I dropped the garbage bag in shock.
There was no parking lot. There were no cars. There was no driveway.
And there were no flower beds. To my right instead of a red brick wall
there was what I took to be a hedge consisting of strange looking plants
with purple leaves. Twenty meters away where the mountain ashes with the
red berries grew I now saw two trees with giant thorns, thousands of
tiny green leaves and red blossoms in the shape of bells. Beyond that
there was a forest, almost a jungle. It was obviously mid-afternoon for
the sun was well past its highest point in the sky. The sky! It was till
blue, but a different blue to what I expected it to be, a very deep
Underfoot instead of the shaped paving stones I stood on a bit of
gravel, overgrown with a tough grass, almost like twitch grass, but
longer and much rougher. Slowly I turned around. The twenty-two story
tall apartment building was gone. A primitive cabin built out of logs
and branches occupied its place. I saw no sign of a road anywhere but a
short distance to my left there was a level area covered by what at
first glance looked like concrete. Beyond that there were corrals for
cattle and in the distance fairly open ground which could have been
pasture land. At intervals fences crossed it.
Apparently I was in a valley for I could see tall mountains in the
background. Using the sun as a guide they seemed to be to the north and
south, with the valley running in an east-west direction.
Finally my eyes caught a glimpse of my shoes. They were not the running
shoes I had put on a few minutes ago. I wore heavy boots, very
comfortable boots. They were of a grey-green shade, almost the color of
leaves. My trousers were of a similar material, with pockets all over.
They were dyed in a camouflage pattern as was my shirt. It was quite
The bag of garbage I had dropped was not the plastic bag any more. It
was made of something which looked like a cross between canvass and
leather. And the cardboard tube had mysteriously changed into what at
first glance looked like a gun.
I was all alone.
There was a large stone a short distance away. I grabbed the bag and
walked the few steps over to it. Here I sat down to take stock.
Gradually some knowledge seeped into my consciousness. The gun I held in
my hand was a standard issue laser gun. The bag was called a carryall.
I looked inside. It contained a number of cubes, soup cubes, and quite a
few small plastic bags full of a white powder. I examined one of them.
The powder had the consistency of flour.
I looked at the directions. Add hot or cold water, it said. Underneath
in small print I read: Manufactured to Fleet Service Specifications by
General Foods, Tremaine and Hornepayne, Warinski Sector. Although I
prided myself on a good knowledge of geography I was stumped. I had
never heard of the Warinski Sector, presumably some region or territory,
nor did Hornepayne or Tremaine mean anything to me. I took them to be
Wait a minute. Tremaine? Hazily I recalled something about it. Had I not
been on a ship a long time ago, when I had broken my ankle? And had we
not landed some rangers on a world unofficially called Tremaine? It had
been an entirely unexplored planet then. And we had been at war,
fighting some kind of intelligent beetles.
If this was the same Tremaine - - - . It could not be! It would take
years, generations, to populate a world and build up a manufacturing
economy large enough to export food. And I could not recall anything
about a place called Hornepayne. But then again, if I followed my
reasoning, I would now be in the distant future even looking from my
previous vantage point!
It all made no sense.
I put the bag with the white powder back into the carryall. There was no
doubt about it. I was a member of some military force, armed to the
teeth. The gun I held in my right hand was very light, yet sturdy. It
had a stock, a tube and a button to fire it. A power pack was fitted
into the stock. Aside from the firing button and safety switch there
were no moving parts except for an intensity setting and a gauge
indicating the power level. Right now it stood at the one hundred
There were a number of grenades attached to my belt. And some spare
power packs for the gun. The grenades were of two types. Some had a big
E on them, some a C. The C grenades were of a different size and weight.
Of course! The E stood for explosive, the C for cold. And I knew how to
use them. You pulled an E grenade off your belt and depressed the
plunger. That would arm it. Once you released the plunger you had three
seconds before it would go off. It was just enough time to throw it. The
C grenades were slightly smaller and lighter. Once the plunger was
released on them you also had three seconds. But they would not explode.
