Once again, I posted my microstory to the monthly contest on the LinkedIn Group “Science Fiction readers, writers, collectors and artists”. It’s a great group and if you like sci-fi, you should check it out! The stories this month had to include the longest night, fear, and not here/not now. Here is what I came up with:
Dread crawled up my back and sat at the base of my neck as we trudged through the knee-deep snow. The night was pitch-black, pierced only by lights affixed to our blasters. In the distance, a stand of trees marked the beginning of a forest, which might offer some cover from the kartok that followed us. Why do I let Chad talk me into this stuff? “Come to the moon Aki, Tom. It’s the best place this side of Nargo for hunting,” he said, and I fell for it.
“Tell me again why we didn’t go out west to hunt something less deadly, like grizzlies?”
“You have to test yourself and try new things to grow, Tom. Back home we get two weeks of vacation. We get one week a month off here, and the work isn’t hard either.” Chad was right. On Aki, robots did the work. Our job was to repair them and fill out reports for HQ. Room and board were free, so we were saving a ton of cash.
A deep guttural growl snapped me back to reality. We knelt back to back, searching for the beasts. Kartok travel in packs, so only one growl seemed odd. My beam caught it first. The male was massive, eight feet tall at the withers. Its thick dark fur obscured a muscular frame. The back four legs supported the beast, while the front pair was short and used to shovel food into the enormous mouth. Those short arms and large head made it look like a furry T-Rex. It was hunched down, trying to decide how to attack this odd creature with lights shining out. “Should I shoot?” I asked.
“It seems to be alone. I wonder why.”
“Maybe I’ll ask him why he’s chewing on my head.” I aimed my blaster, waiting for it to make the first move. “Why isn’t he attacking?” After a few tense minutes, it turned slightly, exposing a deep gash on one of its rear legs. The fur was soaked in blood. The kartok turned to look at us again, and then laid flat on the snow, whimpering. “Chad, I think it wants us to help him.”
“I’m not getting close to that monster. Did you see the teeth and claws on that thing? Let me just put it out of its misery.” He leveled his blaster and the beast closed its eyes.
Pushing his rifle down, I said, “That’s messed up, Chad. You’d kill an injured animal.”
“It’s better than being killed.”
“Tell you what. You keep your blaster on it and I’ll go take a look.” Chad stared at me in shock, but said nothing. He followed me halfway to the animal and stood guard while I examined it. First, I melted some snow with my blaster and used the water to clean the wound. Then I applied a whole tube of antiseptic cream and used a sewing kit to close the cut. Finally I shaved the nearby fur and placed a bandage over it. The kartok never moved, and I thought it might have died. When we backed away, it looked back at its leg and licked the spot. Then it stood again and bowed its head. I instinctually bowed back.
The clearing filled with a pack of twenty kartok females. They were much smaller, but no less deadly. They growled and licked their lips as they circled us. We were back to back again as we watched their eyes. We might kill a few, but there was no way we could survive this night. “You were right about the grizzlies, Tom,” Chad said.
“It’s been good knowing you, pal.”
The male let out a deafening roar, shaking the snow off the trees. He pushed the others back, growling and hissing at them. Then sounds changed to clicks and whines, and seemed almost like conversation. The females turned and slowly retreated into the forest. The male watched them leave, and then began to come toward us. We pointed our weapons and it stopped and bowed, and moved forward again. I was shaking in fear. It towered over us, its breath creating a fog around our heads. I noticed it was extending one of its arms. Not knowing what else to do, I shook its claw-like hand. It stepped back and bowed again, and then turned to follow the females into the night. “Did that really happen?”
“I think so. We’re still here.”
“This has to be the best Christmas ever.”