Writer In Motion Short: 902 words.
You lie among the scraggly brush, your rasping breath loud in your ears. Roars shatter the night, closing in around you. Sandy, barren land stretches between your meager cover and the Drop Site, concealed in the rusting remains of a small ship listing to starboard on a sandbank. Nothing the monsters can understand.
Breaking cover, you lunge for the derelict. The packed sand crumbles beneath your hooves as if plotting with your pursuers to slow you down. You stumble, pattering a staccato beat. The scent of your own fear clogs your flaring nostrils. It’s a wonder the monsters don’t smell it too.
Or maybe they do.
They swarm out from the brush, and a strangled squeal rips from your throat. It seems to drive them ever faster, their huge splayed feet grabbing the sand you struggle on, throwing them forward with ease. The primitive creatures never stop, never need to rest, and their eyesight is better than yours. They’d seen you watching them, and they didn’t take kindly to that.
That moment is frozen in your mind: the flapping hides of the dead creatures they tied around themselves, their swinging limbs, and their eyes gleaming in the dark. Fodder for nightmares, should you be lucky enough to have them later.
You gallop across the sands and through the tide that tugs at your hooves, as if the water too conspires to drag you down. Do the monsters compel all of nature to do their bidding? You shiver, your hide twitching and jumping. It can’t be. Such a thing would be magic, and everyone knows magic is for children. Just silly superstitions. Believing in magic would be as likely as you hunting and killing some poor creature. Ridiculous.
You fling yourself into the derelict. It has no door to slam in the monsters’ faces. You lunge across the small ship to grab the crate the Wolves had sent down for your return, the crate which holds the Matt and makes this rusting boat the Drop Site. It bangs against your knees as you haul it back to the entryway and push it into place. It’s too small to block the opening, but there’s nothing else, only a few planks peeling away from the interior wall. The ship screams, too loud in your sensitive ears, when you pull the planks away and slot them into place. They rattle and shiver when you shove the crate against them. There’s no way they’ll hold.
Hoping you’ve at least bought yourself enough time, you open the crate, scanning the instructions. The Wolves set up the Matter Teleportation Device, but they didn’t tell you how to use it.
This was supposed to be an easy mission. Drop down, catalogue the natives, and Matt up. No one was supposed to get hurt. But the Wolves, likely thinking it a prank, didn’t set the Matt up with a verbal or physical passcode. The crate holds a sensor, along with a hoof-friendly lighter, kindling, and two slabs of raw meat. You recoil, even as you read the Wolves’ instructions: the Matt will initiate automatically when the sensor detects cooking meat.
You stare in horror. Who is this? Surely not another Cow? Could you live with yourself if you cooked another Cow?
Some prank, forcing a vegetarian to cook meat in order to return to the ship. To safety. You curse the Wolves and their set up.
But whoever this is, they are already dead. You dying too will not bring them back. Bile rises, and tears flow from your eyes and down your sensitive muzzle. But you aren’t ready yet to die.
Fumbling, you grab the lighter, drop it, and grab it again. Your hooves tremble as you struggle to work the simple tool.
Something slams against the ship and the planks jump. You lunge to hold them up, muttering prayers under your breath. Of course, there’s nothing in the starry expanse to pray to, but desperation drives out reason.
You are going to give the Wolves an earful if you see them again.
Finally, a flame lights, just as the barricade slams against your back under the weight of the monsters. Screaming in wordless terror, you scramble with your hooves on the slick flooring, but there’s no good footing. Maybe if you had massive flat feet like the monsters do. The lighter drops from your grasp onto the kindling.
The kindling catches, lucky for you.
Hairy arms snake in through the holes in your barricade, scratching at you with blunt nails as the fire flares brighter. Another weight bounces against your back, and roars echo all around the derelict. Fortunately, the metal isn’t rusted all the way through.
Shallow, quick breaths puffing out of your mouth, you drop the meat on the flames and waft the smoke toward the sensors. Your stomach turns, nausea rising. The things you’re willing to do to survive are horrifying. You are disgusting.
As the stench of cooking meat fills the cabin, the monsters outside pause, snuffling around the edges of the planks. And then, they throw themselves like a wave at the barricade. At you.
Your eyes widen and you shriek…
…and disappear, safely Matted up to the ship.
The Wolves consider the mission a success. After all, you survived. Even more, in one single exposure to the concept, you taught the humans how to harness fire.
You taught them to cook their meat.