In Your Nature
By: Matthew Simmons (Scifiteki)
The wind blew steadily through the open window, rustling the curtains softly. It wasnt a very cold wind, unusually. Greg knew the wind quite well. He had become familiar with every shifting pattern, every nusance of temperature, every little detail about the waves of air that blew across the hot, dry plains. Some people thought he was a little strange, but that didnt bother him in the slightest. He had grown used to their stares, their mutters, their odd glances.
He wasnt a very tall man, but he was powerfully built. So solid, in fact, one of his friends commented that you could probably broken planks on him and he wouldnt notice it. Theyd never tried it, of course, but no one doubted that if you really wanted to, you could break two-by-fours over his back and he wouldnt even complain.
He tried to stay out of the intrigues of First Landing, when he could. Hed always been a little simple, not overly so, but he had a powerful sense of what was right that could unnerve many, and generally ended up embarrassing him. Many said that he was a fool and an idiot to believe such things, but generally he paid little attention to them. His father had told him, a long time ago, to always fight for honour, and to always fight. He tried to live up to those principals, even when they put him at odds with others. Which was often.
The wind blew again, stronger this time, ruffling the curtains and sending ripples across the bowl of still-wet dough that he was making. He was, by nature, a mostly peaceful man. He did try to stand up for what he believed was right, but he avoided confrontation like the plague. Hed done so for a long time, ever since he had punched a man in college, and broken the mans neck. The man was paralysed from the neck down, and never regained any use of his limbs.
He sighed contentedly as the breeze blew across his face, caressing his features. It was days like these that he lived for. Alone, in his little house out on the edge of the plain, with nothing to worry about, just the wind and satisfying feeling of making things, whether they were useful or not. His house was not big, by any standards, and not exactly easy to get to. He was at least a few hundred kilometres from the nearest settlement, but he liked it that way. He didnt need to worry about the latest news, get embroiled in some new scheme, or have to deal with the haughty and infuriating inhabitants of First Landing.
A flash of light caught his eye, a sparkle in the daytime sky. It flared briefly then disappeared again. Greg frowned for a moment. That was odd. Perhaps it was a supernovae, hed seen them before, but it should have stayed longer than that. Then, just as quickly, he dismissed the thought. It really didnt matter in the end, anyway. Probably just some new silly experiments by that crazy lot on the floating rock, not worth worrying about. Turning, he finished kneading the dough, then gently placed it in the oven to cook.
He was sitting at his table, writing in his journal as the bread slowly cooked, when the wind blew again. This was not the gentle caress of the winds of the plain, warm and relaxing. This was a harsh, unyielding gale, scorching and hard, which blew with so much ferocity that the windows rattled nosily, nearly breaking off altogether.
He stood, unnerved. Hed never known the wind to blow like that before. Something was definitely wrong. He could feel it, down in his bones. The wind kept blowing, shaking the windows with unmitigated ferocity. He had to nearly dive to stop his reading glasses falling off the table. What was going on here, anyway? Perhaps a look outside might calm his fears, he thought.
Outside, the wind was only stronger, and hotter. It was like being blasted with a backwash from a furnace. The howl of the wind filled the air, screeching so loud that he nearly had to cover his ears. The door behind him slammed shut, nearly breaking off its hinges. Perhaps it was a tornado of some sort? Hed never heard of them happening out here, but it was possible.
A heart-rending metallic crash sounded over the wailing of the wind, and Greg swore. He knew exactly what that sound was. Wincing, he turned around and peered around the side of the house, clinging to the side of the house for balance. Until moments ago, his hovercar had been parked neatly by the side of his house. Now it was a few metres away, upside down, in a twisted mess of rubble, having smashed into his low rock fence.
He regarded the broken heap for a moment, then turned away. He wasnt planning to go into First Landing any time soon, anyway. Who really cared? It was probably just better to ignore it. Besides, there were other things to tie down, things that were much more important than some hovercar that he hardly used. His tractor, for instance.
The tractor was parked on the other side of the house, mostly shielded from the tearing winds. At least, for now. It was an exceptionally old model; diesel powered with no AG boosters, from the original stocks when the first colonists had set foot on this benighted planet. He really didnt do much farming with it, apart from on his small crop of corn, which he generally tended to forget to tend to.
