‘…nothing can be more fantastic than a natural
phenomenon not yet recognised and classified by the human mind.’ Jacques Vallee, Anatomy of a
Neville Spearman Ltd., 1966
Morgan hated the Badlands detail. She’d never
crew that hadn’t complained. Days away from the seabed. The ancient
craft, with their primitive drive unit, unreliable nav systems,
quarters and stale air. The pointless, fruitless wandering over igneous
and vast tracts of devastation. She knew the logic. If we don’t patrol
we can’t claim it’s ours. But what was the point of claiming something
largely, if not completely, uninhabitable and would remain so for
years to come? Sometimes, they’d detect the Others, doing exactly the
thing on their side, and then she felt sorry for whoever was captaining
ship – for it must be the same for them. Boredom. Stale air and
boredom. And no
chance of engaging, no chance of excitement; the Kerimovs were –
unarmed (since both sides were agreed that the poor old Earth should be
recover) and, since only the first generations of craft were sent on
detail – protected with only the flimsiest of shields. The later
were all sent up into space, where being armed and being well-defended
mattered. But if Morgan wanted to get up there – and she did – then she
just have to grit her teeth and complete the quota down here set for
some chinless wonder down in the main hex.
There were rumours of survivors, of small
existing in less-radiated pockets, but none had ever been found on
of the frontier and nobody knew whether the Others’ rumoured
simply propaganda. Still, apart from the prospect of an occasional
encounter with one of their craft, there was nothing else that a
captain could hold out as a source of motivation. And not a single crew
in Morgan’s experience, had ever been enthused by such a prospect.
They’d been out on this detail now for five
navigator, a dour Yankee called Dow, had growled in disgust when he saw
‘She’s a scrap heap,’ he said. ‘Navigation
notorious. We’d do better with a compass.’
‘Don’t talk like that in front of her,’ said
The engineer, Mundindi, a young Congolese with
future clearly ahead of him, shared Dow’s disgust.
‘This lady should have been retired a long time
he said, as he clambered aboard.
The fourth crew member, Doc Garcia, said
nothing but theatrically
dragged his medical kit on to the ship and made a great show of grimly
it under his bunk.
That’s how ancient this particular Kerimov was,
thought Morgan; there wasn’t even enough room for the Doc’s kit.
Almost from the off, there had been problems.
out, Mundindi reported an aberration in the drive chamber and had spent
the following four days coaxing the torus. Dow, meanwhile, was
nav system had been wrongly calibrated before they had left.
‘They probably did it deliberately,’ Morgan
give you something to complain about.’
The Doc, being the Doc, had spent most of the
days with his head in a learning module. She couldn’t blame him. There
nothing else for him to do. Sometimes, she wondered if the people back
main hex had ever been in one of these ancient, creaking craft; ever
in the ever-more stale air; ever experienced the sheer boredom of
back and forth on pre-set courses across what remained of the ancient
And then, as they gazed at their consoles and
mouth beneath his visor silently voiced his lesson, the craft suddenly
‘The torus!’ Mundindi shouted. ‘I’ve got
‘Nav all down,’ Dow cried.
Morgan shook the Doc’s shoulder. His mouth
impatiently as he stopped his course and took off his visor.
‘Something up?’ he asked.
‘We’ve got a problem with the ship,’ said
maybe a big one.’
‘Oh, good,’ said the Doc. ‘Why am I not
me a call when I can do something.’
The craft shuddered again – more violently this
‘I told you we should never have come out in
of …’ Dow shouted.
‘Do you know what’s up?’ Morgan asked Mundindi.
‘The plasma’s all over the place,’ said the
studying the data screen before him. ‘There was a massive surge and now
power is well down.’
‘How big?’ said Morgan.
‘Big enough to bugger the nav system,’ said
Morgan scanned the data and frowned.
‘We’re falling,’ she said. ‘Can you swim, Doc?’
Garcia grinned. ‘I think I’ll go back to my
he said. ‘The excitement is killing me.’
The cool bastard, thought Morgan, as the Doc put his visor back
on. Of course, the
craft would probably float if it hit the water, but still…
‘I’m getting something now,’ said Mundindi,
beading his brow. ‘We should be able to put her into a hover, at least.’
