Professor Bernard Rickman hummed a nameless little tune to himself, pleased with the amazing progress that he and his long time friend and colleague since their twin double firsts at Oxbridge days, Professor Alec Blake, had achieved. Alec was a leading, probably the leading molecular biologist (including also Palebiology), he himself was one of the very top physicists in the world. In their early forties, they both had extremely well paid posts with huge multi national conglomerates but it was their combined secret private research funded out of their own pockets that was the cause of his, yes he had to admit it, excitement, an emotion rarely felt by his scientific, analytic mind.
Their combined brilliance had steadily made progress from the first discussed extraordinary innovative concept and step by step their ideas had been proved viable and mini tests had indicated eventual success as being viable and indeed realistic. Last night’s endeavours had been successful and now the big test was looming in the immediate future.
Bernard’s clean shaven face with dark hair brushed back and thoughtful grey eyes mirrored exactly what he was, a distinguished, studious man who didn’t really ever expect to be wrong about anything. He stopped to ponder over matters momentarily, if it worked and it ought to work, the result and ramifications were (he frowned at the term that automatically sprang up) mind blowing. The knock on effects would be staggering, the financial possibilities limitless, literally “write your own figure.” However financial gain was neither man’s priority, far from it although both enjoyed and expected a fine lifestyle in line with their IQ’s and contributions to science but they were men who had both high moral and ethical standards.
Bernard and Alec had always got on well together, their wives were also good friends and all enjoyed their regular dinner parties as only people who genuinely like each other can do. The two men shared the same views on politics and the realistic conservation of the world’s resources and non exploitation. Both detested corporate greed and in particular the subject that had decided them on a suitable route for the final test, they hated any cavalier attitude to endangered species along with an abhorrence of hunting in general. They were astounded at how any sane person could get enjoyment from killing an animal and also despised any inference that any skill was required to be perhaps hundreds of yards away from any possible danger, squeezing the trigger of a powerful rifle with some poor animal in the crosshairs of the telescopic sights.
Over several generous brandies after a pleasant restaurant meal with just the two of them one night that very topic, the enormous stacking of the odds in favour of the hunter that, in all likelihood the quarry didn’t even know was stalking him, prompted Bernard to pose the question that had kick started the whole endeavour.
“What if the hunted creature was far, far more dangerous? What if it was stronger, better protected, had a far more lethal armoury of weapons, better senses, incredibly aggressive nature, a natural killer? I wonder what those pathetic hunting types would do then, would they even dare to risk going after such a creature?” mused Bernard.
“An interesting hypothesis” responded Alec, “But what sort of creatures did you have in mind, some sort of mutants?”
Alec’s slightly thinning sandy hair, sometimes a little tousled, implied an academic who’s appearance might well come second to inventive thought. The spectacles that he had a habit of often removing and needlessly polishing confirmed that this was a man who likely stood outside of general life, looking in, objectively.
“No not mutants,” replied Bernard, “What I have in mind are naturally already more than dangerous enough, they don’t need any improving.”
“Go on Bernard, I’m intrigued,” replied his friend.
Albert Einstein was arguably the most intelligent person of the 20th Century. It has been stated that when he was discussing science at the very highest level there were only about six people on the planet who could understand what he was talking about. Einstein also once said “There is nothing more certain than the existence of God.” This was also a belief that the two scientists subscribed to.
Bernard continued, “I wonder if many people have ever considered just how fortunate it was for Human Beings that most large powerful creatures such as Elephants, Hippos, Rhinos, Cows, Horses and Buffalo to quote just a few, are herbivorous. They are harmless and leave mankind alone unless provoked.
Can you possibly imagine what would have happened to early man if insects were large? Most are extremely aggressive, have terrifying weapons, and are amazingly strong, I understand that the Goliath Beetle for instance, one of the strongest insects, has the equivalent strength proportionate to a human being able to lift ten Elephants, incredible! Some have excellent armour, many can walk up walls, across ceilings, are poisonous and some fly,” waiting a moment for his point to be made he then concluded with his trump card, “and the crunch is that many are carnivorous. They would have slaughtered early man, it would have been no contest, we would have been wiped out.”
There was a moments silence as Alex refilled his glass. “I believe you are certainly correct however fortunately for us all they aren’t big so what exactly are you getting at?”
Bernard also refilled his glass and settled himself comfortably in the chair before gazing steadily at his old friend and with only the slightest hint of a smile said,
“Well Alec, what if we MADE them big?”
The other man looked up sharply. “Are you serious?”
“Perfectly,” was the prompt reply.
Alec was silent for a moment, he drummed his fingers thoughtfully.
Bernard interjected, “I believe that you and I working together could create the technology, do you, could we do it, do you consider it possible?”
After a short pause Alec replied slowly as if thinking it through whilst speaking. “Yes I believe that it is possible however I suggest a completely different approach. I think that we should make the hunter smaller as opposed to making insects larger.”
“Why?” was Bernard’s succinct response.
“Well if we create huge insects they present a possible danger to the world in general unless restricted in a specially created environment. This itself would create further problems and require massive funding. If we shrink the hunters then the insects that they are going after will already be the correct size. If we also decided to import specific creatures we could indeed create a suitable enclosed habitat for them but the size and subsequent costs would be relatively nominal.”
