The sky was dark and gloomy and beautiful. Aurora borealis lit up the sky with multi colored strands of light. Stars could be seen through the weak orange glow of the dying sun. The stars never change their positions now. The earth has stopped rotating long since. The moon is just stuff of legend now.
The ROC hung like a miniature star high in the sky. Barely moving, barely stirring, it’s body glowing with its own bio luminescence as it looked about for it’s prey. It had been starving. The humans who lived on the ring of land around the equator now have moved underground. Nearer to the core, nearer to heat, away from the roc. Today, it spotted two tiny figures moving towards an underground entrance. There are many such entrances scattered all over the land. They provide access to the underground caverns and the roc knew that sooner or later people will come out to recieve or attack these two. The roc will feast then. It waited.
The smaller of the two looked up directly at the roc and said “That star just moved”
His companion gave a glance to the sky and quickened his pace.
“Judas, will you tell me what’s going on” the little man’s voice had become hysteric.
“That’s not a star” said Judas “that’s a roc. They use their body’s bio luminescence. From the ground they look like stars. Perfect camouflage. Don’t you think?”
“And what is a roc?”
“Wait a minute,Flint.” Judas said, a hint of suspicion entering his voice “You are a native of this place and you don’t know what a roc is?”
“Nobody tells me anything.”Flint complained “They say I am not old enough and if I hadn’t run away today I would…”
“…not have been attacked by the Kraith. eh!” Judas interrupted “You are not as old as you would like to believe,hmm.”
Something whistled out of the dark and missed Judas by an inch, Splattering the rock nearby with some green oozy fluid that started to dissolve the rock immediately.
“That must be Jonathon. And the hunt has begun.Normally HUNTS start only when hunger demands. But, this time it’s early.” Flint’s eyes got wider, “And he never misses..you must be lucky”
“Guess he didn’t want to hit me.”
“You don’t understand. Jonathon shoots to kill”
“For a kid who had been lost, you know a lot about them,eh”
“Naturally” Flint said with a hint of sarcasm,”They are my tribe and Jonathan is my father, Chieftain of the l’hoh tribe.”
Two more arrows followed and both missed Judas, albeit closely and Flint’s eye grew wider.
“That isn’t possible” Flint muttered darkly “Jonathan must have become mad by now”
Three more arrows flew and they all missed. A sudden silence gathered around them.
“Who are you?” bellowed a man”What are you doing with my daughter.?”
More men emerged from behind innocent looking rocks and boulders.
“Father” Flint screamed, “This man saved my life, killed two kraiths with his bare hands. Show him some respect”
The silence deepened as all eyes turned towards Judas.
“You are a girl.?” Judas spluttered.
“A fanciful story,kid” Jonathan said,moving towards them “But, no man ain’t killed two kraiths, ever. Got that, kid..?”
“And as for you, sir” Jonathan continued, stopping mere two feet away, “the hunt doesn’t show any mercy.”
Jonathan lifted his heavy bow and pointed it directly towards Judas.
The silence became palpable, all eyes were fixed on Jonathan and the smiling Judas.
No one ever saw the stars in the sky move.
Flint was the first one to notice. She pointed and screamed, just as the first roc snatched a man and flew directly towards Judas, the man struggling in it’s talons.
Men burst into action as they aimed their chloro-pistols at the creature and Jonathan’s arrow made a shattering sound as it flew through the air and struck the roc’s harder than diamond outer shell. The creature was fast, but Judas was faster and nearer. He jumped into the air as the roc flew directly overhead and threw something at it.
There was a huge burst of light as the roc disintegrated into glowing ash and the man fell to the ground, bruised but alive. All this took only seconds.
Stunned silence followed Judas as he landed gracefully in the midst of glowing ash falling from the sky and gave them a lopsided grin.
Jonathan’s face bore a look of incredulity and Flint’s, fierce pride.
“H..how did you do it. What was thing that you threw?” Jonathan whispered into the silence.
“Salt” Judas said, “It was just salt. Roc’s bodies are composed of 90% water, almost like a jelly fish. But, with a shell protecting it and the two pores at the end of the body.”
