Beyond The Fall
A New Beginning
Copyright © C. Osborne Rapley 2015
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The ship shuddered, throwing Second Engineer Peter Thornton hard against the edge of the access panel. His head struck the corner of the control circuit he had been working on. “Shit!” Eyes watering, and dazed, he crawled backwards into the main service corridor and stood rubbing the growing bump on his forehead.
The ship shuddered again, but this time he was ready and he grabbed one of the handrails spaced along the corridor, put there in case of artificial gravity failure.
What the hell was going on? When in Stardrive the ship was normally stable, without even the slightest vibration. The intercom crackled into life.
“This is the Captain, something struck us as we engaged the Stardrive, and the ship is breaking up. All crew to the escape pods, abandon ship.”
The corridor that Peter was in connected directly to the starboard escape pods. In two strides he had reached the first pod and dived in, and the door automatically shut behind him; one pod for each member of the crew. Being a deep space survey ship, DSE Orion had pods equipped as a single person stasis chamber since it could be many months before rescue or planet fall.
He placed his right hand on the identification panel, and a female computer voice spoke, “Second Engineer Peter Thornton, please sit on the chair.” He did so, and clamps pinned his legs and arms while a strap tightened across his chest as the main door slid shut. The last thing he remembered was the lurch as the pod engines fired. In his mind, the words of the basic training instructor echoed, “It is dangerous and unpredictable abandoning a ship with an unstable Stardrive.”
Peter’s head ached. He groaned and tried to swallow but his tongue was rough and dry. Light penetrated through his closed eyelids, so he tried to open them, but they were stuck. He lifted a leaden arm, and with the back of his hand rubbed his eyes, forcing them open. The grittiness and pain made him gasp involuntarily. He blinked against the light that streamed in through the hatch porthole.
He attempted to sit up, but the muscles in his back refused to work. He took a deep breath, fighting the panic tightening round his chest. Something must have gone wrong with the stasis pod. During the initial part of the voyage, when the ship traversed known space, most of the crew had been in stasis for three months. There were no adverse effects on wakening at all; it had been just like waking in the morning after a good night’s sleep. This was very different.
Taking another deep breath, he twisted and pushed up with his arms as he swung his legs round to stand. He rocked forward, putting his full weight on his legs. They gave way and he fell to the floor of the pod. “For fuck’s sake, what is wrong with me?” He rolled over onto his stomach and pushed himself up, barely supporting his weight on his hands and knees then, rocking back to a squatting position, he pulled himself up using the hatch locking bars.
His arms had lost all muscle tone. He looked down at his body and his overalls hung off him lose and ill fitting. “Bloody hell, I look like a scarecrow!” He shook his head; it was impossible, nothing should have changed. After all, that was the reason for having the stasis chamber in the escape pods; even at sub light speed the habitable planet should have been no more than a year away. The ship had just left when things went wrong so the ship’s systems would have automatically set the destination in the pods once the abandon ship had been ordered. The stasis must have been damaged in some way.
With a shrug, he turned to look out of the view port. The pod had landed on the edge of an open plain. To the left were low hills covered in forest. Ahead and to the right, the plain stretched off into the distance. Peter disabled the interlocks, and holding his breath opened the hatch. There was no point checking the atmosphere because if it were not breathable then he was dead anyway; the pod was not designed for takeoff. The computer would have checked the atmosphere before commencing the landing sequence so he might as well get it over with.
The hatch banged open and a cool gentle breeze ruffled his hair. He exhaled and took a deep breath. The air was fresh and breathable. He sighed. Thank God for that! His face started to itch, so he automatically raised his hand to his cheek. The stubble on his face caused him to stumble back and sit down hard on the edge of the pod’s seat. That confirmed it; the stasis field had to have been faulty. There was no way he could have suffered from muscle wastage and grown stubble while in stasis. He leaned forward and checked the supplies locker. The sealed rations were stacked neatly, sufficient for three weeks, six if he were careful. Next to the rations lay a neatly folded thermal foul weather suit, a basic tool kit, and a pulse pistol.
