By: Steve Carr
Six eggshaped pods traveled in single line formation at hypersonic speed through space far beyond the Milky Way. After two hundred years of travel, the third pod suddenly stopped moving, and after the three behind it bypassed it, the pod remained inert and was left behind. One hundred years later the last pod in the line didn't make it around a fiery comet that the others had just barely missed, and crashing into the comet, it exploded into pieces the size of molecules. Another hundred years went by and the four remaining pods passed a green, gaseous moon, and a few months later entered the atmosphere made up mostly of nitrogen, oxygen, argon and carbon dioxide of a medium sized planet. The hulls of the pods glowed bright red as they broke through storm clouds. As the hulls cooled and with their speed slowed to x 100 mph they flew vertically for hundreds of miles over canopied jungles and verdant plains. In formation they dropped to the planet's surface and skid across miles of blue sand before coming to a stop near the edge of a river. They remained there, resting for a month, before the top of the first pod opened.
The man inside gasped and sat bolt upright and waited for the burning in his lungs to stop as he tried to control his breathing. Stirred by hot breezes, sand stung his naked body and filled his ears and nostrils. He brushed it from his eyes as he opened them and looked around. His view on the left side was blocked by the lid of the pod, but on the right, a dark green river wound through a narrow desert surrounded by thick jungle where peaks of small mountains rose from amidst the jungle's interior. He knew the name of things: sand, jungle, river, mountain, but he didn't know who he was, where he was, where he came from, or other than sitting in the pod, how he got there. He knew by looking at his body he was a male, but at that moment, it held no meaning.
It took him nearly a half hour before he felt strong enough to attempt getting out of the pod, falling out of it, rather than climbing out. He knelt in the sand for several minutes before he stood on shaking legs. It was then that he saw the other pods stretched out in a line for miles behind him, the last one partially hidden behind a dune. They were still closed, and try as he might to remember there was nothing about the sight of the other pods that brought back even a flicker of memory. On jellylike legs he walked to the bank of the river, bent down and scooped water in his hands from the crystal clear river and drank from them. The water was cool and sweet. While sitting on the bank, he watched the currents running over the pebbles and rocks that carpeted the riverbed. Unable to remember his own name, he gave himself one. Rock.
Lying hidden on his stomach atop a dune, Rock watched a band of creatures as they marched across piles of rocks that spanned the river. They were about the same size as he was, but resembled sticks with branchlike legs and arms, with round heads covered with bulging eyes that constantly moved around from place to place on their faces. Over the past three days he had watched them walk back and forth, coming out of the jungle at one side of the desert, and hours later after crossing the hot sand and over the river, enter the jungle at the other side. There seemed to be no purpose to what they were doing and his head ached from trying to understand what they were thinking, which proved an impossibility. His ability to read their minds, or at least to enter their minds, came to him as naturally as breathing. He didn't question it. As they crossed the river and began their trek to the jungle on the other side, he turned, ran down the dune, and ran the four miles to the other pods without stopping. At the second pod, he put his ear to its hull and listened for any sound inside. He tried to reach the mind of whoever was in it, but that was met with a black veil that he couldn't penetrate.
Until night began to fall, and the sky turned from bright orange to deep gold, he stayed in the pod and slept or tried to recall all the things about who he was that he had forgotten. The inside of the pod was totally smooth, like white glass, with no instruments or markings. The floor of the pod was only slightly softer than the sides and top, but it was made of the same material as the rest of the pod. Being in the pod was like being inside an egg. He remembered eggs. When night fell, a blackness that spread across the sky so swiftly that it was startling, he climbed out of the pod and went to the river and watched the bloated applesized creatures that lived under the riverbed rocks come out and bob up and down on the river's currents. They had no minds to read, so he waded in, scooped a number of them in his arms, and carried them back to the pod. There he sat in the sand and ate them. They satisfied his hunger, and just as importantly, they gave him additional strength and energy and enhanced his already telescopic vision. He named them bobs.
As he sat back against the pod, satiated with bobs, he stared up at the starsplattered sky and tried to imagine what traveling through space would be like. Then he heard footsteps in the sand.
"Where are we?" a voice that entered his mind asked.
He jumped up and saw standing a few feet away a beautiful young woman with dark brown skin and black braided hair that hung to her bare torso. Her physique was as magnificently sculptured and as muscular as his. He immediately repressed his sexual thoughts about her. "I don't know," he thought in return. "Do you remember anything? Who you are? Where we come from?"
