††††††††† Rimmi slithered into the chamber where his master sat viewing space.† A cold and bottomless dark surrounded Or, his master, making its station a focal point of fear.† Alone at the helm, surrounded in its domed command post by nearly three hundred and sixty degrees of empty space, Or appeared disembodied: a creature that defied description.† A translucent command seat beneath its outrageous, toad-like form and a small control console, which allowed it to guide the ship, were barely visible in the darkness.† A billion stars behind its shadowy silhouette reminded Rimmi that this ship had become his prison and was not the subterranean world in which he had originally lived.
††††††††† As he inched forward through the long narrow corridor leading to the bridge, Rimmi felt as if he might fall off this platform into infinite space.
††††††††† Gradually, as part of a conquered species on his master's planet, he had adapted to above ground civilization and the differences in climate and terrain.† But never in his long life could he ever get use to this part of the ship.† It was not the place for a serpent, whose claustrophobic world-view demanded at least four walls, a ceiling, and a floor.
††††††††† A feeling of weightlessness and dizziness now gripped Rimmi.† It was suddenly cold out on the starlit bridge.† As he scanned the sphere, a planet loomed suddenly beneath them.† To the master's right there also appeared a large moon, which seemed to stand guard over the world below.
††††††††† There was, Rimmi remembered on their own planet, a terrible openness about the topography, but at least there had been ground beneath him, caves to crawl into, and buildings to shield him from the home planet's relentless sun.† Here on the bridge, except for tiny phosphorescent points, there was no light to mark the trail.† There had been, as he passed through the corridor and until this startling moment, only the endless blackness of space.
††††††††† Back in the main vessel he had felt a silence so deep and pervasive, compared to the tumult back home, that it caused him the deepest despair.† Now he was confronted with an even worst fear: a fear of the unknown.† A planet similar in appearance to his own world loomed below the floating bridge.† It appeared almost before his very eyes, like a conjurer's trick intended to trick the brain.
††††††††† They had arrived at a new destination: a point on the opposite end of the universe in which they had begun.† It had been a long mission for them, covering millions of light years and countless centuries, a journey in which the master had been searching for just the right signs and portents, secretly intruding upon thousands of worlds in its quest for facts.† Rimmi had never once asked his master where he was taking them and what they would find once they reached their destination.
††††††††† A special foreboding filled Rimmi as he made his entrance onto the bridge.† Here in the control sphere, shining on Or's downcast face, the light of the new planet cast up, in cold shafts, images that were pleasing to its great eyes.† As Rimmi watched, an eerie flicker within the blackness grew, a land mass appeared and became fixed, enlarged, and focused.† It was part of the magic, which allowed Or to capture images from time and space.† Now that they were directly over a likely sector, the technique became more a matter of magnification as it scanned the planet: a vast mind focusing upon a large, mysterious world.
††††††††† At this point, it could not have explained its quest to the serpent, and yet it conveyed an excitement that the serpent had not seen for many years.† Clearly there was something special about this planet to give his master such a thrill.
††††††††† For a moment the planet vanished as the eyes were turned his way.† Two great beacons of light came from the cavity of its mind.† Rimmi could see himself approaching the beacons: dark, slimy, and horribly ugly.† He did not like his reflection, especially in his master's eyes.† But he held still, waiting for it to speak, as if his snapshot would soon be taken, captured for all time.
††††††††† Slowly now, by increments, Or lowered its great eyes again, Remixís reflection sliding from view.† Blackness and then patches of light returned as it probed the depths below.† With the precision of an astronomer, it focused upon a random portion of the planet's surface.† Over a strange landscape it probed.† A great civilization lay beneath the shifting cloud masses, centered between a mountain range and an ocean, stretching endlessly it seemed north and south.† Closer and closer it focused, until it was panning back and forth over one particular zone.† Across an alien city of skyscrapers, which were interspersed with roads, its gaze now traveled until reaching a likely spot.
††††††††† A great metropolis, much larger but far more primitive than one of their own cities, now loomed in Or's gaze.
††††††††† "Look serpent," it pointed "and tell me what you see."
††††††††† ". . . A place where bipeds live," he replied carefully, ". . . only bipeds live in structures like that. . . . There are long continuous roads everywhere and machines in motion on them.† In some places, where there are bright lights, the machines are stopped, while in others, where there are only endless corridors, they move continuously.† There are also flying machines in the sky that look like sand skimmers back home yet are more primitive.† Some of them land as if they cannot control gravity, while others hover mysteriously in various spots. . . . I don't see the inhabitants, however, because we are too far away, and yet I know they're there.† This must be a crowded, fast-paced world master, without population controls and breeding laws.† I suppose itís an excellent choice!"