Peter’s stomach rumbled, but hunger and thirst was also not normal with a correctly functioning stasis chamber. He reached for the fresh water and a ration pack. He slowly drank the bottle of water then tore the top off the ration pack and devoured the contents.
His meal lay heavily in his stomach and he regretted gulping down the rations, but his hunger had got the better of him and his training had been forgotten.
Something niggled at the back of his mind. He had noticed something in his subconscious, but it had not registered. He looked around, trying to identify what his mind had registered as wrong. Suddenly, it came to him; there was no power. Nothing in the pod had power, but as a minimum the water recycling system should have been active. He started from his seat, his heart in his mouth. The water supply relied on a sophisticated water recycling system. The normal reserves were sufficient for a week without recycling. With discipline and the recycler there would be enough to last for months.
He grabbed the tool kit and stepped outside. A cold fusion cell, an almost indefinite power source, powered the pod’s systems. He walked round the side to the power access panel. Twisting the turnbuckles he released the panel and folded it down. He swore. “Shit!” The cell was almost exhausted. “So that's why the stasis chamber didn’t function correctly, the fuel cell had been faulty.” With a shake of his head Peter replaced the panel, more from habit rather than necessity.
He shivered as a gust of cold wind cut through his light overalls. The sun had started to set and a chorus of insects started up, heralding in the night. Peter stepped back into the pod, closed the hatch behind him and settled back into the chair. The ship’s computer always programmed the closest habitable planet’s coordinates into the escape pods. When this planet was being catalogued, he had not paid much attention, being one of the ships engineering crew. He had visited the surface briefly for a couple of days and played the gopher for the science team, but had not taken any interest in the discoveries. He regretted his attitude now as the failed cell meant he could not access the pod’s database, where the ship’s main computer would have downloaded all the information regarding the flora and fauna of this planet. The two important questions he needed answers to were: what was edible, and were there any dangerous predators?
For now he would stay with the pod and lock it down every night. He settled in the chair and gazed through the view port at the darkening sky; stars started to appear, twinkling as the atmosphere distorted their light. Atmosphere, idiot! He jumped up and opened the hatch, his body shaking with the sudden effort; he slumped against the side of the hatch and ran a shaking hand through his hair. With no power, there would be no air supply. He had thoughtlessly sealed the airtight hatch. “This is not good enough, Peter Thornton, get your act together!” He reached for a screwdriver and jammed it into the door seal, then pulled the door shut against it. Well if there is anything nasty out there I hope they cannot swing doors open. He rattled the door, ensuring the screwdriver would not dislodge and allow the door to seal, then returned to the chair.
He tried to order his mind. If he did not get control of himself, he would not last long on an alien planet. Tomorrow, he would take stock of the situation and catalogue his supplies. He would need a few days to regain some strength in his muscles before exploring further. He would have to conserve his water then, once he was strong enough, make a concerted effort to find a water supply. He wondered how many others had made it to the escape pods. At the thought of the rest of the crew a pang of guilt and sadness made him shudder. If they had escaped they would be somewhere close by, as the main computer would have programmed the same coordinates into all the pods.
Should he have checked on the others and made sure no one needed help? He had been working close to the escape pods and just dived into one without a thought when the order came. “I’m a coward who just thought of himself.” As a military officer his duty should have been to ensure the civilian scientists reached the pods safely. If he had been at his normal post in the engine room, he would have had to pass by the labs to get to the escape pods. “I should have gone back.” He thought of the pretty Secceian Geologist who had started to talk to him and had not been the same as her aloof colleagues, had she escaped? “I don’t deserve to be here.” His stomach churned, he swallowed the bile rising in his throat. “I’m a cowardly lowlife!” A bright star seemed to mock him as its light winked at him through the view port.
