So, another first line friday. Same deal again, randomly generated first line, 30 minute time limit. Though in this case I went over that limit I think, I kept getting interrupted. My only agenda with this story was to try to write something positive and with a sense of wonder to it, rather than the grim, survival horror style that I did last week. Hope you like it.
The Birds Swooped Low
The birds swooped low. We saw them plunge out of the cloud layer, trailing wisps of yellowish vapour with them and drop like daggers towards the distant meadow before spreading their wings. They unfurled and glided towards us, straight towards us, so low down and so fast that Samson and I could make out the ripples in the grass stalks as they flew over.
My first thought was that the Xenobiologists were going to explode with excitement, for those two birds were the biggest life we’d seen by far. The largest, most complex things we’d discovered up till then had been a type of mosquito. My second thought was that they were really, really big. Much bigger than any avian life ever discovered anywhere. They must have been over a kilometre distant, yet we could clearly make out their general shape. And they were moving fast.
Samson raised his Tri-Nocs, interfacing them with his visor HUD. He stood like that for several seconds, holding them up to his face. He looked bulky and ungainly in his suit, so did I, but his fingers found the controls and danced over them easily. I’d always admired him for that.
“Can you see what they are?” I asked. I tried to keep a tone of detachment, though I’m not sure if it worked. Hanging onto my excitement has never been one of my strong points. His reply crackled back to me over the suit radio. He sounded irritated.
“Can’t make out a damned thing.” He said. “They’re going way to fast, I can’t keep my focus on them. They’ve got wings though.”
That startled me a bit. At those speeds, if they’d only been a kilometre or so away, they would have flown overhead by now. They could only have been farther away than we’d thought…but that meant they had to be even bigger than I’d estimated. I told Samson so.
“Yeah…thought so too,” He muttered, and I had to strain to hear him, “You know…I’m not sure they ARE birds.”
Something in his voice made me tense up. Either way those two winged shapes were getting closer, fast. Very fast. I queried his statement even as I began to back away, though looking back, I’ve no idea why I thought that would help.
“They haven’t moved those wings once since they dropped…nothing glides that fast.”
We were both running before he’d finished speaking. Foolish really. Those things were so much faster than we were and in our clumsy suits we couldn’t move that quickly anyway. I guess we were hoping to get back to our buggy. Like I said, foolish.
Our first view of the planet, our first proper view that wasn’t just this Earth-like orb in space, with yellow clouds instead of white, was when we broke atmosphere. The landing capsule had a clean detach from the Second Stage assembly and we were coming in on our final approach. We broke through the cloud layer and began skimming down, retros flaring and drag chutes slowing our descent. Nice and textbook, all things considered.
What we saw was breathtaking. It was so like Earth in some ways that it was almost eerie. We were coming down over great rolling meadows, hundreds of acres of what looked almost like corn stalks waving in the breeze. As we got closer we realised they were very different, those sheafs at their tips flickered and moved of their own accord. We’d later discovered they were sticky and used to catch insects.
In the distance, we saw mountains rising, sharp, jagged peaks and closer than that were forests of things that looked like trees, or giant fronds of oddly delicate fungi. There was no sign of animal life where we touched down, nothing to suggest intelligent life either, though we soon encountered the first insects. That was exciting enough, though. We’d made planetfall on a rich and beatiful ecosystem, more alien yet more familiar than we’d ever thought possible. Our first footsteps on that world, even in our bulky suits, were the amongst the finest moments of my life.
We ran. We didn’t get very far. Like I said, our suits got in the way too much, and those bird-things were so much faster. Samson and I had barely made it halfway to our buggy when we were both knocked sprawling. I went end over end, tumbling painfully. I thought one of them had struck me, though the way were send flying like that it had to have been the downdraft as they flew over us. I heard the roaring as they went overhead, the sky above us darkened by their sheer size. Both of them had to be larger than our landing capsule…and that had been designed to hold all three of our survey teams and our equipment.
Then they slowed. I remember being stunned by how fast they did it. Nothing alive could stop like that, but they did. And they hovered. That was the first good look we got of them both. I could hear Samson’s breath sprinting over the comms, and I knew exactly how he felt. It was terrifying. The implications were mind-numbing. I lay there on the alien grass and stared. I literally couldn’t think. I think I might have screamed.
They were both massive, and vaguely birdlike, at least at first. We were seeing them sort of from behind, as they had to furl their wings and turn round. What struck me first though, was that those wings were artificial. That’s right. Non-biological. They had feathers, of a sort, though stylised almost, but they were made from some kind of lightweight material that resembled metal but didn’t act like it. Its colour was black at first, but as the heat haze from the hidden engines died and the sun hit them, I saw shimmering blues and reds that seemed to flow and dance in front of me.
Samson was trying to crawl away. I rolled and tried to get to him. The two things folded up their wings and landed beside us. They were oddly silent despite their size. They landed on legs that stretched from where they’d been curled against their bodies. I could see then that not all of these things were artificial. There was animal there too, grown or grafted to the machine somehow. I saw a long, powerful beak, like an eagle and compound eyes set in an irregular fashion. I saw too many arms with too many joints reach out and hands with long, oddly delicate fingers, even though each one was as long as I was tall.
Samson had curled into a ball. These giant half-machine things were so beyond anything we’d expected that I wanted to join him.
One of them reached out to me, hand out in a gesture that seemed perversely human. Then it did something that changed my life, all our lives. It opened doors we thought would never open and showed us we were dealing with things that knew far more about us than we could have thought possible. It blew my mind, that’s for sure.
It said, “Hello.”