by Bob Leman (1984)
by Bob Leman (1984)
This is the only notice you will receive.
You will follow the instructions set out below.
Dress warmly and leave your house. Do not tell your family you are leaving. Do not talk to them at all. Do not listen if they talk to you. Dress warmly and leave your house.
Proceed at a brisk clip to the center of town. Do not speak to anyone in the street. Do not -- do not -- become involved in any conversations. Step right along. Do not tarry.
At the center of town, in the little park across from the courthouse, is a building that was not there the last time you were downtown. It will strike you as a very ugly building, and its appearance will make you feel apprehensive. Pay no attention to such feelings. Do not look right or left. Enter the building. It has only one doorway and no visible door. Go right in.
You will find yourself standing in a cold gray mist, with no visibility whatever. This will cause you to feel great fear. Despite the fear, you will follow instructions. Advance six steps.
A portion of your mind will remain free of the constraint that has been placed upon you, and that portion will be observing your actions with amazement, incredulity, and terror, since everything that you are doing is without your advertence, and is, as it were, puppetlike. If you survive the present undertaking, you will remember everything that has happened, but you will never be able to speak of it. You will never be able to talk about anything at all that took place after the instant you looked at the symbol at the top of the first of these sheets. The configurations of this symbol are such that it caused your mind to be wholly obedient to these instructions. You must do as you are instructed. Under no circumstances will you lose these sheets.
From this point onward you will read only one instruction at a time. Do not read instruction number eight until you have accomplished what was instructed in number seven, and so on. Read each instruction completely before beginning to comply. Instructions from this point onward will carry from time to time comforting words of reassurance and explanation, as a means of preserving sanity in the portion of your mind that remains your own.
After you have advanced six steps, stand quite still. You will immediately feel an unpleasant sensation. It will, in fact, be agonizing pain. Ignore it. It is felt by all carbon-based life-forms undergoing interdimensional translation. It will do you no permanent harm, except possibly in a minor way to your muscular coordination and control. If you find yourself thereafter to be subject to facial tics or spasmodic jerkings of one limb or another, pay no attention to them. You have much to do. Bend all your efforts toward obeying these instructions. Do not falter.
You are now in Area One. This one will be easy. Look about you. What you see will frighten you greatly. You will not let that fact hinder you. It is just a landscape. It is only the fact that it is totally alien that frightens you. You have never seen or imagined anything remotely like it. Words of reassurance: 26,844 members of your race have been here before you. We know all about Area One. Follow instructions and you will quickly be in Area Two. Perform the following acts: take four slow -- very slow -- steps forward, and immediately sidestep quickly -- very quickly -- to your right.
The large round hole that suddenly appeared where you were standing before you sidestepped has, literally, no bottom. It is characteristic of Area One that these holes appear. Close your eyes and begin to run as fast as you can straight ahead. By fast is meant very fast.
You have been unconscious for some time, as a consequence of running full tilt into the wall that suddenly materialized. It is characteristic of Area One that walls materialize and dematerialize. If you had not spent an unconscious period, you would not now be reading this instruction. You would have been disassembled by the indigenous energy foci. They did not sense your presence because you were unconscious. It may be that this necessary collision has damaged you to some extent. Since you are reading this, the damage was not incapacitating. The wall is no longer there. Walk forward, or crawl if you must. Pass through the discontinuity portal just ahead. You will perceive it as a shimmer in the atmosphere. The faster you pass through, the less painful it will be.
You are now in Area Two. There is no need for great haste in moving on to Area Three. You may lie down and rest for several minutes. Perhaps the pain you are almost certainly undergoing will abate somewhat. Area Two is, for your race, the safest of the areas through which you must pass in completing your task. There is at this stage time for you to absorb certain knowledge that will no doubt ease the concerns that trouble the portion of your mind that continues to keep your identity. If that core of ego were to become hopelessly insane, it would affect your comprehension of these instructions, and you would be of no further use to us.
