The troop eyes me with
suspicion. The leader, an alpha male the size of a compact car, looks me over
before deciding I am no threat. He runs his sensing appendage over my body.
Iíve learned to simply stand still and let him go through his little charade.
God only knows what he makes of me. The slimy appendage travels up and down my
leg and torso. If Alph senses anything, he senses my desperation to stay alive.
I need these guys. Please Alph, just ignore me.
Alph is the head man, the big cahoona, the jefe, the king. Heís not only big,
heís tremendously strong. I have my side arm but I doubt it would be much use
against him in a fight. The inspection over, Alph chitters to the others and
they return to their foraging. Weíve been doing this little kabuki dance for
several weeks now. Alph knows me, hell, the whole troop knows me. Iíve been
shadowing them since we crashed on this no name rock. I feel like some
extra-biological Jane Goodall following the chimps around trying to discern
their behavior. Except Iím not observing these aliens to learn about their
behavior. Iím hanging around them to stay alive. If anything is apparent in all
this, itís that itís my behavior thatís changing not theirs.
The troop represents this worldís most evolved life form and my best chance for
survival. They know how to survive ó what foods to eat, where to find water and
protection from predators. Theyíre wonderfully adept at climbing the tall
thorny plants that pass for trees here. They know what fruits are edible and
how to open their impenetrable husks. I wouldnít last a minute here on my own.
Theyíve been my salvation since the emergency rations ran out about a month
ago. Has it been a month already? Time sure flies when there is no hope of
No, rescue is out of the question. My flight was off the radar, sub rosa,
illegal and clandestine. My crew of four killed, the radio smashed and there
never was an emergency beacon. Smugglers and pirates donít expect the cavalry
to come to their rescue. Itís part of the bargain we make when we enter this
business. The usual end for a pirate is either a quick death from eating vacuum
or being forgotten in a damp cell on a prison moon somewhere. Getting stranded
on an alien world, well, that just doesnít happen. Itís an impossible long
shot. Ainít it just my luck. Shot up and disabled running from the Feds. We
lost them in the dust cloud but never gained control. Crash landing on an
uncharted world is simply never heard of. I was the only survivor.
The troop is moving again. I follow a few discreet yards behind. First I
look around for any edibles they may have left behind. I see a few half eaten banana-quats.
Thatís what I call them. Long yellow fruits with a sour taste. Not my favorite
as they often give me cramps, but beggars canít be choosers, so I put the best
ones in my bag for later. The troop moves fast and I donít dare lose them.
There are some nasty critters here and meat is meat even if it evolved a
zillion miles away.
My troop seems to have a well defined territory. In the month Iíve been
following them, we havenít encountered any other bands. Thatís fine with me.
Iíd hate to be caught in the middle of a border war. These creatures are about
twice the size of baboons which is what they remind me of. Theyíre social like
baboons and the troop has a similar organization. The troop is dominated by the
alpha male. He has a harem with him and an alpha female at the top of the
pecking order. Lesser females and young males round out the population.
Counting the juveniles, there are about 25 of us.
They look nothing like baboons, however. Besides being bigger, these guys have
eight limbs and can change color in an instant. In that respect theyíre more
like terrestrial cephalopods than anything else. The color displays are rich
and varied and Iím sure if I was doing field research, it would be a major part
of what Iíd be studying.
Iíve learned to read a few of their color signals. When Alph grabs a female for
mating he flashes a deep green. The female responds by alternately flashing
from green to deep purple. My tattered old uniform is several shades of gray. I
have no idea what gray is saying, but Iím pretty sure itís not sexual
attraction. I suppose theyíve gotten used to me. I know Iíve become accustomed
to them. At first I found them ugly, frightening, but we all seem to have
mellowed out over time. At least Alph isnít making threat displays every time
he sees me. He used to raise a couple of limbs high over his head, turn a
bright red and charge. I would have to show submission by falling to the
ground. Then Alph would give a loud hooting cry and swagger back to his
subjects. A few minutes later, he would do the same thing all over again.
Sometimes this went on all day long.
I came close to shooting the old boy in the beginning before I realized he was
just showing off for the home team. Iím glad I didnít do anything hasty. Alph
was only showing me who was boss. He canít help what he is. After a week or two
he settled down, got used to my presence and went back to screwing and eating;
the two activities that occupy most of his waking hours. Alphís a good guy. I
donít begrudge him scoring points by making me look weak.
Iíve taken to calling my troop the Babblers. Thatís what their most common
vocalization sounds like to meóbabbling voices. The Babblers move from one part
of their large territory to another. When we arrive at a likely spot, the
subordinate males and females scurry up the thorny trees and begin throwing
down fruits or nuts for the rest. The tree climbers have to go way out on the
springy limbs to get the ripest fruits. Itís dangerous work. Sometimes they fall
and injure themselves. The older females use their strong jaws or rocks to
smash open the tough outer shells to get at the inner meats. Iíve tried it
myself with rocks and I can attest for the toughness of the nuts.
When the troop moves on, I move in and hunt around for whatever scraps are
left. I guess that makes me a scavenger or a gleaner as I would rather think of
myself. Itís not a very dignified way for an advanced intelligence like myself
to make a living but intelligence alone isnít going to keep me alive on this
world. When my emergency supplies ran out after the first couple of weeks and
it was clear that there would be no rescue, a man does what he has to. I have
nothing to be ashamed of. You do what you have to.