He sighed. The corn. He looked over his shoulder self-consciously, and saw that the crops were getting flattened or uprooted by the roaring wind. Well, he wasnt going to get any farming done this year, he supposed. Maybe next year Or the year after that, or the one after that. It wasnt as if he was on a schedule, anyway.
As he reached down to tie the tractor to the ground, a strange sound caught his attention, over the whistling gale of the gale. It was a sort of hissing, crackling sound that started, then stopped suddenly. Then it came again, and again, and again. Hed heard that sound somewhere, a long time ago, but he couldnt remember where. It was worrying, though. What did he have that made that sort of sound? Perhaps the hovercar had had some fuel left in it?
Cautiously, he abandoned the tractor, and made his way around the side of the house, stepping unsteadily as the gusts of wind did their best to pull him off his feet. The noises, which seemed to have come from the front of his house, had stopped, but he could hear another sound, too soft to distinguish over the ear-shattering shriek. It almost sounded like human voices, but Different, somehow.
As he approached the side of the house, the sounds became clearer. Then it hit him. The sounds were voices, but not the voices of any human he knew. They were high-pitched warbling sounds, like nothing a human voice box could create. Something was wrong here. Very, very wrong. Carefully flattening himself against the side of the house, he peered around the corner to the front.
The sight which greeted him was shocking, to say the least. A group of grey humanoids were milling around the front of his house. They seemed human-like, at least to casual inspection. A closer look revealed that they were clearly from nowhere around here. Three red eyes glowed on their foreheads, blood-coloured and without pupils. Despite the clunky plate armour that they wore, it was plain to see that they were painfully thin, so much so that the only thing keeping them on the ground in this wind was the weight of the metal on their chests. In their hands they held strange staves with glowing, irregular crystals on the end.
A sudden crash distracted him. He peered further around the corner only to see a massive beast, easily more gigantic than any of the other alien things, pulverise the front door of his house, knocking it down like it was a matchstick. Greg swore again, louder. What the hell did these things, these aberrations want with him? He was just a quiet man who lived by himself.
One of the aliens turned and looked directly at him, its nightmare eyes boring into him. He seemed to stand there forever, looking directly into the things horrible visage. Then it warbled, a single, sharp noise, and stepped towards him. Its accompaniment quickly followed, all pacing towards him, their unfathomable red eyes gazing down on him relentlessly.
He gasped, and stumbled back a few steps. What was going on here? Where had these things come from, anyway? A thought occurred to him, bubbling up from the depths of his mind. Perhaps this was all just a sick joke by his friends, like they had done before. It wasnt as if they wouldnt sink to this level, anyway. He could see them now, behind their odd masks, laughing at him. Well, hed seen through their tricks. He wouldnt play their game.
"I know what youre doing, guys," he said, in a shaky voice. "Im not scared, just so you know. Now, can we just take off the masks and finish this silly joke?"
The thing that had noticed him, which seemed to be the leader, just stared at him, motionless. Then it stepped forwards again.
"Come on! This isnt funny!"
The thing said nothing, and strode forward.
"Im going to get you for this, you know!"
Step, step, step.
Gregs eyes widened. This wasnt a joke, after all Something very abnormal was happening here, but he couldnt understand what. For the first time in his life, he wished that he had visited First Landing more recently. Perhaps then he might understand what was going on here. The creature stepped forward again, and then Greg turned and ran.
He ran desperately, his feet moving swiftly across the dry, gravelly ground. The cornfield caught his attention, blowing and swirling in the wind, the long stalks waving to and fro in the wind. Yes, he could hide in there. Wait till all the things had gone, then go to First Landing and find out what was going on. He pushed himself harder, towards the cornfield, not daring to look back.
Something whistled past his shoulder and disappeared into the rustling waves of corn. Then a small flash of light came from deep within the waving stalks. They were firing something at him! That must have been what the staves were for, some sort of weapon.
Without hesitation, he dived into the corn, not daring to even take a peek over his shoulder. Inside the cornfield, he could see nothing. The corn, compacted nearly to the point of flattening, pushed down on him like a vice. At least he was sheltered from the hurricane winds, protected by the mass of the waving stalks.
Slowly, but with increasing speed, he pushed his way through the tangled mass of cornstalks, some upright, some barely so. He thought he heard the warbling cries of his pursuers, but he couldnt he sure, with the wind tearing around him and obscuring just about all sound with its howling. Faster and faster he pushed, through the corn which seemed to try to obstruct him at every point.
