Monthly Archives: December 2017

Food that Runs Away

It can be hard work being the dominant species on a planet, but once you get it down, it can be very rewarding. The Onmed of Alabarch had, without a doubt, been the dominant life-form on Alabarch for several eons now—long enough that it could be said they had become terribly lazy.

Once, they had prowled. Long ago, they had been explorers of nature stretching their tendrils out into the world in search of new and interesting sources of nutrients. But ever since they had discovered their airborne pseudopheromone, which we will call The Drug, their entire existence had become an endlessly repetitive process of producing it.

They had laid down their roots in tight-knit groves where they lived out their lives around a dozen or so other trees. Some of the younger—or perhaps only more youthful—ones still sought  to reclaim the sense of adventure that had once been theirs by stretching their bodies and leaf-covered limbs towards the sun high overhead. But the more experienced and practical among them scoffed at the wasted effort. “Those resources,” they argued, “would be better used to help with the production process.”

“But what about the stars?” Youth would answer at times in awe-struck wonder. “What could be going on up there? What if things change? What if there are things we don’t know yet?”

“There is nothing new under the sun,” countered Age, citing their encyclopedic records of the species on their planet who could be influenced and manipulated by the Drug. It was put into effect whenever there were tremors of a particular intensity in the ground. They’d learned how to distinguish between the movements of tectonic plates and the lumbering of large animals millennia ago, which was why they didn’t build groves near fault-lines. But when a large animal came into range, the Drug was released: an airborne pathogen that put animals into a hypnotic state of obsession. Really, what it amounted to was an overwhelming perfume that drew the lumbering beasts towards it with the promise of the sweetest fruits, the juiciest, tenderest meats they could imagine. The smell would lead them to the pool in the middle of the grove, lined with slick loam that would slip on to make them tumble into the vat of enzymes. There, still happy enough to trigger their own production of serotonin and dopamine, keeping them calm and helping them go down faster, they would be dissolved, distributed and finally ingested by the Onmed in their groves.

“There, now,” the Old would then boast, satisfied, “Wasn’t that worth the effort of producing the Drug?”

But Youth was obstinate. “There just has to be more to life than this.”

When enough large animals had tumbled to their doom, the dissemination of The Drug was halted until more was needed. Animals would regain at least some of their senses, but they would stay stupid enough to stick around the area. Enough animals lived and died and pooped in their vicinity that it kept the lesser plants fertile and attracted more. Ecosystems of pasture lands developed to support them so that they never wanted. They always had everything they would need.

Until the Hard Things came.

“What are they?” asked concerned Youth who had never known a time when they weren’t surrounded by paradise, Youth whose imagination had been stifled and atrophied.

But for onc, Age couldn’t answer.

It walked on two feet, which was unusual enough. They tried to snare it with several permutations of The Drug, but the beast ignored them, until it noticed the ecstatic state that the animals were in. If the Onmed could detect radio or even soundwaves or understand language, they might have heard the young astronaut report to her supervisor that she was going to check out something strange.

So many of the surrounding cattle were now lumbering towards the Grove that the Onmed were forced to release the experimental antipheromone to repel them, while simultaneously casting the real Drug wide over their heads in a complicated procedure based almost entirely on a youthful curiosity.

The heavy bipedal beast came closer, but not because she was entranced herself. She found the pool through the row of trees—

“Lieutenant! Report back!”

“I just need to get a closer look Captain…”

But the ground around the pool was slick. She slipped and tumbled. Finally, something new, something exciting. They wondered at the texture and composition.

Something was wrong.

“Lieutenant! Report!”

The substance she’d assumed was water was far more acidic, but it still wasn’t enough to eat through the spacesuit she was wearing to protect against just this sort of situation.

“What is it?” asked the Onmed in one voice. “Why does it have no taste? Why can’t we digest it?” Worse, bits of the outer layer were starting to crumble off, but, indigestible, they clogged the receptors.

And now, her struggles with the liquid had troubled the substance enough that it was splashing up out of the pool and splattering onto nearby trees, causing damage, causing… pain.

The Onmed had made a mistake in luring the beast.

