Eyes in the Sky
As the flock of sheep munched the new shoots of grass moist with dew, they kept a wary eye on the weird creature that had come into their field yet again. It was scary and they wished it would go away. The hair protruding from the tight garment it wore was the shade of midnight and it kept glancing up apprehensively. The only things in the sky that bothered the sheep were crows, and other birds which swooped down to snatch beakfuls of wool to line their nests.
Donald’s flock watched the strange creature push samples of grass and other forage into a flask, no doubt for a snack later, though everything about it indicated it would prefer a diet of raw meat. The furtive behaviour also suggested it was hiding from something else. It was unlikely to be Donald’s sheepdog. The shepherd was in his hut watching a film on an ancient laptop and there was no point in sending out Marchbanks. The dog was a toothless old collie that only recognised a sheep from three feet away. Goodness only knew what it would have made of the tall intruder in a suit that shimmered like petrol on water.
But help was on the way.
Here came little Daisy Daziel. She would know what to do. She was very bright for a five-year-old and scared of nothing. And sure enough, she trotted over to the menacing creature and stood staring at it, hard. The flock of sheep backed away, bleating apprehensively, half expecting it to eat her. Instead the interloper stared back, the short horns just visible as its dense hair parted when it threw back its head defiantly.
“You shouldn’t be here. Donald doesn’t like strangers in the same field as his sheep,” Daisy admonished.
The creature put its head on one side and warbled with a strange melodic tone out of place coming from such a fearsome, fanged mouth.
“I will tell Parson Jamie and he will tell God,” Daisy continued to scold. “The Devil has no right coming here.”
The warble became high-pitched as though the visitor understood every word.
“You go away now,” ordered Daisy and strode off to find out what film Donald was watching on his laptop.
Anyone older would have probably run for their life or had hysterics at encountering the demonic intruder, but this small island dweller was made of stern stuff.
“We should stop Marba secretly entering the experiment to collect all these samples,” the Controller said. “Once these creatures realise that they are no longer on their own planet, all reaction will cease to be natural.”
“At least that young specimen does not seem to be very concerned,” agreed nes organiser. (Human gender pronouns do not apply to members of this species as they don’t have different sexes.) “But we should really tell nem to come back in. Ne thinks we don’t know what ne is doing. I know Marba has an interest in the vegetation of different planets, but this venture is too serious to waste time on green material.”
Daisy reached the stone wall and turned just in time to see the strange creature fade from sight. She had come to expect it from this annoying trespasser. “I wish it wouldn’t do that.”
The five-year-old had been insisting that something strange was going on for weeks, but her parents and neighbours had put it down to an overactive imagination. However, the persistent nagging that they were not really where they thought they were was beginning to wear down their patience. Life was already hard enough on the remote island of their forebears; they didn’t need an infant adding confusion to it. The sooner Daisy was packed off to school the better. Perhaps there she would learn to rein in her flights of fancy and stop describing horned beings that weren’t goats, and seeing bat-like creatures circling the cliffs. Her most disturbing claim was that there were eyes everywhere, embedded in the rocks, peering out from the eaves of the community hall, and from the sky.
Her older brother, Thomas, was a much gentler soul who could not have dreamt up such dreadful things. Yet he still listened to his small sister as though she had wisdom lacking in older people. Perhaps their down-to-earth lives prevented them from seeing things they did not expect. Adults were like that and Daisy was not yet mature enough to know when to keep quiet.
“And they are up there, watching us all the time,” Daisy whispered to Thomas when their parents couldn’t hear.
“That’s very silly, Daisy.”
“Then tell me why you haven’t been going to school?”
“Because the ferry hasn’t been able to reach us.” Thomas assumed that there was a very good reason and never enjoyed the crossing anyway, especially when the sea was rough. It would also be some time before the weather turned and they needed winter provisions. “Perhaps the engine is giving trouble? It is very old. And Mr Singh has enough groceries to keep the island supplied for weeks, so it probably doesn’t matter too much.”
“Of course it does, you stupid boy,” Daisy scolded. “How do you expect to learn anything if you can’t get to school? And Mr Singh’s supplies should have run out long ago, but nobody seems to wonder where the new ones are coming from. There aren’t any other ferries and we would have heard a helicopter.”
Thomas was beginning to understand why the way Daisy saw things so worried the adults. It was as though everyone above the age of seven had been inoculated against noticing the obvious, but he was too afraid to believe his young sister’s insistence that something was wrong. Knowing that Daisy was an honest child with a vivid imagination, yet would never lie, worried him.
“That child has awareness beyond normal for her species,” Marba insisted.
“That is why the research will be ruined if the others start to believe her, and all the more reason you should keep away,” warned the Controller.
“Perhaps we can talk to her?”
“And tell her what? Aliens have transported her island to another planet to monitor the mentality of a species which could be dangerous if it ever manages to travel into space?”
“The Ruling Council insists it must be done. Humans cannot be let loose in the Galaxy until their reaction to stress has been assessed,” added the organiser. This child may not be alarmed by an alien, but the older of her species could behave differently. The only way to test their reactions without endangering ourselves is to measure what they do in an unexpected catastrophe."
"Your small friend cannot be there when it happens," insisted the Controller.
