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Books by Quantum Muse contributors and friends.
A Felony of Birds

by Harris Tobias
The Greer Agency

by Harris Tobias
Assisted

by Harris Tobias
Hold The Anchovies

by Harris Tobias
Alien Fruit

by Harris Tobias
Peaceful Intent--Stories of human/Alien Interaction

by Harris Tobias
CHRONON--Time Travel

by Harris Tobias
The Stang

by Harris Tobias

The Ship

by

Harris Tobias



If it was a vessel, it was huge — like some vast green mirage, like a hill side, like a natural form overgrown with vines and dulled with age it had become part of the landscape, a cliff, a lump on the skyline. He never would have noticed it in a million years. It embarrassed him now to think of it. How he made his camp along one of its massive flanks never realizing it wasn’t a natural formation. How many months had he lay there cold, wet and starving while comfort and, dare he even hope, rescue, lay there just a few steps away? Life had become a constant struggle. It took all his energy just to stay alive, snaring clyts then cooking and eating their vile flesh. And that was when he was lucky enough to snare one. When the clyts weren’t running, he starved. He dug for worms, ate the bark and leaves from the ubiquitous vines.  He was wasting away.

Skinny, starved and ragged was what he was. Life was abundant on this world and he was grateful for that, it was finding enough to eat that was so difficult. The constant struggle for food stripped away his culture, refinement, education, his humanity itself. A lot of good his special skills did him now. Life had become one long struggle to stay alive, to scratch out a meager existence from an unwelcoming world. Living more like a caveman than the 23rd century mission specialist he was. He had to strain to even remember how his life was before the crash. Was he ever (Had he ever been) young, strong, part of a crew? Did he ever know another life, one of ease and comfort and technological marvels? Didn’t he cross vast reaches of space only to wind up lost and alone? Young and strong he was, but stupid and rash too; though it wasn’t his decision to land here, he certainly didn’t object. Their ship was doomed from that moment. Sidetracked by signs of life. They were so excited. An impulsive decision to land, the devastating crash. Why he should be spared while the others died a fiery death was a wonder and a mystery he hardly had time to contemplate, consumed as he was with his own survival.

Funny how things work out. If he hadn’t been scrounging for food he probably never would have found the ship. Of course, if he hadn’t been scrounging for food constantly, he would have died a long time ago. The ecology on this world wasn’t designed to accommodate human beings. The fact that he could eat anything at all was a small miracle. There (were)water and plants and small rodent like creatures he called clyts. Nothing he ate poisoned him but nothing nourished him either so he was perpetually tired, weak and undernourished.

Ironically, it was a clyt that led him to make the discovery. He was so hungry his hands shook. He dropped the slimy thing, the first he’d caught in days. It darted into the thicket. He chased after it on hands and knees. He didn’t dare lose it; he was too weak to trap another.

He crawled in to the tangle as far as he could when he and the clyt hit a wall. A wall of metal, not stone. At first it didn’t register what he’d found so intent was he on catching dinner. And he did catch it too. Clyts are neither the fastest nor the brightest of creatures, but catching one with bare hands was an accomplishment. It was only later, after he’d picked the last bits of its sour flesh, that the metal wall registered in his addled brain. My god, he thought, had he regressed so far so fast that he actually was a savage, a caveman? A metal wall. It meant something. The old mission specialist he thought lost was re-awakened. A metal wall meant—an artifact, maybe a ship or perhaps an outpost. He’d have to investigate, but later, first he needed to survive.

He resolved to hack away at the vines and see what was there. When he wasn’t trapping clyts or foraging for leaves or hauling water or fashioning tools or improving his shelter he hacked away at the vines. Over the course of several months he chopped at the tough vegetation with a makeshift axe fashioned from his own ship’s wreck. He honed an edge onto it and used it as a machete. Little by little he cleared away some of the vines revealing the object beneath. He felt like Hyram Bingham freeing Machu Pichu from the jungle. Only this was a ship, a space ship of vast proportions. An exciting find, a momentous discovery. He’d be famous if anyone ever knew of it.

His first month’s effort exposed a 20-foot section of hull. It was only enough to confirm that it was an enormous craft of some kind. Its design was exotic; he had no idea what the shape of it was supposed to be. He was like the blind man who felt the elephant’s tail and exclaimed that an elephant was very like a snake. The part he uncovered was smooth and sleek but revealed little about the true shape of the ship. At least so far it appeared undamaged. It was made of a tough alloy that defied his attempts at forceful entry. He couldn’t even scratch it. He looked for markings but found none. Projections, protrusions, ladders, antennas— there were none of those either.

