As he sat back in his rickety chair with feet dipped in the garden's muck, Avo got trapped in his favorite dreamscape. In this version, he was swimming in a pond, full of water lilies. The flowers blossomed under the twilight of a crescent moon and injected their sweet pulp in the calm water. Avo felt his mind and body restored.

Suddenly, his toxicity sensor beeped an alarm. Propane in the air! It must have leaked from a neighboring channel. Avo thought but tried to pay no attention to it. The noxious feeling disappeared after a while. Unpleasant paradoxes and other inconsistencies very frequently interfered with the Dreamscape. He had to deal with those.

He again formulated the pre-designated set of experiences to keep on with his beloved lily-pond. But again, something even more toxic and overwhelming, a sinister shadow blanketed the syrup of the night. Hundreds, maybe thousands of night birds came flying from afar, their parasitic soar ruffling on the once smooth surface of the water.

Obviously, the night birds must have been scared from somebody. Or something. . . A dreadful outcome for a beautiful reverie!

This painful climax couldn't be possibly handled from the warren state. Avo decided it was time he woke up. He forced his eyes open, out of the dreamscape.

He balanced on the chair's back legs for a while. Then, his two feet hit the ground stable.

Holding his rasping chest, he inhaled and exhaled spastically with inconsistent interruptions. With a feeling of drowsiness, he vomited once and cleared his throat.

He tried to listen to the enemy, but couldn't hear anything. His echoilibrium had somehow disconnected from the real world. Out of desperation, he plugged the electrical outlet right into his navel socket and optimized the frequency, focusing on incoming sounds.

That's a shriek, he realized. And it's definitely, a Measle one!

His garden must have been invaded by the Measles again! Avo immediately adjusted his frequency channel to spot the whereabouts of his two guardians, Elethor and Alyta. A clear snapshot of Elethor was in his screen, but, Alyta was nowhere around! At least, his trusted Elethor had done the job well this time and Avo could use perfect spatiotemporal information regarding the Measles' entry point into his garden.

According to the video snapshot, the male chronodog, Elethor, was furiously barking and spitefully grinded his teeth against an invisible enemy. But, no sound could be reproduced from this version of the past.

'It's definitely the Measles,' Avo said aloud. 'How did they make it so far, this time?'

Avo sat down on his chair with feet trembling. He unplugged the outlet from his navel socket, and automatically adjusted it back to his hypothalamic one. In a few moments, he spotted an open route.

Right there! Quite efficient this time! he thought.

If his calculations were correct, he would have no problem reaching Elethor, and terminating the invasion of the Measles on time.

He began the transition, no further delays.

# # #

His transition was prematurely terminated. An enormous sea of snails swarmed around him!

A dynamic experience, giving him the impression he could participate with body and soul. The depiction must have been from hundreds of years before Avo existed in these pastures. He watched these earthly crawlers parading on their own mucous.

A nauseous feeling and lots of pressure burst his eyes. He wanted to cry. But why did the snails affect him so much?

He closely looked at the snails. Their spiraled shells seemed to project high-frequency data strings in the atmosphere, toxic enough for Avo's central nervous system. This telepathic interference was the source of his headaches. And also the reason he could not continue on with his transition.

Avo felt his brain was shrinking already!

'Oh,' he sighed in pain and immediately adjusted his auditory device to low frequency sound-signals, before getting washed out of memories by this mental harassment.

Avo yawned to relieve his ears.

'Black and white; matter and antimatter; yin and yang; electrons and protons,' he mumbled, trying to convince himself his mind was not roasted by the telepathic waves.

He slowly started regaining full consciousness and restoring contact with his surroundings.

This was close! The snails must have possessed very aggressive acoustic signatures to defeat and infect any life forms in the host planets they were invading to. Avo figured out.

'Where are you going guys?' he wondered aloud, mesmerized. 'Where have you come from? And more importantly, what has happened to you now?'

He smiled as he could now watch the parade without getting harmed. The snails were walking by, and strolled past him without paying any attention to Avo's physical existence.

A sudden visual disruption! Black and white parasites followed. Avo got again in the middle of his transition.

And then he saw it! It was standing right in front of him. His feet paralyzed. His heart was pumping blood in and out with striking velocity. The monstrous rabbit with the sharp, ugly teeth was staring at him, persistently, gloomily.