Bernard thought about what his friend and fellow professor had said and nodded in agreement.
“I concur, you are absolutely correct and if we thought we could make things bigger surely we could make things smaller. Similar technology but in reverse.”
Alec nodded in agreement.
Over the next few weeks matters progressed quite quickly. After that fateful night after Bernard had explained the concept to his friend and now partner in the venture, both men secretly used the incredibly complex equipment available to them in their daily work. Both men were the senior persons in their company laboratories and research centres and therefore could conduct whatever tests they wished when everyone else had gone home, with no questions being asked. After completing every single task no matter how small they were extremely careful to erase any trace of their personal work from the data banks whilst keeping complete files on every step of the project at their homes, where they also had very powerful state of the art computers and ancillary equipment of their own, all coded with hack proof protection and couched in terms that only persons with genius levels of IQ’s like theirs could possibly even begin to understand, and then personalised even further so that no matter what the skill level of any potential hacker was there was absolutely no chance of the scientists’ work being decoded much less understood.
At this juncture in time and by mutual agreement neither man had breathed a word to a living soul not even to their wives whom they both loved. They had decided that the only way to maintain TOTAL secrecy was to tell absolutely no one, with NO exceptions.
After nine months of each working industriously in their own fields of expertise and then collating their combined findings at weekends, always face to face, no detailed phone calls or emails that could be tracked or noticed, the two men arranged what was to be a definitive meeting at Bernard’s home. The fact that their wives had arranged a luncheon date with other similarly disposed women on that day was not a coincidence.
When Alec arrived they went down to where their equipment was located, the extensively altered basement. He noticed that Bernard had on the worktop what could only be described as a small metal cage about 15cm square, the bars very close together perhaps only a 5mm space between them and about 2mm thick.
Earlier in the week the two of them had coordinated all previous information, tests and theories and from this condensed knowledge of failures, half successes and occasional completely wrong directional ideas, had at last arrived at conclusions and actual applications that merited a full test. Their normally relatively unemotional academic minds were, understandably, at rare excitable levels as they switched various apparatus on, set various dials and made copious notes.
“Doesn’t look much like Frankenstein’s Laboratory does it?” Bernard joked.
“No, but it is the 21st century version one must remember,” replied Alec, “and it is a sobering thought that if we are successful, what people will face will be a damn site more dangerous than the Baron’s creature.”
Bernard stopped what he was doing for a moment, turned and looked at his friend, “Yes, you are quite right” he said, as if contemplating and taking seriously what Alec had just said.
Not only had the scientists faced the original and ground breaking problem of size reduction but as it started to look more achievable several practical and basic problems occurred. How do you contain a creature that can climb up walls? A high sided cage with no roof is no good. What about a creature that can burrow down through the ground? Creatures that are fantastically stronger proportionately to their size or any normal animals that we are used to, many, many times stronger, also posed another huge problem. Creatures that had weapons such as claws that would be strong enough to cut through mild steel? That could move very, very quickly that had incredible senses and reactions?
Bernard produced a small receptacle around 10cm long and 5cm wide and high. It was made of transparent thin plastic and the lid had air holes and a catch at one end. He lifted the lockable lid of the larger steel cage and placed the smaller plastic container inside it, leaving the larger cage lid open.
He then positioned the cage under what looked like a vertical laser beam gun correctly termed a Beam accelerator, exactly what beam only the two inventors knew. The device was about 2 metres in length with the nozzle about half a metre above the work surface. He placed the cage directly underneath it and turned to Alec.
“Well old friend, here we go, in theory it ought to work, are you ready to find out?”
Alex smiled, “I am indeed Professor, by all means proceed.”
The other man switched the Beam accelerator on and it hummed into life, various different coloured lights blinking. After a few minutes all the lights stopped blinking and held steady. Again Bernard glanced at his friend and then reached inside the metal cage using a thin metal rod beneath the bars, undoing the flimsy plastic lid on the small cage then quickly withdrawing his hand and shutting the lid which locked. He then pressed a larger red button on the Beam accelerator.
Immediately the hum increased and a lilac funnel of light, cone shaped, wider at the base was projected from the machine’s nozzle and completely enveloped the cage. Both men move forward eager to see what, if anything, was happening. At first nothing seemed to change except that a common field mouse crawled up out of the small plastic container, slowly looking around, presumably expecting danger. It was about 7cm long. After the ray had been on for around three minutes a bell sounded briefly and it stopped. The mouse had also stopped. The men looked closely, surely it looked slightly smaller, maybe now measuring 3, certainly under 4cms long and proportionately thinner.
Bernard made a few notes then returned to scrutinise the mouse which had found some tiny pieces of chocolate placed earlier. Reaching the unexpected delicacy it enjoyed the surprise reward. After another five minutes the creature still measured around 3cms and was still nibbling at the chocolate. The two scientists both made more notes and, about 15 minutes later again checked the mouse which remained the same size and appeared to be resting, satisfied after the feast.
Bernard extended his hand to Alec who shook it warmly. “So,” said Bernard, “for our test we have achieved a reduction in size of around 50%. The machine can be altered almost infinitely variably to adjust to whatever size we decide upon for individual cases. I suggest the optimum size to apply to a human would be a reduction factor of 0.75% which would result in a 6′ tall man (180cm, 1.8 metres) having a subsequent height of 13.5mm or just over half an inch.”