††††††††† After his reply, his master's anomalous mass moved in a gesture of approval, the black crystals letting the illusion fade, disappear, and his own terrible reflections return as he looked up.
††††††††† "What kind of world is this serpent?" it asked cagily. "How would it be classed?"
††††††††† "A world once similar but now much different than our own," answered Rimmi promptly "but with less water, more land, and a civilization constantly on the move."
††††††††† "That's good serpent!" Or nodded with approval.† "Now I have a name for it.† Yes, . . . it's called Earth. . . . My sensors are picking up random pieces of information from millions of alien minds.† I've never sensed so much data in one sector at one time.† I sense something else serpent.† This world is very superstitious; it is nothing like worlds I've visited before.† It is filled with many beliefs and many gods."
††††††††† "I no longer believe in the gods." Rimmi replied frankly. "I believe in your magic and the power of this ship: it's become my religion.† You are my god!"
††††††††† "Well spoken serpent.† You always know the right things to say, even though it's not true.† I've never claimed to be anything more than a scientist to you.† You will be the only one to know my secret.† You were right to call the inhabitants primitive, but they are also a religious breed.† This has great promise.† As I make my entrance, I can either do so invisibly, so I will not appear as a threat, or I can hide in their collective superstitions, camouflaged as a spirit or one of their gods.† Do you have any idea what I could do with this world serpent?"
††††††††† "Master, until now, I've kept silent." Rimmi began to show anxiety. "You are the master; I am your servant.† It's not my place to complain. . . . But is it safe to interfere with another world's religion or gods?† What do I know about such things?† It's true that you are a great scientist, whom I worship as god.† It's also true that your magic is the only magic I know.† But what if there is a real god down below who doesn't want you meddling in his affairs?† Tell me great one, is it worth the risk?† Wouldn't it be better just to slip down unnoticed as you've done countless times before, gather your information, then return to the ship.† Out here in space you are the master. . . Down there in that crowded world, who knows what you'll become: a god, a magician, . . . a devil?† Take my humble advice and do what you do best: gather data, perform a few experiments and exit this world.† You are a scientist; I am your faithful assistant.† Satisfy your curiosity, bring back some data, but leave their superstitions alone!"
††††††††† "Serpent," Or grew irritated, "as usual, true to form, you equivocate.† Are you or are you not superstitious?† If you do not believe in alien gods, what does it matter what I do?"
††††††††† "Those creatures and their civilization are intelligent," Rimmi searched for just the right words "nothing compared to your vast mind, but collectively--and they are a multitude master--they might try even your powers!"
††††††††† "Yes, . . . and it would be most refreshing." Or murmured dreamily, as Rimmi began to squirm." "I've visited many worlds serpent.† Never once was anyone been given the slightest notion I was there. . . . I might manipulate a creature here and there and change the weather for better or worse, but, after dabbling awhile, I'd get bored, make my exit, and return to serve out my exile in this ship.† I remained invisible to them, a slight ambience, rise or lowering of temperature, or troublesome breeze.† Always, the search was for data, curiosity guiding me.† Always, I left unnoticed, the current world intact and none the wiser.† But this time it will be different serpent.† This time, I will be seen and heard.† This time I come for the sport. . . . I tell you Rimmi, I've never seen the likes of this world before!"
††††††††† After a long pause in which its gaze slowly lowered, Or's great orbs once again changed.† It had, as always, a captive audience.† The serpentine body of Rimmi coiled with expectation.† Higher and higher Rimmi raised his head, his furtive eyes drawn to his orbs.† This time, however, his master waited several moments until something appeared: a long train of moving machines against a backdrop of buildings and more distant clouds.
††††††††† A new picture was developing that had some relationship to the first, but there was a period of mystery added now for effect.† Captured in the shadow of time, the orbs came closer and closer to the machines: twin beacons showing the same scenes, zeroing in on one particular machine in which two bipeds now sat.† Swaying back and forth, Rimmi flicked his trident tongue in and out, faster and faster as the images took form.
††††††††† There was a continual movement in Or's eyes and unintelligible noises, obviously a language system of earth.† At first, as Or brought them right up to the machine, the sound of talking was faint: a form of communication that used the mouth instead of the mind.† Then the volume was turned up for Rimmi as the features of these creatures became clear, until two earth faces loomed hideously in each orb.† Slowly now Rimmi slid forth to view the scene, curiosity drawing him on.