“From which they emit steam to fly.” Flint said, nodding.
“Which is a biological impossibility” Judas continued, “I mean, no living creatures should possibly be able to emulate a two way steam engine to fly. And look at them, with their size, how could they get the lift to fly so high. This doesn’t make sense…”
“..Many things don’t make sense since the Ska invasion, boy” Jonathan rumbled, “but, you were saying something about salt. Pray, continue”
“Right,” Judas conceded, ” What I did was that I threw the salt into one of the holes as it flew overhead and as the salt entered it’s system each crystal absorbed the water around it causing microscopic ruptures in the structure of the skin when the water particles left their usual place to gather around the salt particles..”
“..eventually causing the skin to completely disintegrate.” Flint interrupted, nodding.
“Time for talk is over, boy” Jonathan bellowed, pointing up. “Prepare to fight”
Every eye moved upward and widened in shock. Hundreds of rocs were descending in a play of light and colors that dwarfed the majesty of aurora borealis themselves. Streamers of light, of unimaginable colors,unimaginably beautiful, were bellowing towards the awestruck humans.
Judas looked around him and found every one looking at the certain death above them, except Jonathan, who was staring at him, bow and arrow ready. Judas slightly shook his head. The old man looked at him steadily for a moment before nodding.
“Men, retreat” Jonathan barked, “We are too few to fight them. And Judas, you can come with us”
The cavern was huge. Bright sodium lamps hung from the ceilings. Smell of earth mixed with that of cooking and thousand other scents. A reassuring hum of human voices filed the cavern.
A shrill cry broke Judas’ reverie. It came from a old woman who was rushing towards them.
“O the lucky one is come. Man from the past. You are our last hope”
Judas stopped in his tracks.
“Don’t worry.” Flint said, “she is just a PEV”
“What is a PEV” Judas asked.
“They are all psychos. They claim that they are connected to their own versions in parallel worlds. That way they can view each timeline from any viewpoint possible. Or so they say. Whoever heard of parallel worlds. Eh” Flint laughed.
Presently they found themselves inside a big cave. Sans Jonathan’s men.
“These are our lab and our living quarters” Flint explained, “you can have the room at the back. But first I must analyze this piece of roc I found.”
“They are sentient and psychic, you know.” Jonathan muttered under his breath.
” Sentient may be, but psychic, again that’s biologically impossible their brains are not of right size” Judas said, his face twisted in thought, ” Someone’s messing with them.”
“Oh Gods in heavens. How is this possible. The atoms are alive, and they.. they are singing .”
Judas turned to see Flint standing slack-jawed in mid stride wearing her micro visor as she faltered.
Jonathan was there in a heart beat. Reaching out and steadying her.
Flint only said “See this for yourselves.” A smug expression on her face.
Judas took the visor from her face and switched on it’s projector. A magnified vision revealed itself on the opposite wall.
Thousands and millions of spherical things. Changing colors at random. Moving around, clashing with each other, swapping colors. Fusing, combining, breaking. Growing absorbing, dying. It was a whole world there.
“What are those?” Jonathan asked, awestruck.
“They are atoms”Judas whispered, “And they are alive”
“They are not from earth, or from that matter, the universe.” Flint said, “I have checked”.
Very very tiny voices seemed to sing in Judas’ ear. He looked around and saw his expression mirrored on other’s faces.
They all could hear it. The changing colors on the wall have become less random now. Judas was still holding the visor. On a whim he directed a thought ‘STOP’ towards it. And the movement on the wall stopped.
For the blink of an eye, the colors on the wall shimmered and froze. The singing reached a crescendo and fell silent. For that endless second, time slowed. A breeze came out of nowhere and ruffled Judas’ hair.
Blue, black,green, violet, a thousand colors passed his thoughts and the atoms responded to them all. Sorrow, happiness, anger, pride, a thousand emotions crossed his thoughts and the atoms responded to them all. Judas’ vision blurred and he felt himself stagger. Then blackness took him.
“What did he say? Flint, what did Judas say, right at the end?”
Flint looked up from the unconscious form of Judas and into the eyes of every single person present in the med-camp.
He said…”The answer is in the atoms.”