“Yes, that should be perfect for what we have in mind,” agreed Alec. “There is no reason whatsoever why the machine cannot accommodate that, we have made those tolerances acceptable within the various measurements achievable.”
An advertisement arranged by alias duly appeared under a Box Number in appropriate publications shortly afterwards reading as follows;
Big Game Hunters
Do you relish the ultimate challenge facing the ultimate predator with your life at risk? We guarantee you a unique experience. You will need a fee of £50K and it will be worth every penny. You will also need to pass our interview regarding suitability and complete a non disclosure agreement. Total privacy is assured. Intrigued? – Reply with details to Box No. ******
They subsequently received a varied response as one would expect however, amongst the cranks, daydreamers, would be hunters and hate mail from people that thought they meant normal big game such as elephants etc, there was perhaps a dozen replies which, under cursory inspection, looked as if they could be viable.
The scientists drew up a list of questions that they would ask the applicants prior to inviting them to a first meeting, to be held in a discreet hotel. After contact had been made using untraceable methods the small number of possible candidates had been further reduced, well meaning animal activists and investigative journalists being discovered and discarded. That left just six potential hunters, all men, all experienced, and all who could afford the fee. It must be mentioned that although the fee would of course be welcome it had been placed more to deter frivolous applicants then of financial necessity in fact the bulk of any fees collected had already been earmarked for mainly animal charities.
The first interview was arranged at a country hotel with a Mr. George Stockwell, age 40, independent means, who loved hunting. He arrived promptly and was a around six feet tall with short dark hair, a tanned but unlined face and a lean athletic build. He looked like a man very confidant in his own abilities.
Both scientists shook hands with him and the conversation ensued with Bernard saying “Nice to meet you George, I am Bernard, my friend and colleague, Alec,” he waved vaguely at Alec, “and I congratulate you on being the first of only half a dozen people out of all of the replies received that we consider it prudent to meet. Let me assure you that we are very serious men with a very serious offer that will not disappoint you although you may not necessarily proceed, and we would fully understand that if you decided against it once you are given the full facts. I must ask you to sign this non-disclosure agreement, governed by English Law, it will become abundantly obvious why once we tell you the facts.”
Stockwell smiled slightly then read and signed the form and replied, “Intriguing, however if the offer is as described in your advert nothing on Earth would stop me enrolling.”
“Perhaps not, but something the like of which you have never dreamed of might change things,” thought Alec to himself.
Sat in a discreet corner of the lounge and over tea and coffee (they would not allow any alcohol influenced decisions) Bernard launched into the project.
“Would I be correct in saying that you would like to hunt and kill a large dangerous predator?”
“Yes, nothing compares with a battle of wits and skills spiced with danger.”
“What if the predator was more dangerous, far more dangerous than any creature that you have ever faced?”
“I cannot think of anything more dangerous than several tons of wounded Bull Elephant charging at you,” was the reply.
Bernard felt a pang of sadness for the unknown beast in question and once again felt how right it would be to place men like this in situations where the odds were not for once stacked so heavily on their side.
“So if we did indeed provide you with a adversary that WAS more dangerous and that would certainly kill you if you did not prevail against it, would you still be interested?”
“Of course I would, that is why I am here but I don’t want to be dropped into some renegade African country where I may be caught and tried for poaching if you had that in mind.”
“No, no” Bernard said, “there is nothing like that to concern you, we have complete control of the environment where you would be, the area is owned by us and completely legitimate and right here, in England.”
“Right, I am definitely, as they say, up for it, 100%.”
“Fine,” said Bernard, “in that case it is time for us to explain what we can offer you, I expect that you may laugh at first, perhaps even consider leaving, but that would be a great pity because if you do leave prematurely without us providing you with simple proof of what we say then you would be missing out on the greatest adventure of your life. It is essential that you demonstrate an open mind.”
“No matter how incredible your idea is I guarantee that I will give you the opportunity of proving it but I won’t part with any money until I see some proof, agreed?”
“We would not have it any other way,” replied Bernard.
“Well now you have signed the non disclosure we may as well get down to the crunch as they say. We will go to our premises and disclose the whole project in detail and provide you with the necessary proof of credibility. Our word is our bond and we assume that yours is too.”
Stockwell nodded vigorously.
“Once we have given you absolute proof” Bernard continued, “from that point onwards we expect and require TOTAL secrecy and we mean TOTAL, you must tell absolutely no one, you can guarantee that of course?”
“Of course, my word on it,” came the prompt reply.
With that the two scientists stood up and, followed by Stockwell, left the room for the car park.
Later at Bernard’s home the three men went to the basement laboratory. Bernard gestured for the three of them to sit at a table and served coffees from a percolator.
“Down to business then,” he said to Stockwell and produced an A4 size folder containing various colour photographs. He placed it flat on the table so that all three men could see it and opened at the first illustration which showed a huge blown up photo of an ant moving towards the camera, antennae waving, mandibles gaping. Another photo showed a wasp, the sting looking huge in the magnification. Another photo of a beetle indicated massive proportional strength and what looked like thick armour plating virtually covering it’s body, the many legs and menacing jaws looked very powerful.
“What would you do if you came up against something like those?” asked Bernard.
Stockwell looked at him with an even gaze as if wondering if these men were, for some unknown reason, completely wasting his time.
