THE JUGLE EGG
The desert floor would soon be hot enough to bake a protein biscuit.
Alisia pulled on her wooden soled shoes and looked out over the dull, brown sandscape studded with thornbushes and the odd brilliant flower. Something nearby chirped in alarm and scuttled away. As the rays of the second sun struck Fire Mountain the desert seemed to blaze.
Alisia pulled on her hood and cloak to protect her from the ultra violet radiation then started to walk.
Her scanner whirred as it pinpointed the location of the others in the search party. Most of them were too old and slow to keep up with Alisia, and hoping they wouldn't need to spend another night in the desert. Their old, crashed spaceship in the shelter of a plateau was far more comfortable. Its water recycling system had long since failed, but they had a nearby well and solar panels to operate a pump. Their diet of water and protein biscuits may have been well-balanced, yet was boring beyond belief. Most of the stranded group would have walked to the other side of the huge desert if they thought there was any chance of finding fresh fruit there.
Unfortunately this planet's crust wasn't stable and the crew had spent years hoping a rescue party would arrive before their settlement was swallowed by an earthquake.
Alisia had not known any other home and was used to the parched world. She was fascinated by the strange reason her parents had ended up there. It all seemed too fantastic, even for an 11-year-old imagination. Perhaps they had invented the story to keep her amused, or decades of exposure to the two suns, twenty moons, and relentless heat had turned their Earthly brains.
Most of the science crew seemed crazy anyway, as they experimented with their cracked instruments, took peculiar readings from monitoring systems and scanned for the slightest anomaly on the small world. There were plenty of lizard-like creatures and insects the size of toads, yet the scientists were searching for something much larger, something that should have appeared well before Alisia was born. When they believed an anomaly worth investigation had been detected, every spare member of the crew was sent out to investigate.
As Alisia trudged on there were rumblings from deep in the ground. Somewhere in the mantle the planet's crust was about to throw a tantrum. There was a beep from her scanner. It warned Alisia she was entering the region of dimensional fluctuation.
Could it be? Had this mysterious anomaly actually arrived at last?
Without warning, Alisia was flattened to the ground by the downbeat of huge wings. When she looked up the creature had gone. Was this really supposed to happen? On Earth there was the legend that the Phoenix rose anew from the ashes of the fire with which it had immolated itself. Here, the Jugle was supposed to lay an egg that hatched the gateway to another dimension through which it could be reborn. Alisia had never believed in the legend and thought that the mission had just been sent to find the mysterious civilisation that did. If they had ever existed, their artefacts were now buried metres below the sand of this benighted planet.
The excited search party were dashing towards Alisia. She rearranged her UV cloak and looked down at a fresh crater in the desert floor. In its centre a huge egg pulsed with light. Alisia was now convinced that the mythical Jugle bird existed, and probably the people who believed in it; for all the good it had done them.
The egg was huge.
“They'll never move it”, she laughed to herself, though wasn't sure why that should be funny, especially when there was another rumble deep in the planet's crust. It looked as though it was going to be academic anyway. The desert would be the only safe place until the quakes were over.
So the space ship under the shelter of its unstable plateau was quickly evacuated. Soon, ln the dim light of the setting red sun the crew was camped round the crater where the egg sat. Scientists monitored its every vibration while the others watched and listened apprehensively as the shaking of the planet's crust increased.
Then the small planet gave a convulsive shudder.
In the distance their spaceship tipped skywards and was swallowed into a huge fissure that opened at the base of the plateau. They were now stranded without water in a desert that would turn into a furnace as soon as the intense second sun rose.
The adults said nothing, just sat and watched the alien egg.
As the tremors increased and the lightning rent the night sky the egg became translucent. Inside it a tangle of excited molecules pushed the shell out as though it were a huge bud trying to burst into flower. The egg grew larger and larger until it filled the crater like a dome. Inside was a dimension filled with light.
Alisia stood on the rim and stared at the world forming below them. There were valleys, waterfalls, lacy clouds, and flower filled meadows. And in the far distance, a gleaming city hung in the crystal, cobalt sky like a cloud of sequins.
She turned back to see the plateau crumbling into the fissure after their spaceship. The adults didn't move, either transfixed by the spectacle, or not daring to.
There was nothing else for it. Alisia jumped from the crater rim, through the thin wall of the translucent dome, and into another dimension.
Alarmed, her mother immediately followed. Then, one by one, the rest of the crew, until everyone found themselves standing in a flower filled meadow. Below them a beautiful alien world stretched away into the distance.
Then they looked back. On the other side of the dome was the dusty desert riven by earthquakes and lightning. Before anyone could have an irrational impulse to dart back to collect a piece of valuable equipment or protein biscuits, something invisible unfurled huge wings and flattened them to the ground with the draught from their downbeat.
When they got up the desert had vanished. They were on a new world.
Alisia looked at the intense blue sky and realised that they were galaxies away from anything she was familiar with. But she didn't mind. They were now, at last, going to meet the ancient civilisation who had also escaped to this magical planet.