Short Story : “Parasite”, part II

Bear stopped and looked around, taking in his surroundings for the first time since he had left home. Not a single thing in his environment was familiar to him. The leaves on the bushes looked like wriggling red fingers. Rustling sounds were coming from all directions at once. The air smelled disturbingly organic, like something rotting. Even the soil looked weird and wrong somehow.

Also, his hands sort of hurt.

Bear took slow, deep, steady breaths (always Step 1 in all the emergency guides he loved to read) and tried to ignore the twin forks of panic and humiliation stabbing into his heart. His cheeks felt like he was two inches from a campfire and cold, prickly sweat was running down the back of his neck and between his shoulder blades. His every nerve hummed.

Here he was, the only son of the two most famous planet hopping scientists in the Seventeen Worlds Empire, a kid all too eager to brag about how visiting hostile aliens worlds was totally routine to him and how he could survive anything, someone who had been taught basic survival skills since he could walk, and what did he do?

Blunder out into the untamed wilderness on a planet that had only just been declared habitable by humans like he was some kind of clueless zoo animal who knew nothing about anything.

Gingerly, because he knew he would not like the results, he took an inventory of his survival assets, starting with the ones that were not there.

He wasn’t wearing his Survivor shirt, that was for sure. Suddenly he felt naked and exposed without it. He had been taught from an early age that you never leave home without some kind of survival garment on, even on safe boring Mars.

His hands were tingling now, with a sensation that was almost an itch but not quite.

If he had been wearing it, then all he would have had to do was tear off one of its stripes and that would have activated the powerful homing beacon woven into the fabric of it. Then it would have just been a matter of making himself comfortable until the rescue drone came to retrieve him.

He could almost laugh. Before right now, he thought that having to be rescued by a drone would have been the most humiliating thing in the world. Now, he was pretty sure he could survive it.

But no, he hadn’t put it on when he stormed out of the house. He had been too angry to even think about it. And he hadn’t been wearing it at home because he hadn’t planned to go anywhere today. It was a Home Study day and all he had planned to do was curl up in front of his Academy terminal and stuff his brain.

So, no Survivor shirt. So much for the easy way out. He also had no locator, no food, and no water. Who keeps those in their pockets when they are at home?

Thank goodness he had his Cutter with him. It could sharp its hard energy field into nearly any simple tool, and he was quite skilled in its use. So he might not have the basics of survival handy, but at least he had a powerful and versatile tool to use to get them, assuming he could figure out what was good to eat and drink.

The sensation in his hands was now slowly creeping up his arms. He ignored it.

So… he had a Cutter. That was good. And he had the locator chip that had been implanted in his scalp when he was an infant. He rubbed the slight scar under his hair and was soothed by the feeling of the chip’s solid squareness.

It being there meant that he would eventually be found. It was nowhere near as powerful as the beacon in his Survivor shirt, but it had a very distinct energy signature that would lead rescue vehicles right to him if they came within a mile of it.

But that was a mighty big if. He had no idea how long he had wandered, but it felt like hours, and he had been full of righteous steam and moving at full speed, so he could have gotten pretty far from home.

And this planet was 1.8 times the size of Earth. That was a lot of miles to be lost in. Search drones and sweep vehicles could comb this crazy planet for days without finding him. He had to come up with some way of signaling them, or they would be just as likely to find his corpse as him.

Inventory taken, he felt well and truly rotten now. He was the biggest idiot in the Seventeen Worlds, all the bigger because he totally knew better. Now he was doing to die on some ridiculous new planet and bring shame and grief to his parents, who would have to explain why their son of all people wandered off into an alien forest and died there.

He had just gotten around to imagining his parents watching as his body was lowered into the ground when the sensation in his hands and arms reached his torso, and suddenly intensified tenfold.

Now it felt like every nerve in his body was vibrating like a base string in a piano being played by an angry giant. He heard a great roaring sound that seemed to be coming from his ears themselves, and he could no longer feel his hands and arms at all. They were lost in the noise.

Then suddenly, the cacophony resolved into a single crystal clear note which rapidly faded into an ice cold silence.

Bear felt something stirring in his mind and a sensation like someone was running their fingers through his brain, and then a soft neutral voice in his head spoke.

And this is what it said :

{I would just like to say that I am very, very sorry. }

Then Bear did the most sensible thing he had done all day, and passed out.

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