WILLIAM E. MASON
PRIMORDIAL Short Stories
(Author's Note: I wrote THE FUGITIVE in 1967. It lay dormant until the early 1990's when I took up writing in a serious way. Having looked over some of my previous efforts, I came across THE FUGITIVE and thought that it could be expanded into a longer piece. As it turned out, THE FUGITIVE formed the basis of my four novel Science Fiction series PRIMORDIUM, which can be accessed by visiting my website at: www.williamemason.com or searching my name on Amazon.com.)
I rest. Terror relaxes its furious grip on my senses, a welcome retreat. For this ebbing, I give thanks. My flight will be made easier by its absence. These then are the first thoughts that come to me after my defeat. I gaze about, indignant of the tenuous shell that succors me. But this wispy craft, copied from ancient designs long ago abandoned by my race will carry me to safety. To my shame, I have anticipated my destruction. The Evil has been thorough, I think bitterly. Where once I was free to wander the way is now barred. I am but a weak small part of my former self.
I move to the controls and work them with difficulty, my strength gone. Once I would have drawn power from the void itself to hurtle across time and space. Now I have but this modest recourse. It shall also be my end, for it is too slow. I risk never reaching my destination. This craft will labor in time across the vast universe where once I leapt in an instant. Now, I shall plod secretly along a way traveled by other cosmic debris. But it cannot be otherwise. The Evil still casts about these reaches in a frenzied search for me.
The starship runs well. My patient craftsmanship is rewarded. I devoted a fraction of my attention to this task while the rest of me fought a holding action against the Evil, which pressed to engulf me.
I subsumed an atom at a time from the farthest reaches of the universe and painstakingly built molecules, joined them, linked them, stretched them until a material emerged. I built from memory. Our race is old, but the memory fresh. Before time, it seems we had left the starships, left them because they were obsolete. We had spread out, we became the Diaspora, we became one, we became me.
I advanced to the limits of the universe where I encountered the Evil, so large and vast, I knew I was doomed, and so the struggle, then the defeat. Though greatly reduced, I survived and am now impotent. Within me, I carry the seed of our race, a pattern of regeneration, a blueprint that seeks a host, an environment lost in the reaches of space where it can grow free from the Evil.
As I continue towards my goal, still unseen, still unborn, I look to the controls and satisfy myself that all is in order. It will be there. Though my journey has started before its existence, it will end at the moment of its birth. My work must be done, then, quickly and all trace of me removed.
But now I must rest. It will be a long journey in this state. How I long for my freedom. I am so limited, my consciousness feels crammed, confined almost beyond endurance. I have no recourse but to save my strength and exist. Being here, but not. Seeing but not seeing, a state of limbo where I can rest, where only a minimum of energy is necessary to keep me above the end.
A memory floats up and brushes against my consciousness, demanding recognition. It is of a galaxy being born, of a slow condensation of misty matter, tumbling together. From the chaos emerge points of light, suns with lifeless beads threading quickly about them. Stars grow old and collapse, brief flashes of light in the long darkness of my sleep.
I awaken. In panic, I think that I am too late. I feel old, weak. I have but a moment left. But I have arrived. There is hope.
I drift for what seems an eternity as the outer arms of this galaxy reach out in welcome and are finally diffused out of context as I pass within their embrace. There a sun, with planets, nine of them. I must hurry. The outer planets are too extreme as are the closest ones, but there are two in-between. I head for the fourth from the star.
Alas, there is nothing for me here. This is a planet on the way out of life. It has seen what peak it was capable of producing. Any life for it now will be one long drawn out death.
Desperately, I turn towards the third planet. Here I am rewarded. There is life. Not a struggling life, but life in resurgence, robust, resilient. My enthusiasm dampens quickly as I look in vain for signs that would indicate higher forms. I am aghast. I realize that although the planet literally crawls with life, it is still in a pre-conversion stage. No time. I must plant my seed here, now.
I spiral lower and begin my analysis. In moments, I have determined that the fountain of this life, the focus, the well from which it springs is from one of the larger land masses. There I must go quickly and begin my work.