“But Daisy is only an infant,” Marba protested.
“And they are the most perceptive. The members of this species stop seeing clearly as they grow older and only comprehend things as they want them to be. That is why they could be dangerous.”
Observations of larger human communities had been inconclusive and complicated by too many other factors. The only problem in this remote island community was Daisy. She might work out that her island had been temporarily replaced by a replica to prevent raising the suspicions of the outside world. The researchers could not take the risk of the adults believing her.
Daisy was reading a book with one hand and combing her teddy bear’s fur with the other.
Suddenly she was no longer in front of the stove in the farmhouse scullery. This new place was airy and bright, and filled with people like the interloper she scolded whenever she saw it. And they all made that strange warbling noise.
Daisy, still clutching her teddy and book, stretched to her full height of almost three and a half feet. “Why can’t you speak properly? It’s very rude to do that.”
“Ignore her,” the Controller told the others. “Just start the experiment.”
Marba disregarded the order and warbled at the five-year-old, “Everything is alright, Daisy. It will be over soon.”
To her amazement, Daisy could understand the alien. “What are you going to do?”
The Controller had no idea that young humans needed to be humoured. “This trial will determine whether your species shall be confined to its planet for perpetuity.”
“What’s that?” she demanded.
“Forever,” Marba explained.
“Strange creatures like you shouldn’t use long words.”
“This isn’t really helping us come to a decision,” Marba quietly chided.
Daisy didn’t like the sound of that so decided to keep quiet. She took her teddy over to a large window and looked down on her island. It was no longer in the middle of a cold, deep sea in Earth’s northern hemisphere. The horizon surrounding it boiled like the surface of the sun, only it was intense blue. Daisy already knew that her people hadn’t really been where they thought they were, but she hadn’t expected this.
She squealed in fright.
“It’s all right, nobody will be hurt,” Marba reassured her, “Everything will soon return to normal and you won’t remember this ever happened.”
The alien’s soft warbling tone did not comfort the five-year-old as the sky above the island merged with the sky and became a curtain of roiling fury, threatening to shed liquid rage on its inhabitants.
Daisy’s mother was leading the search party frantically searching for her young daughter. She had to be found before the storm came. Having always lived on the island, she knew everything the elements could throw at it. Those not searching brought in the flocks and ensured the children and elderly were safe in the solid-walled kirk. The strong roof which had weathered hundreds of storms was their best protection. Parson Jamie encouraged his congregation to join in prayer for the deliverance of the lost child and their survival while the elements churned into a tempest even JM Turner would have found it difficult to paint
The Controller was puzzled by the islanders' stoical reaction. “What are they doing?”
“They call it praying,” explained Marba. “These beings believe in supreme deities that have created and control all things. Others use this conviction called religion as an excuse to slaughter each other.”
“This is not what I had expected.”
“Isolated as they are, how else could they react?” Marba chided.
The Controller recalled the vegetation lover’s original objection to using this small community for their research, but its isolation had been too convenient. It would have been impossible to relocate a larger, land-locked population where reactions were more likely to represent human nature.
“Why didn’t you mention this thing called religion before?”
“I wasn’t aware of their beliefs until Daisy mistook me for this Devil, the entity they regard as the evil opposition to her God.”
The Controller realised the futility of the test. “Stop the experiment.”
The soft warbling of the team fell silent.
It was broken by Daisy’s piercing voice, “You don’t know much, do you?”
Being exposed to the environment of the alien observation centre had enhanced the five-year-old’s understanding to that of an adult’s. Daisy hardly knew where the words were coming from, only that they made terrible sense.
“The people on my island would never turn on each other - that’s what you expected them to do, wasn’t it?”
“We need to measure how stress triggers conflict amongst your species,” explained Marba.
“Then look at the rest of the world - not us!” Daisy snapped. “We’re not guinea pigs!”
“The catastrophes it would be necessary to trigger on a much larger population are proscribed,” the Controller was obliged to explain.
“There are already disasters happening, and most of them caused by people. Why do you need to experiment on us?”
“It is the only alternative we have to the opinion of an expert who knows your species well. We have been unable to find one.”
Daisy stamped petulantly. “Well, if I tell you that humans should never be allowed into space until they grow up, would that be expert enough for you?”
“But you are a human. Why would you do that?”
“Because on our island we can see the rest of the world for what it is. That’s why we like it where we are.”
Daisy suddenly woke from a strange dream. She was by the scullery stove clutching her book and teddy bear. The sun was setting and in the distance the local ferry could be seen on the horizon, sailing towards the island on a calm sea.
Her mother and brother were fast asleep in the parlour armchairs, so she put on her coat to help Donald bring the sheep into their fold. Marchbanks, his old collie, was no longer much help and Donnie, the new sheepdog, was too fond of nipping their legs and needed to be trained up more.
It transpired that the rest of the island had also suffered from the sleeping sickness, though soon recovered. It was a relief to have the ferry back so Mr Singh could stock up his groceries. Then, when it was no longer able to reach them, they would be cushioned from the rest of the tumultuous world.
The remote community watched the warning being broadcast to the whole planet from outer space. It hardly seemed important.
No one on the island wanted to travel into the Galaxy and colonise other worlds anyway.