He woke the next morning from a troubled sleep and shivered. Light streamed into the pod, and his breath formed a hazy cloud in the morning chill. He stood up and stretched. The black mood of the night before dissipated in the bright sunlight. He reached over to the storage bay and took out a ration pack and a water container. Once he had finished his breakfast, he made his way outside. The three parachutes used to slow the final decent of the pod lay flapping in the breeze. With the knife he had strapped to his leg he cut the cords and carefully folded them. The three drogue ‘chutes would make fairly efficient water collectors when it rained, a regular occurrence on this planet. He remembered having been caught a couple of times in a downpour whilst helping the survey scientists. He smiled to himself as he remembered being caught in the rain with the pretty Seccian geologist he was carrying samples for. She had been friendly after that incident and had not treated him like an ignorant “Grease Monkey”, as the other scientists had. Not that they had any reason too as he did have a masters degree in both electronic control systems and FTL drives. He cursed his luck that he had not been given any more time to get to know her better as the emergency had occurred only hours after leaving the planet, as soon as the Stardrive was engaged. The rest of the crew were older than him so other than the Chief Engineer, who had taken him under his wing, he had no close friends on the ship.
With a sigh, he cut the drogues from the main ‘chutes and walked the short distance to where the trees started. They were not like real trees but more like horsetail ferns with tough wood-like trunks. He cut down several that were a couple of inches thick at the base and carried them back to the pod. He sat and rested for a while as the exercise had tired him, his poor condition affecting his stamina.
After resting for half an hour or so he went to the storage locker and removed the small folding spade and proceed to dig three shallow pits. The work was tiring and it made his wasted muscles ache, so he had to stop often and rest. Once the pits had been dug, he stopped and ate some rations then, taking the tool kit, removed three bowl shaped panels from the pod’s hull and placed them at the bottom of the pits. He then pushed the thin trunks in the soil around the pits and suspended the drogue chutes from them, pining them to the ground with thinner trunks cut as pegs. After cutting a small hole in the centre of the drogues, he placed some clean weathered rocks into them. He stood back and admired his handiwork. He now had three water catchment funnels with water containers at the bottom to collect any rainfall. The work had exhausted him so he returned to the pod and fell asleep almost immediately.
The next morning Peter found that it had rained overnight, putting his water traps to the test. All three had collected a substantial amount of rainwater so he could replenish the water he had used. At least the lack of a water recycler had been taken care of, for the near future at least. The lack of power caused a further problem, that of communication, and tracker circuits were non-functional, so his pod was invisible to any searching ships and he could not communicate with any other members of the ship that had successfully escaped. The only solution would be to wait until he regained his full strength, then to search the plain - as the most likely place the other pods would have landed – all pods having the same coordinates programmed into their systems.
With exercise, and the high protein diet of the ration packs, it took a little over two weeks for Peter to regain most of his lost strength. During that time he had explored the edge of the forest within easy walking distance of the pod. He had found small lizards and a creature the size of a domestic cat that reminded him of a small dinosaur. He had set traps using wire stripped from the now useless systems in the pod and had caught a few of the little lizards and one of the dinosaurs. The lizards had tasted slightly bitter so he was concerned they might be poisonous, but he had no adverse effects from eating one so he assumed they would be fine in an emergency. The dinosaur though tasted a little like chicken and there seemed to be plenty of them roaming in small groups, so he started eating them and conserving the ration packs.
The major problem he had was fruit and vegetables. The only plants were the horsetails and ferns, there were no flowering plants he could find. The stores in the pod included two packs of vitamin tablets with two hundred to a pack. If he took one every other day, he could hold out for eight hundred days. While it was not a substitute for a healthy diet, he would at least survive.
One morning he woke to the sound of honking and mooing and the ground trembling. He rose and looked out of the hatch to find a vast herd of cow sized creatures similar to the small dinosaur living in the forest. As they drew closer the noise they made became deafening, the smell almost overpowering. Thankfully they avoided his camp, passing to his right. The herd took over four hours to pass so there must have been thousands of them making their way along the plain. Peter toyed with the idea of shooting one, but if it were to start a stampede his little camp might be crushed, and anyway he had no storage facilities for such a large amount of meat. He wished he had access to the survey data in the pod’s systems because he felt almost certain they had not catalogued herds of large animals.
