By Lee Welling
Sinjon’s skin crawled when he first heard it. The pained cry of a wounded animal, perhaps? A sound that was at once both familiar and otherworldly. Everything about this place, he found weirdly unsettling – the deathly silence between the creature’s tormented wails, the suffocating stillness of the air undisturbed by breeze, birdsong or buzzing insects. And, weirdest of all, the broad domed-shaped mountain sitting incongruously in the centre of the improbably flat plain.
It had been two days since Sinjon had left his colleagues back at base camp and driven into the wilderness to explore. He had come to this place just after dark the previous evening and it was at first light that he had first seen the dome. Sinjon was no expert in astrogeology, but he knew enough to know that this extraordinary feature didn’t fit into any geological model. And why hadn’t the sat scans picked it up?
The professional and prudent thing to do would be for him to call base camp and ask them to send a drone to undertake an initial survey. That’s what most people in his position would have done, but Sinjon’s undoubted professional skills were no match for his vanity. He was determined that this would be his discovery and his alone. The name, Mount Sinjon, had a nice ring to it.
Immediately after breakfast he set off to investigate, choosing to go on foot so he could examine the soils and other landforms on the way. He had been walking for barely half an hour, when he remembered he had left his communicator and optical scanner back at the camp. But Sinjon, true to form, just shrugged and continue on without it. Why not? There was little risk. The air temperature was in the mid-twenties, oxygen levels were close to Earth standard, as was gravity. And the extensive bio survey carried out by the team before they removed their suits had shown no airborne microbes hazardous to human health. What could possibly go wrong?
He walked on with confidence and made good progress. It was a feeling that stayed with him right up to when another agonised howl cut the still air and stopped him in his tracks. A wave of uncertainty washed over him. Maybe he was misinterpreting the sound? Yes, it was an animal of some kind, but perhaps the creature was not in distress? Perhaps it was signalling to its pack, herd or whatever, that an intruder was present?
Not for the first time, Sinjon looked over his shoulder and thought about going back. He didn’t, of course.
When he reached the side of the dome, he noticed how the divide between the dome and the surrounding geology was unnaturally sharp. It was as if the dome had not formed in situ, but had been buried there.
He took his first proper look at the geology and saw that the rock consisted of a black, fine-grained, amorphous matrix containing evenly distributed shiny white translucent spheres. At first glance, the spheres looked like inclusions in a sedimentary rock. But if the rock was sedimentary, then why was the symmetry of the spheres so perfect? He struck the rock face with his hammer and a chip came away easily, seemingly shearing along a bedding plane. Interestingly, the spheres themselves didn’t break, but remained intact, protruding from the matrix like plums in a pudding.
Sinjon knew that in order to study the sample in any detail, he would have to wait until he returned to base camp, so he dropped the sample into his bag. He immediately noticed that in the reduced light of the bag, the rock was luminescing. Intrigued, he took the sample out and made a cowl with his coat to shut out the sunlight. When he examined the rock with his magnifier, he was astonished to see each sphere was pulsing rhythmically, radiating a gentle white light.
A terrible thought occurred to him. Was the rock radioactive? He let the fragment drop from his fingers like a hot coal and stepped back. He then fumbled in his bag and took out his radiation counter and tested the sample. The reading negative. Panic over, he picked up the sample and packed it away.
He began his ascent of the dome and found the climb easy with the slope being a manageable thirty to forty degrees to the horizontal. The surface was largely sterile consisting of mainly exposed rock with occasional patches of thin, sandy soil trapped in crevices. It was in one of these deposits where Sinjon saw the first signs of life. Small vetch-like shrubs had managed to eke out an existence in the soil pockets and, in the more sheltered areas, in suntraps between rocks, were plants bearing small melon-like fruits. Sinjon cut into one of these with his knife and found the inside fleshy red and odourless. He put a whole one in his bag for future analysis and then walked on.
