Haloed Bane

Take Me Home

He sighed, again, same as he did every time he saw all of that green morass along the river bank. Oh, what he would have given right then to see a field full of flowers. True, they would not compare to the aquatic ones of Ephocto, but still. Initially he thought that the natives must be decapitating them all for some barbaric use or other. But after a week or so of being stuck here, he came to realize that the things grew that way naturally, flowerless, like hair on the ground, and a pale fire green, of all colors. And he did come upon actual flowers every so often, but they were puny and did not appear to be interested in moving at all…

It was peaceful by the river, especially at night, when he could dip into the waters at ease and pretend to be home. But that, of course, brought unhappy thoughts and an end to peace. There was something fishy about the natives, no doubt about it. A few of them would come to the river to trap little swimmers. From his hiding place, the creatures themselves looked quite primitive, though sometimes he saw –more often, heard– ships flying in the sky. Maybe the ships weren’t theirs. In any case, they were noisy, shiny things unlike any he had ever seen, and he was easily the best travelled pilot in all of Ephocto.

Alone in the river he thought and thought in distress. He was well aware that primitive people have two ways of dealing with a “lights in the sky” situation. They either run for their lives, or try to resist the newcomers. Naturally, the smart thing always is to run, because the rule of sucker is that if a spaceship’s approach takes you by surprise, then you don’t stand a chance trying to oppose its landing. Advanced races do not surprise each other. Initiatives are for children.

The natives’ response puzzled him to no end. He had landed days ago as quietly and stealthily as possible, a great feat considering it was morning on that side of the planet and he had just woken up from some sort of prolonged blackout or a coma after a rough landing about four and half Incudean miles north of his present location –or so his console told him. (How he and his ship had made their way here in the interim was not a mystery he could indulge in pondering, as he had to focus on the matter at hand: returning to his planet and –to that same purpose– assessing these natives the best he could).

The night after landing, he was trying to fix the Udon bubbler on his ship when he heard the engine of an oncoming vehicle. He ran back into the Spinner, pulled out the fatgun he had under lock, and headed outside, ready for the worst. Two figures stepped outside of the vehicle, and he could see through his helmeted eyes that they looked like Inculae, though shorter, and far less menacing. No doubt the bulky suit that allowed him to walk on land played into the assessment too. In any case, one of them began screaming frantically and they both ran back into the vehicle, which promptly raced out of sight. He prayed he hadn’t stumbled upon some science experiment of some sort. But he didn’t regret not pulling the trigger. If it was an experiment, and they did turn out to be Inculae, shooting them was out of the question. He valued his life too much to go up against the Haloed Bane.

He went back inside the Spinner, and resumed work on the bubbler, trying to get it ready before more visitors arrived. Alas, his trembling tentacles wrecked one of the tracklets, and he went from having a bad bubbler to having a dead one. Bad idea to work with frayed nerves. Now he was stuck.

The next day he went outside the Spinner and waited to be swarmed by the natives, but nobody came. He had no idea what this could mean, but on the second day he stopped pondering and resumed the repair work. Two notions gradually took over him, hard as he fought to dispel them. The first was that maybe he was the centerpiece of this experiment. Maybe the Inculae had shot him down that first time and had been observing him ever since. Maybe they were all around him, waiting for the experiment to be over to then do Phocto-knows-what to him. The second notion, a terrible one if the first one turned out to be true, was that maybe the native that had screamed hadn’t done so out of fear, but out of pain: that is to say, maybe he had unwittingly emitted a psi wave in her direction. It was not something he had ever done, but then again he didn’t usually black out and wake up in a different location either. Maybe a primal instinct of self-preservation had kicked in and dealt the damage his trigger tentacle had refused to deliver. If so then the Haloed Bane would be executing him momentarily for killing one of their own.

All of this speculation was worthless. It was time to stop thinking, leave the river, and attempt a liftoff. He had finished rigging the remaining tracklet to take both aether lines. It had taken him days to fine-tune everything, mostly because he was unable to access the left sideworld for some reason, and that’s where he usually did his precision work. If he ever made it back alive, he swore he’d practice fixing things in the stemworld.

He started the Spinner, did the short prayer to Phocto, and took to the skies. The engine howled like a whirlpool making love to itself, and then simply stopped. The new crashpoint was a little over a hundred stadia to the northeast.

He exited the ship and –ever cognizant of his status as probably the greatest pilot in all of Ephocto– refused to shed a tear. That said, he couldn’t bring himself to do anything else either. After a while, he heard voices. He went out without his fatgun this time. Four or five of these natives were there to greet him, a small tetrapod with them. The tetrapod yelled at him like he was soft flesh primed for the eating.

Flatwoods monster

“Ah, well, if they won’t take me home, I’ll make their brains my home.” So saying he lunged at them and released the deadliest psi waves he could muster. The natives would survive the encounter, but memories of the alien would remain in their minds forever.