DECONSCRIPTION-Writings of Curtis Cottrell


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When I landed on the planet, the light was dim as night, yet it only brightened to twilight the whole time I was there. I've had good night vision since rapid-fire practice at the academy, where they tell you to keep your eyes moving to offset the depletion of visual purple in the rods of the retina.

This was my first trip to Beastar. Now I knew how it had gotten that name. Now I knew it was too late.

The Beastar is a time trap. It lies between binary suns dimly beaming not quite parallel lines. That was why the light was so low. The dueling sources of gravitation cause a rather irregular orbit. Beastar, star of beasts.

The beasts were led by a man. This mottled horde was led to mischief, yet not tamed, by a renegade human. The beasts were not combinations of earthly animals, but forms uniquely combined to face the peculiar environment.

Nevertheless, mankind had set an outpost against the oppressive environment consisting of long tunnels lit with artificial light. I began to prefer the outside glow to the inner glare when I was foolish enough to roam out alone on my own.

There is little vegetation of note except huge amorphous masses of dark, dank mossy green groping to absorb the ever-dim light. These plants were large yet limp and easy to push out of the way. However, they could hide horrors untold.

My mistake was in trusting the man. I thought his behavior would be more consistent than that of the alien beasts he tried to control. I thought he was a regular bumbler who had wandered out of the corridor like me. He looked like the leader of the Space Cadets, who used to be on Lost in Space.

How could anyone like that be a menace? He only tricked little kids. I'm bigger than that, or thought so until now.

I first saw the beasts when I went to the river of chlorine and ammonia. These chemicals reacted to create a constantly churning foam in the channel. Toxic vapors fumed away.

I was trying to think of a way to cross the current when the bests first came upon me. How was I to know who led them and laughingly looked on? They came on me so fast that I did not know what to do. Was it fight or escape or both?

The beasts charged at me irrationally. Just as irrationally I fired. Then they retreated for the moment to regroup.

I don't believe in astrology, but those binary suns have a curious effect on the beasts. They are caught in a double bind resulting in acute decidophobia. When this instantaneous attack of indecision has passed, the beasts charge on.

This is where their human guide came into the picture. I glimpsed him from the corner of my eye as I fired at the beasts. He had drawn their attention away from me and had led them in a circle because they were coming back on me from the other direction. I feared the beasts would kill me this time.

The stampeding herd trampled down al the vegetation in the way. There was a jagged swath cut through the undergrowth that had obscured their advance. They were upon me in full fierceness. I was seeing stripes and sports in front of me and was firing at random. Night firing requires quick action to succeed. I pressed the button on my spacer to blank them out.

I was safe for a while. I had to gather my thoughts because they had come upon me so fast. Should I go back in or try my luck alone outside? If I went inside, I could get reinforcements.

The airlock was not too far away. As I sprinted, my wind wheezed through the air filter on my spacesuit. Voidhelms were not necessary in the primarily nitrogen/carbon dioxide atmosphere, although particles of asbestos and rare earth crystals skirmished along dervishly as whirling dust devils. The thin layer of oxygen produced by the plants was plagued by low-level gusts hissingly stripping the leaden landscape.

When I finally got to the airlock, I was surprised by the fact that I found my key so fast. The first of the double doors silently slid open when I unlocked it. As I poised to step into the entrance, I heard a voice behind me.

"Let me in, too. I lost my key out there."

"Why should I?" I said, "You almost got me killed."

"I ran out of rations and have barely been able to scrape enough transpiration from the plants in the two dawns to survive outside very much longer without help from someone."

I could not wait to decide. I stepped through the slot leading to the inside. There was only one more door to go to safety. Then he stepped in beside me.

"I'll surely be glad to take off this exo-environmental headgear. I think you can see more in it than from a voidhelm, but the only time I've been able to take it off is in my cave. This is the first gasp of processed air for me in a while."

"Let's get on into the corridor!" I said after the outside door closed us into the trapezoidal chamber. As I applied my key to the automatic electroplate, I realized how relieved I was now that the terror of the beasts had subsided. The fear of the random irrationality with which the beasts had charged had paralyzed my faculty of reason. I had not noticed all the clues to their behavioral conditioning. All I could think of when I stepped into the long hallway was yelling, "Help! Anyone!"

That step was my last as his spacer blanked my legs from under me. As I reached for my spacer at my side, my hand went blank.

He stepped on my other hand before I could get my weapon. He reached down to slip my key out of its pouch saying, "I need this to get to the stores of rations while the crew rallies to the alarm when the beasts stampede into the tunnels. I've been leading two herds this way for weeks. The first one that you saw is nothing compared to the other one that is coming this way now. Thanks for the key and the spacer."

He pocketed the gun and put my key into his pouch. He was not the guy form those shows. He was deadly serious no matter whom he had looked like to me at first. I had been a fool not to reckon the wiles of another reckless human.

"I'm tired of this artificial light. That's why I went out in the first place -- same as you. So I guess it's lights out for now. The beast will probably ignore you, but their trampling is not exactly harmless, you know. If you don't blank out first, you'll probably end up as a bloody pulp."

I gazed down the tubular tunnel as he stepped outside. The diagonal crossbeams supporting the floor and ceiling made the tunnel like an infinite series of stop signs.

What was left of my body flinched upon the remaining forearm as I struggled to reach up to close the airlock, but the doors had been blanked by the renegade's disintegrator as he retreated into the jungle. I fell to the cold stone floor cracking my chin to spew a geyser of blood across my face. My gaze shifted to the flood of blood swirling across the marble to blot out the white until both dark and light pigments in the polished rock were blotted out by red.

I could not see, and my senses were overloaded to numbness by the excruciating pain of sudden amputation in my three phantom limbs. Only the bitter taste and smell of blood remained in my mind to mingle with the rising pitch of the approaching rumble as the beasts came crashing into our inner environment.