The higher he got, the steeper the slope became. He also thought he could detect a rise in temperature. He bent down and touched the rock with his hand and confirmed it. Questions and doubts swirled around in his head. Why had the satellite not picked up the radiated infrared? Why hadn’t the satellite seen the dome in the visible spectrum, or noticed the gravity anomaly?
He steadied himself with deep breaths and continued climbing. When he was about forty metres from the top, the angle of the slope increased sharply forcing him to scramble on all fours. Just metres later, the angle became so steep, he had to slither lizard-like across the surface, searching with his fingers for flaws in the rock, probing pits and cavities. At this altitude, there was no plant life of any description, just bare rock, but the temperature, at least, remained bearable.
He began to notice a red-brown powder coating the surface of the dome. He inspected it, rubbing it between his thumb and forefinger and holding it to his nose and sniffing it. He was sure he could detect a faint, yet distinct organic odour to it.
It was then that the unseen beast released another long, drawn-out howl, which was disconcertingly loud now that Sinjon was so close to the source. He flattened himself against the rock and looked nervously towards the summit. The proximity of the creature had brought all his uncertainties to the fore and, not for the first time, he considered going back down the mountain.
But he’d come too far not to see it through now.
Crawling up the steep slope was exhausting and he took a break. He found a small ledge in the rock on which to wedge the soles of his boots and take the weight off his tired arms. Wiping away the brown powder from the rock with his glove, he put one side of his face on the pleasantly warm surface and relaxed.
His welcome respite was suddenly interrupted by the sight of something moving very quickly across the rock and disappearing with equal suddenness behind the dome’s horizon. It was pink and moved on four limbs; an animal of some kind, a native lizard, perhaps, its appearance too fleeting for Sinjon to see clearly.
His pulse raced and he took deep breaths to bring it down. Calmer now, he concluded the creature was not a threat. From what he had seen of it, it was small and timid and, in all likelihood, was more frightened of him than he of it. There was nothing to worry about. He would continue his climb to the top of the dome.
Within seconds of restarting his ascent, another lizard – or maybe the same one – scrambled down from the top of the dome towards him. Sinjon stopped and so did the lizard, the two of them just metres apart. Hairless and pink and the size of a small dog, the creature had a pronounced curvature of the spine. It had four limbs, the upper pair closely resembling their human equivalents with five fingers and an opposable thumb. Its head was very large in proportion to its body, its nose, mouth and eyes barely discernible beneath a membrane of translucent skin. Either side of its neck was what looked like vestigial gills. At first glance, the creature was undeniably alien and yet there was something eerily familiar to Sinjon. Superficially, he realised, it resembled an early-stage human foetus.
Was it this creature that had been making all that noise? Surely not, it was much too small to have uttered such deep, resonate sounds.
Sinjon had convinced himself it was an infant not long out of gestation. But was the creature’s similarity to a human foetus prejudicing his assessment? For all he knew, it could be a mature adult with the capability of attacking him. It was a possibility, yes, but Sinjon’s instinct told him it was unlikely.
The creature began to slowly crawl back up the slope, but after a short distance, it stopped and turned to face him. Despite it having no facial features for him to read, its body language gave Sinjon the overwhelming impression it was communicating with him. ‘Follow me,’ it seemed to be saying and, despite the nagging doubts in the back of his mind, Sinjon did just that.
As he neared the top of the dome, Sinjon was surprised to find he was no longer crawling over rock, but some sort of metallic material. Covering the dome’s apex, it was dull and lead-like with patterns of indentations running around it in parallel concentric circles. It had to be fabricated, not natural.
It was a monumental discovery, Sinjon realised. This was technology and its presence should have prompted him to pause and take stock. He didn’t. Circumspection was not a quality he possessed. And it was this, coupled with his burning curiosity that saw him continue to push towards the top of the dome.
Something else had changed. The layer of red-brown material was no longer powdery, but had a mud-like consistency. The smell was stronger and more pungent, too. It had, Sinjon thought, the characteristic smell of waste products, but not – he thought, reassuringly – those of a carnivore.