“Swat it or stand on it if it was annoying me I suppose,” was his reply.
“What if it was as big as you, or to be more precise, if you were as small as it, same difference really?”
Stockwell put down the coffee, sat back and said to Bernard, simultaneously holding him in a steady gaze, “You can’t be serious, surely.”
“I ask you again, what would you do? Would you fight, or flee in terror?”
Bernard’s face had a hint of a smile as he posed the last question.
“The question is academic as the whole scenario is preposterous however I can state categorically that I would definitely not flee in terror as you put it and assuming that I was armed with the appropriate weapons I would certainly face it and kill it.”
“Right, now here is the deal maker or breaker or however our American cousins term it, if armed with the weapons of your own choosing would you voluntarily enter an environment where you would undoubtedly meet creatures like this, huge insects. As promised, we are offering you the opportunity of going on safari, hunting the world’s most dangerous animals, a hunting adventure like no other in history.”
There was silence in the room as Stockwell decided on his reply. At last he said “You both seem perfectly sane to me however I have to say that I consider what you are talking about to be impossible.”
This time it was Alec who responded.
“Not a surprising reaction however it certainly is not impossible furthermore if we could PROVE it to you right now then the question again is, would you proceed once you had prepared accordingly? Or is it simply too dangerous?”
Stockwell’s prompt reply mildly surprised both men.
“You prove it to me right here and right now and I will sign up right here and right now.”
“Good man,” responded Bernard standing up, “come over here then and you will have your proof.”
The scientists led Stockwell over to the equipment previously used on the mouse and the creature was again placed in the cage and the same procedure commenced. They had purposely chosen the same animal as they wanted to ensure that, although no harmful effects were apparent, they wanted to be absolutely sure that a repeat of the process was not going to cause any. It had been previously restored to original size after the first experiment.
Stockwell watched with interest then stared intently as the mouse began to get smaller. When the operation was concluded he turned to both men saying, “I have seen it and yet I can still hardly believe it. So can you do that with Humans and of course also include their equipment?”
“We can and we will,” replied Bernard “and further more you have the unique opportunity of being the very first one in history.”
“Right,” responded Stockwell, “just clarify a couple of points for me if you will and I will sign up as stated.”
“Certainly, what requires clarification?”
“I believe that you mentioned a controlled environment, what exactly do you mean and why is it necessary? Would I be stuck in there for a set length of time or can I get out when I choose. Lastly, approximately what size would I be?”
“Shall I answer these Bernard?” asked Alec.
“By all means.”
“Well we have created a suitable enclosed and contained area within a protected building, the equivalent to several acres of undergrowth or jungle like terrain, we control the temperature and artificial rainfall. The fact that it is totally enclosed including a steel floor underneath the earth floor prevents undesirable larger creatures from entering, for example moles and birds. We guarantee that this Hunters’ world that we have created contains only insects, albeit a varied selection from around the world. You would be around half an inch or say 14mms tall.”
“Good, you really have thought this through haven’t you,” said Stockwell, acknowledging the fact, “huge birds would certainly be lethal to a man of that proposed size.”
Alec nodded and continued, “as for leaving ‘HD’ as we call it, the ‘Hunters’ Delight’, the two scientists briefly gave a slight smile to each other, privately they considered that ‘HD’ stood for ‘Hunters’ Demise’, “when you want out you go here and press the large green button inside the cubicle that took you there.”
He passed an A4 plan to Stockwell on which was illustrated a rough illustration of the designated area with a starting point and this discussed exit point plainly shown.
“It is like an airlock on a spaceship or how you have hatches and doors on a submarine underwater, two locking compartments, you can only leave the second or the third and final one after the previous one is securely locked, and you won’t be able to leave the second one if there is anything but YOU in the room, naturally. Once you are in the third and final compartment we bring you back to normal size. These cubicles are made of thick armour plating, nothing can damage them.”
“Is there a time limit?” asked Stockwell, “for instance do I only have say 8 hours before the process wears off and I start returning to normal size again?”
“No,” replied Alec, “no time limit although we feel that a few hours will prove enough for the vast majority of participants, we don’t think many will wish to remain in there overnight.” Privately he thought it unlikely that anyone would be returning at all but of course this was entirely their business, they were not being coerced into it in any way.
Stockwell considered matters for a moment and then said, “I suppose other points will occur to me in due course however there is certainly one important question that I have right now and that is, how big are my adversaries likely to be, I mean insects come in all shapes and sizes, some far, far bigger than others?”
“That’s a very salient point and one which I will answer for you,” replied Bernard.
“We have different and various scales of sizes that we can offer, the first, the basic one where we suggest that all entrants start with, the creatures will be roughly the same size as yourself, based upon you being approximately half an inch or 14mm tall, some slightly smaller, some larger, but nothing out of all proportion, no bigger than the largest big game animals that you will have already experienced hunting. Alternatively there are, some would say, more advanced levels and areas when you could face larger insects such as Tarantulas or Scorpions, this would require adjustments to the equipment and your size accordingly so as to maintain the same scale. You will face nothing like those or any creatures of their size on this journey”
“I see, once again I congratulate you on seemingly having thought of everything. Right, I will leave and prepare my things, how soon will you be ready for me?”
