My SUV broke down soon after I arrived in this place,” offered Susan.
“I realised I was in a gateway even as I drove into it but by then it was too late.
Thankfully Susan had known not to stray from where she arrived. It was inhospitable here but she had not been menaced. Or even seen much of anything. As she had plenty of food and water her main problem had been boredom.
Janelle and I looked over the SUV. It was very expensive but really not up to the terrain hereabouts. No good at all to us now except for a few electronic parts that we stripped from it as spares.
Susan came aboard the land wagon and we gave her a suit of ultra lightweight exo-skeleton boosted armour. Of the same type as we were wearing. Standard issue for rescuers and the rescued in our circumstances.
We showed her the main features of the land wagon and I could sense her starting to relax a little. The well equipped wagon always had that affect on the rescued. We also told her what we knew about this world. Which was not a lot.
Then we started to roll.
We headed off in another direction to that we had come. The temporary gateway that had admitted Susan and ultimately Janelle and I was now gone. With not even so much as a trace of its residual energies. Sometimes with a very quick rescue it was possible to go back out on the same gateway. Not this time though.
We needed to locate either another temporary gateway or a permanent gateway. This was our only ticket home. Well the only one we knew about.
The truth was there were no signs of either – for the moment.
“So if that’s the case, where exactly are we headed?” asked Susan. A quite legitimate question in the circumstances.
We had told her about the slow moving anomalies we had discovered and our desire not to go anywhere near any unless we had to. Also we had no particular desire to end up near the sand ocean again.
“We detected an old Drorne station not so far from here,” I told Susan. “The Drorne are the people who created these gateways you know. For reasons we’ve never been able to divine. There’s a good chance we can locate a gateway from there. Failing that the Drorne station, old though it is, may contain superior equipment to help us in this alien environment.
The Drorne station was about 100 clicks from us. Though slow going over the increasingly rocky terrain.
About half way through our trip the land wagon emergency alarm went off and its protective shields came up to maximum.
“The only thing I can detect,” said Janelle “is a large silver grey cloud almost on the horizon.”
The cloud wasn’t moving at all but then it broke up into vast numbers of metallic slivers that sped at frightening speed across the horizon before reforming.
We took it all in. Grateful that whatever it was, it hadn’t come our way. Susan being on board meant one more maned weapons system but we were still under strength. The weapons systems that we could man or place on automatic were trained on the cloud as it disappeared over the horizon in an alarming burst of speed.
Even before we’d had time to discuss the nature of the cloud the land wagon alarm went off again. Moving towards us from the horizon and at some considerable speed were the most formidable looking creatures. They looked a bit like an alien version of a velociraptor. Larger, faster, almost certainly stronger, and with a distasteful hint of something slightly insectoid about them.
Our laser canon started firing on automatic Sometimes missing it took two or more laser hits to stop any of these strange creatures.
Then as I backed the land wagon away from their advance and others took up manned weapons systems the creatures started to slow.
“As if they were being held back by a huge elastic band” volunteered Janelle.
“They’re starting to look less substantial too,” I added as they were almost upon us.
“They must be from that second closest anomaly,” offered Janelle. “The one that looked like something out of Earth’s dinosaur period.”
“That anomaly was way to far away,” I said.
“It has moved a little closer to us,” responded Janelle “and these velociraptor imitations may have a whole lot more range than the android soldiers we encountered earlier.”
The principal appeared to be the same though I thought anything leaving the anomalies could only move so far away from them before being drawn back. As if they represented a sample of a different reality or at least a different world.
“Could the Drorne have made these anomalies,” asked Janelle.
“I don’t think so,” I replied “just not their style plus the anomalies seem to be much newer than anything we’ve ever seen that was made by the Drorne. No some other major player appears to be at work here.”
“If that’s a velociraptor imitation then I’d hate to see a T Rex imitation,” shuddered Susan.
“Let’s get on to the Drorne station,” I urged. “We’re nearly there now.”
I didn’t want to admit it to anyone but my confidence had been shaken slightly by recent events. Something about the cloud entity had unnerved me and the velociraptor imitations hadn’t helped. Quietly I was hoping their might be some techno0logy at the Drorne station to give us an edge.