He had almost reached the top of the dome when the, as yet, unseen beast let out another pained roar. Sinjon froze. The amplitude and timbre of the creature’s cry suggested it was big with a large chest cavity to resonate the sound. And yet, despite this, there was something about it that suggested it was not a threatening sound.
Sinjon took a deep breath and crawled the last few metres to the top of the dome where all was revealed.
Naked and hairless, the alien was big, very big, and humanoid. Its torso was human-like with massively developed musculature and strong, sinewy arms. The perception of physical power was offset, by a conspicuously curved spine that had it been straight would have made the creature a formidable two or more metres tall. Although Sinjon could see no genitalia, its lack of breasts suggested it was male. Of course, it was only a first assumption and it may not have even been a mammal, alien or otherwise. Come to that, its genitalia may have been under its skin or situated in a different part of the body.
Its features were only approximations of their human equivalents, although they were located in roughly the same parts of the face. It had a lipless mouth that ran horizontally beneath a flat open nose with only a single nostril. Above and either side of the nose were two large, bulbous eyes without pupils. Was the creature blind? Again, this was an assumption made from a human perspective.
What the creature was doing, Sinjon couldn’t imagine. Its feet were braced firmly apart and it was bent over pulling on a large metal ring attached to the apex of the cap. The effort it was putting into the task was immense and, seemingly, unsustainable. As Sinjon watched, the creature’s grip on the ring weakened, whereby it would let out a long, agonised cry of pain, as it took up the strain and reapplied the pressure.
Sinjon decided to initiate contact. He stood up and was relieved to find that, despite the wet coating of fresh faeces, the grey metallic surface offered a high degree of friction with his boots. Sinjon raised his hand in greeting, but the creature was so focused on the ring, it still hadn’t noticed him. He walked gingerly towards it; all the while acutely aware what a momentous event this was. The creature was by far and away the most advanced extra-terrestrial ever discovered and although he had no idea how his exobiologist colleagues would classify the creature, Sinjon would insist that somewhere in the taxonomic rankings the name Sinjoni would appear.
He waited for a lull in the creature’s strained cries before saying to it, rather unimaginatively, “Hullo.”
The creature did not respond, so Sinjon spoke again, louder this time, and accompanied the greeting with a hesitant wave of his hand. Now, there was a reaction. The creature swung its head around sharply and seemed to look Sinjon straight in the eye.
Sinjon’s stomach turned with a mixture of fear and excitement, and he repeated, “Hullo.”
Its lipless mouth widened and parted displaying large, blocky teeth; the teeth of an omnivore, perhaps, but certainly not a carnivore. Instinctively, Sinjon interpreted this as a non-aggressive display. A smile, perhaps?
He returned the alien’s smile and again greeted him in human speech. The creature grunted a reply that was as unintelligible to Sinjon, as Sinjon’s greeting had been to it.
“Me, Sinjon,” Sinjon said in pidgin. Then he laughed at himself for having stupidly tried to communicate with a creature that to his human eyes, at least, was no further evolved than a primate on Earth. He did get a response, though; a series of grunts and groans, which may, or may not have been attempts at communication.
Sinjon smiled to himself, as he thought of a perfect name for his would-be interlocutor. “Me Sinjon, you, Grunten Groan,” he said, feeling rather pleased with having thought of the name. “And I shall think of you as a ‘he’ not an ‘it’.”
Sinjon almost fell over, when the foetus creature unexpectedly reappeared and leapt onto Grunten’s shoulders. It held one of the melon-like fruits in its hand which it offered to Grunten who swallowed it whole, skin and all. The foetus then climbed up onto Grunten’s head and attached itself to his bald pate using the little suckers on the tips of its fingers. Grunten seemed neither surprised nor concerned with this and continued to strain against the ring.
The foetus next turned its attention to Sinjon. Sinjon was convinced its sightless eyes were boring into him.
A voice said, “Ung gum.”
It wasn’t the foetus who spoke, it was Grunten.
Sinjon was stunned. These were human-like sounds; unintelligible, yes, but definitely human.