“Anytime after you have paid your fee which we would ask you to arrange here, on our 100% secure system.”
“Understood,” replied Stockwell, “shall we say a week today then, here at 12 Noon, is that alright?”
“Perfectly,” replied Bernard.
The three men shook hands and as Stockwell was walking towards the door Alec said,
“Mr Stockwell, George, I in no way wish to be pessimistic, merely realistic, so please do forgive me as if I sound as if I am trying to teach Grandma to suck eggs but I feel it only right to say that in the light of your forthcoming adventure any prudent man would ensure that he has made a Will.”
Promptly one week later Stockwell duly arrived. During the week he had asked one or two further basic questions such as likely temperatures, was there fresh water available, any rain or wind expected. The answers had been warm to very warm, drinkable, and no wind or rain during your stay respectively. He was wearing tropical clothing and armed with a high powered rifle and two heavy calibre pistols plus plenty of ammunition, binoculars and a couple of bags of sugar. When the scientists glanced at the sugar enquiringly he smiled at them, “bait” he explained.
“I don’t think that he will need any bait,” Alec wryly thought to himself whilst nodding at Stockwell. “No Kevlar armour?” he enquired.
“I don’t intend to get that close,” came the prompt reply.
Stockwell made the bank transfer and was provided with a detailed scale plan of where he was going. Bernard stated, “Everything within the cubicle where you will be standing shortly will be shrunk, you and your equipment. As soon as you wish to return, or even if, once there, you decide not to proceed, simply ensure that you and your gear are back in the first, the original compartment and the ‘airlock’ door closed and locked, you then press the green button and that will return you to normal size right here. It doesn’t matter what time it might be, day or night, it is all automated. OK?”
“Understood,” came the succinct reply.
“Once outside, whenever you wish to re-enter the trio of cubicles you have to press the simple numbers 1, 2, 3 shown here,” he produced a close up photo of a keypad, semi enclosed in a hand sized cover.
“As you can see it is designed so that accidental operation by any creature is impossible, all you have to do is remember that simple sequence 1, 2, 3, and the door will open and you quickly step inside and close manually, it securely locks itself once shut. Nominal rations are contained therein if required. I assume that you have a top quality watch, fully shock proof etc?” (Bernard doubted that the hunter himself would prove sufficiently shock proof.)
Stockwell nodded as if that fact was to be taken for granted.
Alec then produced a prepared letter for signature as if written by Stockwell, which stated that he was embarking on a particularly hazardous expedition and that if he had not been in contact again within 6 months then they were to assume that he had met with a fatal accident and to act accordingly.
Alec enquired as to the details of Stockwell’s solicitors saying, “I am sure that you will understand how sensible this is, we will only entertain posting the letter if you have not returned within 3 days,” this was the maximum permitted period of time. The letter would clarify the situation for friends and relatives and eventually for the beneficiaries of his estate. “I am not being pessimistic, merely factual, you do understand?”
“Indeed I do and I agree with it,” responded Stockwell.
“We would appreciate it if you would be so kind as to also sign this other self explanatory letter which categorically states that you are entering this process, adventure, escapade, however you view it, entirely of your own free will and that we are absolutely, completely and utterly in no way to bear any responsibility if there is unfortunately any mishap whatsoever. I am sure that you understand our position,” Alec added.
“Naturally,” agreed Stockwell, reading through and then scrawling his signature on the second letter.
“Good,” continued Bernard, “then I suggest that, whilst you are naturally free to return here as soon as you wish, you remain there for an absolute maximum of 48 hours. If you stay overnight I suggest the cubicle as the only safe haven. It was not feasible to install even protected cameras at any location other than on the top of the final cubicle showing the entrance as I am sure that you will appreciate, given the types of creatures inhabiting the area, so we have arrived at the decision to regard 48 hours as more than adequate for any hunter to find sufficient excitement. More to the point we are allowing a further 24 hours grace to the 48 hours, a total of 72 hours for any participant to return, after which time failure to locate them will sadly lead us to the conclusion that they are no longer alive. This device will hopefully also assist in helping us to decide your whereabouts and condition.”
He produced a hypodermic syringe. “This is a homing locater tracking device which I would like to inject into you, it is activated. It’s formulated to transmit in tandem with your pulse, if that stops beating then the chip ceases to transmit. It will flat line for 30 minutes as a safeguard and then shut down, confirming your sad demise. ”
Stockwell nodded and rolled up the sleeve of his left arm.
“Will the signal attract them?” he enquired, which mildly surprised Alec who had to admit to himself that it was a sensible question.
“Good question, no, we are using a unique frequency which should in no way be within their range at all,” he answered.
“Please do appreciate that any contact with us can only be made from inside the cubicle using the facilities in there, no other devices such as mobile phones can get through,” stated Alec.
“Understood,” Stockwell replied in his usual brief manner.
“Right,” interjected Bernard, “if you are ready then we may as well proceed, if you would care to follow.”
With Bernard leading the way the three men left the laboratory through a rear door and Stockwell found himself inside an obviously recently constructed barn size open plan building with lots of windows and a clear roof in order to maximise light. In the centre was an extensive area of especially chosen short grasses, plants and general vegetation along with what looked similar to tiny trees, and occasional areas of water.
