The house shook. A picture fell off a shelf, and its glass front smashed as it hit the floor. There was a very loud crash from outside the house. Sally Fontain went to the window and opened the curtain. She looked out into the dark.
`I can’t see anything,’ she said.
`Noises like that remind me of the war,’ said Graham, to whom she was engaged. `Do you think somebody is starting a new one?’
As he was speaking, the door of the room opened and Sally’s father put his head in.
`Did you hear that?’ he asked. `I think it was a small meteor. I saw a faint flash in the field beyond the garden. Let’s go and find it.’
They put on their coats, got their torches, and went out into the dark. The object had hit the ground in the middle of the field. It had made a hole about two metres across. They looked into the hole, but could see nothing except newly disturbed earth. Sally’s dog, Mitty, was very interested in the earth and put her nose into it to smell it.
`I’m sure it’s a small meteor, and it’s buried itself in the ground,’ said Sally’s father. `We’ll get some men to dig it out tomorrow.’
From Onns’s Diary
The best way to introduce these notes on our journey is to report Great Leader Cottaft’s speech to us. On the day before we left Forta he called us all together and said: Tomorrow, the Globes will go out. Tomorrow, the science and skill of Forta will win a victory over nature. There were other races on Forta before ours, but they could not control nature so they died as conditions changed. We have become stronger, and we have solved problem after problem. And now we must solve the most difficult problem of all. Forta, our world, is old and nearly dead. The end is near, and we must escape while we are still healthy and strong. We must find a new home and make sure our race survives. ‘Tomorrow the Globes will set out to search the heavens in every direction. Each one of you holds the whole history, art, science, and skill of Forta. Use this knowledge to help others. Learn from others, and add to Forta’s knowledge, if you can. If you do not use your knowledge and add to it, there will be no future for our race.
‘And if we are the only intelligent life in the universe, then you are responsible not only for our race, but for all intelligent life that may develop.’Go out into the universe, then. Go and be wise, kind, and truthful. Go in peace. Our prayers go with you.’
After the meeting I looked again through the telescope at the planet to which our Globe is being sent. It is a planet which is neither too young nor too old. It shines like a blue pearl because so much of it is covered with water. I am glad we are going to the blue planet; the other Globes are being sent to worlds that do not look so inviting. I am full of hope. I no longer have any fear. I shall go into the Globe tomorrow, and the gas will put me to sleep. When I wake again, it will be in our shining new world. If I do not wake, something will have gone wrong, but I shall never know.It is all very simple really−if we trust in God. This evening I went down to look at the Globes for the last time before we board them. They are amazing! Our scientists have achieved the impossible. They are the largest things ever built. They are so heavy that they look more likely to sink into the surface of Forta than to fly off into space. It is hard to believe that we have built thirty of these metal mountains. But there they stand, ready for tomorrow.
Some of them will be lost. Oh, God, if ours survives, I hope that we can meet the challenges and satisfy the trust placed in us. These may be the last words I shall ever write. If I do write again, it will be in a new world under a strange sky.
* * *
`It’s in the outhouse,’ Sally told the Police Inspector who had come to see the meteor. `It didn’t go deep into the ground, so the men dug it out very quickly. And it wasn’t as hot as we expected, so they were able to carry it easily.’
She led the Inspector across the garden, with her father and Graham following. They all went into the outhouse, which was built of brick, with a floor of wooden boards. The meteor lay in the middle of the floor. It was less than a metre in diameter, and looked like an ordinary ball of metal.
`I’ve informed the War Office,’ said the Inspector. `You were wrong to touch it, and you must leave
it alone until the War Office expert has examined it. You say it’s a meteor, but it may be some kind of secret weapon.’
He turned away and they all started to go back into the garden. Just as he was going out of the door, the Inspector stopped.
`What’s that hissing sound?’ he asked.
`Hissing?’ repeated Sally.
`Yes. A kind of hissing noise. Listen!’
They stood still. They could all hear the faint hissing that the Inspector was talking about. It was difficult to know where it was coming from, but they all turned and looked at the meteor.
Graham walked up to the metal ball, and bent over it with his right ear turned down to it.
`Yes,’ he said. `The noise is coming from the meteor.’
Then his eyes closed and he fell to the floor. The others ran to him and pulled him out of the outhouse. In the fresh air his eyes opened almost immediately.
`What happened?’ he asked.
`You’re sure the sound was coming from that thing?’ asked the Inspector.
`Oh, yes. No doubt about it,’ said Graham as Sally helped him to stand up.