††††††††† ". . . Awful!" he murmured finally "Hair is growing on their heads and over their eyes.† They're ugly!† They have no grace or style as our people.† They're the strangest looking bipeds I've ever seen!"
††††††††† "Yes," Or nodded thoughtfully "they're strange looking all right.† What else do you notice? . . . Come on, serpent.† It's not simply their appearance or their sounds.† Look closely at their orifices and appendages."
††††††††† Rimmi continued sliding forth but stopped a respectful distance from its eyes.† "Yes, I see master.† They talk with their mouths and gesture with their hands."† "Very curious!" he squinted. ". . . Intelligent beings that do not have mind control.† Your possibilities are limitless!"
††††††††† For several moments Rimmi watched these images, without the slightest notion of what they meant.† What was the significance of these bipeds in this long stream of machinery?† It was a totally unfamiliar scene to him, as alien as another world could be.† He knew that the bipeds he had seen up close were important.† Their selection was not a random event.† He could also see, in his cautious, serpentine mind, trouble ahead.† What did it mean?† Who were they to command the attention of the great Or?† It was obvious to Rimmi that his master was tired of the old formulas.† Data was no longer his primary goal.† At last, he was going to do something for sport.† He was going to have an impact on this world!
††††††††† The bipeds talked in a language that Or tried to translate and impart mentally to him.† For the first time in many years, he saw his master struggle with input.† There were too many irregularities in the alien's speech.† Its rhythm was erratic and incredibly slow.† Their strange speech began to annoy Rimmi.† He had never heard such chatter.† For awhile, as Or allowed them to linger in its great orbs, Rimmi sat there on its bridge and witnessed the antics of these men, positive that they were important in his master's plan to invade Earth.†
††††††††† For a serpent, who had seen millions of worlds in the master's eyes, a pair of strange looking and strange talking bipeds would not normally have generated interest.† But, because of Or's sudden interest in them, he was curious.† He had not seen his master this excited for a very long time.† Already Or was beginning his amorphous change, which was only precipitated by climactic events.† A more appropriate response seemed in order, therefore: something profound or at least flattering. . . But what did one say to something that continually changed. . . something that was far more interesting than the images it conveyed?
††††††††† On Or's home planet, Rimmi recalled, evolution was said to have begun as a primal blob.† From such a blob now, Or transformed into several stages of the planet's animal life: worm-like through fish-like and amphibian-like and then lizard-like creatures.† From something resembling a reptile, higher levels of animal life also paraded before Rimmiís eyes, until it reached it's normal form.
††††††††† Remaining now in its natural state, Or stared at the serpent, his large black eyes holding the images still for the servant to view.
††††††††† In a playful manner, the menagerie of shapes and sounds exhibited by Or shifted into reverse into the lower forms of life.† His master's eyes were his main concern: direct communicators to the planet below.† But his sense of awe continued as it moved down the evolutionary scale.† Fish-like, slug-like, and then blob-like creatures paraded before his eyes.† A hideous bubbling and gurgling followed until it reached a likely spot.
††††††††† As something at the far edge of madness then it froze.† After the imprint of this latest horror filled his mind, Rimmi's interest shifted reluctantly back to his eyes.
††††††††† Unable to speak now, the great glistening glob motioned to him in that characteristic amoeba-like movement seen beneath microscopes.† Knowing he must continue, Rimmi groped passed the sublime for meaning in the mundane: "these beings have been chosen for something.† They are very strange looking but very important to your mission on Earth, whatever that is. . . I still can't understand what they're saying.† So far you've transmitted to me only meaningless words."
††††††††† Unable to respond yet, Or motioned excitedly while his mouth formed.† At this stage, his master had mutated into a mushroom-like organism, still retaining the same monstrous eyes.
††††††††† "You can't decipher this master." Rimmi declared with a shrug. "You're going to have to probe their minds like you've done before.† I respectfully advise against this.† This time you might again drive the aliens mad!"
††††††††† Watching the two bipeds stop their machine and climb out, Rimmi noted all of their seemingly pointless movements, including the point when the taller biped spat onto the ground.
††††††††† "They're a vile folk master!" he shuttered. "On Grom that would be a grave insult--a declaration of war." "And now the other is spitting on the ground too." he made a face. "These creatures are disgusting!† Isn't there an attractive side to this world?† Why bother with such a group?"
