The Cage (in progress) - Part One (Caged) - Chapter One by David Golledge

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Phil Burgess scratched his head irritably, his tense fingers absently brushing the round scar on his scalp. He winced unconsciously and wondered if things would ever be the same again. He had the strange and unshakeable foreboding that their arrival would impact in ways he couldn't possibly imagine.

Their current and slowly declining orbit around Terra had a lot to do with his anxiety. He watched his homeworld spinning twenty miles below the ship and felt an apprehension he hadn't felt since...well...since before he had left. The foreboding annoyed and dismayed him. This should have been a momentous, exhilarating time. He was excited, jubilant even, but the feeling was tempered by unease, reduced substantially by his own misgivings.

Through the diamond shaped viewpoint he could see the bright blue orb floating right beside them, the pale colours of the transparent ectoplasmic shield shifted constantly above the scattered cloud cover. The rays of the sun refracted through the protective membrane producing a swirling, psychedelic kaleidoscope that transformed from one thousand kilometer-wide shape to another, second after second.

It reminded Burgess of oil on disturbed water and that at one time, long before his birth, the sky when seen from the planet's surface was completely blue. A time when rainbows were purely natural features and not the artificial creations of man.

Once the ship landed and it's crew were the focus of the world's media attention he supposed he'd be na´ve to consider that things would remain the same, and the thought brought a sadness which he felt as a physical ache. He considered his memories and some seemed so remote and distant that it felt like they belonged to another person. The more recent felt like his own but they brought their own sadness. He had become a creature of habit and had begun to miss what they had left behind. He consoled himself with the thought that, since they had been gone, things couldn't really have got any worse. Outwardly that was, the planet and it's myriad of ills. Inside, he told himself. That's where the real problems lie.

As Burgess watched their ship drifted above the Fertile Crescent, across the mass deserts of the Middle Eastern states, the empty wastelands that contradicted the area's geographic name. Floating above the nightmarish surface heat of the day like a barren cloud, the Alcatraz continued on it's North Westerly course. That's where we drop, he thought, and looked past the turquoise horizon to the starts. From one desert to another.

He looked upwards and on the curved horizon of the planet below he saw the approaching landmass of the European Federation shimmering against the dark backdrop of night. He saw the sharp spine of the Alps, stabbing the overlying cloud, the peaks softening into the lowlands of Southern Europe to end at the foot of Italicus, the economic and political hub of terra. He noticed how small the islands of Corsica and Sardinia had become. The shield didn't work, he thought sadly.

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