‘Do your best, Mundi,’ said Morgan. ‘Any
‘The system’s back, Captain – at least, for the
‘So, where are we now?’
‘Old Papua New Guinea. We’re over water. You
believe this, Captain.’
‘We’re hovering over Goodenough Bay.’
‘If anybody tries to make a pathetic joke about
I’ll have them clapped in irons.’
‘That’s fair enough, Captain,’ said Dow.
‘Ha, ha,’ said Morgan.
She and Dow watched on as Mundindi fussed with
controls. There was a very faint, persistent humming noise now –
uncharacteristic of a drive system which, until then, had been silent.
‘What do you think, Mundi?’
‘I think we’re going to have to send out a
Mundindi shook his head.
‘Sorry, Captain, but there’s nothing I can do.
really shouldn’t have sent us out in such a pile of junk. It’s just
‘I knew it,’ said Dow.
Morgan looked at her data. A distress
embarrassing. But they’d have to do something soon. If the Others saw
hovering for any length of time, then…
‘All right, Dow,’ she said. ‘Send it out.’
The navigator turned back to his console, no
happy to have something to do at last. And then he frowned.
‘I can’t, Captain,’ he said. ‘It’s not working
‘What’s the problem?’
‘The beam is erratic. It’s switching off and
‘Mundi? Is this a problem with the software?’
‘I’m not registering any problem with the
‘Could it be physical damage?’
‘That second tremor was pretty violent but
‘Normally, we shouldn’t be out in this trash
Morgan ran through the options.
‘OK,’ she said. ‘We need a visual. Somebody
needs to get
suited up, please.’
‘Sure, Captain. But are you certain about the
‘What do you mean?’
‘Look at the data, Captain. That’s air out
people used to call “fresh air”.’
‘Do we trust the monitors?’
‘They all say the same thing, Captain.’
‘Mmm…,’ said Morgan, ‘we may just have stumbled
one of those pockets the Others have been discovering.’
She shook Garcia’s shoulder and explained the
‘How exciting,’ he said, in his best deadpan
‘If I’m reading your mind, Captain, you’d like me to suit up and go
lock and test the air. Am I right?’
‘Good of you to volunteer, Doc.’
‘I always know when I’m not wanted. The shields
‘We’ve put up a weak shield, Doc. It was the
could do, but maybe it’s not necessary.’
The Doc thought for a moment, then nodded in
It took him a while to suit up. The space was
restricted, and the suit, which had clearly never been used, was stiff
unwieldy. At last, he shuffled into the lock, with a sarcastic wave of
hand. They watched on the monitors as he clambered up the ladder onto
deck. He bent down, peered into the camera and waved again. And then he
to inspect the top deck.
‘Christ!’ he said. ‘The beacon’s bent double,
though we hit something.’ He pointed his camera at the bent antennae.
‘How the hell did that happen?’ asked Morgan. ‘Did
we hit something, Dow?’
‘No collision registered, Captain.’
‘I’m going to take my helmet off now, Captain.’
They watched, as Garcia gingerly detached his
and lifted it off.
‘Ah!’ he said. ‘Fresh air!’
They heard him breath in deeply.
‘It’s fine up here,’ he said. ‘No need for
coming back down.’
When he emerged from the lock, they all
hoped for a hint of the fresh air he had breathed in, but the Kerimov’s
had pumped the lock full of the usual stale recycled air. Mundindi was
the images the Doc’s camera had captured.
‘What do you think, Mundi?’ asked Morgan.
‘It looks as though somebody has taken a
to it,’ he replied. ‘Of course, if we’d been flying a more recent model
couldn’t have happened.’
‘Yes, yes, Mundi,’ Morgan snapped. ‘We know
we’ve got to make do with what we’ve got.’
‘Then we’ll just have to try and bend it back
‘How’s the torus doing?’
‘She’s stabilised, Captain.’
‘Are your sensors all working, now?’
‘Will she hold if we go up on deck?’
‘She’ll hold, Captain.’
Morgan shook Garcia’s shoulder. He took off his
‘More excitement?’ he said. ‘I don’t think my
can take it.’
‘You don’t have a heart!’ said Dow.