Again, he spoke: “Oo gum.”
The foetus moved its fingers over Grunten’s skull as if massaging his scalp. Grunten responded by moving his head in slow circular motions. He seemed to be enjoying the attention.
“Oo kum,” he said. Then, “Yoo kum.”
Sinjon’s legs almost gave way. Were they words? Real words?
“Come?” said Sinjon. “Did you say, ‘you come’?”
Grunten’s mouth gaped and he let out a long, relieved groan. “You come,” he said, this time enunciating each word.
He then started repeating the words, over and over, seemingly delighted to have communicated with an alien. His euphoria was cut short, however, when he realised his grip on the ring was weakening. His immediately returned to the task at hand.
“He needs rest.”
Sinjon froze. The voice was Grunten’s, the words came from Grunten’s lips, but it was not Grunten speaking.
“Is that you?” Sinjon said to the foetus, for he was convinced it was he/she/it who had composed the words not Grunten.
“I am custodian.”
The foetus had used no article. Was he a custodian, or the Custodian?
“Custodian? What is a custodian?”
“I maintain disorder,” said the foetus.
Sinjon shrugged mutely, his head full of questions, yet unable to frame one.
Grunten was speaking, again.
“He needs you. He’s tired,” said the foetus.
Sinjon shook his head. “Look, this is seriously weird for me. Who are you?”
“I am custodian.”
“Yes, so you said, but… ” Sinjon struggled for words. “Look, have you got a name? I can’t call you Custodian, whatever that means. It sounds like the name of your job.”
The small creature did not reply for some moments, as if it were trying to interpret the question. Finally, it said, “Foetus.”
That’s exactly what Sinjon had been thinking. Had Foetus read his mind?
“And your companion is called Grunten, yes?” said Sinjon.
“He can be,” said Foetus.
“Sinjon come,” said Grunten.
“Yes, Sinjon come,” Foetus said to Grunten.
Grunten responded to some real or imagined trigger and started pulling on the ring. His pumped-up veins became visible in stark relief, the pulse in his temple throbbed, sweat ran in rivulets down the creases of his forehead. And there was that agonised cry…
“What’s happening to him?” said Sinjon, alarmed. “Is he in pain?”
“He’s tired,” said Foetus, struggling to squeeze the words through Grunten’s clenched teeth. “His body is broken; his strength is ebbing away and it get worse with every day that passes. He needs to rest, Sinjon.”
“Well, why doesn’t he do that?”
“And who would hold up the world if he did?”
Sinjon frowned, wondering if he’d heard right. “Sorry, what did you say?”
“The world,” confirmed Foetus. “Grunten has been holding up the world for many decades and he’s tired.”
Sinjon took a few moments to let what Foetus said sink in. Then he started to laugh. At first, he laughed spontaneously, but then the laughter became mocking.
“Is that what this is all about?” he said. “You seriously think he’s holding up the world? That’s ridiculous.”
“Ridiculous? Ah, yes, a word that expresses disbelief. You think I am wrong in my belief that Grunten is holding up the world.”
“I know you are wrong,” said Sinjon. “I also know that this poor creature is suffering needlessly.”
“You speak of things you know nothing about, human,” Foetus said.
There was an edge to Foetus’s voice, made all the more threatening by being uttered through Grunten’s larynx. Sinjon decided to tone down his mockery.
“Look, I was only thinking of Grunten’s wellbeing,” he said. “I’m sure the world can hold itself up for a few minutes while he has a rest.”
“You know, for a creature with such a large brain, you have a very small mind,” said Foetus. “I’ve told you. He can’t let go, or the world will end.”
As with a lot of competitive people, Sinjon had an argumentative nature and remaining diplomatic in the face of such an absurdity was too much for him to endure. He was a scientist and he would use science and logic rather than ridicule to make his point.
“Grunten, you don’t need to do this,” he said. “He’s making you suffer needlessly.”
“He is not suffering needlessly,” said Foetus. “The fate of the whole planet is in his hands.”