Bernard explained that each section of earth had been shrunk separately and then laid on a bed of sheet steel like some giant jigsaw. He also confirmed that the whole building had been specifically designed to be sealed against birds, rodents, insects, in fact everything, using reinforced glass and similar materials plus sealant. As a final safeguard the entire area was contained under a high, transparent, tough plastic type cover.
On their side of the cover stood a module which was approximately 6 feet square (1.8 metres) and 10 feet high (3 metres), entirely made of steel with a large locking wheel assembly similar to the locking doors and hatches seen on ships. Stockwell noticed that it seemed to be attached to a second identical but much smaller module which was on the other side of the plastic cover’s wall, inside it. This second module was, in turn, also joined to a third very much smaller version. All three were interlocking, the large one was outside of the all enveloping plastic shield, the other two inside it.
“As previously discussed,” said Bernard as he spun the wheel and unlocked the large solid door of the full size module which swung open on massive hinges, “it could not be more simple, your size is reduced in three stages inside the three modules, you transfer from one to the next one after each process has been completed. If you would like to move your equipment inside Mr Stockwell?”
Stockwell nodded and placed his rifle and pack holding extra ammunition and light rations inside the compartment. He noticed that the cubicle was virtually empty except for four cameras, one mounted internally on each of the four walls so that the interior could be viewed on a monitor in the laboratory. In other words the interior could be checked in case something that should not be in there WAS in there. In addition to this precaution there was a narrow band of 6 inch (15cms) thick reinforced plastiglass running right around the unit quite high up so that the entire inside of the cubicle could be inspected manually from the outside in the event that the cameras had failed – or been smashed, prior to opening the door. “These people are taking absolutely no chances,” he thought to himself.
There was a cone, similar to the one he had seen at the first demonstration, extending right across the entire ceiling, pointing downwards, ensuring that everything and anyone beneath it would be treated by the rays that were going to emit from it.
“Right,” said Bernard, “here is a brief list confirming the facts, how you can leave, when you MUST leave etc, etc.” He handed a printed paper to the hunter who nodded as he took it, glancing through it’s contents.
“So,” continued Bernard, “do you still wish to proceed?”
“I can’t wait,” answered Stockwell.
“Well all that remains is to wish you a safe return, whether that be in the maximum allotted time of three days or just a matter of minutes, it is of course entirely your choice.”
He extended his hand which the hunter shook, Alec also shook his hand and added, “You are going on a journey where no man has gone before, I wish you a safe return and would respectfully suggest that you take the utmost care.”
Despite his abhorrence of hunting Alec felt a pang of pity (but not remorse) for Stockwell as he himself had no doubt whatsoever that they would never see him alive again. He had not decided whether he regarded the hunter as a very brave man or an incredibly foolish one, suddenly he realised that it was the latter. Who on Earth would willingly face the most dangerous and terrible creatures ever to inhabit the planet? Surely the man had not fully realised what he was up against!
“All set then?” asked Bernard.
“Ready as I will ever be,” replied Stockwell.
“Then goodbye or shall we say au revoir and good luck,” said the scientist as he pushed the door to and turned the locking hand wheel. He moved over to the controls whilst Alec remained, peering through the inspection panel made of the 6 inch, 15cms thick, armoured glass which enabled the entire interior of the chamber to be inspected.
“Ready?” asked Bernard.
“Proceed,” replied Alec.
Bernard pushed the first button on the adjacent control panel and the machines hummed into life, several lights blinking simultaneously.
After a short while Bernard noticed with satisfaction that the lights had stopped blinking and were holding steady. He pressed the green button. He turned to Alec, “Has it started?”
“Indeed it has,” his colleague replied.
“Well, now we will see what we will see,” added Bernard thoughtfully.
“No regrets concerning Stockwell, Bernard?” asked Alec.
“None, neither ethical or moral,” he replied. “It is appalling that such people actually enjoy hunting and killing poor animals, even ones that are now endangered thanks to selfish cruel people. I admit that as men go he doesn’t seem a bad sort perhaps likeable in different circumstances however, he has been provided with the full facts and his desire to inflict pain and subsequent death on other creatures will, I am sure, result in his own demise. So, it is without doubt his own fault.”
“That is one way of looking at it,” Alec said with a slight smile at his old friend’s utter conviction of the integrity of their process.
“You are not bothered about the odd insect casualty?”
“Not at all, far from being endangered there are billions of them.”
Bernard reflected for a moment. As he had just said, although in different circumstances Stockwell might have seemed an agreeable enough type of man, pleasant even, Bernard recalled an early conversation with him when he had asked the hunter if ever he had any remorse about killing live sentient creatures, he distinctly remembered Stockwell’s prompt almost cheery reply, “no not at all, I thoroughly enjoy the chase and particularly the kill, they are just animals after all.”
Bernard had never bothered pursuing the ramifications of such a statement, it represented an ideology that he was completely opposed to, the unjust taking of the animal’s life, the robbing of it’s offspring of a parent, the needless mindless ‘trophy’. The man’s conviction that it was not only OK but enjoyable appalled him, how had Oscar Wilde described fox hunting? ‘The unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible’ was it?
