Sightseers by Eleanor Launchbury (Lucent Dreaming Issue 3)

[Second Place Winner in Lucent Dreaming’s Autumn Short Story Contest]

The big white animals seem very happy to be here. They’re bounding around, not a care to be had, enjoying themselves immensely despite not doing much but prancing about in big leaping strides. They each have a single eye, a vast black circle that takes up all the room on their faces. The eyes are extremely reflective and the creatures move their entire heads to stare at everything, like they can’t believe what they are seeing.

They came out of nowhere. You simply found them here, next to the large dome, making themselves quite at home. If it wasn’t for your impressive self-control, you would be over there right now, asking who they are and where they came from. If the poor creatures know the answers themselves, that is. The way they are running about in circles hints at either an injury or maybe the stupidity of a lesser beast. It is better for you to observe from a distance, ready to run over at a moment’s notice if the situation escalates. For the time being they haven’t ventured far from where they began, but that isn’t to say these curious-looking creatures aren’t about to start exploring once they grow bored of whatever it is they are doing. You may have to intervene if the white animals decide to run further afield; the Others might not be so forgiving of these new creatures as you are. You suppress a shiver when you think of what might happen to them if they were found by the wrong people. Yes, it is best if you leave them to it for the time being, but stay a safe distance away so that you can observe their behaviour and decide for yourself when it is time to step in. No use this whole situation getting messy if it can be helped.

Watching the animals is quite amusing. They have odd heads, clean white domes that are attached straight to the rest of their bodies with no gap in-between. Their backs look hard and angular, a sharp contrast to the soft curves that make up the rest of the beasts’ bodies. You have an urge to touch them, feel if their backs are solid or hollow, stroke the soft skin that covers them from their oblong feet to their rounded heads and find out if it’s as delicate as it appears. There’s not a tooth or claw to be seen and the lack of either blooms an ache in your chest; a strong urge to protect them grows the more you watch.

The poor creatures probably wouldn’t be able to defend themselves if danger came their way, except maybe to roll over and play dead. The thought breeds an influx of theories to roam your mind. Maybe that’s why they were dropped here and abandoned without a way out, because they were the weakest of their kind. Perhaps this is a punishment because the animals were bad. Neither idea seems possible when all the creatures have done the entire time they’ve been here is bounce about joyfully. How could anyone want to punish them?

Sitting here in the dust has forced you to consider the possibilities. You begin to think you should approach them, offer to help them a little, give them shelter if they need it. No need to get anyone else involved, but you decide you can’t sit here doing nothing. It may scare them to see you come out of nowhere but if it’s a choice between life and death, these simplistic animals are sure to know which option to choose. Moments before you are about to leave your hiding place to greet them, the two animals suddenly veer from their simple skipping and venture back into their holding pen. You tense at this, not knowing what they are doing in there and you begin to think that you waited too long, that maybe you should have gone for backup after all and yet… no. Here they are again, emerging out of their pen just as quickly as they went in. This time, they are holding what appears to be a large stick, slightly smaller than the taller one’s stature. You are immediately confused as to what it is for and can’t work out how they are to use it as a weapon because it certainly doesn’t look like it can survive any sort of trauma. The two animals bound around a bit more, looking about on the ground. It doesn’t take long before they are plunging the long stick into the ground and adjusting it so that it stays up.

Now that the stick is upright, you can see that the top end has a large piece of cloth attached. The material has unfurled enough that you can make out a strange pattern on both sides, various stripes and odd shaped circles in one corner. This action has confused you even more and you wonder if this is some sort of territorial thing that the animals do. If so, they have it all wrong. They can’t decide that they own this piece of land simply because they got dumped on it. Where curiosity failed, anger gives you the strength to push yourself up out of the crater and march yourself forward.

“Hey!”

Your shout isn’t loud or aggressive, just enough to get their attention, but it goes unnoticed by the two creatures. It is only when you are directly in front of them, a few steps away, that they look over. From their reactions, anyone would have thought you’d bellowed at them, and the two creatures quickly scramble away from their precious stick and visibly look shaken.
“What do you think you’re doing? You lost or something?”

The tone of your voice is significantly lower than before, but it still doesn’t calm them. If anything, the more you speak, the more frightened they become. Walking towards them slowly, you hold your hands out in a pacifying manner, not wanting the beasts to do anything hasty whilst they are so fearful. The closer you get, you come to realise how tiny they are; if you were to stand next to them they would barely come halfway up your body. That image seems to be in the animals’ minds too as you approach them and they have to crane their heads to look up at you.

“Look, I’m not here to hurt you, okay? I’m just worried. Can I help you at all?” You ask in what you hope is a soothing voice, but the lack of recognition in the creatures’ stance makes you question whether it is working at all. “Can you tell me who you are?”

The animals seem frozen in fear for a few moments, barely moving at all. This is most likely their defence mechanism and you don’t walk any closer until you are sure they have calmed enough. You try holding your hand out again, in case they wish to sniff it and see for themselves that you mean no harm, but the action only makes the creatures step back even further.

