Silent Vulcan James Follett © 2008
The triangular-shaped mound protruding above the sediment was at a depthof 120 metres and almost in the precise centre of the broad expanse of Pentworth Lake."That," said Bob Harding with suppressed excitement while staring at the echo-sounder's display, "has to be the Silent Vulcan --our visitors' UFO."
A breeze tugged at the Zodiac inflatable boat that the two men were sitting in, causing it to jerk against its tethers. The boat was moored at the intersection of three marker lines that had been stretched taut across the lake and kept afloat with an assortment of beach balls and plastic bottles spaced at regular intervals.Bob Harding's companion in the boat was Detective Sergeant Mike Malone. Both men were wearing shorts and T-shirts. Malone was in his mid 30s. He was lean, muscular and bronzed. His passions were jogging and philosophy -- interests that suited his temperament because he could indulge them alone. By contrast Harding was round-shouldered and pale skinned. He was a former government scientific advisor who had taken early retirement to set up an electrical repair shop and workshop in Pentworth. Now he was the reluctant chairman of Pentworth's governing council and therefore the most powerful man in the community. It was a post that had been thrust on him a week earlier after a successful coup masterminded by Malone. Harding supported the coup -- the former chairman of what had been Pentworth Town Council, Asquith Prescott, had used the emergency to gradually acquire almost dictatorial powers since the appearance of the Wall. His early moves, such as strict controls on air pollution and the setting up of the morris man police had enjoyed wide support because they had been necessary, but Asquith Prescott had gone on to seek absolute power in league with Adrian Roscoe. His ruthlessness had led to him being deposed and Bob Harding being installed as acting-chairman.
Bob Harding was a mild-mannered man with no taste for power; he was quietly determined to restore normal democracy to Pentworth and step down at the first opportunity. The trouble was that to quickly undo the damage caused by Asquith Prescott required stroke-of-a-pen dictatorial powers similar to those that Prescott had employed to put them in place.Malone squinted up at the blistering sun and adjusted the position of the parasol so that the echo-sounder's screen remained shaded. Harding used a digital camera to take another close-up picture of the anomaly in the centre of display. He checked the image he had captured on camera's liquid crystal display."Damn. Still too much hand shake," he said, not concealing the tremble in his voice.Malone said nothing but continued staring at the echo-sounder's screen. Harding's excitement was understandable. If the hazy pattern of green shading on the screen was the Silent Vulcan, then it was the first visible evidence of the UFO's awesome presence other than the Visitors 'ten kilometre diameter Wall that had dominated all their lives for six months since March.The Wall had proved impregnable. It had resisted repeated attempts to break through it. Even a coordinated onslaught by the massed forces of nearly 400 trucks, cars, and tractors distributed around the thirty kilometre perimeter of the Wall had been unable to overcome its terrible yet strangely benign power. As the vehicles began thrusting,the Wall had given way gently at first, and then had gradually pushed back with an irresistible equal and opposite force. No one had come to harm as a result of contact with the Wall. On the night of its appearance, a woman had unwittingly driven into it at high speed. Her Jaguar had been brought to a controlled standstill. "It was like hitting a wall of foam rubber mattresses," the baffled woman had later reported.Equally extraordinary was that the unreachable world beyond the invisible Wall consisted of wind-blasted steppes -- a bleak vista of frost-hardy sedge grasses, and a few wind-stunted trees struggling to survive in hollows and valleys. Small herds of woolly mammoths had been seen grazing the strange landscape, and a retired school teacher, a nun,had even seen a sabre-toothed cat on several occasions. Bob Harding and other amateur astronomers had identified the night sky as that of northern Europe of 40,000 years ago. The strange world beyond the Wall had become known as Farside -- a name also used for the modern world that now, after six months of isolation, seemed lost forever to the imprisoned people of Pentworth.Some even thought that the real world had ceased to exist, and asteadily increasing minority believed that the Wall was a punishment by God. Then there were those who liked the new life, as it was called.They liked the simplicity, the clean air, organically grown food, the freedom from motor traffic and above all, the community spirit that the Visitors and their Wall had produced.Harding had a hazy plan to attempt to communicate with theVisitors in their Silent Vulcan.
There were so many questions to be asked. Where were they from? Why had they come? How long did they intend to stay? Why had they created the Wall? Did they realise the heartache and misery it was causing?There were so many questions clamouring for answers -- the most immediate being was how to communicate with the Visitors. Harding had no idea but he was confident that he would think of something. Knowing exactly where they were helped.A distant whistle blew. Malone glanced up and saw a volunteer life guard signalling to a bather who had swum outside the roped-off safe bathing area. The small beach that the governing council of Pentworth had been created using wagon loads of sand was dotted with sunshades.Beyond the bathing area around the beach where children were splashing with their parents was a steep shelf which fell away to the unplumbed depths of the lake .Millennia before, water made acidic by decaying vegetation had leached down through the upper strata of sandstone and washed away the under lying limestone leaving a vast cavern. Eventually the land had collapsed to form this curious lake. It was typical of the supposedly bottomless swallow holes of Sussex. In the case of Pentworth Lake, the upwelling from underground springs had kept the bottom sediment in a state of low density and near-constant agitation so that no one knew the lake's true depth. Since the appearance of the Wall there had been a decrease in evaporation and a corresponding decrease in the formation of rain clouds within the dome which had allowed the sediment to settle.What rainfall there was proving adequate for the needs of 6000 people,but only just.