Im almost there, he thought. I must be. The cornfield isnt all that big, and it couldnt take more than a few minutes to get all the way through. Sure enough, as he tramped through the stalks, being careful to keep his head well below the top, he could see little glimpses of the stone fence that marked the edge of his property. Cautiously, he stepped past the last long lines of corn and stepped out into the wind. And standing there, waiting patiently in front of the stone fence, was the alien thing.
It stood absolutely still, its gaze focused on him, its fingers lightly tapping the long staff weapon. He just stood and stared at it incomprehensibly. How could it have followed him, known exactly where he would come out? He had always prided himself as having a sharp eye, but he was certain that even he couldnt have followed that trail through the corn.
The alien creature stared at him impassively for a few moments, seeming to size him up, although he could read nothing from those alien features, those fiery red eyes. Then it stiffened, clutching its weapon tightly between thin grey fingers. Greg stared at the faintly glowing crystal, distantly registering that his death was coming at its end. Anger surged up in him, potent and overwhelming. How dare these creatures come to his house and break his life apart! He had done nothing to deserve it, of that much he was certain. The fury boiled inside of him, clouding his mind with a seething fog of rage. Then he punched the alien.
He could see it coming, like an inevitable train bearing down on a man standing paralysed in its tracks. The punch took the thing completely by surprise, its three eyes widening as a fist flew inexorably towards its chin. Then, in his mind, he saw the college boy, all those years ago, flying back, his neck broken. He was about to do it again. It was too late to stop now, of course.
His fist connected with its chin with astonishing force, more than hed ever thought he could muster. He could hear the bones snapping, breaking like twigs under the power of his blow. The creatures head snapped back, almost all the way round, as it flew back. He noticed blood flying out of the creatures mouth, thick yellow ichor. Then it topped over the stone fence, disappearing behind it with an ominous crack of neck bones.
Greg stared at his fist in horror. Smudged over the knuckles was alien blood. He had killed the thing, with his own bare hands. Greg had never killed someone before, much less even thought about it. The concept repulsed him, was foreign to all the things he held dear. Nevertheless, over the fence was a twisted corpse, made so by his own hands. What had become of him?
The wind lashed at him furiously, tearing at his hair, pulling on his clothes, trying to push him over. The screaming was more intense than ever, shrieks in the air like the victory calls of some old hags. He looked over his shoulder, and saw that, unsurprisingly his victims cohorts were looking up at him. Then he turned at looked up at the bright lights of First Landing, shining in the distance.
And he started to run.
He ran across the plains, his feet carrying him swiftly over the endless grasses. All the while, the wind swirled around him, harsh, fiery and chaotic, reflecting the chaos in his mind. The long grasses grasped at his thighs, cutting a fine tracery of wounds over his legs as he ran through the endless plains. The clouds overhead moved and churned endlessly, helpless against the ravages of the wind. The air was suffused with the horrible smell of burning wood, metal, and flesh, assaulting his nose on the wings of the gale. And all the time, his mind boiled over with confusion and despair.
In his minds eye, he saw his victim, falling back, taunting him in its death. He saw his hands, stained with the blood of his prey, his defenceless foe. Perhaps the alien had not been trying to kill him, his guilt-ridden mind cried. Perhaps it had only wanted friendship? And all he had given it was the sweet caress of death, swift-moving on his cursed hands.
The shame of it crashed endlessly on the shore of his mind, battering his thoughts down, cowering them into terrified submission, wearing his soul away into nothing. He had killed it. With nothing more than his own bare hands, he had wrenched the aliens life away from it, all for the raising of a stick. This was why he had locked himself away on the edge of the prairie, hiding himself from others, pushing them away.
But, it appeared his nature followed him relentlessly. No matter where he ran, the college boy followed him, haunting him, cursing him to the life of a killer. He had tried, he had! But in the end the rage always came back, possessing him like some infernal demon, controlling his thoughts and desires and bending them towards the destruction of other life. Why could he not escape it!
