Author : Benjamin Sixsmith
The planet was nothing to look at. An immense red desert, it was so flat that one could hardly have believed it curled. As FO James Beckwith alighted on its sands he looked about with a frown. SO Mary Harding appeared beside him and opened her mouth to swear.
Then the music started. It was like the first dramatic chords of a strings section as an opera began, except louder, thicker and more reverberant. The crew members who had been appearing on the planet dropped to their chests as if anticipating explosions.
“Hold!” cried Beckwith as a buoyant melody, as if from a giant viola, deafened him. “Hold your positions!”
The music faded and a wind tore across the surface of the planet, blowing sand into their faces.
“What was that?”
Harding adjusted her helmet as its voicebox spluttered in and out of action.
“We’ve got nothing, sir,” said the FT, surveying her sensors.
“Perhaps it was an illusion,” Beckwith muttered.
“Let’s collect our samples, tick our box and get the hell out of here.”
At that moment the sands parted in front of them and a being leaped to the surface. The humans had a glimpse of purple limbs and black teeth, which seemed fearsome enough that Beckwith whipped his arm out and pressed the button that trained lasers on its flesh. His crew followed him and bolts of light converged upon the being. It swelled and exploded in a shower of violet nodules and green fluid.
Beckwith was exhaling when there was another noise, as if of an earthquake. He stared about the landscape as he realised that it sounded like prolonged, enthusiastic applause.
“Jesus,” Harding said, her eyes so bright that they shone through the dusty visor, “We have to get out here.”
The sound ended abruptly and there was a low, grumbling noise.
“We are being watched,” said Beckwith, “Is it some kind of challenge?”
He heard a man gasp behind him and saw an ST pointing across the landscape. A black box was nestled in the sand.
“Did you not get that?” Harding asked the baffled technicians.
“The sensors must have broken.”
At Beckwith’s command the ST directed a small ray at the box. A light flashed and he nodded. Beckwith walked across the sands and picked it up. Something small and hard rattled about the insides of its walls. Inhaling, he burst the lock. The lid opened, a cloud of sand exploded in his face and the box disappeared as there was an eruption of high and raucous noise. It sounded like laughter.
Beckwith wiped his gloves over his helmet.
“I am First Officer James Beckwith and I represent Galaxías Kýklos! We came in peace and respect!”
The laughter continued.
“Perhaps we should assume that they are hostile, sir,” said Harding.
There was a pause. Everything was still and silent. Beckwith turned to his SO, whose fists were clenched, and felt resentment towards their mysterious tormentors surge within him.
The ground disappeared from beneath the humans and their twisted, fragile bodies fell through a cloud of sand and into an abyss from which they knew no end. The landscape settled and applause rang throughout the Planet that Amused Itself.
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
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