‘Listen up, Doc,’ said Morgan. ‘We’re going for
stroll on the deck.’
‘But I’ve only just come back,’ said Garcia.
The lock on the ancient Kerimov would only let
through one at a time. The Doc went first. Then Dow. Then Mundi. And
Captain. Gingerly, each of them took of their helmet.
‘This is crazy,’ said Mundindi, taking deep
Morgan was studying the bent antennae. The blue
of superlight that should have been firing up into the sky in a
flickered ineffectually into the top deck casing.
‘What do you think, Mundi?’
‘I think we might just be able to bash it out.’
‘Bash it out?’
‘Sure. Straighten it out with something heavy.
whether the beamer will work correctly afterwards…’
Mundi fetched tools from the ship’s interior
the crew members took it in turns to pull on the antennae’s
Mundindi attempted to bash the struts back into place. It was hot,
There was the usual haze above them, but they could feel the sun’s rays
their backs as they pulled and pushed. They felt the sun swing lower
its strength as dusk approached. As the dusk turned to twilight, Dow
take a rest and leaned over the ship’s rail.
‘Captain,’ he said.
‘What is it, Dow?’
‘There are people down there. Look.’
Garcia joined him.
‘Dow’s right,’ he said. ‘We’ve found one of
pockets, that’s for sure.’
Morgan and Mundindi came to look. The weak
blurred the view a little, but through the gloom they could see a
a lush green hinterland stretching away before them. There was a
clearing on a
ridge, and on the ridge, on a rectangular earth brown clearing, were
distinctive shapes of human beings.
‘How many, do you reckon?’ asked Morgan.
‘I’d say thirty or forty,’ said Garcia. ‘Quite
‘Look!’ said Dow. ‘They’re waving. So much for
‘We can only put up a weak shield, Dow,’ said
‘We’re too low on juice for anything stronger.’
‘Sorry, Captain,’ said Dow.
‘Anyway,’ said Morgan. ‘Let’s get back to work.’
‘Coo-ee,’ said Dow, waving back. ‘Bye for now,
we don’t get this pile of junk fixed damned soon, we’ll be joining you
The others waved too and watched in fascination
long line of people gathered on the ridge waved back, some
arms above their heads and gesturing enthusiastically.
‘Look,’ said Morgan, ‘if the torus stops
then maybe we’ll go down and introduce ourselves, but right now we’ve
get that antennae straightened out and hope that we can send off a
signal. So, gentlemen; back to work!’
The crew worked through the night and into the
following day, sometimes re-entering the craft to sleep. It was slow
delicate work. Gradually, they straightened the bent antennae back to
former position and shape. The distress beam still flickered, and only
occasionally shone a full intense column of blue superlight into the
The men on the ground gathered again as a second night fell. The crew
them from time to time and they waved back as they had done the
evening. This time, the people below waved a torch at the craft and the
Kerimov’s light sensors rocked the ship gently back and forth in
Morgan was getting increasingly concerned. They’d spent the best part
thirty-six hours hovering in the same position. The Others had surely
them by now and would have realised their craft was in distress.
It was Mundindi who broke her worried
‘Captain?’ he said, from the cabin.
‘Wait,’ Morgan replied. ‘I’m coming back in.
it?’ she asked, once she was back inside.
‘We’ve got full power again. The torus is back
She switched on her speaker.
‘Dow, Doc,’ she barked. ‘Take a last breath of
air and get back in here. We’re leaving.’
‘Not even a last wave?’ said Dow.
‘Not even,’ snapped Morgan. ‘Get back in.’
‘What’s up?’ asked Dow, once he was back inside.
‘We’ve got full power again,’ said Morgan.
getting out of here.’
‘Take us back to where we were before the torus
‘I’ll try, Captain.’
They strapped themselves in. The faint whine,
noticed, had gone.
‘Here we go,’ said Dow.
They felt the craft accelerate upwards and
as before, it shuddered violently twice.
‘Dow?’ said Morgan.
‘We’re back on course, Captain.’
Morgan. She looked at Garcia. He had his visor back on and his lips
‘Welcome back, Captain Morgan,’ said the
when they got back down to the main hex. ‘Just so you know,’ he
‘we’ve got a welcoming party for you.’