`Did you smell anything strange?’ asked the Inspector.
`Do you mean gas? No, I don’t think so,’ said Graham.
`Hmm,’ said the Inspector. `Do meteors usually hiss, Mr Fontain?’
`I don’t think so,’ said Sally’s father.
`Neither do I,’ said the Inspector. `But I do think we should find somewhere safe to wait until the
From Onns’s Diary
I have just woken up. Has it happened, or have we failed to start? I cannot tell. Was it an hour ago that we entered the Globe? Or was it a day, or a year, or a century? It cannot have been an hour ago. I am sure of that, because my body is tired and aching. However, it seems only a short time ago that we climbed the long passage into the Globe and went to our places. Each one of us found his or her compartment and crawled into it. I fastened myself into my compartment. Its plastic walls filled with air and pushed against me, protecting me against shock from all directions. I lay and waited. One moment I lay there fresh and strong. The next moment, it seemed, I was tired and aching. The journey must have ended. The machines have replaced the sleeping−gas with fresh air. The sides of my compartment are empty of air. We must have arrived on that beautiful, shining blue planet, with Forta only a tiny light in our new heavens. I feel full of hope. Until now, my life has been spent on a dying planet. Here, there is a world to build and a future to build for. I can hear our machines at work, opening the long passage which had been filled for the journey. What shall we find, I wonder? What ever this world is like, we must not betray our trust. We each possess a million years of history, and a million years of knowledge. All this must be preserved.
This planet is very young, and if we do find intelligent life, it will be only at its beginning. We must find them and make friends with them. They may be very different from us, but we must remember that this is their world. It would be very wicked to hurt any kind of life on its own planet. If we find any such life, our duty is to teach, and to learn, and to work with them.
* * *
`And what’, asked the Inspector, `is that, Sergeant Brown?’
`It’s a cat, sir,’ Sergeant Brown replied.
`I can see it’s a cat,’ said the Inspector. `I want to know what you’re doing with it.’
`I thought the War Office people might want to examine it, sir,’ he said.
`Do you really think the War Office is interested in dead cats?’ the Inspector asked.
The sergeant explained.
`I went into the outhouse to check on the meteor,’ he said. `I tied a rope round my waist so that my men could pull me out through the door if there was any gas. I crawled up to the ball, but the gas had gone. I put my ear close to the meteor but the hissing had stopped. Instead of the hissing there was a different noise − a faint buzzing.’
`Buzzing?’ repeated the Inspector. `Are you sure you don’t mean hissing?’
`No, sir,’ the sergeant replied. `This was a noise like an electric cutting machine being used a long way away. Anyhow, the noise made me think that the ball was still active. I ordered my men to move into a safe place behind that bank of earth in the garden. Then it was lunch time, so we ate our sandwiches. We saw the cat near the shed, and it must have got in somehow. After I’d finished my sandwiches, I went into the shed to check on the meteor again. That’s when I saw the cat lying near the meteor.’
`Was it killed by gas?’ the Inspector asked.
The sergeant shook his head. `No, sir. That’s what’s strange about it. Look at this.’ He put the cat on the ground, and lifted its head. A small circle of black fur had been burnt away under the chin. In the centre of the burn was a very tiny hole. Then he gently bent the head back again. He pointed to an exactly similar circle and hole on the top of the cat’s head. He took a thin, straight wire from his pocket, and put it into the hole under the chin. The wire went through and came out of the other hole at the top of the head.
`Can you explain that, sir?’ the sergeant asked.
The Inspector frowned. A very small gun, firing tiny bullets from very close to the fur, might have made one of the wounds. But a bullet does not make a neat hole, or burn fur, as it leaves a body. So the two tiny holes could not be the entrance and exit places of the same bullet. Could two of these tiny bullets have been fired in exactly the same line from above and below? No, that was nonsense.
`I’ve no idea what made these marks, sergeant,’ admitted the Inspector. `Have you any suggestions?’
`None at all, sir,’ replied the sergeant.
`And what’s happening to the thing now? Is it still buzzing?’ the Inspector asked.
`No, sir. There wasn’t a sound coming from it when I found the cat.’
`Hmm.’ The Inspector made a worried noise. `I hope the War Office expert comes soon.’
From Onns’s Diary
This is a terrible place! Is this really the beautiful blue planet that promised so much? We are by far the most advanced race there has ever been, but we are terrified by the horrible monsters around us.
