|Back to Index||Written August, 1998|
The Rover leapt over the dune and sped down the dirt track at an impressive speed. The wheels spun in the mud before the adaptive nanotechs extended and regained the grip sending the vehicle forward again. Several times they were travelling at an almost insane angle and the passengers were sure that the car would have tipped over if it was not for the gravitic stabilisers compensating and keeping the car up right. At the front the cars tiny fusion motor propelled it up the steepest slopes with ease and barely made a sound. It also provided enough power for the laser cutters which the driver used occasionally to clear the way where the track had become blocked.
It was a typically modified Rover as might be found in hundreds of game reserves and safari parks around the world that year, 2106. What was not typical was the occupants.
Duncan McNeil was well over six feet tall with brown hair and dark blue, piercing eyes. He sat straight and tall - probably the result of his upbringing in one of the strictest of the farms.
To his left sat John Silma, and short man with only a wisp of grey hair adorning his head and with eyes which seemed to look forlornly out into the distance. It was largely agreed that he was a man with a few stories to tell but since he had never offered any information and nobody had yet had the nerve to ask, this remained unconfirmed.
Sitting on the other side was the third member of the trio. Sayidi Mao had a thick head of hair which was currently jet black. I write 'currently' because he was famous for changing his hair colour almost as often as he changed his socks.
In addition to these three there was the driver/ranger who was currently involved it getting the group from A to B via the shortest route possible. His near perpetual silence punctuated only be the occasional grunt of warning regarding an especially low branch or steep slope was probably due to the informal 'introduction' he had been given by a number of very humourless bodyguards the day before for, as the bodyguards had assured him, these were important men.
Just how important the driver was thankfully not aware since he would probably have had a nervous breakdown. His passengers were occupied three of the most important four positions on the planet. It had been suggested that because all three were men this was evidence of discrimination in government appointments. The truth was somewhat more believable - they were the best.
The reason for their presence here would doubtless have been a source of confusion to the driver but the truth of the matter is that even people in the most powerful of positions occasionally find it necessary to take holidays. That they were in a game reserve was proof that they were on holiday and indeed their civil service records did show them on leave. That they had chosen to go on holiday together meant that besides the food and the scenery there would only be one topic of conversation.
"I assume you have tried atomics." Said Mao. It was less of a question than a statement and the others at first did little more than nod. They each had enough to think about.
At length McNeil broke the silence. "We tried two one hundred megaton fusion bombs. Our scans indicate that the energy didn't penetrate it."
Mao swore. "If it can block that much energy there are definite applications for shielding on our ships. It could cut down the amount of heat screens we have to carry to almost nothing."
Mao was head of the Earth's navy and as such was prone to think in terms of how everything would effect his ships.
"I would think that we are a long way from utilizing this...thing. We don't understand anything about it." Silma replied thoughtfully. "What exactly do we know?" He asked.
"It's some sort of coherent energy field existing just outside our solar system. It doesn't allow matter through. It allows low intensity energy through though - the light from stars for example, but not high intensity such as that produced by our weapons. We don't seem to be able to blow a hole in it with our nuclear weapons either." McNeil filled them in.
"Then it all comes down to the golden question. What is it?" Mao asked.
"We have absolutely no idea." Replied McNeil.
"I think our theories about 'empty' space beyond the solar system may be complete rubbish." Said McNeil depressingly.
"You're saying that we're looking at some new law of physics?"
"I'd say that it is the most likely explanation."
The Rover reached its destination and the driver disengaged the engine. In the near distance the passengers could make out the outline of four lions against the horizon. They were wandering lazily towards them.
"What if it's artificial?" Asked Mao. "This could be the work of some cult or something which doesn't believe in ships leaving the solar system."
"I've never heard of any cult like that before." Said Silma doubtfully. "And if that were true then they would have to have access to some pretty heavy technology."
"Heavier than anything Earthgovs got." Completed Mao. "It's possible but I see your point when you say its not likely."
McNeil nodded thoughtfully and took a good look at one of the lions. It helped to clear his mind. "How big is this reserve?" He asked the driver.
"About 70 square kilometres." Came the somewhat tentative reply. "It's got electric fencing round it."
"Electric fences..." McNeil nodded and murmured quietly. "What about comets?" He asked suddenly.
"What about comets?" Said Mao then realised. "Oh. I see what you mean. Comets have elliptical orbits which would take them outside the barrier. Why aren't they effected?"
"We know pretty much all there is to know about comets." Said Silma. "There's nothing about them that would suggest why they should pass through the barrier." He paused for a second. "The obvious conclusion is that they only seem to have elliptical orbits but actually they bounce off the barrier just like our ships."
"Do you mean to say that no-one has ever tailed a comet and found out." Mao was incredulous. It didn't seem to occur to him that if anyone had done so it would have been his ships which would have been doing the tailing.
"Nobody has bothered." Confirmed Silma. "Studying comets was very popular at the beginning of the last century but nowadays nobody gives them a second look. They are all pretty much the same anyway. People just got bored of them."
McNeil shook his head in exasperation. The lions by this point had walked round the car and continued on their way.
"Why don't they attack the car." Said McNeil, suddenly interested.
The driver looked like he had been shocked out of a state close to sleep. "They've seen them since birth." He replied. "They know there is nothing new and that they're not a threat so they leave them alone."
"You could almost say they got bored." Said McNeil thoughtfully.
"I suppose so."
Silence. McNeil broke it. "Electric fences..." He murmured, still pondering whatever issue that their mention had raised.
"What?" Asked Mao.
"Maybe comets do have elliptical orbits." McNeil suggested suddenly.
"Erm...how?" Asked Mao patiently.
"Don't you see it?" Asked McNeil, irritated.
They didn't. McNeil laughed. It was a curious laugh which combined humour with anger and frustration. "We ignore comets. Lions ignore the Land Rover. And electric fences." He shook his head.
"Gentlemen, has it ever occurred to you that our solar system may be a game reserve?"