by Tony Thorne MBE
After having a few too many drinks, a Scottsman has a rather bizarre encounter that he can’t quite come to terms with.
That fateful Saturday night, when it happened, I’d had a great evening at our local hostelry close by the Loch. We’d been celebrating Scotland’s Soccer win that afternoon and after all the good food and drink the landlord served, I sank down several more drams of his best malt whisky than usual. Precisely the right formula to initiate a nightmare, if that’s what it was.
It was very dark when I woke up suddenly, still only half-dressed of course. There was this weird apparition, at the foot of the bed, staring at me. It definitely wasn’t human, not with long flat arms and a big head on a long stalk. I can still see it now, with my eyes closed, a large black monster with a wet shiny skin. I was petrified. It was opening and closing its mouth like a stranded fish and revealing rows of wicked looking teeth. I couldn’t see the rest of its body. It must have been on the other side of something, looking like a smoky circular mirror, floating in mid-air. To my amazement, after a couple of sneezes, and a few gurgles, it spoke to me in quite good English but with just the trace of an accent, which I couldn’t place; but it definitely wasn’t a Scottish one.
“Greetings mortal carbon based biped creature!” it growled impressively, in between a couple of noisy coughs. “You have been chosen by a higher authority to learn and understand our mutual destiny. You must listen very carefully to what I have to tell you, because you will possibly be questioned about it later.”
It sounded interesting, maybe even a little threatening, so I decided I had better listen carefully. Other than try hard to wake up, if it was a nightmare, what else could I have done in the circumstances?
After I gave it a nervous nod, the weird creature sneezed again and continued, “My home planet is about forty light years distant from here, in your quaint terminology that is, and I am the senior representative of our advanced scientific race. Back in your year number 564, I believe it was, our scientists developed the galaxy’s first working, two-way, matter transmitter and receiver. We sent the first experimental unit to your planet, soon after that.
Once it became fully activated we transmitted a volunteer member of my family down to it. Years before, we had discovered that your water planet is the only one near enough to ours to be habitable. Unfortunately, that first experiment was a dismal failure and we had to bring him back; what was left of him that is. Since then we have tried several more times and sent other willing volunteers. We are a very large family, by your standards, and long living too.”
It paused, waving its flat arms slowly, then continued, after another cough and a violent noisy sneeze. “Unfortunately, the whole lengthy operation so far has been a failure. Everything always worked well with the tests we undertook, back on our own planet, transferring a subject from one water filled tank to another. Unfortunately however, those relatives we subsequently managed to transmit to your planet, always arrived in an incoherent state. Their brains became scrambled somehow and instead of making contact with your authorities, and negotiating as planned, they just swam around, up and down, and in circles. We always had to bring them back home for extensive treatment and care. It seems that the vast distances involved led to an unexpected attenuation of the most complex parts of the data energy stream, namely our brain patterns. However, that wasn’t the only problem … are you still listening to me?”
I nodded hastily and the apparition unfolded its flat arms and grasped my bed rail. It eased more of its body through the hazy mirror thing, coughed again and then continued, “About fifty of your years ago we sent down a data stream to update the transceiver. Some of your people in a small craft, investigators presumably, were sounding your lake at the time, with what we realized were ultrasonic transmitters and video cameras. They almost wrecked our transmission signals. However once eventually activated, our updated software enabled the terminal to operate perfectly and another of my relatives, actually the eleventh, came through it. Unfortunately, although still mentally stable, it soon developed breathing problems when it came up to the surface of your lake. It seems that our metabolism is not adapted to the appalling composition of your atmosphere. Its combination of atmospheric gases is basically suitable, but we believe that all the dust and impurities it contains, gave rise to a distressing condition when my relative breathed it, similar to what I believe you know as asthma. This means that our volunteers can only come up to the surface of the water here for short intervals. That’s why I’m staying back down here in the terminal as long as possible. I came up late last night for an experimental look around … and look what your awful atmosphere did to me?”
The creature sneezed and coughed noisily again. That’s when the flash of inspiration came to me. This was beginning to explain the mystery surrounding the numerous sightings reported over the centuries. Then I thought of a controversial question, “Didn’t I read somewhere, that one of you was seen crossing the road by the Loch?”
“That was volunteer number twelve.” came the reply. “Our short intervals are longer than yours. It was a courageous attempt, to make contact, by a young and healthy relative of mine; holding its breath for as long as possible. We eventually had to bring it back down here in an agitated state, but happily just in time to recover before the return transmission process. Unfortunately though, it would have been too late anyway to communicate, by the time one of your race finally appeared.”