We are hiding in a dark cave. There are nine hundred and sixty-four of us. There were a thousand. This is how we lost the others. The machines clearing the passage out of the Globe stopped. We crawled out of our compartments and met in the centre hall of the Globe. Sunss, our leader, made a short speech. He reminded us that we must be brave as we went into the unknown. We were the seed of the future, and we were responsible for taking Forta into the future. We went through the long passage, and left the Globe.
How can I describe this terrible world? It is a dull and shadowy place, although it is not night−time. What little light there is comes from a huge square hanging in the sky. The square is divided into four smaller squares by two black bars.We stood on a very wide level plain, but a plain such as I have never seen before.We could not see an end to it, whichever way we looked. It was made of rows of straight, endless, parallel roads all going the same way. (I call them roads, because they looked like roads, but each one was much wider than any road I have ever seen.) Each road was divided from the next by a deep, straight cutting as wide as my height. The man next to me said that we had come into a world of straight lines lit by a square sun. I told him he was talking nonsense. However, I could not explain what I saw. Suddenly we heard a noise, and looked towards it. We saw an enormous face looking at us from round the Globe. It was high above us, and it was black. It had two pointed ears, the size of towers, and two huge, shining eyes. As the monster came towards us round the Globe, we saw its legs, which were like great columns. We turned to run away, so great was our terror. Then the monster moved like lightning. A huge black paw, suddenly showing long, sharp claws, smacked down. When the paw was raised again, twenty of our men and women were no more than marks on the ground. The paw came down again. Eleven more of us were killed. Sunss, our leader, ran forward and stood between the monster’s front paws. His fire−tube was in his hands. He aimed and fired. I thought the weapon would have no effect on such a huge creature, but Sunss knew better. Suddenly the monster’s head went up, and then the creature dropped dead.
And Sunss was under it. He was a very brave man. We chose Iss as our next leader. He decided we must find a place of safety as soon as possible. Once we had found one, we could remove our records, instruments and equipment from the Globe. He started to lead us forward along one of the wide roads.
After travelling a very long way, we reached the bottom of a cliff. It went straight up in front of us. Its surface was made up of strangely regular blocks of rock. We walked along the bottom of the cliff, and found a cave, which went a long way into the cliff and to both sides. Again, the cave was very regular in shape and height. Perhaps the man who spoke about the world of straight lines was not as stupid as he seemed . . .Anyway, here we are safe from monsters like the one that killed Sunss. The cave is too narrow for those huge paws to reach inside. Later. A terrible thing has happened! Our Globe has gone.
While Iss had taken a group to explore the cave, the rest of us were on guard at the entrance. We could see our Globe, and the great black monster lying close to it. Then a strange thing happened. Suddenly the plain became lighter. Then there was a noise like thunder, and everything around us shook. A huge object came down on the dead monster and removed it from our sight. The light suddenly faded again.
I cannot explain these things; none of us can understand them. All I can do is to keep an accurate record.
It was some time later when the worst possible thing happened. Again the plain became suddenly lighter and the ground shook. I looked out of the cave, and saw something that I can still hardly believe. Four huge creatures, compared with which the previous monster was very small, were approaching the Globe. I know that nobody will believe this, but they were three or four times the height of our enormous Globe! They bent over it, put their front legs to it, and lifted that unbelievably heavy ball of metal from the ground. Then the ground shook again even more violently as they walked away carrying the extra weight.
Our Globe, with all the precious things in it, is lost. We have nothing now with which to start building our new world. It is bitter to have worked so hard and come sofar for this . . .
But there was more sorrow to come. Two of the group who had gone with Iss returned with a dreadful story. Behind the cave they had found a large number of wide tunnels, full of the dirt and smell of some unknown creatures. As the group went through the tunnels, they were attacked by six−legged, and sometimes eight−legged, creatures of horrible appearance. Many of these were a great deal larger than
themselves, and had huge claws and teeth. However, the creatures, though very fierce, were not intelligent, and were soon killed by our fire−tubes. Iss found open country beyond the tunnels, and decided to come back and fetch us. It was then that the next dreadful thing happened. They were attacked by fierce grey creatures about half the size of the first monster. These creatures were probably the builders of the tunnels. There was a terrible battle in which nearly all our men were killed before the monsters were beaten. Only two men survived to bring us the bad news. We have chosen Muin as our new leader. He has decided we must go forward through the tunnels to the open country beyond. The plain behind us is empty, the Globe has gone, and if we stay here we shall starve. We pray to God that beyond the tunnels we shall find a world that is not mad and evil like this one. Is it too much we ask− simply to live, to work, and to build, in peace . . .?
