The Goat (Part 92)

I can’t think of anything worth blogging about this week… but I did finish the penultimate scene of my short story. So I guess that’s something…

A beast gave cry.

From ill dreams the creature stirred, confused then upset by the strange disturbance. Long ages in the fog of its own torment had dulled all sense of the world outside. It could not understand what had touched its mind.

Curling itself down in the abyss, it sought again the release of oblivion. Yet still it persisted: a vague simulation at the limit of perception…

A beast lost upon a rock-scrub mountainside, wounded and parted from the herd by a landslide: its last memory that of female heat-smell, of duelling with a rival, then screaming panic as the ground closed over—

Now broken, concussed, it bleated with pain: its head pouring blood from smashed horns and frontal sinus, its limp hind leg trailing meat as the beast dragged itself through a scree of loose gravel, trying just to find a safe place to hide…

The creature felt nothing. It hearkened to no cry. Life to it now was but a distant muted clutter: a background susurration below its awareness.

Yet something was changing. This presence would not leave it; this taint upon the atmosphere…

The beast stumbled, skittered to a rock ledge: a ridge of angled stone backing to a crevice. Drawn by the dark, the instinct of its youth to shelter in tight spaces, it squeezed itself through the crack in the mountain, on into a shaft steeply descending. Hooves slipping on slick limestone, it bleated as the ground fell away beneath—

It struck the wall, bouncing and tumbling down into the void. For two minutes it screamed in terror, then a thick, wet slap resounded in the blackness.

At the bottom of the pit cave, a shattered figure twitched faintly on the rock: its spine broken, its burst body spilling entrails on the ground… yet living still, gasping as its lungs dissolved into blood…

And the creature sensed it. At once the intrusion came clear unto its mind: the taint embodied by this thing of flesh that dared to breach its solitude; this foul farce of the life it had made, now come to violate its place of retreat—even to leak vile juices on its essence.

The creature formed a tendril of matter, raising it to smite the vermin from existence—

And then it stopped.

It could taste it in the air: this thing that had troubled it, roused it from slumber…

Buried in the stench exuding from the carcass—the blood and faeces, the glandular musk—it detected a unique pheromone: a compound hitherto unseen upon this world…

The creature pressed itself close against the body. As though dazed it ran feelers through the dense tufts of fur, probing with its tissues the shape of foreign molecules. It recognised the structure of 4-ethyloctanal: something it was certain it had known before—but where? How…? Then its mind turned giddy with the shock of recollection—

A time of hunger; the deprivations of that desperate journey through the life-sparse regions of galactic centre, ending at last as they found that first rich planet—

The creature remembered alighting on the surface, crowding with its brothers, their excitement contagious as they gazed upon the bounty. It saw in reflection the living titan masses—colossal of flesh yet lacking neural function—not caring for the beasts but the life that dwelt inside them: the countless intelligent blood parasites; beings at the vanguard of organic technology; each host body housing an entire civilisation…

Losing itself in sweet memory, the creature languished in that perfect moment: feeding to repletion after so long in famine; believing for the first time that their curse might be lifted—that this strange source of power could restore to them their lives. It knew again the joy of merging with its kind, sharing in their love and their newfound hope as they sensed now the abundance of life in the galaxy… as holding to its brothers on that ravaged world, it bathed in the emissions of 4-ethyloctanal bleeding from the scent glands of the ruptured titan masses…

In the hollow darkness of its isolation, the creature clung to the body of the beast, smearing itself with the trace pheromone and aching for the touch of its family. Not for two billion years had it felt such a connection, such closeness to the ones it had loved and lost. The strain of emotion split old scars that ran to its core… yet too did the pain slice into its apathy, clawing the haze of depression from its mind. And slowly, as though waking from a fevered sickness, weak and wasted yet burned of disease, it began to see all with a new, dreadful clarity.

It had forsaken its brothers. With a source of life yet remaining on the earth, it had abandoned its duty and condemned them unto death. Not only was it a failure but a coward, a betrayer.

For an instant, frozen with self-contempt it teetered at the brink: wanting an escape, but not knowing how to die… Then driven by guilt, a manic nervous compulsion, it threw its mind out across the planet—trying to see if it had left it too late, if there might still be a chance…

But the world in its absence had grown deviant and baffling, full of beasts deformed by evolution run wild. The creature blanched at the corruption of its work… yet still there was consciousness: strange, and of a type it had never thought worthwhile, but changed throughout the years into something unexpected. And amid the chaos one variant of being grasped its attention: a small and ugly tree-dwelling beast; a most curious brain; a thing with potential…

The creature realised it could start again.

It had the resource. It had the commitment. It would take this dross and raise it to the heavens: make of it a race even greater than the stranger.

And this time, this time… There would be no mistake. It knew now the peril of feeding too soon. Though it lose its mind to hunger and frustration it would breed these lives until there could be no doubt, no deficit of power. It must be careful. Pedantic. It must not fail.

It would do this for its family.

It would find its brothers…

And restored by faith, the challenge that awaited, the creature made at once to return to the surface… yet pausing, it remembered the beast in its cave: the foetid little thing that had woken its sanity.

With a fondness it had felt for nothing else on this world, the creature gazed upon the dead and broken figure. Again it touched the fur, distending its essence to enfold the head, tasting the last of the priceless pheromone. Gently piercing the flesh of the body, it took assessment of the cellular damage… concentrating briefly as it flexed a strand of power—

Limbs convulsed, the torn meat writhing as though charged with electricity. Wounds bubbled with expanding tissues, sealing and reshaping, the cavities inflating, the bones grinding wetly as they joined in alignment… as stuttering sparks reignited the brain—

The beast screamed, lurching like a newborn as it scrabbled for purchase—not knowing where it was, blind in the darkness, the stink of its own blood rank in its nose. It tried to run, slamming into rock then thrashing and bleating as something gripped its body—

The creature held the struggling caprid, feeling the life pulsing strong in its heart. Caressing the beast, it soothed it with a whisper:

MY CHOSEN

MY SYMBOL

I FEED NOT OF YOUR KIND

Thus together they rose from the depths of the earth, into the light of new dawn: the beast set down upon a verdant hillside; the creature expanding to encircle the planet, girding itself for the work that must be done… beginning again the endless, torturous, maddening labour…

And all this I saw as I looked into its soul.

Pinned against the shelves in the ruined workshop, bleeding and injured to the point of death, facing the end of the world as I knew it… I saw things that no mortal mind could comprehend.

But I saw enough.

I could feel the creature. I felt its weight of sorrow.

And at last, at length, I began to understand…

#
© 2015 - J. D. G. Leaver

To be continued…