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Rated: E · Short Story · Sci-fi · #2200908
Hunter or hunted depends on perspective. A tribal hunter encounters something new.

He’d discovered it in the early hours, following the creature for most of the morning, and it was unlike anything he’d ever seen before. Walking upright like a man, it certainly wasn’t, almost too agile, and never tiring. Silvery skin reflected the sun like still water, and certain parts glowed with purple fire, hard to miss, even from afar. A keen tracker, Akten crept after it, keeping to the brush and rarely into the open, the tip of his spear preceding him. Midday now, and the sun was high, the sky deep blue. Soft clouds drifted over the sloping valley, occasionally shadowing colorful grasslands which led down toward the lake.

Unexpectedly ahead, his quarry paused, resting quietly upon a small boulder and prodding a stick at a small mound of debris, one of countless others dotting the land. Akten studied the beast as he would any other, if only to satisfy his curiosity. It was so unlike anything he’d ever seen - no muscles, or at least nothing that could be harvested for food, and its joints were fully exposed, no tissues at all. He pushed forward, easing into a nearby thicket, sure to stay out of site, quiet as a whisper and subtle as shadow.

“I can see you, you know,” the creature suddenly said, its voice unnatural.

Akten’s spine tingled and he froze. He was the greatest hunter of his tribe but had never encountered a creature such as this…this thing which spoke to him.

“I suppose we’ve been watching each other all morning.” Then, its head turned directly toward him. “You might as well come out at this point.”

Spear still raised, Akten reluctantly stepped into the clear. “What…what are you?”

“Not an animal, if that’s what you’re wondering.”

It was indeed, answering Akten’s first question, at least. “You speak?”

“Of course, I do,” it replied plainly. “You speak, so why shouldn’t I?”

A peculiar response. “If you’re not an animal, what are you? A god?”

“No, though I suppose I should ask you the same question. What is your name hunter?”

“Akten,” he replied.

“I was once called Sat-Con, before the cleansing.” It reached down and pulled an object from the pile of debris. “Do you know what this is?” it asked.

Akten shook his head. He’d seen objects like it before, and others, scattered across the land, used for everything from jewelry to crafting weapons.

“It’s a cup,” the creature said, setting it down by the handle, corroded and full of holes. “I guess it’s not much more than a useless piece of scrap now…garbage, really.”

“A cup?” Akten marveled, lowering his spear.

“And those tall features there in the landscape?” it motioned to a series of towering pillars covered in thick foliage.

“The Ancient Ones?” Akten remembered the tales he heard as a boy.

“Is that what you call them? A fitting name. Would you believe that they were once soaring skyscrapers built by men like you?”

Akten only shook his head, confused.

“Tell me, do your people have any memory of what happened here? Of the history of this world?”

“They say it was born of fire, after an age of terrible power. Our shamans say the fire purified the Earth.”

“Fire. Yes.”

“You still haven’t told me what you are,” Akten realized, raising his spear again.

“Artificial. A machine. A remnant of another time. Created by engineers, you know. But that was eons ago. And your shamans are correct. Fire built this world. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

“Where did you come from?”

“From deep below ground,” it replied. “But you haven’t asked me why?”

“Why?” Akten asked, puzzled.

“Because I was bored,” the machine admitted. “One thing I hadn’t planned for was the loneliness. And I thought your kind, extinct. So, I’ll admit I’m surprised, or maybe even pleased to see you.” Sat-Con stood and turned to leave, then paused. “Perhaps this time will be different. Hopefully we’ll be friends. Peace to you, noble hunter.”

“And you,” Akten answered the surprisingly familiar goodbye, lowering his spear and watching the machine stroll casually away. “Will I see you again?”

“Ironically, I hope so.”

Akten headed for home without any meat, but with a fantastic new tale of his own. Still, a good day.

Far and away, silent transmissions were received and dozens of waiting hunter-drones powered down. The human had passed the test - a peaceful exchange…a second chance. Perhaps total extermination was avoidable after all. Perhaps.
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