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Walking in the mountains had always been a passion of mine, so, yet again I found myself wandering the high valleys of the Italian Alps.

I had always wanted to explore this particularly arid valley, which hang mysteriously above the main, and much greener valley below. Many had warned me about the vipers that filled this rocky valley, in fact my wife had tried to prevent this particular excursion, despite the fact that she knew I had armed myself with a few doses of anti-venom. I told her not to worry, but I knew she would and had said that I would be back just before sunset.

After about four hours of tramping I found myself had the far end of the valley which tapered off into the mountains. Some snow still clung to a few of the surrounding peaks although the sun burned down on the back of my neck and I had my usually permanently sweaty forehead. There were no clouds in the sky. Not one. Just a beautiful incredibly clear day, of the kind you only find high up in the mountains. The silence was total. There was no wind, and I could not even hear the sound of the waterfall which I could see cascading over the rocks high above me.

Now, I do not really know why, but I moved off the main track. This was something I often did. I suppose I just wanted to tread where nobody may have ever been before, although I knew that there was little likelihood of really exploring any new ground. The local residents had been everywhere and then some, but I liked to feel that I was exploring. It made me feel go, so what the heck.

After a few minutes I started to feel a rather cool breeze. Strange, I thought, seeing as the weather forecast had predicted nothing but sunny weather. Then I noticed the clouds gathering in the sky. The breeze became a wind and the sky turned an ominously dark grey, the grey that you see on the eve of the worst of storms, only the colour changed within what seemed a matter of moments. Knowing that I would have to sit the storm out, I dug out my mobile phone. To my disbelief, the display clearly showed no signal, although I remembered having been told that I would have no problems making calls should the need arise. Well, the need had arisen and my phone would not work.

While I was considering my best course of action, I felt the first few drops of surprisingly cold rain hitting my as yet uncovered forearms.I scrambled to put my waterproofs on as quickly as I could and decided that I would have to look for a place to bivvy up for the night. I had done this on the odd occasion before, although never without having first called my other half. She would be becoming worried and, I feared, I would find it very difficult to convince her to let me go on another of my little jaunts in the future. With these thoughts I headed towards what looked to be an overhang one hundred meters above me on the slope which went up towards the waterfall I had seen earlier. The weather became worse as the minutes passed and the wind became a gale, with the rain driving towards me, almost ushering me towards the sheltered spot towards which I was heading.

As I arrived at my sanctuary the clouds burst and the wind seemed to move into a higher gear as it howled noisily around me in stark contrast to the idyllic silence which I had been experiencing only moments before. As I moved down into the dip just below the rocky overhang I noticed what seemed to be a crack in the rocks. I followed the crack down the the base of the dip and noticed that the crack appeared to be the opening to a cave. At least I would not have to worry about being blown away I thought as I squeezed through the upside down V shaped entrance.

Once inside I noticed that the cave opened up a fair bit. I unhitched my rucksack and rummaged around in it for my faithful head torch. I switched it on and noticed that the cave went much deeper into the mountain than I had expected, then I stepped on the snake, which had also been trying to escape the sudden bad weather. It hissed and lunged at my shin. I recoiled instinctively and kicked my leg in an attempt to remove it. My attempt was enough to convince the serpent to find shelter elsewhere and I followed it out of the cave with the beam of my torch.

Once I had calmed down a little I pulled up my waterproof trousers and shone the torch on my leg. There were no marks, luckily for me it had not managed to penetrate the double layer of clothing I was wearing. At that moment the wind changed direction and started blowing right into the cave. Time, I decided to go a little deeper into this grotto. I picked up a few stones and hurled them ahead of me in the hope that I might scare another other sleeping snakes away. The thought of having to spend the night in a snake infested cavern did not enthrall me. It was then that I noticed what appeared to be a ledge about three meters above me. Now, how can I get myself up there, I wondered, thinking that at least it would be out of sheltering snake range. I shone my torch on the rock leading up to the ledge and concluded that it was just about within my limited climbing ability.

