by Baloney Bill
Young Ornak sneaks out and goes exploring, finds a creature, and is found by a creature.
| Ornak slipped past the familiar, satiated faces at the feeding grounds; past this moon's appointed hunters, butchers and preparers; past the simulated lights, scents, and noises which drew animals into the compound for slaughter; and crept out into unprotected territory. He wasn't hungry, and he didn't care about the danger. The dangers were overstated at any rate. He had snuck out many times before and had always returned unscathed and, to be honest, somewhat disappointed.
The last time Ornak had been seen sneaking out of the compound, his mother sat him down and summoned his father with the obvious intent of discipline.
"Thraebald," she said, "The Safeguard Staff contacted me to report their surveillance had detected Ornak leaving the compound unattended and without permission."
Father nodded solemnly but had trouble keeping a smile from turning up at the corners of his mouth. He said, "The young look for excitement and the old for tranquility."
Mother met his comment and surreptitious smile with a stony stare and then stormed out of the room. Father and Ornak remained. Instead of lecturing, Father confided that as a boy he too had left the secure walls of the compound in search of adventure. They shared a knowing look before Thraebald dutifully reminded his son to be careful while outside or at the very least to be cautious when leaving the grounds so no one would see him leave.
He said, "As you know, most of us Froubians are worried beyond reason of what lies beyond the gates. It is best to be very careful when going out for adventure especially at the beginning when you are sneaking out. Try very hard not to let anyone see you leave. In my youthful journeys, I always considered those inside the fence catching me and turning me in as a far greater danger than whatever creatures I might encounter in the wastelands. And most importantly, remember your mother is one of those most prone to worry, especially when it comes to your safety."
Worry about what? Ornak fumed, kicking a porous rock and watching it exploded to dust particles which hung tentatively glistening in the red-tinted air. The compound's last known casualty resulting from leaving this boring residential fortress had been Tristus almost seven moons ago, and that was only because Tristus had stumbled, belly full of new nectar, past the warning field into the generating station and was instantly vaporized. Not in Ornak's lifetime, short though it had been, had anyone been attacked by the beasts.
Still, the legends persisted. And that was how Ornak viewed them -- legend rather than truth. He was convinced the stories were merely fairy tales designed to keep the young safely inside the compound and away from the wonder which waited out there. The elders’ concocted danger only made the lure of the outside more compelling than ever to Ornak.
The sense of freedom came more fully to him with each step he took away from the compound, his birthplace and most likely his final resting place. The idea, not of death so much, but of dying here in this ridiculously boring settlement appalled him.
He heard a faint whirr and saw in the distance a barge coming toward him, then slowly passing over, casting a continuous shadow, all blinking lights and the insistent hum of closely bridled power. Ornak had spent much time by the docking stations, listening to the robotics operators and miners talking about the far-off places they had seen, the creatures they had slain or from whom they'd escaped, and the wanton pleasures of males away from their domiciles. He'd seen the sparkle in their eyes as they spoke, and as they spoke, he dreamed of the day he himself was of age, and he would be transported from Frouband for good.
He stopped and watched until the barge head huddled down to the dock, disappeared from his sight, and then he continued on. The dust and rock slowly gave way to yellow vegetation which started sparsely and developed thicker and taller as he moved along. He saw where he’d notched his name into a tall Qrallis on a previous adventure and took a moment to find his bearings. He stayed perfectly still then and listened. There was nothing if one listened carelessly, but attentive ears could hear the life. Small, delicate life had no use within the compound, and was indiscriminately destroyed. But Ornak had seen these creatures here in their element. Life!
He lay prone, blended his color to that of the vegetation, slowed his respiration, and watched and listened for movement among the underbrush. If any of his fellow Froubians saw him here, inert upon the compost, motionless, there would be a tribunal, and he would be hard pressed to explain his actions. Prescribed leisure was acceptable, but this! This was senselessness, wasting moon pause to view small creatures which had already been classified as unserviceable. This activity could not be rationalized
Still, he waited, contemptuous of their ideas, their prescribed leisure. “Harmony of thought and unity of action orders our society" was the Froubian creed drilled into the young from the earliest days. They make up rules from within the walls of the compound without having experienced anything, Ornak thought. The outside world here is what mattered. Out here was life unimpeded.
Then he heard something, saw a sprig of vegetation moved before him. Ornak concentrated until secretions formed on his lowermost appendages. He rubbed them together, felt the tackiness, and waited.
There! The creature himself, not two billifs long and one across, it's small yellow hide blending into the vegetation. Ornak snapped his appendages out, and felt the small creature wriggle uselessly against the adhesive. Ornak brought the creature to himself, close to his optic sensors, and examined the squirming thing. Happiness swelled within him to see it close up in the knowledge that his examination would be uninterrupted by those who would immediately exterminate this being. he knew at least this one little being would be released unharmed after his inspection.
The unique apparatus for the creature absorbing its fuel, a series of claw-like grips arranged themselves up its abdomen, ending in an orifice which now worked continuously in its confusion and fear. Its optic sensors started on their probes this way and that, frantically looking for a way out of its predicament. Ornak stroked the horny hide, wishing he could take it home as a pet, all the while knowing it would not be possible; the electronics planted all along the fence would detect it, and questions would be asked which Ornak would not be able to answer satisfactorily. He would be in trouble with the council again and more importantly, in disfavor with his mother.
Ornak formed some gastric acids and regurgitated them onto his lower appendages. He felt the adhesive begin to loose and felt the struggles of his tiny pet increase then felt him pull free. He watched him scramble frantically into the undergrowth, frightened but free once again
Ornak lay there for a moment, his mind vacillating between a blissful void of thought and joyful imaginings of what lay ahead for himself, once he put behind him this repressive settlement he knew as home.
He noticed the shadow and thought it odd how two barges might come in one day. Then, the realization came, and the impending peril immobilized him. Two barges would not come, one so close after the other, and he forced himself to turn, to look.
Larger even than in the tales he had heard, the beast towered above even the tallest Qrallis, making no sound, looming above him in quiet observation. Slowly, it's serpentine neck contracted to bring its head closer to the victim, olfactory sensor flicking out, flicking out, with Ornak dodging frantically each time.
Panic seized him, and Ornak took flight, gaining only three steps before he was knocked flat, sprawled again on the rocky orange soil, hovered over by the beast. Two thick bony tails circled this way and that, forming a barrier between Ornak and any hope of escape. Dazed and done in, Ornak waited for the end, dismissing his fear as useless, resigned to accept his inevitable end as his last great experiment, his final adventure.
One of the tails gripped him until nearly crushing the life out, lifted him to the beast’s gaping hole into which Ornak knew he would soon be thrown.
Ornak waited, every muscle tense, struggling to suppress his fear, demanding of himself conscious, objective observation. Waited. Waited. Still, he was not thrown into the beast’s waiting orifice. The beast held him close, each of its exhalations taking Ornak’s breath away, turned him this way and that, inspecting him closely, then satisfied, returned Ornak gently to the ground and retracted his enormous tails.
Ornak scrambled to all pods and scampered off through the dense underbrush in the direction from which he had come, seeking out the gates of the compound, the idea of home not so offputting now as it had been only moments before.