This week, my writing prompt comes from my long-suffering partner in crime, Samwise. Her suggestion was that I write about a world where humans do not exist. I think this is a great prompt which gave me a several ideas right away. In fact, I may revisit the prompt another time because there are lots of stories I’d like to write from it!
After some thought, I decided to give the subject a sci-fi twist and take some of the focus away from the human-less planet. I hope you enjoy what I’ve managed to come up with.
P.S. If any of you would like to suggest a prompt for me to use in the future, please feel free to let me know by leaving a comment. Thanks!
By Adam Dixon
When the shining rock burst out of the sky and crashed into the ocean the dolphins hurried to see it. Its landing had been terrifying; it had slammed into the ocean and tidal waves had erupted from the depths like roused giants fleeing for the shore. It took them many days to swim from their respective territories across the world, but the rock had remained inactive during that time, floating and steaming silently. Bobbing upon the warm waves near the shores of southern Spain, the Seven Kings and Seven Queens of the Seas clicked and screeched to one another in agitation as they waited for…something. They couldn’t explain it but they knew that the appearance of the rock was only the beginning of something incredibly important. Some parted the seawater in smooth movements as they circled the huge floating object, not quite knowing what to make of it. It appeared to have been crafted by hand and so was not simply a rock after all. It was unlike anything the Simian-Builders could hope to produce and the workmanship far exceeded them. The material was smooth and gleaming in the sunlight, and they could not understand its buoyancy. It was too large and heavy and its surface area too oddly-shaped to allow it to float, but float it did. It had caused a panic when it had been spotted as a ball of flame tearing across the sky but soon the animals’ fear had given way to curiosity. Finally, the combined minds of the Intelligent Species had identified it as some kind of great shell, most likely containing a living thing. That idea alone was enough to send ripples of awe and apprehension through the ranks of the world. A living thing which came from beyond the sky! What did it mean?
The dolphins were nervous and squeaked in excitement as the front of the shell began to hiss, seeming to break open and push a small section away from the main bulk. The score of apes in attendance grunted and whooped on board their sturdy wooden barge. The barge was lashed to the back of a great whale, who occasionally saw fit to spray its passengers with discharge from its blow-hole. The hulking gorillas ignored the action but the chimpanzees and monkeys leapt about, screeching their annoyance. Eagles, hawks and other majestic birds of prey circled overhead, watching the proceedings with keen eyes and ready talons. They, at least, would not be slaves to their emotions. White smoke billowed out from the shell, followed by the dim silhouette of a large, hunched creature.
“Something is coming!” the king of the Arctic Ocean squeaked. “And it has fire in its shell!” His fellows angrily bade him to be silent. They could not afford to become overexcited. Their coal-black eyes watched as the creature shuffled forwards through the smoke and revealed its form. It was a huge being, reaching seven feet tall despite being bent almost double on three hind legs. Its legs were muscular and hairless, with its dark blue skin shimmering in the light like scales. It had two long, tree-like arms which ended in sharp, tough claws. It had no visible neck, but it had one large, yellow eye at the front, left and right side of its head. Wide below its eyes appeared to be nostrils, but the animals could not see a mouth or a snout anywhere on its face. A sour, unnatural smell emanated from the creature, raising hackles and ruffling feathers in disgust. It was certainly not a smell known to animals, not even to their ancestral memory. The significance of the meeting settled on each creature like a leaden shroud.
“What is it?” the queen of the Pacific Ocean asked, her clicks subdued in wonder. No-one answered her.
It stood on the threshold of its spacecraft, taking in its surroundings. The planet’s nearest star was close enough to provide ample warmth but the glare forced it to squint its eyes. That had been a mistake; it should have calculated for such an inevitability. If the hunter’s vision was impaired, then the hunter lost its prey. It took in careful sips of air, sampling its flavours. The air was clean and unpolluted with plenty of oxygen, although it would have more comfortable with extra nitrogen. It began attempting to identify the various creatures attending it via their strong, individual scents. The water covering the landing spot had an almost overpowering scent of salt which made differentiation a challenge. Another potential hindrance to a hunt, it noted. The damp, silky beings were the closest and one of them swam towards it.
“Strange creature,” the queen of the Indian Ocean chattered, raising herself up to her full height in the water. “I bid you welcome to our domain. You are being addressed by the Seven Kings and Seven Queens of the Seas, alpha-mammals all and elected spokes-creatures for all life. Close by are representatives of the gallant Sky-Creatures and the Simian-Builders. Please identify yourself. Be you animal, vegetable or mineral? Do you come for a home, for a mate or for prey?” She flicked her tail to remain in her proud position, staring intently at the creature. The other dolphins bobbed in silence, waiting for any response. The creature gazed out at the assembled lifeforms impassively, turning its body to encompass them all in its wide field of vision. The tension from the animals was as palpable as the warmth of the sun and the caress of the wind on their skin, fur and feathers. The creature made no indication of understanding, it merely stood in its shell with its nostrils flaring as it tasted the air.
