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THE INVITATION

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The interplanetary probe, Pioneer 10, left Planet Earth on March 2, 1972, sending back information by radio up to the time it began to enter interstellar space. However, no signal came back from Pioneer 10 during the last contact attempt by NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN) on February 7, 2003. Pioneer 10 contains a plaque illustrating a man and a woman with respective anatomical details as well as interstellar maps identifying Earth's location in the galaxy.

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It would wait in the cave. Out there was alien, yet it knew what to expect. It could sense the creatures in the valley, below. The intense wave-patterns from their bulbous cerebrum reached it, even in the cave. But the patterns were too scrambled - too confused - to be identified separately. They were strongest when the sun gave off its full radiation then diminished as radiation declined. It drew its appendages into its sac. Its glands responded by exuding the thin film of mucous over its sensory bulge. The patterns began to fade from its perception as the film consolidated. Its metabolism began to slow. The pigmentary glands reacted to the colour of its surrounds. Its shape changed to an amorphous mass barely detectable from the rock nearby. It pushed the ganglia-stalk from the orifice above its sensory bulge then let the stalk swell at its base - to resemble a protrusion of rock. It would wait. Wait until the patterns became more separate and distinct. If anything came close, the nerve ganglia would respond. The thought made its sting tingle in anticipation.

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Detective Sergeant Willier felt bloody-minded. Those psychiatric bods should handle the whole business. Why bring the Special Branch in? The village had gone nuts. What could the Special Branch do; they weren't trick-cyclist. Shapes that disappear! What next! Yet, it was funny. Not funny ha! ha! Funny peculiar. Those he'd seen in the ward. Automaton? Yes, that was the word: automaton. Gave him the creeps. But it wasn't a Special Branch matter. What could the Branch do? Take out a car, the Super said. Him and Alf. Patrol. Find out what was out there. Look for shapes. Anything suspicious. Bloody good lead that was. It'll turn out to be some sort of hoax. Christ! There's better things to do than this!

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A neat, round incision. In all his surgical experience, John Prendergast had never seen anything like this. An incision sealed by some sort of acidic-cauterisation. Left the person intact. Intact except for that unbelievable... No. No he hadn't believed the reports. He hadn't. But here they were - alive yet... That part of him that practiced surgery felt perplexed. The other part felt sick. Vile. It was vile, God help us if any more turn up. God, what the hell's going on.

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The car pulled to the side of the road. Detective Sergeant Willier applied the hand-brake. He didn't believe Alf had seen anything. But they must investigate anything suspicious. Real or imaginary! He watched the beam of light as Alf got out and swept it slowly along the edge of the woods. Nothing. Nothing there. What a bloody farce. Alf won't be satisfied until he'd tramped the whole, bloody wood. All right! If Alf's daft enough to go in there, he'll sit and wait. Don't make a noise, Alf had said. He reached across the passenger seat and slammed the door shut. My Aunt Fanny!

He watched Alf probing his way through the undergrowth - the light-beam stabbing nervously from side to side. Now only the light could be seen. Typical of Alf. Too bloody dedicated. The beam swung in an arc and then dropped, slanting upwards at a crazy angle from the ground. What the bloody heck's going on! He reached for the hand-torch and opened the door. His knees felt stiff. Oh Christ! He pushed his way through the undergrowth in the direction of the light, cursing as the brambles caught him. He pulled lose and struggled towards the crazy beam. Alf stood as if paralysed. What the hell...!

He swept the torch around wildly and caught the gnarled length of log in the light as it swelled up from the ground. He saw the whip-like sting lash towards him. The scream froze on his face as the sting struck.

The point of the tentacle probed the soft spot at the base of the skull. It penetrated the flesh until reaching the bone just above the cerebellum. It exuded acid at the tip to soften the bone then push into the soft pulp of the cerebrum. The end of the tentacle then opened to form a small orifice. Acid secretions began to dissolve the brain's tissue immediately around the orifice. The tentacle began to suck, taking only the soft nourishing pulp of the cerebrum; leaving the harder, fibrous, midbrain and hindbrain intact. After a while, it withdrew. All done so neatly that the source of its nourishment remained motionless.

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The shielded spacecraft landed as silently as the first. The underside opened to let the shapes slide into the night. The probe the spacecraft had picked up contained all the details needed: location of the planet; its size; atmosphere; humidity; anatomical details of the large-brain lifeforms that launched the probe. Everything they needed to know. Otherwise, the planet would have remained undetected. They responded quickly to the invitation. Such food was increasingly rare.

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Written by: William Kenneth Jones
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