Sinjon sighed, theatrically. “He’s holding up the world, yes, you said. You know, I don’t know whether to despise you, or pity you. If you know what you say is nonsense, then you are a complete bastard for subjecting this poor creature to such a cruel joke. But if you really do believe what you say, then…” He shook his head in frustration. “Well, then, I pity the both of you.”
“I don’t need your pity, human,” said Foetus. “Your small mind cannot begin to contemplate the magnitude of the consequences that would flow should Grunten release his grip on the cap.”
“The laws of physics would disagree with you,” said Sinjon.
“Your laws. Your physics.”
“Your laws, too, Foetus, they’re universal. You will not hold up the world by pulling on a ring. Grunten’s standing on the thing he’s pulling against, for God’s sake! As much as his arms are pulling one way, his legs are pushing in the opposite direction. It’s basic physics: Action and reaction. He’s having zero net effect.”
Sinjon let out a loud exasperated sigh and said, only half to himself, “I can’t believe I’m having this conversation. It’s madness.”
“Sinjon, I don’t want to argue with you,” said Foetus. “I don’t want to make you angry. I need you. Grunten needs you.”
“Help me, Sinjon,” said Grunten through the shared larynx. “Please release me from the pain.”
The difference in empathy between Sinjon and Foetus and Sinjon and Grunten was marked. Sinjon looked on Grunten as he would a great ape on Earth. Perhaps, the humanoid form of the alien somehow engendered a vague sense of kinship. And just as it was when he had first heard Grunten’s terrible cry and felt compelled to aid a fellow being in distress, so now the urge to help was even stronger.
Sinjon’s reverie was interrupted by a loud release of gas from Grunten, as he emptied his bowels. Faecal matter, liquid and steaming, poured like hot chocolate from his anus, splattering audibly as it hit the dome’s metal cap. Its putrid smell made Sinjon gag. It also made him angry and more determined than ever to end the poor creature’s torment.
But how should he do it? He couldn’t reason with Foetus and there was zero chance of reasoning with Grunten. He determined that the only way to convince either of them of the stupidity of their actions was with a practical demonstration.
“Grunten, I’ll do it for you,” he said.
It was Foetus who responded. “You’ll do it, human? You’ll really do it?”
“I said so, didn’t I?”
Through his sightless eyes, Foetus looked hard at Sinjon. There was no doubt in Sinjon’s mind it was a look of deep suspicion.
“You are aware of the enormity of the task you’ve agreed to undertake,” Foetus said, solemnly.
Convinced the smaller alien could read his mind, Sinjon emptied it of everything incriminating and said flatly, “Of course.”
“You will have the fate of the world in your hands, you know.”
“As you say,” said Sinjon, his face remaining as expressionless as the alien’s.
Grunten frowned suspiciously on Foetus’ behalf and said the words, “I sense you are not sincere in your promises, human.”
“I’m sceptical,” said Sinjon.
“More than sceptical, I suggest.”
“It’s only a word.”
“Come here,” said Foetus. “Come closer and let me see if I can convince you.”
“I said, I’ll take hold of the ring, isn’t that enough.”
“But I need you to believe, to really believe, before you begin your task. I want you to feel the enormous energy in the ring, the power that runs beneath it.”
Sinjon rolled his eyes. “The most remarkable thing below this rock is magma and that’s not remarkable, at all.”
“There are forces at work here way beyond your understanding,” said Foetus.
Grunten said, “The monster lies beneath, Sinjon. He’s hungry. He wants to eat the world.”
“Grunten, it’s nonsense,” said Sinjon, giving up all pretence he was a believer.
“If you are so convinced, human, why are you so frightened?” said Foetus.
Sinjon knew he was being goaded, but couldn’t stop himself reacting. “Frightened? I’m not frightened of you.”
“No, you’re not. But you are frightened of what lies beneath. Don’t deny it, human, I can smell the fear on you.”
“There’s nothing to be frightened of,” Sinjon said.
“Then come closer, human. Come and feel the power.”