Hot tears flowed down his cheeks as he sprinted across the wide plains, his eyes pouring out, his failures made real in a stream of despair. He cried, and cried, sobbing painfully as he ran through the endless grasses. The howling wind covered everything, sweeping away his sobs as soon as they sprang forth. Eventually, the tears died away, stopped not by any reduction in his sadness, but simply because his tear ducts could no longer continue. And so he continued sobbing, dry heaves as he sped across the plain.
He ran, and ran, and ran. After a while, he stopped paying attention to the world around him, the sharp grasses slashing at his legs, the hot wind buffeting his face, the clouds swirling around in unfathomable patterns. All that mattered was the movement of his arms, up, down, up, down, up down. His legs, lifting up, diving down to the ground, then grasping the soil for traction, pushing away behind him, pushing him on, and then repeating again. His breath, in, chest lifting up full, out, chest subsiding away empty. He lost himself in that easy pattern of legs and arms and breath, simple routine of one after another.
Hours passed on the long grassy plains, passing by with nothing but a breath on his mind. Time had stopped mattering to him, long ago. He just kept running, through the long grass, feet pounding swiftly on the dry ground. Some corner of him dimly noted the sun as it slipped beneath the horizon, its cloud-obscured rays finally seeping away, leaving all the plains for the cold embrace of the dark night.
He stopped, ten kilometres out from First Landing. By now, nights cover was total, laying a thick dark blanket over the waving grasses, obscuring the distance with a fog of darkness. The wind was no longer so strong, just a warm breeze that pushed the grasses to and fro, gently stroking his cheeks. He dropped to his knees, staring at the bright lights of the city, the sweeping spires that reached up to tear the clouds in half. He looked inside himself, probing for some sign of weakness, but found none. He had run all the way across the plains in a day, and yet all he felt was slightly tired. I could probably use a nap, he thought. But First Landing is so close
He slumped to the ground, and the long grasses swirled around and hid his body from view, making it as though he had never been there. And as his eyes closed over, the first tears came again.
When he woke, it was morning once more, and the air was still.
Awkwardly, he pushed himself upright, groaning as he did so, feeling the old bones protest at this sudden movement. His entire face felt sore, as someone had dug their fingers into the side of his face and left them there for a while. Then he realised with a start that hed been sleeping on the ground the entire night.
Well, that probably explains it, he thought. But why was I sleeping there? The dim haze of waking slowly cleared away, and with it came the truth, partially wondrous, partially terrifying. He had run here. All the way from his house, probably no longer there now, he had run.
Slowly, he turned around, and saw the evidence staring at him in the face. There, standing before him, was the majesty of First Landing, its long towers sparkling in the morning light. He had run all the way here. But how was that possible? Hed always considered himself a good runner, but not that good. No person alive could run, non-stop, all the way across the plains in a day.
Nevertheless, he had. But why? And then the memories crashed down on him again, swamping him. He saw it all again, the winds, the creatures attacking his house, his fleeing, and then the final confrontation that had shattered everything he had ever believed in. The alien flew back again in his mind, its neck bones shattering under the power of his blow. He had killed someone.
He screamed, a wordless cry of rage that echoed across the plain, dissipating into the long grass. Futilely, he beat angrily against the hard ground, trying to drive the memory away again, but it stayed with him, mocking him endlessly. He had slain someone; there was no escaping it.
Sighing, he stood again, and started walking towards the long towers of First Landing. Perhaps someone there could help him, or at least tell him who the strange things were that had come to his house that windy day. Jay, he remembered. Perhaps Jay could help him. Jay was an old friend of his, since the days when he was in college. They had drifted apart, because of Gregs reluctance to involve himself in the affairs of First Landing.
First Landing was a rather unimaginatively named city, reflecting its founders. It had been the first settlement when the colonists arrived on this planet, and discovered it to be a remarkably pleasant, almost Earthlike, place. The first settlers were a hardened lot, the progeny of people who had been specially selected back on Earth to be resilient and self-sufficing. They had set up here because it was perfectly situated in the middle of the plains, next the river New Seine, with a reasonably stable climate and a good, clean water source. Over the seven years since then, it had grown remarkably quickly. The original settlement, nothing more than a few prefabricated houses, had been replaced by a cluster of towers known affectionately as "The Watchers", because one could see just about everywhere from the top of them. Around the base of The Watchers, a low-level urban sprawl had developed, stretching out across the plain.