Two days after the passing of the migrating herd, Peter decided he was ready to strike out for a few days exploration. He had plotted the position of the sun at different times of the day and decided he would make his way into the forest for a day, to the distant hills, then turn southeast, working his way back to the plain. When he reached the plain he would zig zag his way back, searching for other escape pods.
He cut one of the main parachutes into a rough rectangle to use as a makeshift tent, then rolled it into a bundle with a couple of water bottles and eight ration packs. He tied it with a cord and made a loop so he could sling the pack from his shoulder. He strapped on the knife and pistol, pocketed a spare magazine for it and, carrying the foul weather suit, slung the supplies bundle over his shoulder and then he set off.
To start with the going was easy, the horsetails being well spaced and the ferns fairly small. As he pushed further in, the trunks got thicker and often fallen and rotting trunks of the large plants blocked his path, forcing him to make a detour round them or climb over. To make matters worse, he had to pick a path where the trunks were not too close together because long vicious spikes grew from the rings on the trunk. Climbing over fallen trunks proved hazardous because of the thorns. Jumping down from one tree, he landed in a hollow that tipped him back. He swung his hand back to steady himself and skewered his palm with a thorn. His hand burned and bled profusely. He cursed his decision not to bring any first aid bandages or plasters so he could travel fast and light. He squeezed his hand tightly in an effort to staunch the blood, and continued the journey.
Progress proved slow, and when Peter looked up the hills were no closer. Pushing forward, the land started to fall away, and after half an hour he stopped and listened because he could hear rushing water; the horsetails thinned just before the bank of a river. On the opposite side, basking in the sun with their teeth filled jaws agape, were a group of crocodile like creatures. As soon as Peter broke cover and they saw him they disappeared into the water. “Bugger! I don’t want to be crossing that in a hurry.” He walked back from the bank so that the crocodiles could not reach him without hauling themselves out of the water. With a sigh, he sat on a fallen log overlooking the river. Of the waiting crocodile creatures, there was no sign. “Good job I noticed you or I might have attempted to cross, you evil looking bastards!” When had he started talking out loud to himself? Still, with no one about to hear him what did it matter? At least the sound of his own voice kept him company.
Because of the unexpected river populated with nasties, Peter had no choice but to start south earlier than he originally intended. He decided to rest before setting off again. If he ignored the creatures lying hidden beneath the surface waiting for him to step into the water, he found it pleasant sitting in the afternoon sunshine near the bank of a river, the sound of the running water soothing. He took the roll from his shoulder and untied the cords so that he could reach a ration pack. He had just settled back down when there was a faint rustle behind him.
Some sixth sense caused the hair on the back of his neck to bristle. He slowly moved his hand to the gun at his hip pulling it gently from its holster. He swung round and dropped behind the fallen trunk, and simultaneously he leveled the pistol. As he moved, a large creature broke cover and charged. He fired, but the creature just roared and kept coming. In his haste Peter had only hit its shoulder, making it mad. He took a deep breath and fired again. This time his shot hit the creature in its open jaws and passed out the back of its head. It fell, the momentum sliding it forward to the fallen trunk, its vicious teeth-filled jaws gaping open. Peter shuddered and stood, holstering the pistol, but as he did so two more of the creatures broke cover and raised their snouts to the air. Peter ducked back behind the trunk. Both creatures walked forward to where the fallen creature lay. As they drew close they started eying one another, then fighting over the corpse.
Peter toyed with shooting them while they were distracted, but to conserve power thought better of it. He stooped low and made his escape, running quietly along the shore of the river for a short way before plunging into the horsetail forest. He ran as fast as he was able to, while avoiding the vicious spines on the mature horsetail trunks. With the sound of blood rushing in his ears and his heart pounding in his chest he halted, his breath coming in ragged gasps. He waited for a moment to calm his breathing and listened. Other than the thrumming of his racing pulse there was no sound. The carnivores were probably still fighting over their dead companion.
