GIANT LEAP • by Mark English

Roaring on a mighty flame stack, the rocket ship Conquest descended through the atmosphere to the surface of planet Alpha-1. Bulbous-bodied, tri-finned, and gleaming, the interstellar colony ship was breath-taking — which was part of the Big Idea. Camera drones had arrived the week before, and taken up strategic positions around the planned landing site to stream the event in real time back to Earth. The retro rockets were largely for show, jetting out streams of fire accompanied by a symphony of sound to shock and awe, the actual deceleration being handled by anti-grav. With Earth so over-populated and polluted, the Conquest was a bold initiative to show the peoples of Earth that there was a future amongst the stars. Alpha-1 was the first candidate for colonization — a stunning show here would assure votes and funds for continued exploration.

The ship landed, and with a quiet sigh the engines dropped to a lightly steaming mode, and began clicking as they cooled. Billions of people strained forward to get a better view of the rocket wreathed in mist standing proud on an alien world as the event was broadcast into their homes back on the Earth.

A hatch in the side cracked open — a long rectangle hinged at the base, that slowly lowered forming a ramp up into the body of the craft. A dramatic pause and then an entourage in full regalia descended solemnly, the leader of the mission Colonel Planers, followed by a security team and Earth’s most eminent scientists. Cameras zoomed in on the chiseled visage of the Colonel, his braided uniform communicating the gravity of the mission, whilst the Union Earth flag he carried emphasised the frontier nature of their mission.

Arriving on the ground at the foot of the ramp the party organized themselves in a semi circle with the Colonel at the focus. Back on Earth a billion breaths were held; what was the Colonel going to say?

He raised his dimpled chin. “As I gaze out across this world, holding the flag of Human Unity, I plant it as a symbol of our intelligence and progress in working together to reach out to the stars.” He raised the flag in two brawny hands and with an artistic flourish plunged it into the ground at his feet.

A monstrous rolling voice thundered across the landing site, rocking the entourage. “Oww!”

They staggered, looking around for the source of the voice.

“Get that flag out of my head.” The Colonel gasped and gave the flag a quick jerk, pulling it from the ground. He and the rest of the landing party cast their eyes over the soil, seeking out the source of the voice. All they could see was soil, and small plants — nothing untoward. Back on Earth billions of eyes scoured the virtual ground from their armchairs.

“Yes, I’m down here, and for the record your rocket really hurt — you burnt me.”

The Colonel stared intently at the ground — this was not the stage debut he had expected. “Err, sorry? We can’t see you, where are you?” Another thought strayed across his dazed mind. “You speak English?”

“I quite literally have a brain the size of a planet, and I have learned your language by reading your minds.”

The entourage of human destiny looked at each other. The Colonel caught the eye of a security officer, and made a hand sign; hostile.

The voice sighed resignedly, “I am not hostile. Look, all I want is to be left alone, I am happy in my orbit sunning myself, so please leave now.”

“We would like to talk with you, w-w-we have so much to learn…” stammered the Colonel, thinking on his feet, though natural wonder and amazement coloured his voice.

The voice interrupted, “I don’t want to talk with you, and I already know everything you know and then some. Go away.”


The party became aware of a low frequency rumble, felt rather than heard. “Is that you making that rumble, er, Sir Planet?” queried the Colonel.

“You would call it a catastrophic earthquake, I would call it a shrug — if I had shoulders.” The landing team started muttering in consternation, a few of the scientists backed up the ramp. “Consider this your one-minute warning, take the hint and leave.”

With a lift of their collective skirts the entourage dashed with all their finery back up the ramp, which closed rapidly. Within 30 seconds the anti-grav kicked in and the rocket ship rose smoothly and silently to became a mere dot in the sky.


The planet’s surface settled into the peace it knew before the rocket’s arrival; insects chittered, leaves slapped in the breeze, and small, fat, pink worms popped out from the ground. They blinked their big single eyes up at the spot in the sky where the rocket had gone.

“Have they gone?” one said — its small mouth forming the newly learned English words.

“Hm,” replied another, a frown creasing the space above its eye that could have been called a forehead, “I can still feel their thoughts,” it said, shaping the words carefully and clearly.

“Do you think they swallowed the whole ‘telepathic planet’ story we put in their heads?” queried another.

“Yup, they bought it, hook, line, and sinker. Certainly what I’m reading in their thoughts is absolute horror and abject failure,” replied the second worm.

“Much better than your idea about telling the truth — did you really think they would quail before telepathic worms?” parried the first, his spoken words getting clearer and clearer with the practice.

“Hang on. Their thoughts have just scrambled into anger; something’s up.” It twisted its chubby body around, as if searching for something. Its one pale eye found what it was looking for and stared straight into one of the cameras and knew it was speaking to billions of astonished humans. “Bugger, we’ve been rumbled.”

Mark English hails from Christchurch NZ, where he has spent the last six months relocating the company he manages (so far the count is four different sites) due to the harsh earthquake climate being experienced. Mark is an ex-rocket scientist with a doctorate in physics, so he has an unwitting talent for taking the magic out of twinkling stars, sunsets, colourful flames dancing in a roaring fire, and rainbows. However, with two young children and one teen son, he has been practicing storytelling for many years, since well before he had the idea to write the stories down.

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