immense, effect, shimmer
He made an immense effort, and stood on the side of the road, shielding his eyes from the sun and seeing the shimmer of heat rising from the blacktop beside him.
Boy howdy, that must have been some bender I was on! How did I get here?
He turned in place a full 360 degrees. For as far as he could see, there was nothing. Not just emptiness, but nothing – no houses, no cultivated fields, no water towers indicating small towns or even utility lines. The last shook him. Where can you go that there are no telephone lines? Or electricity?
“Well,” he said to himself, “pick a direction and start walking. One’s as good as another, it seems to me.” His foot kicked against something, and he glanced down to see what appeared to be a soft-sided container full of liquid. Picking it up, he began walking what he thought might have been east, but could just as well as have been west. I guess I’ll know in an hour or so when I see how the sun’s moving.
He flipped the top off the canteen and tentatively sampled the liquid inside. It was water, and from all he could tell, it was pure and clean, the way water hardly was any more, unless you could get way up in the Rockies or somewhere like that, where humans hadn’t completely turned the planet into a garbage heap. He swallowed enough to clear the dust from his throat and capped the canteen again, determined not to waste anything. Who knew when he might find water again?
Less than a mile down the road, he heard a ziiipppp, a sound he associated with old science fiction movies. It’s like the sound effects for electrical equipment or force fiel — He slammed into an invisible wall and fell flat again. I guess I’m not meant to go this way … but who’s doing the meaning?
Two steps to his left, and there was another ziipppp and another invisible wall. This time he was forewarned and he stopped before being knocked down. Two steps left again: another wall. What is this? Some kind of damned maze or something?
At first, it was a challenge: figure out the boundaries of his environment. But as time went by and he seemed to get no further, frustration set in, then depression and finally apathy. He sat down where he was, tired and miserable. “What’s the point of all this? WHY?” he shouted to the sky, to no one.
“Another failure …” The scientist sighed, pushing the viewscreen button with one blue tentacle.
“I have said before and will say again, if you’d only tell them why you’re doing this, help them understand … no one does well in a test when you don’t know what the goals of the test are.” His colleague’s voice was stern.
“Limlach, the great Snothgar says: ‘Life doesn’t come with an instruction manual.’”
Limlach muttered his opinion of the “great Snothgar” under his breath. “These beings should be helped. Leaving a sentient being to be devoured by the flesh eaters is morally wrong. If they’ve survived this long, their adapability isn’t in question.”
“That’s already been decided by a higher authority than ourselves. Besides, it’s not been determined that these beings are sentient.”
“That’s an excuse to avoid thinking. Perhaps your sentience is in question, too. Shall I drop you into the maze and see how you function, Bathach?”
Bathach flushed purple and manipulated the keys on the board. “I’m putting him in that small town where there are few of the flesh eaters. Will that satisfy you?” He flipped a switch. “Picking up the next subject.”
She made an immense effort, and stood on the side of the road, shielding her eyes from the sun and seeing the shimmer of heat rising from the blacktop beside her …