a Brendan M. Midnight short story
Inspired the motion-picture “After Earth”
The young soldier was cold.
Outside, the cold had made everything cold: even the trees.
As he lay down waiting for death, a beard of snow grew on his face.
Colonel Unfeer, meanwhile, sat in his pod, powerless. He thought of his son, he thought of his late daughter and he thought of his wife.
All at once, he thought of all of them and how he had failed them. If only he had been there when the unthinkable happened. He could not fear. He had evolved and they hadn’t, but did they deserve a fate worse than his? The answer was no.
Fear was a choice, he once believed.
Now, he wasn’t so sure…
If only there was a way to save all he had left: his son.
His wife didn’t matter right now.
And then he remembered.
“Birds…”, Unfeer said to himself.
Both his legs had been broken in the crash and he was losing blood rapidly but he still had his brain.
“Computer, find me a bird. A big one.”, the Colonel ordered his screen.
“Processing…”, the computer replied.
Still lying on the frozen grass, young J.D. Unfeer could feel the fear leave him. Perhaps he had finally attained the nirvana of self-control his father had often spoken of, or perhaps he was dying. His eyes turned to the grass around his right hand. On it, was an elaborate slug-like creature wearing what looked at first like a very small leather jacket but was in fact another layer of skin.
The creature starts climbing on J.D.’s hand, leaving behind it a trail of blood and scars. The young soldier, frozen solid, could not feel the pain or anything else. He could only stare at the creature, paralysed, and let it do what it was doing. Which, it turns out, was defecating.
Back in the conapt, Colonel Unfeer was losing patience.
“The birds, goddamn it! The birds!”
“Processing…”, replied the computer.
There had to be an easier way.
A legend told of an early form of technology which allowed humans to tap into any living creature at a distance. He remembered his great-grandfather teaching him this. How, long before the Earth perished, a form of primitive communication known as the “Internets” evolved into a wireless web connecting everything to each other telepathically and, therefore, spiritually. This, of course, was only a tale he had heard as a young child but if he could only remember the details of how humans learned to control that technology, perhaps…
Finally, he knew what he had to do.
It hit him like a bold of lighting, in his brain.
“Computer, locate mind darts.”
“Come on, come on…”
“Mind darts detected.”
On-screen, a blue dot appeared on the map of the ship: it was very close to the red dot which depicted Unfeer’s current location.
J.D. was about to lose consciousness. The slug had reached his lower back.
Crawling down the ship’s unlit corridors, slithering with great difficulty, Colonel Unfeer felt tremendous amounts of physical pain but the adrenaline pumping through his arms which pulled him forward again and again kept him focused. Behind him, a trail of blood was left by his gushing legs. He had soon arrived at the Science Quarters, a pod which, like all the others, was made of bone.
The scientists onboard the ship used this room to do science.
Crawling inside the room, Unfeer saw the fleshy pocket which contained the mind darts, embedded inside the wall next to the eye-nets, the ivory stomachs and the tri-toothed crystal chopsticks.
“Computer: release compartment B-12.”
Promptly, the wall purse burst open.
The transparent jelly-like wax poured out and the box of mind darts (made of eggshells and hard milk) hung there, ready to be plucked.
J.D. had finally fainted, his snow beard was sparkling in the chilling wind.
The slug was now in him.
It was then that it came for the boy.
A great, impressive bird he had encountered prior had swooped down and was now dragging the young soldier with its claws over the grass. The poor bird was cold, but it wasn’t about to give up on J.D..
Soon enough, the latter found himself, still unconscious, resting in a warm hole in the ground, covered with leaves and the bird’s own comfortably hot faecal matter. But the frost had taken its toll on the unfortunate beast and after lying on the leaves over the boy, it fell asleep never to awake again.
The next day, J.D. opened his eyes feeling predictably cool but unexpectedly alive.
That was unexpected.
J.D. starts to crawl out of the hole, still unsure as to how exactly he could have ended up in that particular location safe and sound. Once up and out, however, it all made sense.
Before him lay the bird, dead.
He remembered the previous day, when he had tried to save its young but mistakenly destroyed their nest, killing them in the process. The bird had followed him here and saved his life, all because he had risked his own life for its brood.
Or, at least, that’s what the young soldier thought before getting a closer look at the bird’s body. On its side and on its neck were small glowing darts made of teeth and elbows.
“Father?”, J.D. enquired.
“You have done well, my son.”, replied the bird’s neck, “You have made me proud.”
More from Brendan M. Midnight soon.
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