the Answer to my Prayer
Dreamed 1993/8/24 by Chris Wayan
I'm looking at the night sky. There's a war on, in the stars. Three-sided, at least, not two. And I'm part of it. Usually I'm out there, in interstellar space--the captain of a starship, and responsible for a whole squadron or fleet, and its vast energy. How to use it strategically? You have to keep battles away from planets: a single ship near lightspeed colliding with a planet could be worse than a major asteroid strike, devastating the biosphere. Worlds are fragile.
Any visible change in the sky here, a slight brightening or color shift in a star, can mean immense events out there. From my family's viewpoint here on Earth, though, it takes a sharp eye even to notice the birth or death of worlds. And worlds do die.
Something happens to me out there... in the middle of a complex deepspace campaign full of polyhedral negotiations... and dangers. Our positions are expressed in yoga-like poses. We literally tie ourselves in knots, trying to resolve this star-struggle.
But something happens. I go blank...
And come to in a mangled ship. Holes in the hull but I'm still breathing; we must be on the ground. Stagger into the corridor and find a bewildered crew, waking like me, with blurred memories. Outside. Planetary sky, but no shade I remember or can name. The land looks empty. Plants but no sign of intelligent life. Stranded on some empty world. As if we were brought in a ship that was then deliberately stripped--like our minds. No weapons, few tools, no power but a few solar panels. As if we're supposed to live on our wits, solve survival like a puzzle on this bare Petri dish. Why?
We run a fix and get a name for our world. It's in the book--and it's not officially empty. Listed as inhabited! Yet we get no radio signals. Send out search parties, which find echoing, stripped cities... They ALL fled the war? Or died, their very bones dissolved? Eerie. I feel jittery all the time.
Pick up faint energy signs from a nearby peak. Go out exploring with a large party. Up the slope. No machines or buildings visible. But the peak is a crag riddled with cave mouths. Great tunnels. We go in the widest. Few torches, batteries low, but the tunnel leads straight in, smooth and high. Opens to a great dark hall. Heaped on the floor, like some dragon-hoard, is a vast pile of... bones! Something lives here. Could be just a huge predator, but some aliens are carnivores quite capable of eating humans. Danger, but there may be technology here we can use to fix the ship. We have to look. I reluctantly order the crew to keep exploring carefully, but to go slow and stay in groups.
I wish we had real weapons. Sticks and rocks...
Some bones are humanoid.
One by one, group by group, quietly, my friends disapppear. We find ragged bits of clothes, fresh red bones. Eaten. But never a track, never a glimpse of the predator. It knows the caves too well... One by one we dwindle... until...
I'm alone in the caves. In the world. The last.
The beast steps out to face me. Only it is no beast. A being. It's a biped, twelve or fifteen feet tall, massively muscled, with hands and a big cranium, and one huge glaring intelligent eye.
CYCLOPS. And I'm Odysseus. Alone, after all my men are eaten. Only this time I'm out of resources.
I flee thru the caves, seeking a door too narrow for the creature. He laughs, and just goes round. He knows the mountain. He's waiting for me outside. I climb up on a ledge. Within his reach. I wonder how many other travelers climbed up here in desperation, were plucked off and eaten. Cyclops stretches his shaggy brown forelimb up and starts to grope for me. I climb desperately, keep on up the crag to the top, a good 20 or 25 meters above the caves. Cyclops begins to climb. Another monster, a different kind, appears at the bottom. Cyclops talks with it briefly. I can understand them! They use galactic standard.
I try to speak to them. They're amused, and call up to me, "No point in being introduced to someone we're going to eat."
Cyclops nears the top. In desperation I jump off the crag and slide down to the bottom. The newer monster is on the far side, but just a few giant-steps away. I'm trapped. Here he comes. I look up at the stars, where I ought to be, directing forces greater than this whole world, where I'm about to be eaten alive. The monsters glance up at the empty sky, curious, amused.
"Pray away, little creature. That's why you're called prey." The nearer giant giggles.
I start laughing. "Too late, you bastards! That little light's a starship drive! Here come my friends. Or my enemies, I don't care. None of them will like YOU. You've been eating everyone, I saw those bones. So will they. Run and hide, giants! Before they land. Now you're the prey."
The monster nearest me peers up and laughs. "Little liar, I see nothing in the sky."
"I don't care if you're blind. I'm a starship captain and I know an engine when I see one. That ship will be landing in a couple of minutes. Eat me or not, you're about to pay for all those murders." Cyclops, on the crag, doesn't even look up. "Oh, we can wait two minutes. And then eat you."
The other monster's three yards away now. I stand my ground. "Fine, you do that. Even you can see it now, one-eye. It's faint, but getting brighter. That pinkish star--at the zenith--moving a little north--" Cyclops tilts his great shaggy head back--back--and looks for the rosy faint star in the blue. The star that isn't there. He's right above me, looming as he leans back... and sways, losing his balance, and tumbles, roaring, down the cliff at me. As the second monster reaches me, Cyclops falls, a two-ton missile, on his back, and they crash together to the dust, a broken meat mountain. Dead. Both of them dead.
And the strange thing is, I didn't plan it. None of it. I thought I saw a light... and when it didn't brighten, and I realized no one was coming to save me, I spun out the fantasy in despair, wanting to tell the universe at least once what ought to happen, what I wanted and deserved--to be taken back to the stars where I belong. All I did was say what I wished was true.
Unlike the first Odysseus, I was not saved through cunning. Desperate honesty--desperate fantasy! I couldn't tell them apart, at my death. I only knew what I wanted, with no cunning at all. So I was saved.
What saved me?
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