They would simply pop, releasing an agent which would extract all the
heat in the affected area, killing all living things. I knew exactly the
affected area for both types of grenade and what damage they could do.
A pin acted as a safety device to prevent the accidental depressing of
the plunger. The grenades were attached to my belt in such a way that
pulling them off also pulled out the pin. The High Command frowned on
the way rangers handled and carried them but in the field they
overlooked it as they overlooked a great many things.
As I was sitting there on the boulder details were flooding into my
consciousness, but only details on how to stay alive. I was still
completely in the dark as to where I was and what my purpose was in
being here. What was I to do all alone and in the wilderness? I took a
I got up to go into the cabin and check it out but changed my mind for
no apparent reason. I would first take a look around outside. I
sauntered over to the trees. They certainly were a lot different to the
trees of Earth. The boles were mostly green and quite thick. Many of
them had long thorns, like spikes. Most had leaves, although a number of
them also had needles.
From this angle the cabin looked different, almost blending into the
environment. There was grass on the roof. A stand of trees did not quite
reach the hedge. Only the geometric arrangement of the corrals and the
concrete landing pad gave the place away as a human habitation. To one
side towards the west was the open meadow, crossed by fences every few
hundred meters. It stretched for several kilometers to the jungle
covering the mountainside. There was no sign of life, no cattle, no
sheep nor any other kind of domestic animals.
I slowly meandered along the edge of the forest until I came to a brook.
I could hear the running water through the trees although I could not
see it at first. I followed the sound. After a dozen steps or so I
almost stepped into the water. The trees provided an effective screen.
Different kinds of plants grew here. Some were giant flowering bushes,
some smelled horrible and some had sticky leaves and branches.
I crossed the brook. After another dozen steps I came to a fair sized
clearing. I must not get my directions mixed up, I thought. I remained
motionless at the edge of the open space. After a minute or so the
leaves of a bush at the opposite side of the clearing swayed and a huge
antelope stepped out. It sniffed the air and nervously glanced around. I
stayed hidden. After a while it strode into the meadow and began
The antelope had taken several mouthfuls of grass when it suddenly
perked up, briefly glanced at the sky to the west and then bounded away
at breakneck speed. For a few seconds I could hear it crashing through
the underbrush. And then there was silence. I was alone once more.
What could have alarmed the antelope that much? I had not moved and the
light breeze had not shifted. The answer was not long in coming.
I had taken half a dozen steps along the perimeter of the clearing when
I heard the faint sound of an engine. Something in my mind said danger.
I slipped through the bushes to hide behind the green bole of a giant
tree with fern-like leaves. I still carried the bag with the food in my
left hand. Now I slid my arms through the handles, changing it into a
knapsack. It was a surprisingly comfortable fit.
The sound of the distant engine had increased considerably in volume. It
seemed to be coming from the west. It swelled up to an ear-splitting
crescendo. Looking up I saw a shadow dart by just above the top of the
trees. The sound diminished. And then it swelled up again.
I stayed motionless behind the fern tree. There was a slight change in
the scream of the engine. Then the sound suddenly dropped in volume as
well as in pitch. A strange looking craft circled once around the
clearing, gradually descending. About thirty meters from my hiding
place it hovered and then slowly dropped to the ground.
I moved one step away from the tree trunk in order to see better. The
sun’s rays falling through the canopy of the tree branches above made
patches of light and dark, green and brown and black. I was sure that I
was invisible to any observer as long as I remained motionless.
After a short time, perhaps a minute or so, a door opened in the
fuselage of the craft. Its engine had slowed down to a deep, low hum
near the threshold of hearing. I stood next to a bush, watching. The
urge to step behind the bole of the tree fern was strong and it took
considerable willpower to overcome it. Somehow I knew that moving now
would give my position away.