He felt for his baggage, but it was gone. “Shit! I left it against that trunk.” He shook his head disgusted with himself for leaving it. With a quick check on the time, and the position of the sun for direction, he pushed forward to the edge of the forest.
Several hours later as the sun started to set, he came to the edge of the tree line. He looked north, the orange parachute he had set up as an awning flapped in the distance, to the north of his current position. Any thought of camping out in the open had evaporated with predators as large and vicious as the ones he had encountered roaming the forest. He angled to his camp, keeping some distance between himself and the forest of horsetails. At least he would have time to draw his pistol and shoot anything that broke cover and started towards him.
The light was failing fast so he ran the final half-mile. He assumed the predators were daylight hunters as they had relatively small eyes, but this supposedly safe planet had surprised him too much already, what other nasties were out there that maybe hunted at night.
He reached his camp and fell into the pod, latching the door shut behind him. He opened several vent holes in the hull so he would not suffocate. He sat on the seat, his chest heaving. He started to shake as the adrenaline in his body dissipated. “Dear God that was close! If I had not heard the slight noise that thing would have bitten my head off.” He lay still and waited for the shaking to subside before thinking out loud, “I don’t remember this planet as being flagged as supporting dangerous life forms. I’m sure all the animals were smaller, more primitive than those things out there. The scientists would have insisted on armed escorts.” He sat quietly gazing at the roof of the pod, eyes unfocused. “Unless I’m not on the planet I think I am?” He shook his head; that’s not possible, the previous two planets surveyed would require a certain amount of terra forming before supporting life. “Maybe I’m on a different land mass far away from the original survey sites… that must be it.” Exhaustion got the better of him and he fell into a dreamless sleep.
The next morning he woke to find his camp ransacked. With his pistol in his hand, he gingerly opened the door and stepped out, swinging round as he did so, tensing his muscles ready to confront a charging animal. Other than his wrecked camp there was nothing to be seen. Large claw marks on the ground confirmed his suspicion that he had been visited by one of the large predators or something like it. With a sigh, he started to clean up the mess and to rebuild his destroyed water collectors, keeping his gun strapped to his hip. He had previously taken to sleeping outside so he could stretch out instead of sleeping in the cramped pod, but looking at the destruction, that was clearly impossible and dangerous. Maybe the creatures were passing through, following the herds, and he hoped that was the case. Whatever the reason for their sudden appearance, they made it practically impossible to explore further than half a day from the camp. Any further than that would mean camping outside. He shuddered. His chances of finding other survivors had become drastically reduced.
Peter stayed close to the pod for the next few days, but saw no further sign of the creatures he had named Postosuchus because they reminded him of the life-size models of that creature he had seen in the Natural History Museum of London as a child.
Peter idly sat gazing across the plain, pulling at his beard. The morning had been a milestone; the end of his first-year alone on a God forsaken planet. “Fuck!” he shouted into the endless breeze rustling the leaves of the horsetail forest behind him. “I wonder if horsetails have leaves, or fronds?” he said to himself as he stood and kicked a stone across his camp. “A serious question, but WHO GIVES A FUCK!” He ran both hands through his long tangled hair and sat back down with a sigh. “Keep it together, Peter, you twat!”
He surveyed his camp. For protection, he had dug a wide deep ditch encompassing the now dilapidated looking escape pod and his parachute covered porch with a bulge to the side round his water collection pits. He had filled the ditch with sharp fire-hardened stakes, and around the inner edge he had downward pointing spines taken from the mature horsetails fixed to stakes placed at an angle to the edge of the pit. To get across, he had built a drawbridge that he left on the side he happened to be on. To maneuver it, he used rope he had made from splitting fern stems and twisting the strips together. With a stake on either bank, he could lift and swing the bridge from either side, protecting his camp from marauding monsters, whether he was at home or not.
After a month of not seeing any Postosuchus like creatures Peter had ventured away from his camp for five days sweeping the plain. He found no trace of any other escape pods so he was alone and with no power, he had no beacon so no one would ever find him. The first evening he had returned, he had sat, as he was doing now, with the pistol on his lap. He fingered the grip, “I abandoned the ship without thinking of helping the others and I’m too scared to shoot myself. You are a sniveling coward, Thornton!” He moped about in self-loathing for two days before deciding to protect his camp and survive. So here he was again, nearly a year later, and the same thoughts were passing through his mind.
