Monday, February 2, 2009

Third entry for The Watchers, Enjoy

Shepherd Benjamin was what many refer to as a “competent man.” If pressed, he can butcher a sheep, make his own clothes, tune a buzz ship, even restore an operating system. He had climbed glacier-covered mountains, pot-holed his way through underwater caverns and written successful grant proposals. In his own world, he liked to think that nothing wrong could happen to him that he could not either prevent, solve or pass off on someone else. Now he felt as close to helpless as a naked mouse standing beneath a descending owl. His life had just been saved by an half-grown child with a missing hand, and without her word … and well-aimed missile, he could have done nothing to save himself. He had not been alert; he had missed all the obvious signs. All his mind had read was that he was late, very late, to a critical appointment.
Benjamin sighed, rubbed his face and studied his ransacked room. “Think of it, things could be worse.” He had thought, and things got worse. In the half morning he had been gone, someone or something has entered and smashed, ripped or broken every furnishing, case or article of clothing. What they had not destroyed, they had covered with enough passings to ensure that no human would touch the remains. He groaned, closed his eyes and let the prayers come. One is never alone in the presence of That Which Animates All Living Things, he told himself, but he certainly was feeling vulnerable now—a stranger in an increasingly strange and hostile world where even friends were weird. He owned nothing but what he carried; his only possible hope for returning to his own world with answers to his many questions had appeared to be those elders, his supposed hosts and assistants—and they were gone. He really was up that proverbial stream without the means of propulsion. What was making things worse, he now had to factor in something called the “Watchers.” Who were they? The term meant nothing. Why would they send that beggar girl to warn him? Why did they care? What did they gain from his survival?
One matter was certain: he could not stay here. His aging nose was not about to tolerate it. Benjamin lifted his staff and aimed it at the most transportable of his luggage. A few simple instructions later and the staff’s end had become a steam nozzle cleaning and sterilizing the excrement-covered duffle. When the bag reached a stage just short of new, Benjamin began to retrieve, clean and pack it with other essentials. He was soon able to rehabilitate an extra set of small clothes, socks, his field boots and a meagre travel kit. As he had hoped, everything fit into the duffle sack with room to spare.
As his staff did its work, he used his left-hand ring to rescan the room. The ring found no snoops or monitors. It did show Benjamin the location of his computpad which he had feared to take with him that morning and had left behind in a random, vision-blocking path cycle around the main room. He snagged it on its second pass by his outstretched hand and slipped it into a cloth sack strapped under his left arm. Good. One more item and he would have all the essentials. He tip-toed across the room, checking for detect traps and other unamusing and possibly-fatal retards to his progress. “Ah,” Benjamin smiled faintly, then gently lifted up a dusty codex whose title hinted only at a romantic bodice-ripper, its vivid cover depicting a pink-clad damsel succumbing to some beak-nosed, large-pectoraled dark-haired man. Benjamin scanned the tome twice before shoving it in the duffle. That was it. He retraced his steps until he was once more standing by the outer door. Perhaps his enemies were not as omnipotent as he had begun to fear. Still, he dared not underestimate their resources.
One more scan, instrumental and visual, and he would be gone. The first three days here had given Benjamin many good memories. The gear he was about to leave behind had granted him even more. Half of his most recent life was bound up in this now ruined and destroyed garbage, but he would be angry and grieve later. “Aye,” he breathed again. That mark had not been there before. Benjamin studied the small, red stamping—like a signature chop—that floated just left of the room’s fireplace. If he tried to look at it directly, it disappeared, leaving just blank wall. Only when he shifted his vision and tilted his head slightly right, could he see it. “Clever.” It had definitely not been there before this morning, and, since seeing it required his peripheral vision, he still could not take in any details. Red horns? Yes, the chop was an image of some creature with red, curved horns and very long teeth—like a sabre-toothed cat crossed with an Irish Elk. Not the sort of thing one wished to meet in a dark alley or even a public boulevard. Shivering only slightly, Benjamin stepped out of the room, gently closed the door and made tracks.

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