The Wanderer

by disperser

The Wanderer

by E. J. D’Alise (Disperser)
Copyright October, 2012

Ed saw it coming, the human entourage following at a respectful distance.

Its deliberate pace up the drive gave Ed time to examine the shell of the Wanderer, the name given to the being speculated to be contained within each of the thousands of shells that had, a few years back, landed all over the world.  The composition of the material was unknown, but it was known it could withstand the blast of a low yield tactical nuke, about a tenth the power of Little Boy and Fat Man.

On their arrival, one of the Wanderers dropped in on North Korean soil, and failing to get a response from the shell the North Koreans launched an attack.  The Wanderer was not visibly damaged, but the ensuing retaliation scorched an area 100 miles in diameter with what was presumed to be a microwave beam from an orbital platform.  China was none too happy because the beam did not stop at the North Korean border.

The Wanderers did not call for orbital strikes when dealing with misguided individuals who shot, beat, or otherwise threatened them.  The shells had built-in defenses, and people attacking the shells risked anything from a mild burn to a sizable hole, courtesy of built-in lasers that had armies of the world salivate for the same.

No one had ever successfully communicated with a shell, and no one had ever successfully stopped a shell from going wherever it wanted to go.  On occasion they had literally pushed their way through buildings, knocking down walls, crushing furniture, machinery, and anything in their path.  Usually they circumvented obstacles and went on their way.

Eventually things settled down, humans begrudgingly adjusting to the Wanderer’s presence.  As often happens with these things, some Wanderers gained followings; people who, for whatever reasons, joined individual Wanderers in their travels.  Police and army personnel wanting to control contact with the shells initially tried to stop the followers, but they met with the same fate as if they had tried to stop the shells themselves.  It became clear within line-of-sight of the shells, one was safe from attack or threat of physical harm.  

Unless one approached the shell.  

The shells would come right up to you if you stood your ground, but people intentionally approaching a shell risked a laser hole, and they did not discriminate between adults, kids, or animals.  Because of that unpredictability the entourages kept a reasonable distance, having learned by trial and error a distance of 100 yards or so was sufficient to not trigger the shell’s defenses.  For some so inclined, it had become another form of suicide.

Ed contemplated all this as he watched the Wanderer make its way to his porch.  The followers had stopped, and many were raising binoculars to get a better view of what was happening.  

Old and tired, Ed had outlived many friends and any family he cared for, and the thought crossed his mind this might mean the end of his time on this rock.  He was ambivalent about it; part of him feared what might happen, and part was ready to welcome the end.

He reached for the coffee on the nearby table and sat back on his porch bench.  The shell stopped at his side, the porch floor creaking under the added weight.   The sun was about to set, the reason why Ed was out here in the first place, and he took his eyes away from the massive shell to admire the changing hues as the Earth slowly began hiding the sun from view.  The shell rotated 180 degrees in place, and appeared to settle some, looking to observers as if it too sat to watch the sunset.

Minutes passed as the sun’s disk continued its slow melt into the horizon.  A snap, followed by a hiss.   The front of the shell moved forward, and slowly rose.  No one had ever seen any of the shells do this, and the exclamations of surprise from the entourage vocalized Ed’s own astonishment.

One look into the open shell, and then Ed turned to catch the last sliver of sun before it disappeared from view.  As twilight lost its battle with the darkness, he sat in silence next to the open shell.  Then, just as the first stars appeared, the shell emitted a short steady beep, slowly closed, and shut down.

Later few agreed on what they had seen.  Some called it a blob, others discerned shapes, and other still saw a face or semblance to this or that animal.  Ed declined to speak of what he saw.

In time Ed became quite fond of the shell standing in silent vigil on his porch, and of the Wanderer within who chose to spend the last few minutes of its life watching a sunset.


9 Responses to “The Wanderer”

  1. It is always interesting how you can capture an entire setting without saying much about it. Very good piece. Makes my brain work overtime trying to figure out what the wanderers are and why they are there. And it also makes me wonder who Ed is. And whether you are going to continue to write about him or focus more on the wanderers.

    • Hmmm . . . “interesting” . . . One of my favorite quotes is the response to the question “Define interesting”. Answer: “Oh God, Oh God, we’re all going to die?”. (from the movie Serenity)

      Hopefully you had a different definition in mind, one which I chose to take as a compliment, as in “it’s a good thing”.

      As for Ed, yes, he will appear in a future story (contemplated, somewhat fleshed out, but not written). I have no immediate plan to focus on the Wanderers themselves. They are a part of the human stories I do plan to focus on (like the next piece), but for now, no more than catalysts.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      • I say interesting because of the way you do it. I get a complete picture in my head. And it is done in the perfect amount of words and description. Just enough to give me a clear picture but leave the details for my brain to fill in making it that much better of a story and picture. It is a very good thing. Something I wish I could figure out better so I can use it in my own writing.

        • Well, shucks . . . don’t know what to say, as I follow the tip of my right shoe scratching an imaginary design on the floor, then shift my weight and do the same with my left shoe as I clasp my hands behind my back, except to mutter “Well, shucks; it ain’t know nuthin’ about no figuring out.”

          Seriously, thanks. As for figuring it out, I don’t know if this is what you mean, but I tend to describe the action as opposed to the setting, and that it is driven both by laziness, and a desire to get to the meat of the story or scene.

          Some don’t like that kind of sparse environment, preferring instead Jordan’s Wheel of Time style of writing, where sometimes you know the position of every item in the scene relative to each other item.

          One of the things I like with both Scalzi’s Old Man’s War and Butcher’s Dresden books (both works I’ve read this past year) is that they too tend to concentrate more on the action as opposed to the setting. It makes for fast reading, and keeps my interest from page to page. Not that I am comparing myself to them; your comment just made me think about what you meant, and that is what came to my mind. Perhaps you meant something different.

  2. Nice piece which asks for continuation. I feel compelled to mention that the Wanderers and the whole setting somewhat remind me of one of H.G. Wells’ books, “The War of the Worlds”. Could it be one of your sources of inspiration for this story?

    • Not really, although one never knows what goes on in the subconscious.

      However, and I know this will draw gasps from any reader, I’ve never read War of the Worlds (saw a couple of movie interpretations, and listened to portions of the radio play), so it’s unlikely.

      The primary inspiration came from another idea I’m currently developing. Basically, a different treatment to the whole “alien invasion” theme. As often happens, this was an offshoot that showed some promise. We’ll see if that’s the case or not.

      Thanks for the encouragement.

      • Well, no gasps from me, at any rate. I don’t think not knowing one of gazillions of “classics” is deserving of capital punishment 😀
        Write on.


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