This time it was Sinjon who was suspicious. He stared into the featureless face of the smaller alien and tried to read its intentions. The page remained blank.
Grunten’s emotions, though, were an open book. He suddenly let out a sickening screech, as he responded to something feeding back to him through the ring. “Please, Sinjon! Take the pain away!”
Sinjon’s focus was now very much on the innocent humanoid. He took a couple of steps towards him and extended his arm. He offered Grunten his hand. “Let go, Grunten,” he said, gently. “Come with me. Let’s leave here together. You don’t have to do this, believe me.”
Grunten slowly raised his head and Sinjon found himself staring straight back at him. What a pathetic sight it was; face contorted and bathed in sweat, his white eyes bulging and bloodshot, every line etched in his face a testament to the torture he had endured for God knows how many years. Grunten was drained of all emotion. Sinjon had been his only hope, but what the human was offering was not an option. Were Grunten to leave his post, the world would be doomed.
“Let it go, Grunten,” Sinjon said, quietly. “There is nothing beneath your feet, but rock.”
Grunten was at the end of his tether. His eyes bored into Sinjon’s soul pleading with him to help. “But, the monster…” he began. Then he shook his head and wept. “I can’t go on. I can’t do it anymore.”
“Then let it go. Relieve yourself of this pointless burden.”
Sinjon sensed he was gaining Grunten’s confidence. The sculptured sinews in big alien’s arms had begun to soften and the furrows in his brow melt away.
“Yes, yes, that’s good,” said Sinjon. “Let it go.”
Sinjon put his hands on Grunten’s hands and gently prised his fingers from the ring. Slowly, reluctantly, Grunten released his grip, but then, just at the instant contact was broken, Foetus leapt from Grunten to Sinjon and attached himself to his skull, clinging like a limpet with the suckers of his fingers. Sinjon was slow to react and when he did, he was horrified to find his own hands were involuntarily gripping the ring. He panicked and tried to lift his arms, but found his body was no longer under his control. The little alien was his master.
“It’s time to rest now, servant, your task is done,” Foetus said to Grunten through Sinjon’s mouth. “We have a new servant, now.”
The implication of what he was saying was not lost on Sinjon. “You little bastard, Foetus. What have you done to me?”
“Feel it, human, feel the power of the ring.”
Sinjon could. His fingers were tingling; a prickling sensation was running through his nervous system affecting his entire body. And then he felt the tug, gentle at first, then stronger. Something pulling on the ring. Sinjon fought against it. At first, it was just a physical struggle, but then it became a struggle against the sub-conscious attack on his free will.
“It is the monster beneath,” said Foetus.
“Cut the crap, you twisted prawn!” Sinjon cried. “You’re not talking to that dumb ape, now.”
“Don’t fight it, Sinjon. It is your destiny.”
“I’ll fight it, you bastard, I’ll fight it all the way! I don’t know what sort of sick joke this all is, but I’m not going to part of it.”
“Accept your fate, human. Be proud. You are saving the world from oblivion.”
“I will not be beaten!”
“Accepting the inevitable is not something to be ashamed of. You have the fate of an entire planet in your hands. It is an awesome and noble responsibility.”
“I will not do it. I will not. I will beat you. You will not win!”
Sinjon started to hum a single note and he continued to hum it pausing only during the times when he had to draw breath. And just as it had been when he had learnt the technique in the Droan region of Planet Pentad, his mind began to go to another place.
Foetus could sense the change in him. “What are you doing, human?” he said, uneasily.
Sinjon did not respond, he had withdrawn from reality and entered a zone where the mental bonds that had once ensnared him could not reach.
“You cannot do this, Sinjon,” Foetus said. “You must not do this. It will all end. You will end.”
Sinjon ceased his monosyllabic incantation and took a long, deep breath and at the end of his exhale, he released the ring and stood up. Then, in one swift movement, he physically removed the wriggling alien from his head and cast him to the ground. Foetus reacted instantly, jumping onto Grunten, scrambling up to his head and commanding him to clasp the ring. The big humanoid would have willingly carried out his orders, but it was too late, events were already beyond his control.