'The world will end in twenty-eight days, six hours, forty-two minutes and twelve seconds,' the ugly rabbit said in a vacant voice.

'Wh. . . what?' Avo screamed and tried to reach for his gadget in panic. 'Wait. . . I have to register this. . . . How long did you say?'

'Relax man,' he heard a low male voice seated right next to him. 'It's just a film.'

Avo turned his head slowly. The room was dark. Many people were sitting in an amphitheatric area expanding to the back of the room in many rows. Everyone was sitting quiet and watching the monstrous rabbit. A few people, quite close to him, were already annoyed by Avo's reactions and were staring at him with a warning face.

Avo looked at the scary rabbit once more, and realized it, in fact, existed in a flat screen at the far end of the room. The experience was nothing but fake moving pictures projected from afar.

'A film, you said?' Avo whispered.

The guy smiled. 'You're definitely odd, dude! This is Donnie Darko, the new science fiction film… Do you need medical assistance or something? '

But, why do I experience such dynamic interference within my transition this time? Maybe it's the Measles… Do they now possess more advanced technology and mess up with my time travelling technique? Avo wondered, while watching the rabbit character slowly fading away. And he continued on with the final moments of his transition. Rabbits and snails, he thought, let's at least hope to avoid any further encounters with the animal kingdom for the remaining trip.

# # #

Lavish lichen grew in mud-filled crevices around him, in the cratered soil. The dense vegetation roared at the dead of night and the damp breeze. The tall grass sprouted from an aquarium of rainy light, circulating Avo like an asphyxiating fence.

The transition was finally complete. Avo was kneeled in the garden in a praying stance, his stare constantly fixed on his gadget.

'All this interference. . . It caused such a delay!' he exasperated. 'I must have missed the space- and time-point of invasion for only a few minutes. Damn Measles have already reached my garden!'

Suddenly, he sensed a whistling sound. It was instant and soft, but definitely quite hissing to be captured by Avo's echoilibrium. The man froze in this awkward position and tried to detect its origin. It was somewhere. . . very close, for certain! He couldn't yet exactly discern its nature, but its origin turned quite clear after a while. It was coming from the other side of the grass fence.

Avo sighed and swallowed soundlessly. The noise echoed again, only this time, the echogram came in more intense in the echoilibrium. The database performed the matching algorithm and soon brought in the result. The pattern could be easily recognized now. The sound was an animal's whining. The agony of a dying dog. . .

An unpleasant thought came in. Could it be Elethor? 'Elethor!' Avo screamed and, without second thoughts, jumped through the natural grassy hedge obscuring his vision.

He found himself landing clumsily on the rough surface of multiple ground stone outcrops on the other side of the fence. It only took him a moment to retrieve his balance, before raging against the nearest sector of the garden. Nothing could stop him now, as he was sprinting through the naturally-formed passageways in between an opaque line of shrubberies.

He had been late all along to put a stop to the beginning of the invasion. But deep inside him, Avo had faith that the process of invasion may have not entirely been completed. It was possible that the Measles were still trying to finish off the galactic bridge between their universe and his, and Avo had still plenty of time to redirect the process.

'Elethor!' he yelled with despair, when finally reached on the other side, priming his weapon.

He got petrified at the view of the horrendous scene ahead.

The chronodog was lying down on one side of his body unconscious or possibly dead, and a flock of carnivore rabbits devoured on his body, chewing up his skin and spooning his arteries for fresh blood.

Despite his urge to intervene and save him, the clattering image of the rabbit from the Donnie Darko film projected right in front of Avo's eyes and somehow restrained him. Unable to even move an inch, Avo unwillingly gazed at the rabbits as they were greedily consuming Elethor's flesh, and felt his gray matter controlled and pillaged by their hideous telepathic frequency. Avo found true numbness in his spine; hands and legs deadened; his eyelids heavy, like he was sedated; his mouth totally dry with no words coming out. Rivers of cold blood circulated within his vessels. With tremendous effort, he managed to wet his lips and tasted the sourness of death nearing him.

No! Not like this! I can't die like this. . . . he thought and felt tears running away from his eyes.

# # #

All rabbits except one, a leader figure, never bothered paying attention to Avo while watching them. The rabbit stopped the cannibalistic chewing and stepped forward onto one natural rock formation.

Out of desperation, Avo tried his best to pull his muscles and to raise his gun and shoot, but was unable to even make a slight jerk.