He shook his head. “I can’t do it, my punishment is to be stranded here alone with no hope of rescue.” He looked up at the sky. “Well, Peter Thornton, you deserve what has happened to you so take your punishment like a fucking man and stop thinking about taking the easy way out.”
He stood and walked over to his still. The young shoots from the ferns could be made into an acceptable alcoholic drink, so to celebrate his first year he had made himself a rudimentary still using the pipe work and stainless steel containers used in the pod’s engines. So, other than the initial danger of an explosion from residue fuel and being poisoned if they had not been cleaned out properly, he could make sprits.
Replacing the half-full water container with an empty one he smelt the light green fluid. The sharp smell caused him to wrinkle his nose. “Wow it smells strong! Bottoms up.” He took a mouthful and nearly gagged before swallowing the burning liquid. His breath caught in his throat, and he coughed. “Bloody hell, I’ve produced paint stripper.” He sat back down and took another swig. “Here’s to the next year, may it be as shitty as the last.” He laughed, and his head started to spin. “I will shoot myself tomorrow, I can’t do it now, I would miss.” He shut his eyes then, carefully putting the container down where he hoped he would not knock it over, he lay back and stared at the sky. Cotton wool clouds drifted across an azure sky. “You know, if it weren’t for all the beasties trying to eat me, this would be a pleasant planet.” Sitting up he reached for the bottle and took another large burning mouthful, then flopped back down. A flaming meteorite streaked across the sky. “Wow look at that, that’s pretty.” He then passed out.
There was a swaying motion like he was being carried… Flashing lights in his eyes and the feeling of being poked and prodded… strange noises. He lost consciousness.
A large drumbeat slowly in his head, Peter groaned and sat up, the banging increasing. If he moved too quickly, the contents of his stomach would probably end up on the ground around him. His mouth like old leather, he swallowed. “I need some water.” With another groan, he slowly rolled over and pushed himself up on his hands and knees. He had a growing realization something was wrong, and he looked down at himself; he had no clothes on. He stood facing the pod. “What the hell?” It seemed like one of those dreams where you look down and find yourself naked. He shook his head to clear the lingering effects of his homemade paint stripper. “Am I awake? If not, it’s the most realistic dream ever!” His clothes lay in a neat pile by the open hatch of the pod. He walked over and picked them up. The stains and holes of a year’s abuse had gone; they were like new. He stared at them. This can’t be happening, I’m hallucinating. His thirst forgotten for the moment, he turned, gasped, and fell back against the pod.
“Now I know I’m dreaming.” He stood in a raised compound that ended just beyond where his protective ditch had been. Beyond the edge of the compound was a wide path with several creatures watching him and others walking past. Beyond that were more compounds. A thought drifted into his befuddled mind Cages! He hurriedly pulled on his pants and overalls, then walked to the edge of the cage. I’m being watched by scorpions, he shuddered. The creatures were like scorpions, only the head - with two compound eyes - were the stinger should be, in these creatures the tail was the neck. The flattened body had only two segments with a pair of legs on each side so only four legs instead of six. In place of the pincers were what seemed like hands with apposed claws for fingers. Some of them walked or stood in groups, and they were all different sizes like adults and children. He shook his head, fighting back the scream rising in his throat, so he gulped. These creatures are the stuff of nightmares. He reached out and as he stood at the edge of the platform his hand touched something cool and hard. He ran his hand along it. Invisible glass, or some sort of force field. The sense of unreality persisted as he traced the edge of his cage round. Behind the pod, a small waterfall tumbled out of the wall and disappeared into a round drain in the floor. Beyond the rear barrier were racks where his supplies, foul weather clothes and pistol were displayed. He tried the water, it was cool and fresh. Remembering his thirst he drank his fill. He turned back to the pod. The battered and weathered hull appeared new. Peter touched the gleaming paintwork and ran his hand over the plates. His fingers brushed an access panel, the turnbuckle was in place, but it seemed wrong. He examined it closely, hands trembling, the turnbuckle did not function, it was false, molded into and part of the panel. He checked round the hull plates, and none of them were separate. The pod had been cast in one piece, it was a molded facsimile.