Through Grunten, Foetus screamed at Sinjon. “What have you done you, stupid human!”
The question was rhetorical; Foetus already knew the answer.
The end of the world began quietly, enough. The ring was sucked silently down into the dome leaving a small, perfectly round hole. Then, retaining its symmetry, the hole began to widen, with the cap seemingly liquefying at the edge and pouring into the cavity like water down a sinkhole.
“Oh, shit,” said Sinjon, as he watched the cold liquid metal flowing into the rapidly expanding hole.
It was time to run.
“Grunten, come on, come with me,” Sinjon said, urgently. “Get away from here!”
Grunten backed away down the slope but stopped after only a few metres.
“There’s no place to run,” Foetus said through Grunten. “And there is no time to get there.”
“There is time,” said Sinjon. “I can get back to my camp, get my communicator, call up a flyer.”
“You still don’t understand, do you, human. There will literally be no time.”
“The monster eats the time,” said Grunten. “He’s gonna eat us all, dead.”
“I can’t help you, Grunten. I’ve done all I can,” Sinjon said. “I’m going, now, and I strongly advise you do the same.”
“Monster’s gonna get us, Sinjon. Gonna eat us all dead.”
Sinjon had already started running down the hill leaving Grunten and Foetus standing motionless in the path of the advancing precipice.
Foetus sighed. “And that’s it,” he said, using Grunten’s larynx for the last time. “It’s over. I’ve failed. I’m going home. Will they ever forgive me?”
And with that, he leapt from Grunten’s shoulders into the rapidly expanding abyss.
Now released from Foetus’ mental grip, Grunten once more regained control of his body. But he was not stupid; not like the human. Grunten wouldn’t run; he knew the world was coming to an end. But he wasn’t disheartened. Despite what Sinjon had said to him, Grunten knew his life had not been pointless. Through sheer strength and determination, he had singlehandedly kept the monster at bay. Sinjon, it was, who had condemned the world to its terrible fate.
Defiant to the end, Grunten gave a mighty roar and stepped into oblivion, submitting himself to the monster’s gaping maw.
Sinjon didn’t look back until he reached the plain at the bottom of the dome and what he saw filled him with dread. The dome was disappearing at an increasing rate, liquefying and pouring over the edge into the expanding black abyss. He felt a strong wind at his back as the atmosphere tried to fill the vacuum. Above the rapidly diminishing dome, a vortex had formed with loosened boulders and other debris caught in its influence.
He turned and ran and his flesh was abraded by fast-moving particles of sand and grit. The wind became stronger – gale force, storm force – pushing him back, draining his strength. He must get to his camp. He must get his communicator and call up a flyer.
It wasn’t going to happen. He couldn’t compete with the force of the wind and in desperation, he wedged himself in an outcrop of bedrock upwind of the expanding hole. It was only a temporary reprieve, he knew that. This was it; this was the end. And with resignation came serenity.
In the final seconds of his existence, he was able to look back at his approaching doom with detached objectivity. The dome was gone and in its place was a black lake whose shores were continually advancing across the plain. Above the lake, the sun’s radiance was being stretched and distorted and separated into its component wavelengths before being sucked down into the depths. It seemed, even light could not satisfy the beast’s voracious appetite.
Sinjon had always wanted to be taller and for a fraction of a second, he was infinitely so.
About the author: In his spare time, Lee Welling has always written science fiction as a hobby and has now completed three full-length novels, a novella and several short stories. When he retired from his day job, he thought he’d try and get something published and one of his short stories, ‘Universal Variable’, was recently accepted by Smoking Pen Press for publication. Another short story, ‘Glass Onion’, was awarded a ‘Certificate of Honourable Mention’ from L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest. Before retirement, Lee spent 20 years as a research chemist and during that time collaborated on many internationally published scientific papers. As he freely admits, research carried out in his field post-publication occasionally produced results that contradicted his own and so, in that sense, he has been a published author of science fiction for longer than he thought.
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