We are observing you as you proceed with your task, but we may not communicate with you except through these instructions. Our observations will enable us to amend the instructions for the one who follows you, just as you have benefited from those who preceded you. Eight hundred sixty-one members of your race have been in Area Two before you. Each was like you, a random Homo sapiens sufficiently literate to read the instructions. We have great hope that one of your race will be the individual to attain the end we desire. We have only recently discovered your race. We find you to be docile and moderately intelligent, and physically better suited for this task than many other races. You may have other useful qualities as well that we have not yet discovered. Some life-forms have proven to be quite useless to us. We tested them thoroughly before turning to others. Between our last previous discovery of a useful race and our finding of you, we tested 773 intelligent life-forms. Twelve hundred forty-four individuals of each of these life-forms were given these instructions. Every single one perished in Area One. But you are already in Area Two, comparatively undamaged, and ready at this point to proceed, having had your state of mind improved by learning these facts
If you are of the egg-producing sex, you will now discover that you have sprouted a thick and vile-smelling fur over large portions of your skin. If you are of the fertilizing sex, you will find yourself to have scales instead of skin. If you are not yet large enough to produce eggs or sperm, you will find growing, from various parts of your surface, horny lumps oozing a sticky fluid. These things happen to your race in Area Two. They will not affect your capacity to carry out your instructions. In each of the areas, as you proceed, phenomena will occur that are undreamed of, and indeed impossible, in your original continuum. As you proceed from area to area, you are in movement outside space and contrary to time as you perceive it; the bases of reality will differ from area to area, and your senses will react to this shifting in often unpredictable, and, to you, always frightening ways. Pay no attention. Follow your instructions as long as you are physically able to do so
You will by now have observed that as far as you can see in every direction the flat plain is studded with protrusions about as high as the middle joint of your walking limbs (if you are full-grown) and about as thick as your forelimbs. Each of these is topped by a spinning disk. They may be alive, but perhaps not. It does not matter. You will note that some of the disks are of one color and some of another. We cannot give you a name for the colors because our observations of your race have failed to associate the proper words with your sensory perceptions. Walk -- or otherwise proceed as best you are able -- among these protrusions. Find a group of the same color surrounding one of the other color. Go among them and place your hand on the disk of the center protrusion.
You have now been transported through another portal, and you are in Area Three. Three hundred thirty-seven of your race have been here before you. You are becoming inured to these transitions. The pain may have been less this time. We will now tell you that we lied in Instruction 11. There was in fact danger in Area Two. Because we were unable to specify colors, the chance of you selecting the wrong color was equal to that of selecting the right color. If you had selected wrongly, the consequences would have been unfortunate, but we will not enumerate them, in the interest of preserving your serenity.
Area Three is in a universe with the same physical laws as your own; it possesses galaxies of stars, and some of these stars have planets, just as your own star does. This planet is much like your home planet. It abounds in savage life-forms, most of which eat each other. We tell you this in order that you may be alert and wary. You cannot prevail in combat with these creatures. Flee when you see one. Hide, if you can find a place.
You are standing on the bank of a small stream. You may drink from it if you require water. Keep a sharp lookout. You have a very good chance of surviving if you can hide yourself in time. Here and there you will see holes that have what appear to be tangles of roots at their bottoms. When you encounter a predator, leap into one of these holes, if there is one nearby and you have time. The holes are in fact the mouths of creatures that live underground with only their mouths exposed, and live upon whatever edible things may fall into their mouths. You are inedible to them. After a short period the creature will spit you out. By then the predator may be gone, and you can proceed. Every creature that you see will be a predator. There is no place to hide but in these mouths.
Walk upstream along the brooklet. Some of the plants are predatory. Try to avoid them. Some of them will bind you with vines and suck your blood; others will paralyze you with a sting, and engulf you for slow digestion. They are, however, by your standards, lethargic and slow-moving. Watch for them and dodge out of their way. If you are not badly damaged, you can move much faster than they can. Walk upstream along the brooklet. Walk for a distance equal to about four hundred or five hundred times your body length. If you are small, or only partially grown, it may be between five hundred and six hundred times your body length.
Walk upstream along the brooklet, evading predators of every kind, until you come to a structure. This structure resembles a great mound of the nasal mucus of your race. It is about fifty times your height. It apparently has a disgusting smell. It is the nest of one of the indigenes, a creature in some ways resembling the giant reptiles once common on your world, but in other ways resembling some of your insects. It excretes the stuff of which its nest is built. Despite the semiliquid appearance of this nest, it is quite hard. The excretion hardens upon exposure to the atmosphere. Halfway up its side is an opening. Climb up, if you can, and enter. The portal you must pass through is deep inside, and will be reached by simply following the passage. The portal was of course there before the creature built its nest, and indeed has always been there. It was pure chance that led the creature to build its nest at this particular spot. The creature is unaware that the portal is there. None of these portals can be detected by life-forms native to the area of the portal's location unless such life-forms are directed to the portals, as you were when you began this task.
Inside the nest you will find it difficult to breathe. It will not, however, be impossible. The atmosphere will be harmful to your lungs. You must proceed as rapidly as possible, in order to reach the portal before your lungs cease to function. Hanging from the ceiling of the passage will be objects that will appear to you to be thick, oily ropes swinging about. Exercise care not to be touched by them. If you are, you will be dissolved. Hurry along. If you survive, it will be impossible to miss the portal. Get through it quickly.
You are in Area Four. Do not move. Do not move at all until you have read this instruction.
You are the eighteenth of your kind to reach this area. No other life-form has supplied more than five individuals who have reached it. However, your race has greater difficulties with Area Four than do the others. We cannot tell why.