My starship winks in and out of hyperspace as it arcs across the twilight sky of this world. From a flat savanna below, eyes still sleepy with the sleep that is unconsciousness look up at me with a hint of wonder. I come lightly to ground in tall grass a short distance from a small band of primates that moves purposefully across the vast plain. Here my ship rests, still, silent, a bright color against a dry yellow.
The sun sets, and cool night creeps over the land. The noises of the jungle, the night jungle, start up and give full voice without a care for the me, who rests coolly beneath the ghostly rays of a half moon. The sun comes up and passes overhead in stroboscopic rhythm.
Finally, I must act. I choose one of the primates. As a darkness would move stealthily across the land, so I gain entry. There are flashes of insight and I struggle to hold on to them. But the crushing weight of mindlessness descends still another time.
Here within the gloom I move about. I feel the animal strongly, his hunger, his pain, his sex. I give out a mute cry, but can not let go, will not let go, for my life depends on it.
Then my struggle is rewarded. A light, a consciousness flairs, to stay for a moment, falter and then slip back into the darkness.
The primate gets up from where he has fallen after I first tried to hold him. He moves off in the direction of the others of his group. I have no recourse but to try again. My time is short. With greater effort this time I reach.
He brings his hands to his face and opens his mouth in a low moan. His knees weaken and buckle and again we are on the ground. But this time I have him. It will be easier now. I secure my control.
While I investigate the limits of his being, I let him go as he was before, but now his behavior is only a controlled part, supplementary to my will.
He is of average height from what I can tell. His top which comes to a rough sphere houses the primitive nerve cells which give rise to his archaic consciousness.
I am heartened. There is room for growth with certain anatomical changes. His coordination seems adequate for coping with his environment. He does lack many of the specialized organs and appendages I have seen in other forms, but this will be an advantage not a handicap as he continues to develop.
We come up to the rest of the group, which is resting in the shade of a tree. There are females of the species here too, caring for the young, who are created small and have yet to grow to their adult size. I shudder to think that I will be entrusting my race to the vagaries of these. So far, I notice nothing that would damage the pattern once it is set, save for complete annihilation of the individual I will program.
Suddenly another male, younger than the one I occupy, joins the group and begins an excited display waving his arms and uttering chattering sounds from his mouth. He makes motions, as if to move out from the group, but returns, only to move out again. This display affects the other males and they are soon upright, moving about in a similar way until the whole pack moves off, save for the females, the children, and older males.
I follow, finding it perplexingly difficult to maintain complete control. The group, about twenty strong, becomes quiet and I see we are approaching a number of small four‑footed herbivores.
We move very slowly, spreading out in a circle that finally encloses the alerted animals.
He reaches down to pick up a stick as big around as his arm and half as long.
Then a blackness wells up before me and I am again prisoner of this being’s primordial urges.
He and his fellows scream through mouths now wide open, showing rows of sharp strong teeth. He rushes towards the animals with the stick held high. I am overcome by an excitement, an excitement reaching back into my memory, back, back farther than ever before till it comes to base, and I know it is the excitement of killing, but stronger, so much stronger than what I can remember. The rest is a dim consciousness of wood thudding against bone, of blood, heat, dust, and finally a frenzied eating of the still warm quivering flesh.
The being is satisfied. As he relaxes, I regain control. The others of the group move up and feed at the animals that he killed. My being sleeps. I use this time of peace to complete my examination of his genetic structure.
I know how my pattern will be locked into his genes, complimenting some, opposing others, programmed to give rise to certain traits after a number of generations, programmed to eliminate others that will eventually be harmful.
I grow weaker. The events of the afternoon shake me. Nowhere in my universe have I experienced the feeling of killing so strongly. Not even the Evil at its worst exhibited such a strength. Here there is room for hope as well as fear.
I wonder if I will succeed in planting my pattern. I worry about this unknown trait, which made the animal, primitive as it is, reach for the stick and use it as an extension of itself with an impulse to kill.
Will it prove too strong and completely dominate my emerging pattern? For emerge it will. There it will meet one day the Evil that has sent me fleeing. I can only hope the resulting conflict will yield the triumph of my kind and my primitive ally.
Will this new integration be worse than the Evil I have encountered? I can only guess. I do not think more than this, there is no doubt I will plant my pattern no matter the risks. My own desire for survival is too strong.