The Measles have won the war. I didn't manage to deflect their bridge on time.

He should have figured it out earlier; the Donnie Darko film was a very smart move. The Measles had impeded it into the time travel attempt at the exact moment of invasion. He was distracted enough, to arrive late.

How pathetic, Avo thought. And what a waste of me, to get tricked so easily!

The rabbit stared at him with curiosity. It then stood up on its back legs and assumed a human stance. Blood was dripping from both sides of its moist lips. Flesh remnants were falling off from its mouth.

'Your name is Avo,' the rabbit stated instead of asking, crimson-bloody teeth protruding from cranny jaws. 'You and the two guardian dogs, Elethor and Alyta, have always been protecting the garden from the Measles.'

Avo moved his lips, but couldn't speak. His larynx had paralyzed.

'With these two constantly patrolling in the Garden Complex,' the rabbit continued the one-sided conversation, 'every time we would make an attempt to create a bridge from our universe into yours, the chronodogs could very precisely mark the time and space of our entry point. It would then be very typical and expected of you -a good guardian you are- to travel back in time, just before we deployed our connecting wormhole. And you would then use your deflection beacon to sabotage our mission. To drive us back and discontinue our diving into your world.'

The rabbit looked at Avo with extreme hatred. Avo felt this moment like a bag of stones stuffed in his chest. But he couldn't help but sense an odd and unexpected outcome, coming from this monologue.

The rabbit craned its head and sniffed in the air. 'You feel helpless now, yes?'

His eyes tilted.

'Is that right, Avo? Isn't this what you've been doing all along, since the very first moment you can remember your pathetic self breathing?'

Avo frowned. Lucky-him, the only muscles he could still control were the ones responsible for facial expressions. Especially the crude ones.

'Talk to me with your mind, Avo,' the rabbit said. 'I know you are scared and paralyzed, but I can listen to your thoughts. I am a telepathic life form.'

It's impossible.

'Well,' the rabbit smiled sardonically. 'That's actually possible.'

Who are you? What do you want? Avo tried to formulate a clear simple question in his mind.

'One question at a time, Avo!'

Suddenly, a vicious, but familiar, barking sounded from afar. The rabbit slightly hopped in its position. Moments ago, Avo could clearly picture the confidence and certainty of victory in its eyes. All that was left behind now was pure fear. All the rabbits refrained from devouring on Elethor's leftovers, mostly a skeleton now. Their heads standing still, their ears stretched, it all happened with phenomenal synchronization.

Alyta! Avo thought, with hope and anticipation.

'It's your chronodog, Alyta, isn't it?' the rabbit asked and sighed. 'I really hoped we had more time for this, but thank you anyway for informing us Avo,' the rabbit said, looking disappointed. It then turned to the rest of the rabbits and spoke in a stoical voice. 'Soon, the place will be packed with chronodogs, making our stay here a rather difficult job. This is not a safe place for us anymore. We have to leave Earth soon.'

Oh no! Avo had forgotten the Measles could hear his thoughts.

'As for you Avo,' the rabbit said turning back to him. 'Since we may not have the chance, the two of us, to meet again in the future, I'll give you the opportunity to aim for one question. Remember! Only one question. Prove to me, you're smart enough not to waste it into something stupid or irrelevant.'

What's happening, here? Why do you, the Measles, behave so. . . differently than expected?

Avo didn't have the slightest idea about what exactly he should aim for. Should he ask who the Measles really were? Or, why they really came here? If it hadn't been invading and stealing from the garden, in the first place, then what was their true purpose?

Stealing from the garden? Stealing what? What exactly has Avo been protecting in the Garden Complex for so long? He frowned.

'Our time is running out, Avo. I guess you'd like to live with your ignorance then?'

No wait! Avo tried to communicate with the rabbit. I have a question for you. You were right, right from the start. I don't remember myself existing besides this garden. The world around me sounds like a shifting reality now. I don't know if this Earth I'm standing really exists. I always had this feeling, but never dared expressing it in real.

The rabbit eyed him with mistrust, but hope seemed to be what was actually projecting from it.

I had the strong belief that you were the invaders, but in fact, it now mostly seems to me you've come from afar to awaken us. So, I've been thinking during the last couple of minutes, that you must have an important reason to risk your lives, travelling from another planet, and try to make us . . .. remember of what has actually happened. The truth is. . . .

