Jungle, Unknown—22:30, 9 March, 2086
Alone, he ran.
Wet ferns slapped against his face and arms as he pushed forward blindly. The moonlight could barely penetrate the thick canopy above, blanketing the jungle in shadows. Soft rain droplets mixed with the sweat dripping down his face. Despite the rain and the darkness, he ran. Terrified, he advanced through the trees, moving quickly but cautiously, trying not to lose his footing against the slick gnarled roots. His ears throbbed with the sound of his own heartbeat.
Don’t slow down.
Need to hide, need to get away.
The thumping of heavy footsteps followed close behind. The trees rustled in the distance from some unknown force, some unknown creature, as it chased him through the black, storm-lashed night.
Ahead the forest thinned slightly as a clearing opened up, a path in the jungle. The man felt a small sensation of dread swell in his chest. He slowed a fraction as he burst from the thick undergrowth onto the enormous dirt path.
A shadow flashed across the path before him. It was small, about the size of a human, but it moved with incredible speed. For a moment he wondered if his eyes were playing tricks on him. The shadow reappeared, closer this time and moving slower. As it came toward him it was growing in extent. It was not human sized at all. It was enormous; a monstrous figure obscured by the darkness. And it was coming toward him.
The man panicked. He tried to stop running mid-step, but in doing so he lost his footing. He slipped in the mud and hit the ground hard, rolling several times before sliding to a stop on the wet earth. A rising pain began to fill his abdomen; the impact must have been more severe than he realized. He was in the middle of the path, totally exposed. With his face buried in mud, he opened a single eye in time to see an enormous three-toed claw sinking into the sludge beside him. He squeezed his eyes shut again, ignoring the pain coursing through his gut.
Maybe it didn’t see.
He held his breath. He could hear the creature standing above him, breathing deep hollow breaths. It was sniffing, searching. He could feel the warmth of its breath against his back.
From behind, the man heard the nearby trees shake and snap as something else huge crashed onto the path. The creature that had been pursuing him had finally caught up.
The second creature entered the clearing and paused. For a moment, the jungle was quiet as the two beasts sized each other up. Suddenly the creature with the huge three-toed foot hovering over the man broke the silence with an ungodly roar; a deep resonating bellow which vibrated the ground beneath the man’s face. In return the second animal snarled aggressively; it was a guttural, gravelly hiss. Suddenly, three-toes lunged forward, stepping clear over the man who still lay silently in the mud.
Without missing a beat, the man sprang to his feet. To his right was a large tree with thick buttress roots which wound together creating a hollow, just big enough for a small person to fit inside. He ran to the tree, clutching at his stomach, and jammed his body into the crevice. His ears were ringing from the trumpeting roars and growls as the two titans brawled behind him. He could still feel his heart thumping in his ears. He tried to turn his body to see the creatures outside but he couldn’t move. Glancing down, he saw his field-medic kit. The carabiner which connected the kit to his belt had jammed between the intersecting roots.
He was stuck, facing the huge tree, staring into darkness.
From behind, he could hear the battle raging; the wet smacking of flesh against flesh, the crunching of bones, the snapping of nearby branches. The sounds of these monsters were from another world. The three-toed creature moaned and growled from deep in its throat, projecting a profound and deafening sound, reminiscent of a lion’s roar. The second beast hissed and snarled, more like a crocodile or snake. Each sound sent shivers down the man’s spine.
Another blood-curdling wail rang out, vibrating the man’s eardrums. Judging by the sound, it was the second creature, the one that had pursued him through the night. Warm thick liquid splashed across his back. He reached a loose hand to his shoulder and felt the sticky substance: blood. The hissing and snarling slowly subsided, giving way to deep and raspy breathing; followed by a loud thump as a huge body crashed onto the earth. Lightning cracked and thunder rolled as the victor bellowed a deep and triumphant howl over its adversary.
The man held his breath again, praying the winner would not come looking for him. After a few moments he could hear the sound of large footsteps moving away, into the jungle, into the distance.
