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Out of the sky


You could barely make him out at first, a distant figure walking along a fence in a vast red landscape that was otherwise without boundary. A sentry line of posts stretched north and south. Close to the man the posts were well defined. Each carried the letters B H P in blisters of black solder. Through each post ran five taut wires, the uppermost barbed. But in the distance the posts lost form. They shimmered uncertainly and then seemed to float in the air before disappearing into the shifting light of summer heat.

Occasionally jet airliners arced high overhead. Thin white vapour trails lingered in a sky of perfect blue until currents of air gradually teased them into wisps of cloud. These passed unseen by the man, who remained absorbed in his task of inspection and repair. Except for the faintest humming of the wires, he could hear nothing. There was not the slightest breeze. Nothing challenged the stillness except his slow movement along the fence line. Now and then he would pause to work a piece of truant wire or kick away the wind-borne skeletons of plants with the stiff, economical action of an old man. Behind him trotted a dog, sniffing keenly for the scent of carrion.

By two in the afternoon both man and dog were gone. A diminishing speck of white could be seen on the eastern horizon. A rolling plume of dust followed like the tail of a comet, splitting the visible world in two.