Harding took another picture, this time steadying his forearm against the car battery that powered the echo-sounder. He stowed the camera for future down-loading of its images to his laptop computer, and used a pair of dividers to measure the fuzzy triangle against the echo-sounder's scale. "It's six point two metres along each side," he said toMalone. "A near perfect equilateral triangle. And it's at the precise centre of the Wall."Malone's wide set, brooding eyes continued to regard the echo-sounder's image of the strange mound. His quick mind applied the philosophy of Occam's Razor to the problem, quickly analyzing and discarding explanations of the phenomenon. Debris? Unlikely -- it was too big. A practical joke? Also unlikely because Pentworth Lake was on the patrol route of the Morris men police, now under his command.
A Luftwaffe bomber had crashed in the lake during World War II and had never been recovered. But something as flimsy as aircraft wreck a genearly three quarters of century old could not account for such a large,regular structure. Several other possible causes failed at the fences of his remarkable reasoning powers. Bob Harding's conviction that the object at the bottom of Pentworth Lake was the so-called Silent Vulcan UFO was the only one that made sense."It looks too small to be an inter-stellar spacecraft," said Harding."How large should an inter-stellar spacecraft be, Mr Chairman?"queried Malone."Well spotted, Mike. I'm reverse engineering from the size of the brain cell. That is, assuming our Visitors are a carbon-based,oxygen-dependent life form, which I'm pretty sure they are. They would have to have a brain of a certain size, which means lungs of a certain size, which means a heart and associated organs of a certain size. They could be smaller than us, but I doubt if they would be significantly so.In the intelligence league tables, size does matter." He switched off the echo-sounder."Unless the Silent Vulcan is a robot vehicle -- unmanned, or rather, unaliened," Malone observed."That's a real possibility.""And one that will make your ideas to communicate with them that much more difficult.""The real difficulty would be persuading the council to vote there sources to carry out any plan," Harding replied. A telling reply,thought Malone. It illustrated the difference in leadership style between the retired scientist and the recently usurped Asquith Prescott.If Prescott decided he wanted to do something, he went right ahead and did it. Democratic decision-making had gradually become an inconvenience as far as Asquith Prescott had been concerned."Anyway," Harding continued. "If the Silent Vulcan is manned by machines, they must have an extremely high level of cognitive ability to control their UFO -- to respond to emergencies and so on. You can't use radio remote control if the time to exchange signals runs into years.The unmanned landers sent to Mars had to do a lot of their own decision-making. And that's where the radio delay is only a matter of minutes."Malone gazed across the lake to where David Weir's sheep were grazing the steep rise that led to the sandstone outcrop known as the Temple of the Winds.
His mind went back to the night before the Wall had appeared in March when he had nearly caught a strange, crab-like device that had been following him as he jogged home. It had been about the size of a large dog. He had come within a metre of throwing himself on it when it had sprouted contra-rotating helicopter-like rotors and disappeared into the night sky. Several other locals had seen it. One had dubbed it the "spyder" and the name had stuck. There was no doubt that it was a machine -- and a highly intelligent and capable machine at that judging by the speed of its reactions when he had tried to catch it."I'm not too keen on your breakdown theory and that they're waiting for some sort of on-site repair visit," said Malone at length."Their spyder machine seemed to be bloody reliable to me, and I expect the rest of their systems are the same."Harding grinned at the police officer. "I'm not too keen on it myself, Mike. I only advanced it as a possibility.""So let's assume, Mr Chairman, that their arrival is deliberate.In which case the policeman in me demands a motive for their visit. It can't be primarily to gather information because they must know that their Wall has had a sufficiently profound affect on the environment and our behaviour to invalidate much, if not all, of their data. They 've turned us into a 21st Century community of 6000 people, but isolated from the rest of the world, and having to come to terms with the farming and transport and day to day living of the early 19th Century. Our behaviour is hardly typical. So I ask myself why they're here.""Perhaps they want to find out how we manage under stress?"Harding suggested.
The squelch on the police PMR radio clipped to Malone's belt opened. It was a report by a morris men police patrol to say that a search party had left Pentworth House. The groups sent out by Adrian Roscoe's Bodian Brethren from their Pentworth House headquarters were adaily occurrence. Malone's standing orders were that such search parties were to be monitored but not interfered with provided their behaviour stayed within the law. The duty operations officer at Pentworth police station acknowledged and the radio fell silent. Harding started packing the echo-sounder, neatly coiling its transducer lead. He commented, "The scenario much-loved by science-fiction writers of the past, starting with H.G. Wells and his War of the Worlds, was the take over of the earth.""By trapping a little town like Pentworth in the middle of a ten kilometre diameter spherical force wall?""Maybe Pentworth's Wall is a prototype?" Harding ventured."Maybe there will be, or already are for all we know, thousands of such force wall spheres all over the world? Millions, perhaps. Every community in the world isolated from its neighbours. Divide and conquer."Malone shook his head. "Too clumsy.""Why?""Vikki Taylor. A 16-year-old girl who had a terrible accident as a toddler that resulted in her losing her left hand. She's visited in her sleep by the spyder and within 24-hours she's regrown a perfect left hand.""And gets condemned as a witch because of it," said Harding with quietly suppressed anger. "The reason I took on this job you've foisted on me is because of what happened to Vikki Taylor and Ellen Duncan."Malone regarded Harding steadily. "Any intelligence capable of growing a new hand on a human being isn't going to indulge in brute force tactics if they want to take over the world, Mr Chairman. They'd make the human race sterile and simply walk in one hundred years or solater when we're extinct."
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