Most of the day he hunted for food or carried water. On a good day, he might snare a cyst. On a bad day he would have nothing more than cups of bitter tea made from the foliage of alien vines. That’s all there seemed to be on this world was vines. A thousand varieties of twisting vines. Vines of extraordinary variety—an entire ecology of vines. Each with a survival strategy of its own. Even the grass was a carpet of low growing vines. He would have found the whole thing fascinating if he weren’t part of it. Trying to eke out a living from their meager largess. The vines that covered the alien ship were large, ropey plants that twined around each other, forming thick braids, a mindless fabric of impressive proportions woven together from the trunks of trees. His crude tools were no match for them, they covered everything. A world where kudzu was the dominant life form would give you some idea of what he faced. (The previous sentence interrupts the reader from being immersed in the story.)Clyts may have found a niche amongst the vines but there was no mistaking what life form was in charge.

Time was the only thing he had in abundance and time only offered him more of the same. Rescue seemed a hopeless dream. This planet was not on their charts and even if it was, it was a huge place with twenty continents the size of Africa. Waiting around for a rescue ship seemed like the height of foolishness. What was he supposed to do, stand on a hillside with a mirror and signal I am here? Forget it. He needed to eat and survive. Finding this alien craft was an amazing piece of luck. Maybe it will rescue him. Maybe he will master its controls and fly to his own kind. That was a pipe dream. Forget flying to the stars. He’d settle for a door.

It would be nice to excavate the huge craft from its green prison but first he would have to gain entry and that was proving harder than expected. The alien ship’s hull went on and on. He hacked away at the smothering vines whenever he had the strength. After six months he’d exposed a section of hull measuring about 60 feet--a fraction of the overall length. The exertion cost him plenty. It was exhausting work even for a man as fit and strong as he was when he first arrived. The vines were unforgiving and the tools he had were inadequate. If he didn’t find a portal soon he feared he would not survive.

Even if he found a port, how would he open it? How would he even recognize it? These were the doubting thoughts that depressed him and sapped his strength. What if he gained entry? At the very least he would have shelter. There could be ship’s stores, vast amount of foodstuffs still on board. These were the thoughts that sustained him, filled his dreams and gave him hope if not strength. After an agonizing year, he had exposed 100 feet of dull metal wall. He had to go back every few days and chop away the new growth. Nothing it seemed could stop the vines from undoing all his work.

He’d hack at a vine for hours before severing it. Every vine was entangled with a dozen others just as thick. It could take a week of effort to clear a single foot of wall. The work was tedious and exhausting but it gave him purpose and that was worth a great deal.

By the middle of the second year he was in terrible condition. He had lost an alarming amount of weight, his gums were bleeding and his teeth were loose. He could barely chew the tough meat of the clyts. Scurvy was not what was killing him, however. It was malnutrition. His caloric intake was insufficient to compensate for the demands he made upon his body. Every day he lost strength and endurance. It was the extra effort of chopping away at the vines that was killing him, but he could not stop. Uncovering the find gave his life purpose even though he had added only another 20 feet to the exposed section. In two years of work he had revealed 125 feet of hull to the light of day. There were hundreds more to go and that was only the one side. He didn’t even want to think about the other side.

One morning he couldn’t get up. His wasted body refused to respond. He stayed in camp and brewed his thin tea and ate the boiled leaves. He rested for a few days before regaining a little strength. He got lucky and trapped a cyst. The meat gave him the energy to hack away the new growth that threatened to undo all his labor, but he was tired after an hour and had to rest. The next day was similar except no meat. He lay back against the hull his breathing labored. He knew he was dying. He closed his eyes and looked down the length of cleared hull. He could hear the faint tick of machinery working inside the craft. Imagine, he thought, still working after how many centuries? Judging by the thickness of the vines he judged them to be a hundred years old. What a find. It boggled the mind the wonders he might find there. He closed his eyes and slept. He did not awaken. A vine twined gently around his ragged boot like a caress.


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2012-05-26 11:02:35
Really appealing!The end is what makes readers "love and hate~"

2011-08-27 20:00:23
let down! no end, just stoped. Good up to that point . It had my attention till the end.

2011-02-27 05:38:12
This the best story

2011-02-25 19:00:00
Pretty good. It is depressing, tho. And what's inside the ship? That's what I'd like to see.

2011-02-25 05:43:16
Please, Harris..You must continue the story. The despair,exhaustion, and fatique he feels is palpable. Please don't leave us hanging!




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Books by Quantum Muse contributors and friends.
A Felony of Birds

by Harris Tobias
The Greer Agency

by Harris Tobias
Assisted

by Harris Tobias
Hold The Anchovies

by Harris Tobias
Alien Fruit

by Harris Tobias
Peaceful Intent--Stories of human/Alien Interaction

by Harris Tobias
CHRONON--Time Travel

by Harris Tobias
The Stang

by Harris Tobias


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