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Slowly, but quite easily I moved up the rock towards the ledge. I heaved myself up the last metre or so and onto the flat oversize step. Then I noticed that it was no ledge but the entrance to another cave. I managed to stand up and I pointed my torch into the depths of this new entrance. The light of my torch seemed to be reflected back off what appeared to be a shiny smooth surface. The rock appeared to have been melted and the surface felt not unlike that of glass. It was like nothing I had seen before, the tunnel was perfectly circular, it certainly was no cave. For an instant I thought about climbing back down the rock to brave a night with the snakes, but the very idea made me shiver. Time for some real exploring, I mused.

The tunnel went on for quite some way and seemed to be going gently up hill. The diameter of this odd tube did not change one bit. I certainly had not read about any mines in this area, but then I had never seen such perfect walls in any of the mines I had ever seen, and I had seen a few. Then the tube widened considerably and seemed to become a cavern. It was a little like walking along the thin part of a funnel towards its gaping mouth. I warily walked a few more steps forward. In an instant the cavern filled with yellow light. I nearly jumped out of my skin and turned and ran back down the funnel. ‘What the hell?’, I asked myself as I managed to remember that the tube ended in a three metre drop. The light had gone out.

I sat down and got out my little gas stove. A good hot cup of tea would go a long way towards helping me decide what to do next, I reckoned. Then I heard, or rather felt, this voice, it was inside me, in my head. Its tones were soothing, friendly even, but there was something inhuman about it. “Don’t be afraid, Alex”, it crooned. “There is nothing to be worried about. We can help you.”. If the voice had not used my name, I would have almost believed that I was hallucinating and decided to go and spend the night with the snakes, but the use of my name reassured me, and filled me with curiosity, rather more curiosity than I thought I was capable of, to be honest. “That’s right, be curious. You are a curious person we know.”, came the kind voice, reading my mind. OK, I thought. Time to be curious.

I went slowly back up the tunnel and as I came towards the section where the tunnel widened into a gallery, the light started to come on, only it did not fill the way ahead with light, it came on slowly, as someone were operating a dimmer switch. “Come on. Come on. This way, Alex.”, the voice continued. Then it apologised, “Sorry about switching on the light a bit suddenly before. You were right to have been disconcerted.” Disconcerted, I thought, I was bloody terrified. “Yes, you were. Sorry.”, came the reply from the charming, but invasive voice in my head. “Look over here.”, said the voice, almost lazily. “We are here.”

I looked and as I did a shape seemed to drift slowly down from the roof of the gallery. The shape was oval, like an egg on its side. It turned slowly around on an invisible axis and the nose of the shape turned towards me. I could see only a silverish outline to the shape, which for the most appeared to be transparent. “What are you?”, I asked out loud. “A ship.”, came the reply. An eggship, I mulled. “Yes, you could say that.”, was the reply, which was followed by, “Would you like to come aboard?”. I had never been invited aboard an egg before, so I accepted the offer. No sooner had I thought the reply, than I found myself inside, what I thought could only be the talking egg. “Please have a seat.”, said the egg in my head and part of the generally grey surface around me moulded itself into a seat. I sat down, still having some difficulty taking everything in. I was in the middle of a sci-fi film I thought, only it all seems to be very real.

The eggship then explained how it came from an advanced civilisation located many more light years than I could comprehend from the planet Earth, and that this race was conducting an experiment in which a dweller of Earth, namely me, is given the opportunity to experience a level of technology many, many times that of the existing level. I could think of it as a form of advanced psychological study, I was told. I, it appeared, was the guinea pig, the lab rat or whatever, or so it seemed. The ship tried to convince me otherwise, and I have to admit that it was surprisingly convincing, for an egg, that is.

First, I was to undergo a sort of training course which would enlighten me as to the ship’s capabilities, but before that the ship told me I was going to take me home. It did. I found myself just inside the entrance to our holiday apartment. I felt dazed, bewildered, at least until the eggship’s voice told me to calm down, and I did.

I climbed the steps towards the apartment wondering what I was going to tell my, by now, I thought, distraught wife. I opened the door.

“Wow, you got back pretty quickly.”, she said greeting me with a happy smile. I looked at my watch. Only three hours had passed since I had set out.

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