As she searched her memory, trying to find something of her past, something beyond the immediate moment, he read her thoughts, riding the path of her mental neurons. Her thoughts began at the same place his did, from the moment of waking in the pod. She too read his thoughts.
"You have a name, Rock," she transmitted to him. "I have no name that I can remember."
"I named myself," he thought back. He pointed to the sky. "I'll name you night if that is okay with you?"
She let out a chuckle. "That is fine with me," she said, her voice raspy. She rubbed her throat. "That hurt," she thought. "How long were we in the pods?" she transmitted.
"I have no idea," he answered. "There are two more pods. Maybe someone in one of them will have the answers."
"Is there any water nearby?" she asked, speaking.
"I'll take you to the river," he spoke in return.
Rock and Night climbed out of their pods as soon as pale orange light flashed across the sky as if a bulb had been suddenly turned on. They ate the last of the bobs they had gathered from the river the night before, and then trotted at a steady pace across the six miles of desert to the border of the jungle. Their minds had been silent until they stood beneath the waving branches of an enormous tree that reached out over the sand.
"Can you hear the tree thinking?" Night thought. She grasped her head, trying to contain the sudden ache that filled her brain.
"I hear them all," Rock responded, feeling as if his head would explode. "They talk to one another in the same way as you and me but they don't control their thoughts".
"Why is it if we remember so many other details not related to who we are we didn't we know about how the trees communicate?" Night asked, straining to speak.
Rock glanced up at large peanut shaped red fruit that hung from the tree's branches and pointed at them. "I wondered that myself. I don't recall those, this color of sand, or an orange sky, the bobs, or the stick men either."
"Every day they walk from this side of the jungle, across the desert, to the other side, and then back again. There seems to be no purpose in it at all and I'm unable to read their minds."
In that moment a giant claw reached out from between the trees, grabbed Night, and pulled her into the jungle. Her scream was sharp and short.
Rock rushed into the underbrush after her, shoving aside dark blue flowers with razor sharp petals that spun on their stems, yellow fernlike plants that spat noxious fumes, and large groves of stick men that remained absolutely still, their roots holding them in place. There were fallen branches but no path on the ground that marked the way that whatever had grabbed Night had gone. He turned his mind on and off, hoping she was doing the same, providing him with a beacon of sorts, but in those instances only the chatter of the trees filled his head. For several hours his body's strength and stamina allowed him to maintain a swift pace through the jungle without tiring, but his uncertainty that he was headed in the right direction wore on him. When he reached the base of a small mountain, he looked up to see the entrances to caves dug into its side.
He thought, "Night, are you in there somewhere?"
It was very brief and almost indiscernible amidst the cacophonous thoughts of the trees, but her thought came back, "I'm here."
It was just enough to give him a direction to take. He began to climb the jagged rocks that formed the mountain, using his powerful arms and legs to propel his body from one rocky ledge to the next. Half way up the mountain he stopped outside the first cave he had come upon and listened with his ears and his mind. Their were stirrings inside and the unformed thoughts of a wild beast he couldn't understand, but no sign that Night was inside. He climbed further, passing several caves with the same outcome, until he was near the top. Inside he could hear Night talking, but using images she formed in her thoughts instead of words.
"We mean you no harm," she thought, showing them images of a peaceful meadow. She paused. "Do you understand?"
There was silence for several moments. Rock opened his mind. The jumbled thoughts of whatever was in the cave with Night came back as images: the pods breaking through the clouds and skimming across the sand, his pod opening, he and Night running across the desert.
Rock glanced skyward and thought about space. He then stepped into the cave. A long snakelike creature with wings, two short front appendages tipped with giant claws, owllike eyes, and a curved, sharp, bird's beak, was curled up beside a bed of leaves that Night was sitting on.
Night saw him and quickly shot him the thought, "It, they, only think in images," she said.
"I know," he replied. He sent the creature an image of a rock and pointed to his chest.
The creature sent them the image of many mountains, each with caves, most of them empty.
"What does it mean?" Night transmitted to Rock.
"I'm not certain, but we can't live in the pods forever," he answered
"If we came from somewhere other than this planet it explains why that creature seemed so confused by me, our presence," Night said. "It couldn't form any images of us from its memory."