Peter turned as the strength went out of his legs and he slipped down the smooth hull; feet slipping on the thin layer of sand scattered on the surface. He rocked forward, running both his hands through his hair. “It’s not real, not my escape pod. What was in that stuff I drank, some hallucinatory compound?” A humming noise caused Peter to look up; an oval shaped machine glided through the rear wall as if it were not there. One of four arms projecting from its sides placed a bowl in front of him. A beam of light from its centre section appeared to scan him, then it turned, and as it did so Peter jumped up and made a grab for it “Hey, where am I?” When his hand touched it, his body exploded in pain as if every nerve had been turned on. Peter screamed and fell convulsing on the floor. The pain lasted for several seconds before dissipating. He lay looking up at the sky, his whole body shaking. “My God! That sure hurts for a drink induced hallucination.” He turned his head and watched the machine pass through the barrier.
It took nearly an hour before he could roll over on his stomach. Sweat tickled down his forehead as Peter pulled his knees under his body and pushed himself up. He stood unsteadily, resting a hand against the fake escape pod for support. With faltering unsteady steps he made his way round to the front of the pod. A group of the scorpions had gathered in front of his cage, watching him. He walked to the front of the cage and banged the barrier with clenched fists “Fuck You!” His shout increased his confidence, and he started to kick the screen while shouting further obscenities as loudly as he could. The Scorpions drew back, as they did so a humming noise behind him drew Peter’s attention. The oval machine had returned. One of its arms touched him on the shoulder the sudden jolt of pain caused Peter to sink to his knees. “So you don’t like me scaring the natives?” he hissed through clenched teeth. The device ignored him and hung in the air watching. As Peter remained on his knees, taking no further action against the barrier, the thing turned and left the cage. Peter waited until the tingling in his body subsided then returned to his fake camp. With a sigh, he slumped down against the pod and gazed at the creatures filing past his cage. “From and uninhabited planet to an exhibit in a fucking zoo. That is if I am on a different planet.” He ran his hands through his hair. “Out of the frying pan into the bloody fire.”
A feeling of detached unreality had crept over him. When will I wake up from this nightmare?
But he didn’t wake up from the nightmare. After he had accepted the situation, Peter quickly settled into a routine, waking early and washing in the water tumbling from the back corner of the cage before the zoo opened. He was fed twice a day the same tasteless glop. He jogged round the perimeter of the cage for exercise. He had tested the bounds of the robots and got several shocks for his trouble. One particular area they were sensitive about was the back wall near the water outlet. Peter had watched them enter and leave. The barrier section always rose from the floor. He had tried to follow one out, but the resulting punishment had left him in pain for hours. They had surely not heard of the RSPCA! He had found he was not watched closely during the night so this is when he had examined the back barrier, where it appeared from the floor. He became certain the field emitters had been embedded in the floor of the cage. The material of the floor had the same plastic feel as the reproduction escape pod. While all Peter’s tools had been taken, his captors had left him with his knives. He kept his hair short and he shaved daily, taking perverse pride in his appearance, being a representative of humanity in this strange zoo.
The largest knife with the sharpest edge he used for cutting into the floor of the cage, where he hoped the field emitters were located. Peter had found small gaps between the floor and the force field where he could insert a knife blade. Moving the blade left and right along the gaps he had a good idea where the emitters were located. He sat each night leaning against the force field and worked the knife in line with the wall. The plastic was hard, and the knife made slow progress. He would work at the plastic for an hour or so then cover the cut with lose sand before retiring for the night.
It took over a week before Peter had cut down to the first cable. He left it intact and moved to where the next emitter appeared to be. To make a large enough break in the field, he would have to disable five of them.