George Stockwell stood in the chamber completely calm, with a tiny voice of doubt still wondering if it all would really work. It had been explained to him that each process would take around 3 to 4 minutes. First he would shrink from his normal size to around 1 foot or 30cm’s tall. He then had to take his equipment which would become smaller with him exactly in the same ratio through into the next cubicle/chamber/module. He looked and found himself smiling as he saw the door in the corner about 31cm high and 10cm wide, it reminded him of Alice in Wonderland, read so many years ago. The whole concept was so fantastic. He had been told that he would not feel anything whilst shrinking nor would there be any ill effects. He saw no reason to doubt this, after all, these two men were eminent, the very best in their field in the world, who else was capable of this incredible technology!
He glanced up at the ceiling, a lilac cone of light was covering him and the entire floor. He felt nothing but surely the ceiling was receding and the tiny door in the corner was becoming larger, it was, it definitely was. He checked his watch, it was now almost 3 minutes since he had first heard the hum of motors starting. There were only two lights on the wall, near the once tiny door which now looked full size, a red light and a green one. So far only the red light had been on but now it had gone off and the green light was on.
He walked towards the door, moving his equipment with him. He noticed that there was one of the narrow but long inspection windows near the door so that he could look inside the next compartment, he peered in, it was empty except for a tiny door in one corner, exactly as this cubicle had been.
He spun the door locking wheel mechanism and pushed the heavy door open and hefted his gear over to the now familiar two large buttons, one red, one green. He closed the first cubicle door behind him, spinning the lock. He pressed the red button and shortly afterwards the cone of lilac light appeared again, enveloping everything that he had brought in including himself. The red light was on. The tiny door in the corner grew and grew until it was the same size as the previous one had been originally, the cone of light went off and so did the red light on the wall, the green light came on.
Stockwell approached the door to the third and last chamber peering through the familiar inspection facility behind the toughened plastiglass. The cubicle was empty. Nevertheless Stockwell held a heavy machine pistol in one hand as he spun the door lock with the other, opening the door and standing, aiming the weapon on full alert.
The empty chamber seemed to mock his theatricals but Stockwell knew only too well that in certain situations in life you could not be too cautious, just one mistake could well prove fatal. His present situation certainly qualified for inclusion into that category. He pulled his gear inside and closed and locked the door. There was a table and chair, some biscuit rations and bottles of water. He sat down and sipped some water but did not bother eating anything. He smiled grimly to himself as the words “The condemned man made a hearty breakfast” somehow came into his head.
Back in the laboratory Alec was looking at a screen which showed the interior of the third and final cubicle from CCTV cameras installed in the chamber roof.
“He is inside number 3 Bernard, he has locked the door and is about to press red, is everything OK?”
Bernard did not take his eyes off the main instrument board where several dials twitched and moved spasmodically.
“Yes, so far so good, in fact perfect,” he replied.
In the chamber Stockwell moved to the red button and decisively pressed it and then went and sat down again, refreshing himself on the general instructions printed on the list provided earlier by the scientists.
The red light came on and Stockwell watched fascinated as the tiny door grew larger as before, of course the door was not really altering at all it was he who was getting smaller. After about 4 minutes or so the red light went out and the green light blinked on, this time accompanied by a brief gong sound and what was a pre recorded message in a clear male voice, probably Bernard’s, stating:
“Process successfully completed, if intending to leave the capsule please ensure that you have checked the immediate vicinity and are applying the highest possible level of attention and awareness. Make sure that the door is securely closed on leaving, it will automatically lock. Remember your re-entry code is 1, 2, 3.”
Stockwell moved his equipment to the door and peered out through the viewing gap which extended right around the full 360 degrees range of the chamber, nothing. He looked at the monitor which displayed what the roof camera saw directly in front of the door, nothing. He noticed that there were several viewing slots on the roof too. Yes, of course, just in case something was lurking on the top, an excellent idea. He again accepted the fact that the scientists had thought this through extremely thoroughly.
There was nothing on the roof and when he looked out ahead he seemed to be in a small clearing with what looked like a mixture of shrub lands or jungle type vegetation commencing about ten metres away. He realised that it was, in reality, only grass and plants, however in proportion to his new size it stood around half a metre to one and a half metres tall except where some, presumably artificial, clear or at least beaten down pathways had been made.
He made a thorough check of his equipment, double checked that the guns were fully loaded and that the safety catches were off and took a final check through the viewer.
Above the door opening/closing wheel was a large notice printed in red capitals on a white background, it was impossible not to see it. It read:
WARNING. IF YOU LEAVE HERE YOU FACE IMMEDIATE FATAL DANGER. IF YOU WISH TO RETURN TO THE LABORATORY PRESS THE GREEN BUTTON TO THE RIGHT OF THE DOOR WHICH WILL COMMENCE THE REVERSAL PROCESS.
Stockwell smiled and confidently turned the wheel lock anti clockwise, he pushed it open, threw his gear outside and, machine pistol in hand stepped through. He pushed the door to with a backwards movement of one arm, not taking his eyes off the clearing for one moment, he heard the clunk of the door closing and the whirring mechanism of the automatic locks engage.
The hunter listened intently, nothing. It was strangely silent and then he realised, no birds of course, they had told him. He looked up and saw blue sky above the faint outline of the encompassing structure made from composite materials which was sufficiently transparent as to be virtually invisible, itself a long way off. The temperature was, as they had said it would be, similar to tropical and slight perspiration started to form on his neck and face.
