The Box on the Beach by sauthca

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It was one of those late autumn days at Southport where the sun is low in the south, grey clouds are in the west and the wind is high, blowing a layer of sand particles so that when you're tramping along the high tide line, you seem to be running in a buff coloured dream of relativity.

The sea to my right was shallow, and great creamy fans of foam made patterns on the shiny wet sand.

I revelled in the huge sky, the brilliance of the sun and the smell of the sea.

Bright as it was ahead, I briefly saw a penetrating vertical spear of blue light hit the sand some mile ahead of me. I waited for the thunder, assuming the flash to be lightning but no sound came. I thought perhaps that the wind buffeting in my ears had deafened me.

I put my head down and settled to a steady tramp into the wind.

Looking up a few minutes later, a glitter of light held my attention, way ahead.

I stopped and the glitter took shape and volume to become a rolling, many sided box apparently blown along the beach by the wind. As it neared me, it became a hypnotic object of beauty, a jewel of azure bright facets, each face picking light from the sun and internally reflecting it to dazzle the eyes and provoke an overwhelming desire to possess such a wonderful artefact.

It was only a foot or so in diameter, and as it was about to pass, I started to run to intercept it. The moment I moved, the object stopped its rolling progress.

As I walked towards it, the jewel, as I perceived it to be, split along the edges of its facets to spread itself in petals on the sand like a flower, and in the centre of the flower was a brilliant electric blue sphere, within which were mesmerising swirling patterns of light and dark.

I was so taken with this transformation that I barely noticed that the object and I were now cocooned in a warm, windless hemisphere of silence. The sand still roiled past the confines of the hemisphere, but soundlessly.

From the central sphere I seemed to hear a voice - not through my ears but within my head.

"Greetings. We wish you no harm but we must have words with you. You do not need to articulate your thoughts but if it helps you, you may so do."

"I - I", I stammered,"Er Hello, erm, who is we - who are you?"

"This is - or I am, if you prefer to personalise our interaction, an automated robot probe which we send to all planets threatened by carbon life forms."

"That doesn't answer the question who are you - the ones who sent you."

The probe seemed to stop. The patterns in the sphere froze in stasis.

I was once more in a bubble of quiet on the sands of Southport beach.

Then the patterns resumed their hypnotic dance within the sphere.

"I am sorry but I have problems of file compression - I have to exchange information with mother above."

"Is that where the beings who sent you are?"

"No, she is another, very large automaton."

"But you called it - her, mother."

"All the best computers are female."

"So you're a him?"

"No. I am an it."

"How's it our defence systems haven't been alerted?"

"We hide behind asteroids and moons. There are always those."

"But your communications with mother would be detected."

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