“Okay, I’m not touching you, see?” You try to smile and show them that you mean no harm but all the response you get is for the smaller of the two to reach to his chest and press something. He begins to make garbled, ugly noises that hold no meaning to you and again cause you to question the intelligence of the creatures. A series of crackles and whirrs answer the creature and at first you think they are coming from the second animal, but you soon realise that they are coming from the other’s chest. Is it a talking parasite? Maybe the creature has two mouths? It seems unlikely that you will find the answers when the animals seem unable to understand you or are potentially too scared to try and answer your questions.

You let out a deep sigh in frustration and pass a hand over your scales. The movement is watched closely by the creatures and you try for another smile. Looking over to the side, you touch your mouth whilst you think of how to deal with the situation.

“So, I guess you can’t understand me, huh? Just like I can’t understand you.”

This time when you speak, the animals don’t react. You didn’t speak any quieter than before, yet they didn’t flinch away as they did previously when you tried to talk with them. Confused is an understatement for the array of emotions you are feeling at this point, but you push them aside so that you can try and focus properly.

“Can you understand me at all?” You try again, speaking slowly and clearly.

This time, the responses from the animals is obvious and if you didn’t know any better, you would think that they are watching your mouth just as much as listening to your words. Except… you don’t know any better.

“Can you hear me?” You ask. The creatures step back again, but they seem to be gathering that you aren’t about to hurt them.

“How about now?” This time, you turn your head away slightly, just enough so that they can’t see your mouth but that you can still watch them. This time, it is as if you hadn’t spoken and all the creatures do is turn to each other and start waving their hands about frantically, clicks and beeps loud in the otherwise quiet surroundings.

You nod slowly, finally having gathered that not only would the creatures probably not understand you, they can’t even hear you anyway. It is obvious that they are not hard of hearing, the murmuring chatter that they use to communicate between themselves is clearly understandable to each other. It just seems to be the sounds and noises you make that are so hard to hear. It is beginning to dawn on you that these are perhaps the strangest creatures you have ever encountered. It is clear that they are not from around here, but the differences between your kind and theirs seem to be immense. If it wasn’t for the need to keep the situation calm, you would jumping about for joy—just as the two animals had been before—as the realisation hits that you have discovered a new species. The idea is so exciting and unexpected that you begin to feel giddy with the notion. It isn’t every day that you find something as wonderful as this and you can’t wait to tell the Others.

Although… someone obviously dropped them here. Someone knows that these creatures don’t belong. It might not be clear now, but the answers are bound to come out soon. If your earlier guess was correct and the animals are trying to take this land for their own, well, it doesn’t bode well for when the Others find out. It could end very, very badly.

These creatures don’t deserve anything bad to happen to them; their simplicity was clear in their childish leaping earlier and they are clearly petrified now. Even as you stand here thinking on it all, they are off to the side (having backed away very slowly) and are clicking away with a large box of some kind. It is probably to try and deter you from hurting them, this device of theirs, but you have no intention of doing so. Instead, the actions you are obliged to take, for the animals’ safety as well as for that of yourself and your kind, is much more important. As exciting as discovering a new species is, the responsibility you have to protect them is more important than finding out the answers to all the burning questions floating around in your mind. Your responsibility is to hide the animals away.

Knowing it will scare them and using this to your favour, you begin to wave your arms about and walk forward, ushering them back into their holding pen. To keep them contained is the best course of action, until you have a better idea of where to hide them. The creatures willingly oblige and scamper backwards, tripping over their tiny feet in doing so. They climb up a strange looking contraption and disappear into their small, domed cell. Despite being forced back inside, the creatures go without question, almost seeming relieved. You suppose it is because a more powerful being (yourself) is taking charge and the lesser beasts know when to follow orders. You decide not to impose on their territory—although they had no such qualms about doing so to yours. They close themselves in and you nod, satisfied. Even if someone were to come along right now, the creatures are safely tucked away out of sight and not liable to panic. That eases your mind and gives you time to think on what you should do next. You begin to pace back and forth, turning your back on the little pod every now and then. That’s probably the reason you don’t notice anything at first. It’s stupid really, how pathetic you are at guarding even the most basic of creatures. If you had been watching properly, they never would have got the chance. As it is, the sound of bangs and clanks draws your attention back to the holding pen and you have to watch in horror as it rises up. Too high, too fast, for you to do anything before it is out of your reach.

The pod rises above your head and before you know it, it is hurtling off into the distance. A single, copper dot growing smaller and smaller against the backdrop of an ebony sky. Yes, you feel angry.

Stupid, foolish, an idiot. But you also feel… proud. Those tiny little monsters, creatures, aliens have evaded you and they didn’t even have to fight to do so. They weren’t dumped here as you had first thought. They came here of their own power and had the wisdom to leave when they wanted.

The copper dot is still within your view and seems to be heading for the Blue Moon. The bright lights glint in the distance and the copper dome blends right in. It would seem that the aliens are heading home. You stand alone, on this grey dusty planet, large craters dotted about, not a person to be seen. If it wasn’t for the stick and cloth moving next to you and the floating ship in the distance, you could begin to tell yourself that you imagined the whole thing. That wouldn’t be any use though. The creatures were here, and they made a fool out of you. The territorial stick stands tall and you approach it, touch the cloth gently. It seems that the aliens came to visit their neighbours and leave a message: they aren’t alone. They came to visit and do a bit of sightseeing.

Maybe it is time to return the favour.

 

Browse issue 3 in full.
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