‘A welcoming party?’
‘Don’t worry. It’s just that we missed you.’
‘Aw,’ said Dow, ‘the little diddums missed us.’
But when they stepped out of the airlock,
saw that there was indeed a welcoming party waiting for them. The
‘I’d be grateful if you’d please follow me.’
The party led them into an empty door-lined
Each crew member, starting with Morgan, was shown to an empty room and
wait inside. Why, Morgan wondered, were
they being separated? A
few minutes later, the officer knocked and entered.
‘Sorry about that, Captain,’ he said. ‘Would
please follow me?’
Morgan followed the officer into a lift and
several floors to the science labs. In the lift, the officer put a
his lips; they were not to talk. Finally, the officer led her to a mock
‘I shall leave you here,’ he said. ‘Just knock
in. The Admiral is waiting.’
‘The Admiral? What…?’
The officer put a finger to his lips again.
knocked and went in. The room was one of the standard off-white
spaces the builders of the main hex had apparently favoured. Admiral
behind a mock oakwood desk. She stood as Morgan entered.
‘Ah! Captain Morgan,’ she said.
‘Please sit down.’
Morgan sat down on a chair placed in front of
desk. There was a knock, but on a different door – one behind the
‘Come!’ said the Admiral.
A short man entered carrying a small black
Morgan immediately recognised the inimitable style of the intelligence
‘What’s happening, Admiral?’ Morgan asked.
‘Do you mind?’ the Admiral asked, as the
operative took his equipment out of the case and set it up on the
corner of the
Morgan shook her head.
‘Of course not,’ she said.
‘All set,’ said the operative.
‘Thank you,’ said the Admiral. ‘Now then,’ –
smiled reassuringly at Captain Morgan, ‘could you please tell me about
everything that happened to you after the torus started playing up?’
When Morgan had finished, the Admiral asked her
return with the officer to the room where she had briefly waited
Meanwhile, the Admiral and the operative carried out the same procedure
Dow, the navigator, Mundindi, the engineer, and Garcia, the doctor.
last interview had been finished and Garcia had been led back to his
Admiral turned to the operative.
‘Well?’ she asked.
‘They’re all telling the truth, Admiral.
There’s not a
shadow of a doubt. And their stories corroborate perfectly.’
The Admiral nodded.
‘Bring them all back, would you, please?’
‘Yes, together, please.’
‘May they talk?’
Morgan followed the officer, with the rest of
‘What’s up, Captain?’ Dow asked. ‘Did we do
The officer stopped and turned.
‘This isn’t a disciplinary procedure,’ he said.
had been, we’d have told you and there would have been a lawyer in the
He winked, then turned and led them on to the
where Admiral Sheahy waited. There were not enough chairs in the room,
stood to attention and waited. This time, the officer followed them in.
‘At ease,’ said the Admiral. She rose to her
around the desk and sat back on the desktop, with her hands on either
‘I’m sorry to have subjected you to this procedure, but it seems
rather strange has happened to you all. In the first place, your
disappeared completely from about the time you first experienced
the torus until you re-established your initial course some thirty-six
later. In the second place, the Kerimov’s data bases can tell us
those thirty-six hours; it’s as though they were wiped clean.’
‘You know the crew simply can’t do that,
said Mundindi. ‘They can only be accessed at the main hex.’
‘Yes, yes, I know,’ said the Admiral, ‘which is
makes all of this quite so fascinating.’
She gestured to the officer. The room darkened
images were beamed onto the white wall behind her.
‘In the third place,’ she said, ‘could you
remind me where you carried out the repairs, Navigator Dow?’
‘Yes, Admiral. It was above old Papua New
hovered above Goodenough Bay. The people we saw were at a place called
‘We sent a Kerimov out there just now. These
images you can see. That, Captain Morgan, gentlemen, is Boianai as it
The images they saw were scenes of desolation
black igneous rock. Beyond, the ocean boiled in a familiar mix of
and the strange mutant sponges that had taken over the seas.
‘Now,’ the Admiral continued, ‘clearly, that
correspond at all to the descriptions you all gave us.’
‘Could the nav system have been mistaken?’
‘I told you the day we left, Captain,’ said
was sure there was something wrong.’