The rabbit's eyes flickered.

The truth is that we are enslaved to somebody or something. As a whole, as humanity; we're enslaved, and our captor has managed to convince us, you're our enemies. We must have been somehow brainwashed with these beliefs, at some point. I don't remember how we obtained the time-travel technology, so that we would stop anyone attempting to contact us and warn us of our own. . . obliteration. I don't even remember when and how we did recruit these chronodogs that give us the exact coordinates of any alien species attempting to communicate with us. And then we, the gardeners, we put a stop to any attempt like this, even before it happens. . . We are helping our captor, all along. . . .

'The question,' the rabbit urged him. 'Alyta will be here at any moment now!'

The chronodogs. . . . That is my question leader of the Measles! Are we enslaved. . . to the chronodogs?

The rabbit smiled and nodded with assent. Avo realized the leader of the Measles must have approved of his question, and a mutual trust was under development. 'You are very close to the real truth, Avo. But, the chronodogs themselves are nothing more but inferior servants of His. And, unfortunately… so are you. The only difference between you and the chronodogs Avo, is that you, the humans, are unwitting.' The rabbit interrupted its own thought and expressed some remorse by lowering its head. 'The purpose of their existence is to actually work by you, and keep you in the dark. The sole purpose of the chronodogs is to never allow humanity, to come in contact with any other sentient beings in the Universe, as you very correctly thought. Until you are entirely. . . consumed.'

Consumed? By whom. . . ?

'We call Him, the Harverster,' the rabbit interrupted Avo. 'An intergalactic parasite. Consumer of galaxies. Energy equilibrium, capable of infecting tangent universes. Sentient beings belonging to these universes need to first trust him willfully and fully surrender their minds to him. He achieves that by luring them into powerful technologies and by offering knowledge and plasmatic protection from outsiders. Eventually, the sentient beings become mindless puppets. The Harvester consumes all data strings and brainwaves, produced by them. Time gets constantly distorted because of the implosion they're suffering. Your universe has turned unstable, affecting all other nearby universes. Including ours. You were trained to call us 'Measles', but the truth is, we cannot stop Him. The Harvester will never cease consuming your Earth and all humans will go extinct, unless. . . .' the rabbit made a pause and turned its head hesitantly, left and right.

Unless? Avo urged it to continue.

'Unless you abandon Earth, Avo,' the rabbit said skeptically. 'That's right. . . there is no chance for the tiny humans to win a war against the Harvester. You are among the last few remaining survivors, and you need to finish up your plan and abandon Earth, on time. Several of your memories have now been absorbed in the Data Stream by the Harvester, and this is why you don't remember much anymore. This is where we do our part and came here to help you, Avo.'

I still don't understand. What needs to be done?

'Your precedent human beings had tried to initiate Alternative 4, a highly-sophisticated plan involving the terraforming of a new planet in a distant galaxy. Artificial Intelligence and Suprachiasmatic Algorithms demonstrated that it would take thousands and maybe millions of years, until the Harvester could locate the coordinates of this new “Rogue Planet”, and as such, the humans could evolve and prosper again, in a New Eden, safe and unharmed by this Intergalactic Parasite.”

So? Avo asked.

'After terraforming, the humans sent a Mother Ship in the Rogue Planet, equipped with fertilized human eggs in artificial uterine structures in cryonic suspension. All that is left now is to release the embryos from cryonic suspension and initiate the Birth Program, so that the fetuses can grow and eventually be born and nourished inside the Mother Ship.'

I have difficulties believing that. And anyway, what does it have to do with me?

'You, Avo,' the rabbit said. 'You are the creator of the Birth Program. You are a true Gardener. . . .'

I am?

'That's right, Avo,' the rabbit pinched him. 'You had created the software before the great apocalypse. You belong to the scientific team that developed and implemented Alternative 4. You must now go back to the Tower and initiate the correct sequence to prime the Birth Program, and save the human race.'

'I. . . .'

'There is no chance for you to be saved, Avo. No! The truth is that you and all the others residing in this planet will eventually get consumed by the Harvester. Your deterioration has started long time ago. But somewhere inside your head, deep into your thoughts, deep into your grey matter,' the rabbit said allegorically, 'there lies a complex sequence of numbers, capable of initiating the Birth Program. The decision is up to you, now.'