"I've had nothing but questions since I climbed out of my pod. I'm certain if you hadn't shown up I would have gone insane."
Night chuckled. "Look." She pointed at the third pod. There was a man standing near it.
Rock and Night dashed across the last stretch of sand transmitting their greetings to the man.
"Seeing you two is a beautiful sight," the man transmitted.
"So is seeing you," Night returned as a thought.
Rock repressed his real thoughts about the newcomer being another man. "Welcome to home," he transmitted.
Rock and Night met the man alongside his pod. For a brief moment the interchanged thoughts of the man and Night were blocked to Rock as he watched what he thought was an intimate exchanged glance between them. Night looked at the newcomer in a way she hadn't looked at him. And then the man's thoughts rushed out.
"Give us a minute and we'll answer all of the questions you have," Rock transmitted.
The man calmed his racing thoughts. "Most importantly, who am I?" he thought.
"We don't know just as we have no idea who we are," Night responded. She placed her hand gently on his arm. "You'll need a name," she said. "I'm Night and he is Rock."
He gazed up at the white sun and then into her eyes. "Heat," he transmitted.
Rock and Heat laid sidebyside near the top of a dune and watched as a long line of stick men began to enter the jungle.
It had been two months since Heat came out of his pod. He and Night had entered both sides of the jungle numerous times alone to gather fruit, blocking their thoughts from Rock when they returned. Night parsed her time between the two men, making crude tools from the rocks in the river with Rock, and building a shelter with Heat from branches and leaves brought back from the jungle by the two of them. Rock had remembered how to make fire by rubbing sticks together and at night the three of them sat around a camp fire and ate bobs, but it was at those times that Heat and Night shared their thoughts, blocking Rock from listening in. Rock was careful not to let his despairing thoughts of spending the remainder of his life without a mate from being read. He shielded his thoughts of smashing Heat's skull as he tightly grasped the club he made using a stone from the river and wood and vines that Night had brought back from the jungle.
"Let's follow them," Heat said with his voice, and suddenly jumped up. As he ran with dizzying speed toward the jungle, Rock followed a short distance behind, the club held in his right hand.
They entered the jungle, avoiding the spikes with mouths full of jagged teeth that stuck up from the ground, and drops of tree sap the size of basketballs that fell from the canopy. It didn't take them long to reach a grove where stick men were rooted in the ground. The stick men that had just crossed the desert were mixing among those in the ground, stirring the dirt around them, giving them water, and removing vines that had curled around their bases.
"These are stick men nurseries," Heat transmitted.
Rock raised his club and brought it down on Heat's head. Heat fell to the ground. All of the walking stick men turned toward where Rock was standing and en masse emitted a high pitched screech. Rock dropped the club and fell to his knees, covered his ears, trying to stop their piercing cry from invading his thoughts. The stick men began to walk toward him.
"What have you done?" Night transmitted angrily to Rock as she came up behind him, grabbed his long blonde hair, and pulled him up. "These things, these stick men, now know we have the potential for violence."
"I thought it was just going to be me and you," Rock voiced.
Night bent down, checked Heat's carotid artery for a pulse, and finding one, lifted him on her shoulder. "The decision that you and I weren't meant to be alone was made for us," she said in return. She turned and ran through the jungle with Rock following, leaving the horde of walking stick men far behind.
It had been six months since Heat and Night left their pods and left the encampment by the river to find a cave to live in together. Occasionally one of them would transmit a thought about a newly discovered food source or new plant or animal to Rock who lived in a shack built around his pod but they had mostly shut him out from transmitting, and he did the same. After a brief sandstorm Rock cleared the sand from the remaining closed pod and tried to find a way to open it, but as always he was unsuccessful. He sat in the sand next to it and chewed on a leaf that tasted like fruit. When the lid of the pod rose, he thought he was imagining it.
"I'm Dorra," the young woman sitting up in the pod transmitted as she smiled warmly at Rock and read his questioning thoughts. We come from the planet Earth that was overcrowded with nearly a trillion almost perfect genetically engineered beings. The asteroid that was heading its direction was discovered before preparations for how to deal with it could be planned. They got a few thousand of us off the planet by putting us in pods and sending us in paired groups throughout space toward distant galaxies and planets to colonize and continue the human race. This must be our new home.
Then he remembered. "I'm Lon," he transmitted back.