It was good to feel an atmosphere again, despite the frivolity of such desires. The creature counted fifty-four lifeforms in its immediate vicinity, including those in the sky. It concluded that it had been reckless to expose itself to three potential angles of attack, but it had been curious. Curious and bored. It had been a long journey to reach this small blue planet, and its orders were to scout for information, after all. But a hunter did not reveal itself to the prey, a hunter waited. It had failed this most basic lesson…
“I repeat, please identify yourself,” the queen of the Indian Ocean squeaked, her pitch betraying her impatience. Still the creature said nothing. A guttural hooting came from the whale-barge, and one of the gorillas, a proud silverback, was calling to the dolphins.
“I think the Simian is correct, my queen,” the king of the Atlantic Ocean clicked. “The creature doesn’t appear to understand us.”
“Hmmph! Perhaps!” the queen of the Indian Ocean snapped. “But tell that brute to keep his opinions to himself! He and his kind have our blessing to observe, not to make suggestions, sharks take them all!” The silverback was swiftly remonstrated and attention swung back to the alien. What was it, and what was it doing there?
It watched the collection of species before it with great interest. There were a wondrous variety of creatures on the planet, some of which appeared to be bound completely to the ocean. It was impressed by the ingenuity of the large, hairy beings who had braved and conquered the seas, albeit with the aid of a lesser, but gigantic, species. That indicated great potential. What of the aquatic creatures, though? They had attempted to communicate with it, that much was certain. Its tiny ears were hurt by the high-pitched calls of the individual which had addressed it. That one was clearly their leader. It would have to watch with caution. What else? Judging by the way that all of the creatures stared at its spacecraft it deduced that they had not seen metalwork before. They also did not possess any form of ground-to-air defences; it had simply coasted onto their planet at its leisure! So, they were primitive despite their obvious intelligence and were many generations away from space-travel yet. That was a pity, as perhaps they would have provided the challenge its people sought otherwise…
“I shall try to communicate using echolocation,” the queen of the Indian Ocean declared, swimming gracefully in a circle in order to look at each of her subjects and fellows. “It will not work as effectively on the surface, but it’s worth a try, I believe. Stand by…”
What was the leader doing now? It had moved through the waves with the ease of a great hunter, casting its eyes on the others gathered around it. Such an effective adaption; those creatures would prove difficult to best in the water. Something was about to happen, and the alien stood calmly as it waited. It reared up in alarm and pain as an assault of noise sent shock-waves into its skull. What was that?!
The animals screeched, yelled and chattered in astonishment as the creature made its first reaction since appearing to them. Most of them could only just make out the high-pitched series of clicks the dolphin was making, but they saw that the alien could not bear it. The combined racket of the animals only made it worse. It thrashed its huge arms wildly and stomped its three feet, producing a clanging noise from the strange shining shell. Overhead, the leader of the eagles perceived the burst of movement as a display of aggression and shrieked its battle-cry. Spreading his wings wide, he dove down towards the distressed creature, two of his fellows joining him and stretching their razor-like talons.
Despite the intense ringing inside its skull, it still saw the approaching creatures. There was no doubt as to their intentions. It spun and struck out at the winged beasts, its claws tearing into one of them in mid-flight. The creature fell into the ocean with a splash, crimson blood darkening the water and torn feathers decorating the surface. Talons raked across its broad back and above its central eye, ripping open the tight, hardened skin. It staggered in pain and surprise; not even its prey on advanced worlds had managed to break its hide with such ease! So, the planet did have warriors after all… Cool purple blood seeped into its eye and down its back as it took a defensive stance and awaited a second attack. The surviving beasts wheeled and rose high into the air once again. This was more like it!
“Stop! Stop!” the dolphins keened in unison. The creature flinched and the entire gathering of Sky-Beasts halted their lethal dive, pounding their impressive wings to hover a few meters above it. A few seconds later and they would have engulfed the creature. The apes were screeching and leaping about in a fury, smelling the acrid blood of the stranger and roaring their challenges to it. The whale beneath them became agitated, rocking the platform violently in an attempt to dislodge the barge. The apes panicked and tried their best to calm the whale with soothing ululations, clambering down the side of the platform to gently pat its glistening skin. The great beast stopped rocking, but sprayed water in agitation. The dolphins took stock of their surroundings, making sure that everything was once again under control before turning to face the creature. They were dismayed to see the creature lumbering back inside its shell and it closing up behind it. The oddly-shaped thing hummed and whirred unnaturally and a maelstrom of foam and heated water spun beneath it as it began to lift off from the sea.
It flicked switches and touched flashing screens with its pointed claws, irritated by the red blood which was smeared across the controls. It had underestimated the earthlings, which had been a grave error considering how hopelessly outnumbered it was. It had refused to give in to its blood-rage and had recognised the need to flee, but it had learned plenty during the brief visit. The creatures it had seen were intelligent and would make worthy adversaries, but it had concluded with certainty that the planet was not ready for interstellar combat. It glanced up at the preserved skeletons of defeated creatures from across the universe; grisly trophies which decorated every single ship of its people. They were warriors and lived for the thrill of battle, but they did not wish to engage in combat with creatures of lesser worth or prowess. No, this Earth was not yet ready. But it would be, and when its people returned in force…those would be glorious days! It closed its eyes as its craft sped through Earth’s atmosphere, imagining with longing the war to come. Soon, they would return…