††††††††† Expecting a rebuke, Rimmi drew back pensively into a serpentine pose.† The great Or, who had seemed to be amused until now, studied the serpent, as Rimmi watched its eyes.† As the bipeds walked up to several other similar creatures by the road, one of them carried a piece of equipment that reminded him of a primitive probe.† While the shorter biped held a stick in his hands, a long cord connected to the other alien's equipment must have gathered input from the other bipeds, and it was obvious that the equipment on the taller biped's shoulder was taking visual input as well.† Rimmi had seen much more interesting things in the master's eyes: stars exploding, planets forming, and incredible life forms much uglier or far more attractive than what he had seen so far.† But it was what was going on below these orbs that continued to distract him now.
††††††††† Slimy green stalactites, as the formations in a dank, dark cave now dripped down from Or's jaw.† As it tried to speak, they gradually evolved into primal teeth in a primordial head, as part of a creature again resembling a toad.
††††††††† It was back to his normal shape.
††††††††† ". . . Come closer servant," it finally uttered "so you'll have a front row seat. . . That's right, close enough to look right in."† "Now tell me," it coaxed him gently "what do you think of them so far?"
††††††††† "From what you've shown me," Rimmi replied carefully "it's hard to say.† Obviously your more interested in the shorter one; he's the one you zero in on when they speak.† And yet the taller one holds the machine.† Surely, he must have the power!"
††††††††† Always cautious when he spoke, he listened with a patient ear as Or described this scene.† After explaining to Rimmi that this was Earth's method of gathering input for machines similar to its orbs, (he translated more clearly what he had learned).† The shorter biped was asking other bipeds questions.† Perhaps he was a scientist, like itself, or maybe it was an important ritual on earth.† These actions confounded Rimmi, even when his master tried to explain.† But the gist of it was that the shorter biped was probing other bipeds minds in order to put their input into the machine which Or believed was similar to primitive orb-like device invented long ago on Grom.
††††††††† Or was obviously making some kind of point and would make it in his own good time.† As he had done in situations before, Rimmi quietly waited for the proper time to speak.† He did not care what his master was up to just so long as it did not effect him.† Although his plan made no sense at all yet, he would play along until it did.
††††††††† As they spoke, their ship was coming closer and closer to earth.† Rimmi, who had been absorbed in his master's countenance and the eerie message in his eyes, realized finally with a shutter that they were suddenly within landing range of the planet.† Since the Groman vessel could not land on such a populated world without drawing attention, Or would break through their atmosphere disguised as a meteorite.† Rimmi had never seen his master do this before.† He was filled with terror when Or motioned for him to leave the bridge.† Perhaps this particular transformation would be too painful for him to watch or his master was merely showing his eccentricity, but Or wanted to be alone now.†
After the serpent disappeared into the corridor leading from the bridge, Or turned to the translucent floor at his feet.† Reaching to the control console with his left hand, reached down with his right hand and touched the translucent floor.† A barely perceptible sphere appeared, as he touched a control button and then the floor.† The timer was set for him to be ejected from the sphere.† From his current misshapen shape now, he exerted all his energies to make the transformation work.† Not only did he have to move backwards into his planet's evolution but he had to resemble inanimate matter.† The primal blob, which was normally its lowest level, had to drop one step further: into a primal lump of matter.
††††††††† As the master gathered itself into its lowest common denominator, it wondered if it was not going too far.† What if it landed on a populated zone and killed many of the creatures below?† That would be a poor start.† What if it had miscalculated its invincibility and burned up as would any other meteorite entering a planet's atmosphere?† That would be the end.
††††††††† On the other hand, how else could he enter this world incognito?† And then it struck the great Or, who had served most of his long life in exile, that he was tired of being incognito.† As the Groman meteorite hurled to earth, a peculiar impulse grew in Or to expand itself upon impact.† When the meteorite finally hit a patch of ocean along the Pacific coast, it found itself exploding forth from the water as a water spout, rising to the sky as a wide arc mist, gathering itself together finally into a cloud which managed to take on its original shape.
††††††††† From the bridge now, Rimmi peaked through transparent window encircling the sphere but could see nothing but darkness now that the ship had rotated the sphere out of range.† Rimmi slid forward to peek into the viewing scope hanging down into the bridge, his eyes unable to follow the descent of his master, his mind bewildered by his hasty exit.† This was, for the time being, his ship.† For some reason, he could not yet fathom, Or had abandoned his normal format.† A mixture of excitement, anxiety, and fear now gripped the serpent as he contemplated his master departure.† He was safe this far out into space.† With the shield that surrounded the vessel nothing could penetrate its bizarre design. . . So why was he filled with such an uncompromising dread? . . Why did he feel as if something terrible was about to begin?