The Drorne station was set into the side of a small mountain looking over a relatively flat area among the otherwise very rocky terrain. With a vaguely concrete looking exterior it was at first glance far from impressive. Yet first impressions can be misleading. It didn’t look like any other Drorne station I’d seen. Still I was beginning to realise that they were all different. Each built in a form suitable to the world they were located on.
As with the several other Drorne stations I’d come across in my travels – you couldn’t just walk into it. All five of us stood around at the entrance waiting for an incredibly ancient but still operating scanning process to judge us worthy to enter. Or perhaps unworthy.
Then an area at ground level about the size of a set of aircraft hanger doors opened up instantly and closed just as quickly after we moved into it. “I hope we can get out again,” said Susan not entirely joking.
We walked in to an area that was vaguely reminiscent of a small aircraft hanger. Too large it seemed for the modest few vehicles and assorted equipment lying about. There was the suggestion that this area might once have housed much more equipment than it now did.
A crude but working teleshunt lift was our only means of accessing other levels in the Drorne complex. I wondered what would happen if the teleshunt failed.
The second level was still large but no longer aircraft hanger size. It was a crude living area catering for aliens of various shapes and sizes.
“Let’s move on up again,” I said as we used the teleshunt lift for a second time.
“Offices?” suggested Susan apologetically as we entered an area smaller than the level below.
“A command centre more likely,” I decided before being interrupted.
“Welcome to this Drorne facility, it has been a long time since anything has been inside here,” the voice came from a hologram. “How may I assist you?”
We had a long, long conversation with the hologram. All the while looking for its not at all obvious source. On the downside it could not advise us on the current existence of any gateways. Temporary or permanent. On the upside it knew a great deal more about this world than we did.
For completeness sake we went up to the fourth and final level of the Drorne complex. The hologram described the small area as a recreation/observation area.
“Take me with you, please,” said the hologram. Was it just my imagination or had the voice taken on a slightly pleading tone.
“Where is your program?” Janelle asked, as it pointed to a metal object the size of a large tool box that hadn’t seemed to be there a few minutes ago.
“I’m lonely,” it continued “my job here is long past done and I don’t care to wait another thousand years for intelligent company.”
“Who are we to look a gift horse in the mouth,” Janelle looked at me. I nodded.
On the way out the hologram advised us on all of the vehicles and equipment. We opted for what the hologram described as a medium sized various energy source flyer.
Then we all departed the Drorne facility feeling quite optimistic.
I put the flyer in electro-magnetic mode and we started off flying level at a modest speed and low altitude. According to the hologram there was equipment on board that should be able to detect a gateway. We assembled it and operated it as we were instructed. The intent being to fly across much of the planetary surface.
“You know,” said Susan “you guys could use something like this flyer in your rescue service.”
A thought both Janelle and I had already entertained.
Beyond sight of the Drorne complex the sentient cloud entity appeared again. This time much closer to us.
“Best not to provoke it,” offered the hologram enigmatically. We didn’t.
Again the entity broke into vast numbers of tiny metallic slivers that moved menacingly towards us before rejoining to form the cloud. Then it let go of something that crashed to the ground. It was our mini satellite that had stopped transmitting some time back. A very menacing, very provocative act. Also leaving us in no doubt as to its sentience. Indeed malevolent sentience.
I increased the flyer’s speed several times in an effort to lose the cloud and each time it matched our increased speed. Then, as if bored, it left us.
During this confrontation we had over flown part of one of the sand oceans and were coming up on yet another anomaly.
I altered course sharply.
“Is that why the cloud left us,” asked Janelle astutely “on account of proximity to the anomaly?”
“Yes,” responded the hologram.
“The clouds, yes there’s more than one of them,” Susan shuddered as the hologram said this. “The clouds tend to avoid flying near the anomalies.”
Thankfully the anomaly did not respond to our proximity. Like the other two anomalies we had seen close up it was about small city size, it moved slowly, and appeared to shimmer with the suggestion of a mystical barrier about it. Whether that was to keep things out or keep things in was still hard to say. Probably both. This anomaly was a place on a constant war footing. A forever war between hybrid repto-insectoids and boosted high technology humanoids. A roughly even fight so the hologram said.