From where he was standing, he could just see the start of the sprawl, outlying houses shaped like small concrete blocks. Away in the distance, the Watchers towered imperiously. Strangely, most of the lights that usually blared out on the sides of the Watchers, advertisements for one thing or another were silent. The few billboards that were still on flickered vaguely. Perhaps the windstorm had been stronger here, strong enough to cause some permanent damage. Maybe the wind had damaged the power generators; it was hard to tell from his distance. He kept walking.
The city outskirts were silent, eerily so. Normally, the streets would have been filled with aircars of every shape and size, coming in and out of the city, bustling with noise and pollution. He would have expected to see people about, even in these quieter areas. But the streets were deserted, as if no one lived here at all. The wind swept though the streets, bringing with it a mournful whistle, Where was everyone? There could be some sort of celebration on in the main city, but he still would expect to see more people than this.
He walked through the desolate streets, curious. Empty windows peered at him silently, staring. Oddly, in places he could see black scars, as if something had exploded there, but he could see nothing left to prove it so. Strangely, most of the aircars that he would have expected to see in driveways or in garages were not there. Where had everyone gone? Surely everyone wouldnt just pack up and leave.
As he strolled down the street, humming a meaningless tune, a house caught his attention. Most of the houses, apart from being deserted, were pretty much intact, as if their owners had just decided one day to pack up and never come back. This houses door had been smashed down with extreme violence, and recently if he was any judge. He lightly jogged over to the gate, and saw that it too had been smashed open, the lock ripped away. The splinters were still fresh.
More worried, he strode up to the doorway, and looked down at its remains. The doorhandle had been completely blasted off, and all that was left was a gaping charred hole. Apparently not satisfied with this, the attacker had then proceeded to give the same treatment to the door hinges, reducing them to so much blackened charcoal. To his great surprise, he could still smell the burnt wood, a faint tang on the air. Then he heard a womans scream.
He didnt even pause to think. Immediately, his legs sprang into motion, sending him hurtling into the house. The scream came again, louder. He could hear it more clearly, this time, from upstairs. He sprinted up the staircase, not even pausing for breath, and charged into the doorway at top of the stairs, shoulder first. The door hinges broke with an ominous crack, and it gave way, revealing the room beyond.
Obviously, this had once been someones bedroom, someone very young. Toys were littered around the room, dolls of every shape and size. In one corner, an empty cradle sat, swinging quietly. And there, lying on the ground, as if shed been thrown there, was a young woman, her eyes filled with tears. She couldnt have been much more than about twenty, but her eyes seemed much older than that. Her clothes were tattered and dirty, as if shed been living and running in them for a very long time. And there, on the other side of the room, staring down at the woman, was another alien.
He nearly choked. Another one of those things? But he had thought that they were just He had Both of them, the woman and the creature, turned to look at him as he stumbled into the room. The alien thing regarded him with curious indifference, and then turned back to his victim. The woman reached out to him, her eyes filled with fear and desperation.
He stood, hesitant. He could help her, but that would mean Hed have to do it again. Hed have to kill again. The other alien flashed in his mind again, twisting back with agonising slowness. No, he could not. He would not. Not again. He had made that mistake before, and it had cost him dearly.
"I " he said, grasping for words. That moment of hesitation was all that the creature needed. With agonising slowness, it brought its staff up high, then struck down at the defenseless woman. The staff flashed down, leaving a silvery contrail as it swung through the air. Then it smashed into the woman and she screamed, one drawn out cry of agony that tore him apart, cut deep at his very soul. And the she was silent.
The alien looked down dispassionately at its victim for a moment, and then turned to face him, swiftly bringing its stave into striking position, and just stared. He gazed at down at the womans corpse, already going pale, blood leaking out of the corner of her mouth. What had he done? It was worse than killing someone. He had doomed an innocent person to death by his inaction.
He knew in that instant that he could have saved her. It would have been easy, nothing more than a few steps and the womans life would have been saved. He wasnt sure how, but he knew. Worse, he knew that he had stood by while her death sentence had been announced and then carried out. All because he was afraid. Afraid to save another person. Wasnt that pathetic?
The alien started to run towards him, its staff held high. He watched it run towards him, with a sort of detachment born of cold anger sitting in his gut. He could not save the woman now, his inaction had seen to that. But he could certainly extract revenge on her killer. The anger boiled inside of him, solidifying into action. Then, as the creature came within striking distance, raising its staff, he lashed his hand out and without thinking broke its neck.