The crash was a terrible thing. I was knocked unconscious by the force of it
and donít remember all that much. I must have been thrown clear because when I
awoke, I was 20 yards from the smoldering wreck and the rest of the crew was
dead. The bitter irony is that this was going to be our last run. This was the
big hit, the one every pirate dreams about. Weíd ambushed and boarded an ore
carrier in the Orion panhandle. We rounded up her crew and locked them in the
hold. We threatened to space them one at a time until they told us something we
wanted to hear. After we sent the third guy to his death, the Captain broke
down and showed us his hidey hole. We found 63 pounds of pure Tricium, the most
expensive metal in the galaxy. At 20 million credits a pound we were set
for life. We spaced the rest of the crew to cover our tracks, stashed the loot
aboard our ship and let the ore carrier drift. I never said I was a nice guy.
That night we drank to celebrate our haul. We drank to the end of a glorious
career. We drank to our new found wealth. We drank ourselves into a coma.
Alarms woke us. A Federal ship. We fled, we dodged, we used all our tricks
until we lost them in the cloud. The chase proved to be too much for our
battered old cruiser. We fried the nav system and most of the drive was shot.
The captain picked the best crash site he could. This god forsaken ball. The
rest you know. Welcome to my home.
The troopís third feeding yielded a half eaten blue fruit, my favorite edible.
They are big and tough like coconuts except theyíre blue and taste remotely
like apples. I munch on it as I follow along. Suddenly Alph stops dead in
his tracks. The troop stops too, sensing appendages erect, sniffing the air. We
move ahead cautiously and itís strangely quiet. IĎm wondering whatís up when
there is a sudden explosion of noise directly in front of us. Out of a thicket
another troop emerges. There are considerably more of them than us. Their alpha
male is a magnificent creature. He assumes the threat display as does Alph.
Their color changes are awesome and in perfect sync, cycling through several
shades of red. Both troops begin babbling and screaming as if rooting for their
side. The two alphas put on quite a show.
The clash, when it came, was almost too fast to follow. One second the two
Alphas were flashing at each other and in the next, our Alph was on his back.
Suddenly I was worried. How would regime change affect me? Probably not in a
positive way. It had taken me weeks to be accepted by my Babblers. There was no
telling how long it would take a new Alpha to accept my presence. What if he
didnít, what would become of me then? As Jane Goodall always said, ďBetter to
stick with the troop you know than to start up with a new one.Ē Actually, I
didnít care what Jane Goodall said. Her survival didnít hinge on the outcome of
local disputes. Mine did.
The rival Alpha appeared to be winning handily. My Alpha was on his back for a
second time. His colors flashed from red to orange to yellow while the
rivalís color remained several shades of red. It was time for me to step up and
do something to help my team. I drew my side arm and put six bullets into the
rival male. His color display changed dramatically as he died going from red to
grey. Then he fell over dead. Alph picked himself off the ground with as much
dignity as he could muster and examined his opponent. Alph poked at him with an
appendage before flashing his victory display. I swear he looked like a boxing
champ who just scored a knockout, both arms raised in victory.
Iím not sure the troop as a whole understood what happened but I suspect old
Alph did. The dynamics of the troop changed almost immediately. Iíve been
eating better for one thing. Alph makes certain that there is food left behind
for me; and not half eaten leftover food either, but whole, fresh, untouched
food. He has assigned a female to me as well. At least I think that is what is
going on. Sheís one of the lower rank juveniles. I call her Jane. She gives me
green flashes when she looks my way. Iím not sure what sheís saying but I find
it sweet. Iím not quite ready for a relationship just yet but in a few months,
Itís not quite the life I had in mind. Me and my mates were supposed to be
living the high life back on Terra about now. Unfortunately they are all dead
and Iím alive. Thereís a moral in all this somewhere but I donít have the
luxury to think about it. My troop is packing up and moving on. Jane is lagging
behind making sure Iím all right. I see a nice pile of nuts left behind. I scoop
them up and put them in my bag. I give Alph a call of thanks and follow.
2012-05-29 21:13:18 An interesting castaway story!
Fluent narrtaion,intriguing plot,good work! 2012-03-03 02:13:22 Good tale. It had me hooked right to the end. You never think of castaways having to suck up to the local chimps in order to survive. 2011-11-20 15:09:35 Sidewinder4 - Good read. Clear and fast moving.
Sidewinder 4 2011-11-04 08:09:56 As usual, another good read from Mr. T. I liked the cohesion and tightness of the narration. Didn't drift out of character or parameters anywhere, no extraneous imagery. Taut. Very interesting. 2011-11-04 05:39:36 Ironspider - Most enjoyable. Reminds me, in a good way, of Charles Logan's Shipwreck, though Logan is more focussed on his characters survival in a hostile environment. I particularly like the interference in the alpha duel - watched plenty of natural history programmes where I've wanted to step in and help. Good language, nicely narrated. 2011-11-01 06:16:32 Great story! That was an interesting take on the theme of being stranded on another planet.
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