A harsh noise interrupted the one-sided conversation as Alyta jumped from the grass tops and landed at the rear of the party. The rabbit pack scurried away from Elethor's remnants and got scattered in the small clearing, searching for cover in preformed burrows by the local wildlife.

Alyta immediately headed for the central stones, where the rabbit leader was standing and focused on the neck. Out of desperation, the rabbit leader tried to defend against her sharp teeth by pushing its paws deep into Alyta's upper and lower lips, but the resistance was futile. Slightly agitated, Alyta grabbed the rabbit steadily, and shook it in the air for a few moments, and then threw it impulsively on the ground, with skin convoluted, flesh penetrated and body parts largely abused. The rabbit sizzled for a few seconds, before leaving its last breath.

In reflex, Avo turned back and started running towards the Garden Complex. There was no room to stay startled for too long.

# # #

Unaware of whether seconds or minutes had passed since his frenzy started, Avo stopped behind a natural plantain palisade to gasp a mouthful of air. With trembling hands, he revealed his gadget and plugged the outlet in his navel socket to isolate from all nearby frequencies around him. He adjusted the echoilibrium to the chronodog-specific frequency, and tried to pay no attention to his heartbeats that seemed a prominent source of background noise to his attempt of tracking down Alyta.

Despite his meticulous efforts, he couldn't detect Alyta with success. But, how could this possibly be? Did he truly escape from her, or Alyta didn't bother coming after him in the first place?

The truth is she seemed rather busy with the bunny Measles. But now, Avo knew the truth and that made him a priority target for the Harvester, as well. Alyta and Elethor were the monstrous guardians of the Harvester and not the loyal friends of the humans.

Such a grave realization!

But soon, he came to another grim realization. Why did he even trust the chronodogs in the first place? He couldn't recollect any memory of how this all started. When did they appear? How did they adapt on Earth with the rest of the humans?

It seemed that the only thing left on Avo's memory timeline was indeed what the rabbit Measle leader had earlier implied: the fact that the Harvester had very elegantly incorporated the choronodog agents among the gardeners to keep them under control. To make sure that the humans will never escape Earth, and, of course, they will never accomplish Alternative 4.

With vast determination, Avo primed his gun, and initiated the Garden Complex Infrared Map in his gadget.

'Time to repurpose my existence in this planet before it entirely rots,' he stated in a firm voice.

The leader of the Measles referred to a tower. What did he mean by that? Where is this tower? Avo pressed his eyeballs repeatedly to force his memories back.

A tower. . . . A base of operations. . . . That's it!

'The Promontory Lighthouse! This is where we first established the Operations Facility and designed Alternative 4 from the scratch!'

With great enthusiasm, Avo mapped the shortest channel to the building. The infrared icon beeped in his screen for some seconds, and then successfully guided a natural GPS implant exactly into Avo's cerebral cortex.

Avo obtained a clear consensus of where exactly to go, and didn't want to waste a second more.

# # #

The lighthouse was positioned at the edge of a slightly-elongated peninsula resembling the nail of a swollen finger. Dense vegetation had entirely covered what used to be a front yard for the base of operations. The Promontory Lighthouse once asphyxiated with human life. All that was left now were paramilitary trucks and relevant warfare scattered throughout the area. Most of the equipment had become obsolete and overwhelmed by the fungal and saprophytic predators in the vicinity of the humid landscape.

Avo tried to swallow, but managed to do so with tremendous difficulty.

How long has it been since these facilities were abandoned? Has it really been decades or more than that? What happened here?

Avo soon found and walked down the road to the main entrance of the Promontory Lighthouse. This proved to also be a challenging task, since the overgrown grass and horrendous plant-life had literally obliterated every single pebble that once lined the picturesque pathway.

As soon as he reached the front yard, he became true witness of the Harvester's catastrophic potential, and despite his strong will, he felt rather uneasy.

The air was heavy and hard to breathe. The ground was covered with a thick layer of rotten leaves, overlaid by a sheath of filthy mucous. The footing was treacherous. Avo could hardly walk with all this grime molesting his shoes, and every step required enormous physical effort to be completed.

As he was closing by the entrance, he could see myriads of young sluggish worms underneath the mucous. It was as if the mucous itself offered a protective barrier against the environment, where the younglings could nourish and grow totally undisturbed.