The Admiral smiled.
‘I can understand your confusion,’ she said.
know you think your Kerimov was not airworthy – we heard your
Dow blushed. ‘I’m….’
The Admiral waved him smilingly to silence.
‘But the fact remains that the nav system on
craft is perfectly functional. We’ve run all the usual tests since you
‘I’m confused, Admiral,’ said Morgan. ‘If we
have been anywhere else then…’
‘We’re all confused, Captain,’ said the
fact is, you weren’t anywhere else; you were nowhere
‘But Admiral,’ said Mundindi, ‘we were somewhere,
The Admiral smiled. ‘We’ve been scratching our
ever since you disappeared and reappeared, Engineer Mundindi. In any
we’ve no reason to hold you anymore. We’re going to release you to your
quarters in a few moments, but first I’d like to give you some advice.’
Admiral walked back around the desk and sat down. She looked into the
mock oakwood surface for a few moments before speaking. ‘As a
scientist, I am
absolutely convinced that there is always an explanation for
what I have learned over the years is that we don’t always have an
– yet, perhaps, or never, maybe. Some phenomena are beyond our
or beyond our capacity to explain. That, to my mind, is the case with
experience over Boianai – or wherever it was you were. At least, for
meantime. Now, my advice to you is to keep quiet about it. We’re at
all, and there’s no reason to frighten the horses unnecessarily –
since we can’t say with any certainty what happened to you. On the
tell everybody what you saw – those people, in a
pocket, and green vegetation
and blue seas. And tell them you breathed fresh air. Give people hope,
words, not doubts. There are survivors. We can
live on the
surface again one day… Tell them what you saw, but don’t tell them what
The door slid back silently. Morgan sat in her
wheelchair, bent over, her head nodding slowly.
‘Admiral Morgan?’ said the visitor.
‘Rear Admiral Mundi!’ said Morgan, as her chair
turned. She squinted up at Mundindi’s proud frame. ‘To what do I owe
‘The archaeologists sent me.’
‘They’ve got something to show us, they say.
Mind if I
take a seat?’
‘Of course, Mundi. Sit down. Can I offer you
‘No, thank you, Admiral.’
‘Call me Hannah, Mundi! I’ve been retired for
while now, as you know.’
‘OK, Hannah – it sounds strange, though. You
that business with the Kerimov, over Boianai?’
‘Hah! How could I forget? Do you remember Dow
‘He never stopped.’
‘And the doctor, Garcia? I mean, how cool could
Mundindi nodded. ‘They’re both dead now, you
‘A skirmish. Twenty years or more ago now. They
separated and were ambushed by the Others.’
‘I wonder if Garcia still had his learning
They laughed briefly.
‘So,’ said Morgan, ‘what are we waiting for?’
‘They’re going to send everything over, so you
have to move. When you’re ready, I’ll let them know.’
Mundindi activated the console and a whitewall
‘Admiral Morgan, Rear Admiral Mundindi?’ said a
dome-headed bald man.
‘That’s us,’ said Mundindi.
‘I’m Spencer, the chief archaeologist. We’re
play you something we found. We think it might interest you.’
‘Play away,’ said Morgan.
‘Here it comes. I’m going to play it to you
then we can talk, if you wish.’
The screen showed a man with a large,
and a shock of brownish-black hair falling over his right eye. The man
eyes, but his expression was earnest. He was wearing an old-fashioned
‘Can you imagine what it’s like,’ said the man, ‘to look up into the
sky and see a
totally foreign-looking object … just hovering … er … not very high up
two or three hundred feet up in the air and glowing, and two … er …
jutting out from underneath it and sparkling all around and some
there. This solid-looking object and figures walking about on top and
slightest noise whatsoever. And so we waved – wouldn’t it be wonderful
could get this object down onto the playing field? – and as we waved,
whether we’d get some recognition and whether perhaps they would
what we wanted, they waved back…’
When the interview was over and Spencer had
on the screen, Mundindi gave a long, low whistle. ‘Remember what
said?’ he asked.
‘I remember,’ said Morgan.
‘Say, Spencer,’ said Mundindi, ‘when was this
‘1959,’ said Spencer.