Another minute went by. Then something stirred in the opening. Tw o
giant, yellow beetles jumped out of the craft to the ground. My heart
thumped loudly and I felt the adrenaline seeping into my arteries. Ye t
I stayed put.
The two beetles were easily two and half meters tall. They stood on
their hindmost legs. The middle two appendages held what looked like
some type of gun while the two top ones cradled grenades. The beetles
bent forward, as if to sample the air. The two feelers on top of their
heads were gently swaying to and fro. They were sensing for motion.
Something in my brain seemed to click, telling me to stay where I was.
The beetles were called Coleoptera and they could sense motion like we
humans can sense sound.
We stayed like this for well over a minute, I behind the bush next to
the tree fern and the two beetles in front of the craft. Suddenly they
straightened up. I heard faint clicking and hissing sounds, very high
pitched, as the two moved aside while other beetles jumped out of the
Once again my memory provided much needed information. The beetles were
the enemy. They were all milling around in front of the machine. Now was
the moment to attack. I pulled a C grenade off my belt and depressed the
plunger. The pin acting as a safety device remained attached to my belt.
No sooner had I moved my arm when a number of Coleoptera bent forward,
facing in my direction. Their feelers swayed back and forth. There was a
hissing sound and they all froze. I extended my right arm behind me and
in a smooth motion flung the grenade towards the beetles. There was a
loud clicking noise, very high pitched. The Coleoptera all took one step
ready to spread apart when the grenade softly popped in their middle. I
could see a white mist spread out in a circle, faster than the eye could
follow. The beetles keeled over as they were taking their second step,
some landing on top of each other, some in bizarre positions. The grass
and in the affected area was turning black and a white hoarfrost was
forming. It all took less than a second. A blast of extremely cold air
passed me. I shivered and my face and ears felt as if they were turning
into glass, especially my ears.
Meanwhile I had pulled an E grenade off my belt, depressed the plunger
on it and thrown it at the alien craft. I dropped to the ground, hugging
a furrow. The grenade exploded under the flier forward of the door. The
blast was tremendous. The pressure wave lifted me up and then slammed me
to the ground so hard that I almost blacked out. It took some time
before I was able to collect my thoughts. When I tried to move I felt a
soreness at my right shoulder.
I had to wait a couple of minutes longer before I could sit up. The
sight which greeted my eyes was one of utter destruction. Twisted metal
was thrown over most of the clearing. There was no crater and the
hoarfrost had disappeared. Nothing moved. I stood up and grabbed my
laser gun. Releasing the safety switch I slowly advanced towards the
clearing, my finger on the firing button of the gun.
Some of the Coleopteron corpses had been chopped into small pieces by
the explosion. I felt frightened. Never before had I witnessed a
destructive force that powerful. I had been thirty meters away from the
impact, sheltered by bushes and a depression in the ground. I had hugged
the furrow, offering hardly any surface at all to the blast, yet it had
almost incapacitated me. My only other experience with explosives had
been in Narvik in northern Norway, almost an eternity ago. At that time
I had thought that the grenades were powerful. But against the present
they seemed like large firecrackers.
I gave the clearing a quick but thorough examination. Then I made my way
back across the brook, through the trees and to the cabin.
The sun had moved some distance towards the western horizon. I slid to
the ground in the lee of the hedge. I was shaking uncontrollably. Where
had I landed? What was going on? My reaction to the Coleop-teron flier
had been completely automatic, as if I had trained for this type of
encounter for years. What kind of war was I fighting? I and who else?
After a while I calmed down and the shaking stopped. My shoulder was
still sore but I could live with it. Obviously there was no medical help
available and no transport to anywhere. I would sit here for a while
longer and then check out the cabin and the corrals behind it. And then,
before it got dark, I would make myself something to eat.
I would also have to find a place to sleep. I wondered whether it would
be safe to stay in the cabin.