Something is not right. he said to himself, while continued walking.

The entrance to the facility was corroded and the walling around entirely decayed. Avo had no difficulty in pushing the metallic plates, which used to be interdigitally locked to keep the door closed but now were clearly separated to each other via rusty crevices. The texture of slug mucous underneath his feet was evident all around, from the moment that Avo stepped into the foyer. Otherwise, the Promontory Lighthouse was a delicate and practical building. No dead spaces around; just a unisex lavatory right across from the entrance and a serpentine staircase, leading up to the main floor of operations.

Some naturally occurring light was produced by the phosphorescent lichens that had grown in the interior of the building, overlaid like a geometrically asymmetric tapestry. This dim lighting was complemented by stronger moonlight beams laddering from the many windows around. The chill currents from the sea outside were amplified in this narrow space, and Avo could feel them as they penetrated his spine.

Avo could swear he could hear the sound of heavy breathing, but concluded that the wind was playing tricks on him. As he started ascending the wobbly staircase, he felt like each step lasted for an eternity. The more he went up, the more he could hear the crackling sound of shelled mollusks and snails getting smashed. He became rather nervous.

How come the place was so badly overrun by these snail things? he couldn't help but wonder.

Once he got in the upper concourse, Avo felt an unwelcoming dampness. His glimpse was captured by two of the numerous computer screens that were surprisingly still functional, but were gleaming irregularly. One more computer console was placed on the farthest part of the room and also seemed to transmit signals, despite badly in shape and particularly corroded on its exterior.

Avo could now clearly picture several past time events! This is the room! This is where the idea for Alternative 4 was born and implemented. I. . . I have been part of this. . . .

Avo carefully followed the most iridescent path he could frame towards the console, trying to avoid any scattered or wobbly cables that could potentially pose a hazard to him. He couldn't avoid though hitting onto the many broken devices that had detached from the main workstation.

When he reached the console's terminal, Avo found out it was not entirely dead, but it was fully immersed into dense snail mucous.

'What the. . . .' he exclaimed, disgusted.

'Mucous. . . is a living. . . thing. . . .' A grabby and throaty voice echoed from above.

Out of reflex, Avo turned and fixed his look on the source of the noise, and saw that the entire rooftop was covered by a gargantuan helix. He soon realized that the glossy helix was part of an enormous snail creature, which had been attached on the rooftop all this time. Viscous material was secreted from the snail's exposed body parts, giving the impression of mucous stalactites hanging from the top, and was dripping down on the floor in moldy wet ponds.

Terrified, Avo went a few steps backwards, but had no further room to escape.

'Don't be afraid. . . Avo. . . It's us. . . the Measles. Again!'

'The. . . . The Measles. . . . I thought. . . .' Avo said in a trembling tempo.

'That's right. Don't worry. We came to the planet as a thoughtform to communicate with you Avo. I am trying to adapt to the principles of this planet and obtain a meaningful form for you to be able to perceive me. I can be rabbits, fish, snails. . . . I can merely phenocopy anything that could potentially have self-awareness. . . .'

'Phenocopy?' Avo said skeptically.

'Exactly! I am glad you made it this far, Avo! Now. . . quickly! You must initiate the Birth Program by entering Planet Rogue's coordinates in the system and successfully complete Alternative 4. Be quick though! The Harvester's agent still lurks around and may be here at any moment. . . .'

Avo turned back to the computer screen. It was flickering, waiting for Avo's Sequence to be designated.

I have to save the humans, he thought. But there was this dizziness that didn't allow him to think clearly. I cannot seem to remember the Sequence. . . . It's somewhere hidden in my brain. . . . But where the hell is it?

'Initiate the Sequence, Avo,' the snail kept pushing him.

'I am trying to remember it. . . .'

What's happening to me? What is the Sequence?

Avo pressed his eyeballs tight to relieve his elevated blood pressure. He thought his head was about to explode. He would fall apart soon.

What is the damn Sequence? Where exactly in my mind is it?

'You. . . . We. . . are running out of time, Avo?'

'Stop it! I am working on it!' Avo yelled at the snail.

That's it! My favorite dreamscape. . . The crescent moon… The water lilies. . The night-birds… This is why the night-birds were always there and they were so annoying. . . and I couldn't enjoy my favorite dreamscape. The sequence is in fact a hidden message, which I deliberately implanted as a script in the form of the flying night birds.