As soon as you move, your shape will change. It may change to a shape that lacks the capacity for movement. If that should happen, you will of course have to remain here permanently. If, however, your new shape is capable of movement, simply go straight forward, advancing by whatever means of locomotion you can contrive under the difficulties presented by the form you have acquired. Because the geometry of this place constantly undergoes random variation, it is impossible to tell the distance to the portal at any given moment. Simply move forward until you reach it. If the portal is at this time a very great distance off, you may not reach it, as there is no way for you to obtain nourishment here, and, in any case, you may be unable to ingest nourishment in your present form.
Now you may move.
You have passed through the portal and you are in Area Five. You have returned to your original shape, or something very close to it. The other member of your race who reached this point recovered its original shape in almost every particular, with perhaps some alteration of the proportions between the various parts of its body. It retained to a considerable degree the power of forward movement and an intermittent capacity for coarse manipulation of objects. No doubt you find yourself as well off, and perhaps better.
In this area the portal is close at hand. You could see it from where you now are, if it were not hidden behind that large machine. We do not know how this machine appears to you, because your perceptions do not extend to all the planes in which it has its existence. The part that falls within the range of your senses apparently is perceived by your race as a terrifying large live thing. That at any rate is our conclusion based upon the behavior of your predecessor.
The function of this machine, to describe it in an analogy that you will understand, is to take samples and analyze them. There is no way of knowing what sort of samples it was designed to analyze, except that they were evidently large -- probably about the size of your head. The entities who created this machine finished their history and disappeared very long ago, at a time when your native sun was still taking form. The machine continues to operate, but perhaps no longer exactly as it was intended to. In any case, it will not permit you access to the portal until it has taken its sample.
You will have noted that these instructions are now more elaborate and explanatory than they were initially. This has been because it appears from our admittedly incomplete knowledge of the psychology of your race that you may function better if you have some comprehension of what you are doing. In the early stages it did not matter, but now you have advanced very far. While of course you have no choice but to obey the instructions, it may be that these explanations will inspire you to an added effort, or even enthusiasm.
If you are able to pass the machine, you will see the portal plainly, and you will go through it.
Now advance and let the machine take its sample.
You are in Area Six. You are the first being to achieve it. Heretofore the samples taken by the machine have always been vital parts of the life-form furnishing the sample, or even the entire being. Clearly, there remains enough of you to continue to live, and to have made your way from the machine to the portal. You are a durable being, for one of your subdivision.
Area Six is the final area. There are no difficulties in this area. It is a harmless, peaceful, and, perhaps, to you, a beautiful place. Or perhaps not. We know little of your aesthetics. There are many large plants here, much resembling the trees of your native world. A small road or path winds among them. Follow the path. Along the way are streams of water from which you may drink; there are also fruits and nuts that are safe to eat for life-forms of your subdivision.
Advancing along the path from the opposite direction is another life-form. It will resemble nothing you have seen or imagined, but it is, like you, carbon-based, and, like you, has been following a set of instructions, which were much more difficult than yours. When you confront this being, reach out with any part of you that remains capable of reaching, and touch it. It is instructed to do the same to you.
The instruction following this one will be the final instruction. You may read it after you have physically touched the other creature.
The fact that you are reading this means that you have completed the undertaking.
Your race is one of those with the characteristic of curiosity, and you will want to know our reasons for requiring you to make this journey. We will tell you.
You have on your native planet an intellectual diversion quite suitable for your minds, called chess. We are now playing, with another entity much like yourself, a game with distant analogies to the game of chess raised many powers in complexity. Nothing about this game would be in any way comprehensible to you, of course, and we will make no attempt to explain it. Instead, we will continue the chess analogy and tell you that while there have already been hundreds of millions of moves in this game, it remains very far from over. Millions of our chessmen are in motion upon a board that encompasses all of the past time and any point in or portion of the universe that may become useful. You and the being you have just encountered comprise jointly a minute part of one of our chess pieces. The passage through the portals on the part of each of you, and your final coming together, form part of a tiny link in a predicted chain of cause and effect that will, in a very distant future time, lead to a curious mutation in a race whose first ancestor has not yet come into being.
Unless, of course, the move by our opponent that follows this one nullifies ours. We will, in that event, make an appropriate response. You will understand that all the pieces are being moved all the time. The analogy with chess is in fact quite loose.
At some point -- it will be at a time that would seem to you to be unthinkably remote -- the game will be over. The loser will congratulate the winner. We and it will then invent and agree upon the rules of a new game, and it will commence.
That is what we do. You, with your curiosity, may ask: Why?
The answer is: To pass the time, to alleviate boredom.
Your curiosity is now satisfied, and we are finished with you. You are now free from the restraints imposed by these instructions, and may do as you like. If you wish to try to return to your starting place, you will find all the portals exactly where they were when you were coming here. They are open both ways. The difficulties in each area remain unchanged, but you are quite durable. You might get back.