Shuddersome Shorts

Tales of Eerie Terror

#19



The Last Safari

(Part 2)

By Talbot Pratt


More days pass and again you find yourself haunted by doubts. What if it was all for nothing? What if they suspect?

From time to time, you feel the slightest twinge of regret, of guilt even. But, then, you decide that sacrificing Barango was no different from staking out a kid goat to attract a lion -- and you have certainly done that often enough. You just wish he hadn't looked at you just before he died. No goat ever looked at you like that.

And then they come for you.

"You saved the queen," the alien says. "You betrayed one of your own kind. Why?"

You are ready with your answer. "Because I want to help you. I was an outcast -- that's why they sealed me in that cave. Now I want to get even. I want to help you defeat them."

The alien is impressed. "And how will you help us defeat them?"

"They will trust me. I can get close to them and lead them into ambushes, so you can exterminate them all."

The alien goes away but some hunter's instinct tells you: the bait has been taken. The game is already in the trap, as good as stuffed and mounted.

You are soon proven right. Several days later, four aliens come. They have decided to give your plan a try. They lead you to the hangar where they keep the ferry spaceships. You board one of the ferries and find yourself in the company of fifty aliens, lined on benches along either side of the ship, dressed in their silver suits with their helmets on their laps. They turn and look at you, their eyes glittering grotesquely in the dull light.

The door closes and the ship takes off. Through the round front window, you can see the hangar door iris-open ahead, exposing the black of space. For a time, you travel in silence, repulsed by such close proximity to so many of the aliens. Gradually, the black seen through the window becomes a dark blue, then lighter, as you descend through the atmosphere.

Eventually, you break the silence with a question. "How will I find the humans?"

The nearest alien replies, "We know where they are to be found. We will land very close and let you out." The alien passes you a device with a small illuminated screen. "This device is keyed to detect humans. It will take you to them. You will lead them back to us as you have promised. We will do the rest."

You nod and try to wipe the sweat from your forehead -- only to find the helmet in your way.

The rest of the voyage is made in silence. Finally, there is a thump and the engines stop. You realize you have landed. This is it. Now is the time to fish or cut bait.

And you never cut bait.

Without warning, you move faster than you have ever moved in your life. You take them totally by surprise, snatching the tube weapon from the nearest alien. Still, there are fifty of them. Fifty tube weapons.

It doesn't save them.

You fire just once. The blue-white beam spears down the centre of the ship, etching them all in dazzling brilliance, burning instantly through the round window at the front. The aliens are caught unprepared, their helmets still in their laps. In seconds, oxygen, beautiful, lovely and, to them, poisonous oxygen floods the ship. Their screams are music to your ears. Their convulsions fill you with pride. You watch them die, all fifty of them, and feel that familiar lump in your throat.

It is what you live for...

***
A short time later, you open the spaceship door and step out into bright sunlight. Activating the device given to you by the alien, you find a dozen fuzzy blips on the screen. They seem to be just ahead.

You take off your helmet and toss it aside. The air smells sweet, with the scents of trees and grass, but the ship has landed in the ruins of a city. Everywhere, hulking piles of blasted masonry rear against the sky. So -- this is where humanity has chosen to make its last stand.

You feel a thrill. These people, they must live in terror of the aliens. When they learn what you have done, they will call you a hero. They will make you a king.

You'll be running this place.

You pick your way through the ruins, the device in your hands indicating that you are getting closer and closer. Finally you stop. A building rises just ahead, all black shattered doorways and blasted windows. In there. They are in there.

You stop and call out. "Hello in there. Don't be afraid. I'm human. I've killed fifty of the aliens and I've come to save you." There is only silence. You try again. "I won't hurt you, I promise. I've killed fifty aliens and I know how to kill many more. They can't breathe our air. All we have to do is break their helmets. Come out where I can see you. Come out --"

And they do.

There is only a moment of confusion. You hear the familiar rasping of scaly hides; you see the long, log-like shapes sliding out through the black doorways, the vast toothy jaws. First one, then a dozen, then more than in your worst nightmares.

And then you understand.

To such alien creatures as the invaders, one Earth lifeform must be virtually indistinguishable from another. The records they found were made by humans, but they didn't realize -- the real humans had died out long ago.

The creatures they had hunted, had sought to exterminate were a more tenacious breed by far. A creature which, virtually alone of all land animals, had survived since the days of the dinosaurs, more than seventy million years ago.

What was one million years to them?

Now, as you watch those creatures, those survivors, slithering closer, your mind races, searching for a plan, any plan. But, just this once, plans are in short supply. And, moments later, there is no one to hear you scream.

No one on a planet of crocodiles...

The End.

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The Last Safari is copyright 1999, by Jeffrey Blair Latta. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)