* * *
Two days later Graham went to see Sally and her father again.
`I thought I’d tell you the latest news about your meteor,’ he said.
`What do the War Office experts say it was?’ asked Mr Fontain.
`They really don’t know,’ said Graham. `But they’re sure it wasn’t a meteor. At first they thought it
was simply a solid ball of some unknown metal. Then they found a hole, which was smooth and about a
centimetre across, going straight into the middle of the ball. They decided to cut the ball in half to see if
the hole led to anything.’
`And did it?’ asked Sally.
`Yes,’ Graham replied. `The ball wasn’t solid, after all. The outside was certainly made of metal,
about fifteen centimetres thick. Then there were three or four centimetres of soft, fine dust. This dust
protected the inside of the ball from heat. It does this job so well that the War Office experts are very
interested in it − it’s better than anything they’ve got. Then there was a thinner layer of metal. Inside that was a layer of soft, plastic material, like a lot of tiny bags all attached to each other. But there was nothing in any of the bags. Then there was another belt of metal about five centimetres wide, divided into compartments. These compartments were packed with all sorts of things. There were tiny tubes, packets of seeds, and different kinds of powders, which were spilled when the ball was cut open. Lastly there was a ten−centimetre space in the very middle, divided by a large number of very thin, flat sheets of metal. Otherwise this central space was entirely empty.
`So that’s the secret weapon! It disappointed the War Office people, as it won’t explode. Now they’re asking each other what’s the purpose of such a thing. If you have any ideas, I’m sure they would be very happy to hear them.’
`That’s disappointing,’ said Mr Fontain. `I was sure it was a meteor, until it started hissing.’
`One of the experts thinks that it may be an artificial meteor. But the other experts disagree. They say that if something was sent across space, it would be for a purpose we could understand. And nobody can make any sense of this hollow metal ball.’
`An artificial meteor built to visit us is much more exciting than a secret weapon,’ said Sally. `It gives us hope that one day we could travel in space ourselves . . . How wonderful it would be to do that! All those people who hate war, and secret weapons, and cruelty, could go to a clean, new planet. We could set out in a huge spaceship, and we could start a new life. We’d be able to leave behind all the things that are making this poor old world worse and worse. All we’d want is a place where people could live, and work, and build, and be happy. And if we could only start again, what a lovely, peaceful world we might− ‘
She stopped suddenly, interrupted by the sound of a dog barking angrily outside. She jumped up as the barking changed to a long cry of pain.
`That’s Mitty!’ she said. `What on earth−?’
She ran out of the house, and the two men followed her. She was the first to see her small white dog lying on the grass beside the outhouse wall. She ran towards it, calling; but the little animal did not move.
`Oh, poor Mitty,’ Sally said. `I think she’s dead!’
She went down on her knees beside the dog’s body.
`She is dead!’ she said. `I wonder what ‘ She suddenly stood up, put her hand to her leg, and held it
tight. `Oh, something has stung me. Oh, it hurts.’ There were tears of pain in her eyes as she rubbed her leg.
`What on earth−?’ began her father, looking down at the dog. `What are all those things? Ants?’
Graham bent down to look.
`No, they’re not ants,’ he said. `I don’t know what they are.’
He picked up one of the tiny creatures to look at it more closely.
It was a strange−looking little thing. Its body was an almost perfect half of a ball, with the flat side
underneath. The round top was pink and shiny. It was like an insect, except that it had only four legs, which were very short. It had no separate head, but it had two eyes on the edge where the curved top of its body met the bottom.
As they looked at it, it stood up on two of its legs, showing a pale flat underside. In its front legs it seemed to be holding a bit of grass or thin wire. Graham felt a sudden burning pain in his hand.
`Hell!’ he exclaimed, shaking the creature off his hand. `The little horrors certainly can sting. I don’t know what they are, but they’re dangerous things to have in the garden or the house. Have you got any insect−killer?’
`Yes. There’s a tin in the kitchen,’ Mr Fontain told him.
Graham ran to the kitchen, and hurried back with the tin in his hand. He looked around, and found
several hundreds of the little pink creatures crawling towards the wall of the outhouse. He shook the tin, and sent a cloud of insect−killer over them. The three people watched as the little creatures crawled more and more slowly. Some of them turned over, weakly waving their legs in the air. Then they lay still.
`We won’t have any more trouble from them,’ Graham said. `Horrible little creatures! I’ve neverseen anything like them − I wonder what on earth they were?’