The night-birds were always there, serving as a safety valve, making sure that I would always pay attention to their foul presence!

Avo put his fingers on the terminal. He focused all his mind power and started deciphering the flight pattern of the night-birds. It was a complicated, yet straightforward logarithmic sequence with geometric asymmetries. It would be a piece of cake for Avo to work this through on time.

He was addicted to this dream, and was visiting it day after day for God knows how many years. Now, he could again fantasize this dream right in front of him, a vivid recreation. And it started getting clearer and clearer. One by one, he started typing in the numbers of the Sequence.

Suddenly, a raspy growl interrupted his thoughts. Avo was taken aback! Alyta was standing on the other side of the room, growling at him with an icy stare.

# # #

Avo assumed a defensive stance. Alyta kept on growling at him, but didn't attack.

Yet.

'Quickly, Avo,' the snail urged him. 'Move on with the Sequence. I am keeping her immobilized in my mucous. But I won't be able to do so for long!'

Indeed! On a closer look, Avo could see Alyta was surrounded by a dense spill of mucous, and she was unable to move. The Measles were trying desperately to buy him some time.

The mucous does not only pose a viscous obstacle against walking, but it has neuroparalytic properties as well. Avo noticed. But why am I aware of this? How do I possess this knowledge?

'There is no time for philosophizing Avo,' the snail interrupted, while hearing his thoughts. 'You'll have this chance later.'

The Measles can also read my thoughts. There's nowhere for me to hide, Avo thought and turned back to the monitor, pressed his fingers against the Sequence panel and tried to focus again.

But now, Alyta's was not growling. She started whining. And her whining was mind-grabbing. Avo found himself at the midst of a paradoxical and peculiar situation. He couldn't help it. His emotions worked against him. He turned and looked right into Alyta's eyes. Two brownish, glistering marbles were watching him with an evident complaint.

'She wants to tell me something,' Avo concluded.

'Don't be distracted Avo,' the snail replied dogmatically.

Something is not right.

'Focus. . . on. . . the Sequence. . . Avo,' the snail commanded with a rigid voice, this time clearly annoyed.

'I need to listen to her before I do this,' Avo stated firmly and pulled out and got connected with his echoilibrium. He adjusted the frequency to Alyta's transmission.

'You will regret this. . . .' the snail said before its frequency got temporarily lost.

Avo was now alone in the same channel as Alyta. 'Tell me.' He said.

'Don't do this Avo,' Alyta begged. 'The Harvester is trying to deceive you.'

'In what way?'

'It convinced you that we are the enemy and he is not,' Alyta explained. 'The moment you decrypt the sequence from the night-bird flying pattern, the Harvester will telepathically become aware (through you) of the coordinates of the Rogue Planet. This is why it instructed you to initiate the Birth Program, but this is a lie. He wants you to bring your most delicate thoughts in the surface, so he may steal them. And then, he will be able to locate the planet and consume the human embryos you've sent along with the Mother Ship.'

Avo felt a strong headache. 'And why?' he asked. 'Why should I trust you?'

'Just think this through for a moment. The Harvester. . . the Measles have been trying to invade your mind all this time, and we have been there protecting you spatiotemporally. Why does the Harvester bother to do this? Because, the Harvester knows you're the father of Alternative 4, and has been trying to locate the human embryos through your mind. This is how the Harvester obtains its forms, through your dreams and experiences. Why do you see it in form of Snail or Rabbits? Remember the snail parade you saw when you transitioned. Remember the Donnie Darko movie. . . . The Harvester has been stealing concepts from your dreams to achieve its only goal in the Universe: Expansion. . . .'

Avo smiled with disbelief and then nodded, gently massaging the back of his neck. 'And what are you Alyta?' he said sarcastically. 'My consciousness?'

'No, Avo, I am afraid I am more real than the world you've been experiencing lately.' Alyta sighed and then continued. 'After terraforming and before sending the Mother Ship to the Rogue Planet, the humans had sent a ship filled with two experimental animals: A female and a male dog. They wanted to test whether the planet was indeed suitable for survival.'

She paused for a while to make sure that Avo was following her line of information..

'Experimental animals? Like the rodents and dogs used in laboratories.'