“Let’s get about our business,” I said and we increased altitude and at formidable speed “mapped” the planetary surface looking for any sign of gateway energies.
It was both exhilarating and frustrating at the same time. The sometimes breathtaking views tempered by not even the slightest energy trace of a gateway.
As to the hologram. We had decided it was male and started to call it Fred. We kept the metallic toolbox shape source of its program close at all times. Somehow it seemed very honoured by this humble recognition. “I’ve never seen a holographic program anywhere near as sophisticated as this one,” whispered Janelle.
“You will find a gateway,” offered the hologram “if one disappears another appears to compensate. The Drorne built things that way. It is possible that the existence of the principal gateway is being suppressed.”
It was on our second “mapping” of the planetary surface that we got our much needed break. “Something,” said Janelle “something so faint that even this flyer’s sophisticated Drorne instruments cannot detect it. Here’s the coordinates.
The gateway appears to be inside one of the anomalies. That’s why it was so faint.”
“Which one?” I enquired.
“The first one we saw, the dilapidated city with the android soldiers,” replied Janelle.
We took the flyer down well outside the anomaly. It was no longer moving, as if somehow it was waiting for us to give it our best shot.
Fred told us what was contained in his program about this particular anomaly and we supplemented that with some analysis from the magnificent Drorne technology on the flyer. “Something you need to know about all of these anomalies,” said Fred ”if you can thrust through the mystical barrier that surrounds them you can be pretty sure that everything and everyone inside the anomaly will turn against you. Even if they are presently fighting each other.”
“Thanks1” I said “Very re-assuring!” Of course sarcasm was totally lost on an alien holographic computer program.
We waited for a while. Discussing tactics.
“We’ll have to go in the flyer.” I said “without it I think we would be toast very quickly. Even with our exo-skeleton assisted light armour. We can put the laser canon on auto, but I think these weapons we acquired from the Drorne facility will be better at blasting through any mystical barriers than anything else we have. We know exactly, more or less exactly where the gateway is inside the anomaly and we’ll make straight for it. Take the flyer right through into.” If I sounded confident to Susan and Janelle, well I wasn’t.
“Me too?” enquired Fred almost plaintively.
“You bet,” said Janelle “we’ve got nothing quite like you where we come from.”
“You know,” I sadi “not to change the subject but we are actually not that far from the edge of one of the sand oceans. Our land sonar (we had taken it from the land wagon) suggests the ground below is slightly fluid.”
Our land sonar showed a range of creatures headed not towards us but towards the anomaly. I recognised some of them or their ilk as past protagonists from our journey across the sand ocean.
Then the clouds appeared and I did say clouds. Six of the huge entities. Uncharacteristically they headed towards rather than away from the anomaly. Breaking up into their millions upon millions of sliver components. They raced to the anomaly and in what appeared to be super heated form.
“What’s going on here Fred,” I asked somewhat bewildered by the turn of events.
“There have basically been three influences on this world. The indigenous powers, the ancient Drorne intrusion and the anomalies. Now with the Drorne long gone the two remaining influences have decided to have it out for dominance of this world.”
“OTH radars indicate another indigenous attack on the next nearest anomaly. The dinosaur anomaly”, yelled Janelle.
We watched on transfixed as the super heated slivers smashed time and again against the mystical barriers of the anomaly gradually wearing them down. Following them were dozens of the towering vaguely humanoid shape sand creatures we had encountered while other creatures sought to burrow under the anomaly. From inside it a multitude of android soldiers came forth to meet the threat. . Like angry bees reacting to an invasion of their hive.
It seemed like a scene from Dante’s Inferno. Or perhaps the Norse Gods Ragnorak.
We held back for a while before realising that this was our opportunity.
“They are doing our work for us,” I said “too busy with each other we might be able to burst through to the gateway unopposed.”