‘Hell,’ said Mundindi, ‘that’s a long time
‘Almost one hundred years before,’ said
two hundred and thirty-three years old, now.’
‘What does intelligence make of the guy?’
‘He’s definitely telling the truth,’ said
‘Who was he?’
‘His name was the Reverend William Booth Gill.
He was what
they called a missionary, a religious man, spreading his faith, working
remote mission in Papua New Guinea at a place called – wait for it;
‘That’s crazy!’ said Mundindi. ‘Where did you
‘We found a whole stash of films and videos and
stuff in an office that got entombed in mud before the heatwave
of it burned, but a lot survived. We’ve been going through the
kept getting sightings of what they called ‘UFOs’ – unidentified flying
objects. Most of the stuff is rubbish; meteors, secret weapon
weather balloons, drones, birds – you know, that sort of thing. But a
the sightings are more difficult to explain – and this is one of the
difficult. Gill was an ordained priest, so he wouldn’t easily have
there were no signs of any eccentricity or drinking or whatever.
was accompanied by thirty-seven witnesses, who all wrote down and
they had seen. It sort-of corroborates well the story you and your
members told Admiral Sheahy all those years ago, don’t you think?’
Later, when they’d said goodbye to Spencer,
for a while in silence. Finally, Mundindi spoke.
‘I suppose we should be happy,’ he said.
‘Not really,’ said Morgan.
‘But doesn’t this prove it?’
‘Prove what, Mundi?’
‘That we were there, in Boianai, in Papua New
in 1959 – that’s where our Kerimov went.’
‘What do you mean, maybe?
How else do you
explain that interview?’
Morgan’s head was dropping and shaking again,
was listening hard.
‘I can’t,’ she said. ‘But this discovery
explain it, either. They’ve just replaced one mystery with another.’
‘You’re right,’ he said, ‘but this is a much
mystery, don’t you think?’
‘I don’t know, Mundi. I don’t know. Maybe we
past. Maybe we didn’t. But I’ll never forget that fresh air. We really
that, didn’t we Mundi?’
‘Oh, hell, yes.’
Postscript (Excerpt from the Prologue from
Stow, Visitants, Martin Secker & Warburg
On 26 June 1959, at Boianai in Papua, visitants
appeared to the Reverend William Booth Gill, himself a visitant of
years standing, and to thirty-seven witnesses of another colour. At
Mr Gill, an Anglican missionary, glanced at the sky to locate the
He saw instead a sparkling object, ‘very, very bright’, which descended
altitude of around four hundred feet. The craft was shaped like a disc,
thirty to forty feet across, with smaller round superstructures, and
had on the
underside four legs pointing diagonally downwards. Uppermost on the
disc was a
circular bridge, like the bridge of a ship, perhaps twenty feet in
Behind this bridge, and visible from the waist
human figures emerged and proceeded to busy themselves with some
deck. They bent and straightened from time to time, occasionally
turning in the
direction of the onlookers, but showed on the whole no interest in
their machine. The focus of activity seemed to be a thin blue spotlight
directed at the sky. This was switched on at irregular intervals, each
the space of a few seconds. The figures, seemingly four in all,
preoccupied with this work for the rest of the night.
On impulse, as one of the figures leaned over
bridge, the clergyman saluted him by waving a hand over his head. The
replied in kind, like a skipper on a boat (said Mr Gill) waving to
the wharf. Then a Papuan teacher called Ananias waved with both arms,
other figures returned the greeting. Encouraged, Mr Gill and Ananias
wave a good deal, and were acknowledged by all four visitants. The
Papuans were ‘surprised and delighted’. Small boys called out, everyone
the ‘beings’ to come down. But there was no audible response, and the
expressions of the figures remained obscure: ‘rather like,’ as Mr Gill
‘players on a football field at night.’
Note: the original 1959 filmed interview with
William Booth Gill can be viewed at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJr-Ss5DnFU
from Visitants by Randolph Stow, published by Text
Stow 1979. Reproduced
by permission of Sheil Land Associates Ltd.
© 2020 Martin Westlake
Bio: Martin Westlake is a British-born resident of
Brussels, Belgium. His last Aphelion apprearance was "Sanction" in our
April, 2018, issue.
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