Finally, a companion of hers reached her with a rope and helped to drag her out. “Come on,” he said, “Your suit looks terrible. Let’s get you off this planet and back to safety.”

But safety was no longer an option for the Onmed of Alabarch. Strangers were coming, they were falling from the stars. Soon they would come with weapons they couldn’t even imagine and the society they’d built for themselves, their very species, would be doomed. How could they be expected to defend themselves? It had been centuries since any of them had bothered to move.

Falling Away

As far as she was concerned, she went onto the bridge that day because she wanted it to be over. She wanted to just not have to worry about any of that other bullshit again.

Other people would have their thoughts, their conclusions, their opinions and ideas. They would call her selfish. That was okay. She was okay with that. Those people were not her.

The water was calm. Gentle waves that she could barely hear over the occasional car that passed her by while she walked. She wondered what they might have thought of her. She wondered if any of them suspected.

She didn’t see anyone else on the bridge when she actually jumped. She was expecting vertigo. She was expecting the lurch and rush of air—she was counting on it. If you’re gonna go, right?

What she wasn’t expecting was for the whole world to tear open like space was being ripped apart. She wasn’t expecting the dead of night to literally turn into noon-light on the equator.

Suddenly, up was down and down was up, and that much she’d been expecting… but not like this. Now she felt herself actually falling upwards, momentum sending her into the air, then that lurch again… and then she rolled out onto the sand.

Why was there sand? She wasn’t anywhere near a beach. Where was she?

What if it wasn’t the end, like she’d hoped? What if she had to keep goddamn going down this goddamn road that pretended to be life? Couldn’t she goddamn rest already? It was a long time before she picked herself up. It wasn’t the hunger or thirst, it wasn’t even the threat of sunburn, or the desire for answers. Was it? No. She was just bored again. Incongruously.

Absently, she thought about looking for ways to kill herself.

All there was, was sand, though. Could she choke on sand? Was that a thing? She wasn’t sure it would work and even if it did, it wouldn’t be anything like the triumphant cascade through the air that she’d promised herself.

Suddenly, she felt a tap on her shoulder. She spun, ready to clock whoever it was, whoever was responsible. But there was no one there. Just empty space and… she looked down.

A water bottle. It had a hastily-scrawled note on it: “Drink this.”

No shit, Sherlock.

She turned the note over. In parentheses: “(I promise it’s not poison).”

“You know,” she said out loud, “I’d almost prefer it if it was.”

Another tap on her shoulder. Another note. It said: “Then I promise it is. Just drink the damn thing.”

She did feel better after she drank it.

It didn’t take her long to be tired enough to fall asleep. She thought that whoever it was who was sending her notes might have molested her in her sleep. She was used to that. But when she woke up, she realized her wallet was gone. She hadn’t even realized she’d brought it along, but once she noticed it—was this some elaborate mugging? It’s not like she even kept money there…

He’s trying to get to know you, said a voice inside her.

He’s trying to help you forget who you are, said another.

She woke up in the desert, but later that day, she took a step and lurched into a different place. A forest. She was guessing… Appalachia? But it could’ve been New Zealand or the dark side of Oz for all she knew.

It took her several minutes of the cynical version of wonder before it even occurred to her to start looking around again for ways she could kill herself. A forest was a lot more conducive. Sharp, hard rocks. Running water. Tall trees. But by then… I don’t know, she thought. She was too curious.

She wondered what he must’ve put in the water.

“What are you doing to me?” she asked no one in particular.

“What are you trying to accomplish? Is it just about trying to keep me from killing myself? Why me? Why do you care? Who the fuck are you?”

Then one day (she wasn’t sure how long she’d been in the woods) she took a step and realized she was in a park. It was the park just down the street from where she’d lived.

And her dad was there with a black eye and a broken arm. She tried to feel pity for him. She really tried.

He looked up at her. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m so sorry, baby.”

No. “Why?” she asked. “Sorry what you did to me, or sorry you got beat up?”

He looked down. Looked away.

“I don’t need your apology,” she finally said, the realization dawning on her. “I don’t need you at all.”

And she walked away without looking back.