We hurtled forward in the flyer trying to avoid the densest of the fighting. Hoping our shields and speed would brush all aside. The slivers and the sand ocean creatures largely ignored us though not so the android soldiers. We took heavy fire that rocked even the Drorne flyer. With the android soldiers were some sort of animals. Much like Earth police or soldiers might use dogs. Yet these vicious reptilians bore no resemblance to Earth dogs or anything else of Earth.
Somehow the android soldiers succeeded in bringing the flyer to the ground and to a halt. By sheer weight of firepower. They and their reptilian “pets” surrounded the flyer. Looking for a way in.
“Can we make it out on foot,” asked Susan.
“I don’t see how we can,” I responded “those reptilian things would probably tear us apart if the soldiers don’t fry us first.”
“We have the Drorne energy weapons,” said Janelle ‘they have to be superior.”
“One on one certainly but we don’t have corresponding protection,” I replied.
“What choice to we have?” asked Susan.
“None,” I agreed.
We got ready to bust out of the flyer.
For the first time since we had entered the anomaly I looked backward. Perhaps searching for ideas. I took in the view of the outside world looking out from the anomaly. It seemed to be different. Not quite what we knew to actually be there. Colored, tinted, distorted somewhat.
Then suddenly it looked very different indeed. As two rather large shapes were very visible outside the anomaly. One appeared to be in low orbit while the other had landed at some distance from the anomaly. It was difficult to assess their relative sizes but the two star ships appeared as different as chalk and cheeses. I had no idea whose ships they might be.
Fred came to our aid. In the heat of the moment I had completely forgotten about our favourite hologram.
“The star ship in orbit is of Drorne origin,” he said “and that on the ground is of the Fleme, the creators and transporters of the anomalies. Neither of these mighty races needs star ships any more so I’ve no idea why they would use such a crude form of transportation.”
“I thought the Drorne were long gone,” I said.
“I never said that,” replied Fred “you assumed it because of the age of their facility.”
The new arrivals had a clear impact on the fighting in the anomaly. It ceased abruptly.
“This is it now, our only opportunity,” I yelled “there’s the gateway lit up like a Christmas tree. Run for it.”
We did with me carrying the metallic toolbox that housed Fred’s program.
I was the only one who looked back while the others ran straight through the gateway. I probably shouldn’t have. In the anomaly the fighting had started up again and several android soldiers and there “pets” were advancing in my direction. Outside of the anomaly conflict of some kind was developing between the Drorne and the Fleme I had the impression of the Drorne attempting to annihilate the anomaly and the Fleme trying to prevent it. I wanted to stay even for just a few more second to get a clearer picture of what was happening but I didn’t dare. Especially if the Drorne destroyed the anomaly and me with it.
As I transited through the gateway I started dreaming. You know those dreams that seem to last an eternity and actually only involve a couple of seconds. The horrible thought crossed my mind that the gateway might lead elsewhere then I remembered Fred told me the Drorne gateways only ever existed between two worlds. It had to be Earth I would arrive at.
Then I tumbled head first onto the ground and Janelle and Susan helped me up.
“We’re definitely home,” they both said simultaneously.
All three of us looked down at the metallic toolbox shaped object I had brought with me. It seemed a little the worse for wear.
“It’s damaged,” said Janelle .
“Looks like it got a glancing shot from one of those android soldier’s energy weapons,” I replied.
We all looked down on it for just a moment until Fred materialised.
“I think I’m going to like this world,” he said.
“Ohh – the Einstein/Newton Institute is going to have some fun with you Fred,” I laughed.
I have published seven collections of short stories and two novellas in the 8 years I have been writing speculative fiction. All of these are on Amazon.
I have been a regular contributor to the Antipodean SF, Beam Me Up Pod Cast, and Farther Stars Than These sites. Also I have been published on Bewildering Stories, 365 Tomorrows, the WiFiles, and the former Golden Visions magazine.
I have written three sci-fi series: the 12 part “Alien Hunter” series for then Golden Visions Magazine in 2011/12, the “Trathh” series for the Beam Me Up Pod Cast site in 2012/13, and the “Human Hunter” series also for the Beam Me Up site in 2014/15.
Currently I am working on a new collection of science fiction short stories as yet unnamed.