I had another question, “And where is down here, then?”
“I am referring to our transceiver terminal at the bottom of your lake. That is where the rest of me is residing at this moment. What you are experiencing now is through a new, short range, extension of the updated unit we have now installed down there.” The creature paused and regarded me, apparently deep in though. Then it coughed again and continued, in between several more sneezes, “You are probably wondering why you have been chosen to be contacted in this way?”
I nodded slowly, fearful of what might be coming next. My worst fears were soon confirmed.
“You and several others have been under observation for some time. Our analysis shows that, for some unknown reason, you people never seem to be affected by allergic reactions to your atmosphere. You seem to be the healthiest of the specimens we scanned, so we wish to examine you, closely, in order to determine why. It may be necessary to take you back with me to our planet for analysis in depth. Further genetic improvements could then ensure the success of our future missions.”
I was too scared to ask what its missions were. I was having awful visions of an operating table surrounded by all kinds of horrible instruments; and pieces of me being put under microscopes and into jars. I knew I had to think fast to avoid an unpleasant future, let alone an extensive long trip, for which I was totally unprepared. Then I had an inspiration. “I think I may have the solution to your problem, without going to all that trouble.”
The creature was interested. “You do?”
“Yes,” I replied eagerly, “Our race would have all succumbed to terrible asthma attacks many years ago, if it hadn’t been for a wonderful medicinal discovery, first made here in Scotland.”
I could tell that the creature was becoming extremely interested, “Presumably you will not reveal this vital secret to us, without some drastic form of coercion?” It said, and then its mouth opened and twisted sideways in what I took for a threatening sneer.
“No, not at all,” I exclaimed. “The cure we discovered is in that bottle on the bedside table. We need to take it regularly of course, but I think I’ve had enough of it today to see me through the rest of this week. You’re welcome to try the rest.”
The creature sneezed again, and then gingerly picked up the almost empty bottle with the end of one of its flat flexible arms. It experimented with the cap, then withdrew it and sniffed the contents carefully. Then it took a deeper sniff and I saw large tears beginning to well up in its eyes.
“Do try some,” I urged, sympathetically. “You’re welcome to drink it all if you like it.”
Within seconds the remaining precious liquid was all gone. There was a moment of profound silence. Then the creature spoke again with a deeper ringing voice, and even more of an accent.
“My cough appears to be cured!” it exclaimed, with just a tiny sneeze. “But this is wonderful. Do you have any more of this magical fluid that I could try, to complete the experiment?”
That request made me think hard. I would have to balance my short term needs against the future of the human race. It was a tough decision, but my conscience won through at last, so I leaned over and opened my bedside cabinet. With a heavy sigh, I reached down and took out the last two bottles of my best Single Malt.
“This is how much we take when we have a serious attack,” I said, as I poured myself a modest glass, and then handed over the bottle.
Within twenty minutes of it being opened, the first bottle was empty and the creature began to sing. I opened the last bottle. Well within the hour my newly found friend had one of his arms around me, and I had one of mine partly around it. Then inevitably it stopped singing and the tears came. It began to confide in me. “You know, I really hate all my relatives. They’re mean and selfish, and cowardly too. I didn’t really want to be a volunteer, but I am the youngest. They threatened me, and made me undertake this dangerous trip …..”
It didn’t finish the sentence. As I watched, it let go of me and its watery eyes closed. Soon, its body began to slither back through the hazy mirror. One flipper-like arm end, however, was still clutching the almost empty bottle.
Finally it disappeared completely. Cautiously, I got out of bed and walked over to where it had been. Just before the strange mirror device vanished too, I caught a glimpse of the creature sprawled out on a long shelf, in what looked like a big decompression chamber, fitted with lots of complicated gadgets. I thought I could hear a snoring sound too, but it might have been coming from me, if it was a nightmare; because I can only vaguely remember getting back to bed.
I woke up late the next morning, with only a faint memory of what had apparently happened. More of it has come back to me since then, and I fervently hope it was only a nightmare. But when I looked in my bedside cabinet, I found it was empty. On the floor beside it were two abandoned and drained bottles, and not for the first time I must admit. Unfortunately the third one, which I know was definitely in the cabinet before, had vanished completely.
I’m not so concerned now about my future now, or that of the human race, whatever it was the monsters were planning, because for the time being I believe I’ve saved myself from that alarming exploratory fate that the creature mentioned. I can only also hope that my new friend made it safely back home and managed to square things with the rest of its relatives. The only thing though that worries me now is, with their advanced technology, how long will it take them to synthesize and then replicate what was left of that precious liquid?