The man remained frozen for several minutes, too terrified to move. He could still feel the warm and sticky blood on his shoulders. After a few moments, his heartbeat began to slow, his breathing returned to normal. A shiver rippled across his body as he started to feel cold. The jungle was silent again, save for the sound of the pounding rain and the occasional distant thunder crack.
He’d made it.
The man tried to wriggle free from the hollow but he was still attached to the medical kit, which was firmly wedged between the tree-roots. Carefully, he maneuvered a free hand down to his waist and unclipped the carabiner, and the kit, from his belt. As soon as he was free he backed away from the roots clumsily.
He looked up and down the path for any signs of movement. As he did so, he stepped backward, slipping slightly as he came into contact with the huge pool of blood seeping toward him. The man turned sharply and found himself standing only meters from the fallen creature. It was a hideous beast, like something out of a child’s nightmare. Its hulking mass moved slightly. A shiver skipped across the man’s spine. For a moment he made eye contact with the beast, his stomach tensed; but its eyes were empty and dull; it was dead.
The man clutched his stomach as the pain continued to intensify. He pressed lightly on his right side, just below the ribcage, and groaned in agony. He doubled over, trying to breathe through it. As he opened his eyes again, the man saw something strange. Lying on the ground at his feet was a beautiful yellow feather the size of his forearm. It was completely out of place in the depths of the jungle. He crouched down and picked it up. It was unlike anything he had ever—WHACK.
University of Oxford, Oxford—21:00, 10 March, 2086
A middle-aged man sat alone in the basement of the Earth Sciences department at Oxford University. It had always amused him the school was still referred to as “Earth Sciences,” despite the fact his lab was full of core samples from around the solar system. The Geologist stared through a microscope at a sample he’d received earlier that morning. The container was covered in a bright red sticker which read “TOP SECRET.” He marveled at the shape and color of the mineral magnified under the fluorescent light. It looked so familiar, so ordinary, and yet he knew this mineral had been extracted from the surface of some unknown planet.
A soft chime, accompanied by a flashing red light, sounded on his desktop. It was the communication equipment. He stared at the light for a moment and frowned. The signal was coming from off-world. He engaged the message.
The holographic projector on his desk remained dark, which meant whoever was sending the message did not want their face displayed. A raspy voice came over the speakers.
“Terra, this is ET,” said the voice. “Alexandrite confirmed. At least a hundred carats. But that’s not the best part. There’s more to this place than we thought. Think silver value.” The voice paused, clearly excited. “We’re gonna be rich.”
“Who’s that?” came a cockney voice from behind.
The Geologist paused the message and turned abruptly. He’d forgotten the janitor came in afterhours to clean the lab, after everyone had left for the day.
“Apparently that was ET,” said the Geologist snidely. “Guess he figured out how to phone home.”
The janitor didn’t react.
The Geologist frowned. “Not familiar with Spielberg? He was only the Shakespeare of twentieth century film.” He eyed the thick black hair hanging loosely over the janitor’s eyes and the thin layer of stubble which covered the bottom half of his face. His clothes were old and worn; he was not a man of means. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.”
“What’s Alexandrite?” asked the janitor curiously.
The Geologist eyed the tall thin man suspiciously. “Alexandrite is the rarest gemstone on Earth, which means it’s incredibly valuable.”
The janitor frowned. “Then why did he say ‘think silver value?’ Wouldn’t silver be less valuable?”
The Geologist shrugged, turning back to his desktop. “No idea. Silver isn’t even a gemstone. Guess ET doesn’t understand much about geology.”
The Geologist continued to play the message. “We’re gonna be rich . . . But we’re gonna need backup. Shit is starting to hit the fan here. I’ll do what I can from our end, but it looks like we might need to enact the failsafe protocol. You know what to do.”
With his back turned, the Geologist couldn’t see the thin smile creep across the janitor’s face.