'Exactly. And indeed, the animals reached and survived in the new planet. However, time in the Rogue Planet is relatively slow to the time on Earth. As such, when the Mother ship arrived a year later, several thousand years had passed on Rogue Planet. The evolution process had created a highly intelligent dog species. We came to be a far greater civilization than that of the Humans. Elethor and I. . . we are the progeny of this civilization. And we came here to protect us from the Harvester Menace. We came here to convince you not to submit to the Harvester.'

'This is impossible,' Avo said still in disbelief. 'This is like a science fiction humor story.'

'I am afraid it isn't.' Alyta stopped for a while and then continued. 'When the Mother Ship arrived, we immediately realized what had happened to Earth. We took the human embryos and grew them to become full adults, and allowed them to get incorporated in our society. You see Avo. . . although we had been treated as experimental animals, we decided to treat those that experimented on us quite differently. We chose as an intelligent species to respect Life. By us, the second generation of humans learned to become peaceful, altruistic and without tendencies for wealth, power and control.'

Avo smirked.

'Alternative 4 has been sealed with success Avo. Do not get into the Harvester's trap and reveal the coordinates of the Rogue Planet to Him.'

'I,' Avo hesitated. 'I don't know. You sound so convincing. But the snail was convincing too. How do I know you're not the Harvester's agent who'd been keeping me in the dark?'

'You have already been condemned once and now suffer the consequences of the Harvester. Do not let the same happen to your children in the Rogue Planet.'

Avo's dilemma was more weighty and stressful than any other thing he could ever imagine.

'This is your call, Avo,' Alyta said stoically. 'I can't stop you.' Avo unplugged his echoilibrium. He slowly turned his back to Alyta and looked into the monitor. He took a deep breath, as he knew he had to make a decision. And it could only be a black-and-white Aristotelian one.

And then, deep in his mind he could now remembered it! He could clearly hear the hissing sound of the propane leak in his favorite dreamscape. It was not only the night-birds, but the noxious propane, as well.

Another safety valve to make sure that Avo would do things right when the right time came.

He smiled.

I knew it! I knew that the Harvester would molest my mind since I was the father of Alternative 4, and would try to dig deep into my subconscious, and would never stop doing so unless it uncovered the Sequence. I had predicted that the Harvester would come this far. . . .

This is why the Sequence I had memorized had nothing to do with the Rogue Planet's Coordinates or the Birth Program. . . .

On the contrary, along with Alternative 4, we had also constructed an extensive network of propane tanks, which could feed up all underground nuclear reactors and instantly destroy Earth through cold fusion upon ignition. The ignition could only be initiated through the microchip implanted in my hypothalamus.

It's time for me to fulfill this purpose.

Avo turned and gazed at Alyta with delight. His cheeks and forehead were wet. His eyes flickered at the beam of the screen light. Tears of happiness flew from his eyes.

'Thank you for letting me know,' he said and swallowed. 'Please, promise me you will protect them. Never let them become like us.'

Alyta could only blink slowly.

Herewith, Avo primed the sequence.

# # #

With true willpower, Avo forced his eyes open.

And when he did that, he felt particularly exhausted. He could hear his heart beating slowly, almost hitting on his emaciated ribcage. He slightly bent his neck to realize there was no muscle left in his body, and it really looked like a skeleton covered in dehydrated skin. He was paralyzed and the maximum effort he was putting could only produce a diminutive jerk in his toes.

He was lying on an endless and unfathomable sea of mucous. No land was visible anymore.

The entire Earth was a pasture made of mucous and nothing else could flourish.

Around him, he could see the bodies of thousands of people, maybe even millions - he was unable to see past the distant horizon - lying on the mucosal sheath. Most of the people were still alive, and were experiencing evident hallucinations, which kept them under paralytic unconsciousness. They were on different stages of decomposition, progressively and non-painfully being consumed by the Harvester.

So this is what the Earth really looks like? This is reality, at last! Earth has turned into a huge stomach, slowly digesting everyone and everything. . . . Avo thought while sensing an underwater earthquake disrupting the static mucous.

He smiled when he realized what it was. The propane tanks were apparently ignited, and the chain reaction for the cold fusion has been set to a domino. Soon, it would burn and destroy everything on the planet.

He tried to keep this smile for as much as possible.

He was feeling lucky! Because he was the only man on Earth who had clear knowledge of his own death.

And he was very happy, as well. Because at least, it was a decent one.

ISSUE 33


View My Stats