Stockwell considered it only sensible to stick to the clearest trails and paths for want of a better description, certainly initially until he acclimatised and so, holstering the pistol he shouldered the back pack with his equipment in it and carried the big rifle in both hands ready for immediate use. The trail was roughly a little less than 3 metres wide and he proceeded very cautiously, literally not knowing what to expect, the powerful gun held at waist level, safety catch off, his trigger finger hovering.
He felt the familiar excitement of hunting big game, knowing that you yourself were in danger and that you had to rely upon your own skills and instincts to survive, he considered his own talents for self preservation to be first class.
There was a movement about 50 metres ahead in the undergrowth, ahead and to his right. Stockwell stopped dead still, raising the rifle to his shoulder and looking down the sights. A huge snake reared up, larger than any Python or Anaconda that had ever lived, except, the hunter quickly realised, it was no snake, it was a simple Earth worm and a relatively small one at that. Still he covered it with the rifle and continued to remain absolutely motionless.
The creature slithered slowly away on its apparently harmless journey. Stockwell stood quietly watching its slow progress away from him. So, he thought, everything was absolutely true and another thing was absolutely certain, other inhabitants of this normal yet fantastic realm would prove to be an entirely different proposition and he wondered what would be the first predator that he would meet.
As if exactly on cue he heard a faint noise ahead and suddenly from around a bend in the trail about 40 metres away, cutting straight through the undergrowth and moving quite fast straight towards him came two creatures that immediately made him think of the old classic horror film ‘THEM’.
With their six legs, questing antennae and the fearsome mandibles the two Ants scuttled along almost side by side. The shock would have probably caused most men to freeze but Stockwell’s natural assets served him well as he automatically absorbed the information and prepared for action in a fraction of a second.
The Ants, compared to his new comparative size, measured roughly slightly less than 2 metres long and were around 60cms high and it occurred to Stockwell that, apart from the World’s largest, heaviest animals such as Elephants and Rhino’s, what would stand a chance against these huge powerful jaws, tremendous strength, speed, agility, acidic sting and renowned determination? Very little if anything!
As the creatures headed towards him, now only 30 metres distance, Stockwell’s excellent reactions and cool temperament proved admirable as he dropped to one knee simultaneously pressing the stock of the powerful rifle designed with the largest big game in mind, firmly into his shoulder. Sighting the leading Ant’s head in the telescopic lens he quickly squeezed off three shots shifting aim to the second ant which was now only 20 metres away, as the first one dropped. Again, he pumped three shots into the head, all of which hit home, and the creature stopped, literally dead in it’s tracks, keeling over as had the first one.
Stockwell slowly stood up but kept his eye, through the rifle’s sights, warily on both victims. One of it’s six legs twitched on one of the Ants but it was only a muscular spasm, both creatures were quite dead. The hunter had seen enough dead prey to usually recognise any remaining signs of life.
He felt a moment of elation. Then suddenly he had a very disturbing thought, what if there was a colony nearby, what if these two Ants were scouts? He had read somewhere or seen on TV that Ants deployed scouts, he couldn’t possibly deal with more than three or four before they reached him. He had visions of them tearing him to pieces and taking the bits back to the nest, God, what a thought! He listened intently, not a sound, then he remembered again that there were no birds.
It would be a sound idea to check out the surrounding area with binoculars from a higher vantage point, why not return to the module, clamber up onto it’s roof and view from there? Good idea! Cautiously and quietly he stepped forward intending to inspect the dead Ants before going back to put his plan into action, the strong smell of their Formic acid assaulted his nostrils. In his move towards the bodies, he had travelled just off the main trail and was now three or four metres into the thicker terrain. As he reached within a couple of metres of them, holding the rifle at waist level, finger still on trigger, safety catch off ready to fire at the slightest movement from the Ants, for a split second he thought that there had been a slight tremor in the ground.
George Stockwell died of several lethal causes including heart failure, shock, terror and not least the massive wounds inflicted as the twin 45cms long fangs ripped into his chest and fortunately for him in the circumstances, he died very quickly indeed, the alternative to an immediate death would have been truly too awful to contemplate.
As he steadily took another step towards his twin victims he was fully focused on them just in case, however unlikely, of any possible life remaining, he failed to notice a thin almost invisible line of silk stretched before him between 10 and 25cms above the ground. As his leg caught it the deadly trap was activated.
Stockwell’s practiced and well honed senses were acute enough to warn him of the danger and as he felt the ground move he did manage to jump forward a pace and swirl around holding the gun ready to fire only to realise in the last split second of life that he had remaining that he was a dead man as he faced a nightmare creature that no other human in the history of the world had ever faced in these conditions.
In that split second many thoughts raced through his mind at incredible speed as the deadly Trap Door Spider pounced. The last thing that he ever heard was his own scream as the terrifying creature, seemingly almost as large as an Elephant, seized him, and the awful realisation of death hit home as the hideous multiple eyes looked down and the huge fangs lanced into him. The initial appalling thought of being carried away to provide a meal at the horror’s leisure whilst still alive was quickly extinguished along with his life.
The monster, one of mans’ oldest and deepest subconscious fears, retreated with it’s prey, backing into it’s lair and the hinged, concealed lid of earth and grass was lowered in preparation for the next victim.
The homing chip began transmitting the final, thirty minute flat lining signal, before confirming that the carrier was no longer living.