The bones made almost satisfying crunching noises under his iron grip, as he slowly but inexorably squeezed the things neck tighter and tighter. It gurgled momentarily, coughing up yellow blood. Then it went limp in his hands, its eyes closing over. Disgusted, he let the thing slide to the ground, where it collapsed ungracefully in a heap.
He looked up again at the womans body, still lying there cold on the wooden floor. He walked over to her, and looked down at her face. She had been very beautiful, once, but her face had been covered in dirt and scratches. Her long hair was bedraggled, untidy and filthy. Blood had seeped out of her mouth and onto the ground, collecting in a little pool. A single tear fell out of his eye, rolling down and landing on her cold cheek.
Then he stood. He wouldnt let this happen again, ever. He had stood on the sidelines and watched for far too long. It was time to take things into his own hands, and damn the consequences. So hed killed again. Who cared? Anyone who would kill someone that mercilessly deserved to die, painfully. Whether he liked it or not, God had given him these gifts. It was time he put them to use.
Bending down for the last time, he closed the womans eyes, and then started towards the door. Mentally, he promised himself to come back here one day and give the woman a proper burial, when he had found out what was going on here. It was the least he owed her. But not now, he had things to do, and something deep within him told him he had little time to do it in.
Slowly, he paced down the steps, looking around at the house. Photos that hed missed in his mad dash to the top of the stairs lined the walls, showing pictures of a man and woman holding a baby, smiling. The woman in the photos seemed to be the one he had failed to save, but in these photos she was bright and happy. What had happened that had driven her to dying in the torn fragments of clothes in the attic of her house?
A familiar sound caught his ear, as he reached the bottom of the stairs. He smiled, knowing what it was. Sure enough, three more of the strange alien creatures were standing on the front path, staring in at him. Unconsciously, hed been expecting them to show up. The thing wouldnt have come here without backup.
These ones were not so cocksure, though, not so willing to take it slow. As soon as their eyes met, the leading alien screamed a high pitched warble, a thin rattle that scraped on his ears. Then all three of them charged together, their staves held high, death in their opaque red eyes.
He waited at the foot of the stairs for them, watching them patiently. A thousand scenarios flashed through his mind before he blinked, running through his mind from places that he didnt know existed. He surrendered to the feelings, no longer resisting. He felt absolutely certain, for the first time in his life, that he could deal with what was coming. Then it clicked into place, the perfect movement, and the first alien reached him.
He didnt even give it time to strike. Stepping forward quickly, he grasped the things staff and pushed the blunt end into its stomach. It doubled over, squealing in pain. Then, wrenching the staff completely out of its grip, he swung the blunt end upwards, into its jaw. The sharp metal sheared through the flesh and bone, tearing open its jugular with a spray of thick yellow blood.
Its accomplices were not far behind, but he was ready for them as well. Swinging the strange staff in a swift motion, he smashed the crystal end into left ones face. Disappointingly, it did not flash like hed seen the other ones do, but the hard crystal still pulverised its face.
The last alien, caught off guard by the sudden and swift incapacitation of its colleagues, was an easy target as it stumbled forward. Smoothly, he flipped his hand around and raised the staff above his head. The thing briefly registered surprise before he jammed the blunt end of the staff into its chest, sliding it in between the armour plates and past its ribcage. It gave a little gurgling sigh, and fell backwards. Then he turned to the other alien, still clutching its face, and brought the back of his hand down hard on the back of its head, and it slammed into the wood slats with a satisfying crunch.
He stood there for a minute, breathing slowly. Then the enormity of what hed done hit him. He stared down at the bleeding corpses of his would-be enemies in a mixture of fascination and terror. How had he known how to do all that? Here he was, a man who had only raised his hands in anger once before yesterday, and he had gone through those creatures and barely worked up a sweat. He hadnt even thought about it, just let his hands guide him on a trail of destruction. He looked down at his hands in horrified amazement. Just what were these things capable of, these things that hed never truly known before today?
Pulling his gaze away from his bloodied hands, he looked up at the doorway. The rest of the world was still out there, and almost certainly more of those things. Maybe some answers were out there as well. As he walked towards the doorway, he pulled the staff out of the collapsed creature almost absent-mindedly. What I really need, he thought, is a gun