A cornered animal is a dangerous animal

Time had passed. And the thing was still there. Staring at me.

I was starting to get worried that it might not want to leave me. It seemed smart; certainly smart enough to know that I had nowhere to go. Was it also patient enough to out-wait me?

Eventually, I would have to make a decision. Either attempt to jump down, hoping that bringing the orb with me would slow down the fall enough so I would not die or get heavily injured. Or I could jump back, straight into the maws of the beast. Neither option appealed to me.

And so, I kept waiting. And waiting. I spent my time collecting all the smaller rocks on my little island, and then I spent my time trying to hit the black feline in the face. Perhaps that would make it leave.

Or perhaps I was just frustrated and wanted to smack that thing in its stupid face.

I missed most shots, of course, but one particularly lucky throw did hit it on the snout. Which made it angry. It got up, paced around a bit, and then peed in my general direction. And then it laid down again, staring straight at me.

If I had a nice DSLR camera, I would probably get a National Geographic worthy photo. It really was a pretty thing. Green-golden eyes surrounded by glistening black fur. Long white whiskers which almost touched the ground. Long, white tipped ears that were pointed straight towards me. And four legs that it kept dangling over the precipice, so as to be as close as possible. I could feel how much it wanted to kill me. All this, of course, framed in the alien green-blue glow of the ever-present cavern moss.

Unfortunately, I neither had the camera, nor would I have any way of sending a photo to anyone. Did National Geographic even exist anymore? I seriously doubted it.

Besides, a pretty head like that should not be in a photograph. It would be much better suited to hanging above a fireplace. My fireplace, preferably.

Wishful thoughts aside, I went back to my waiting. I had, of course, examined the settlement core. It was a curious thing, but no matter how much I prodded or touched it (I had even tried licking it out of desperation), nothing happened. I had even tried to mentally communicate with it, trying to establish some sort of soul-connection and feeling more and more stupid the longer I tried, but that had also not produced any results.

I thought about what its purpose could be. The voice had called it a settlement core, and it had given it to me because I was, apparently, the largest group of humans in the vicinity. This was bad, because there was only one human in my group, and that human was me. One solitary Emmet Larson. Which, since there hadn’t been a tie, also meant that I was also the only human in my ‘sector’. I didn’t know how big a sector was, but it did not sound small.

I felt alone.

Presumably, one would use such a core to create a settlement. How that differed from building a collection of houses somewhere and calling that a settlement was a mystery to me. Maybe formalizing it brought some advantages, but again, I had no idea what these could be.

I had, together with the core, also received a stone tablet. I could see it from over here, a white square thing with black squiggles on it. Holding it had been a bizarre experience; it contained circular collections of glyphs that I had never seen before, nor resembled anything I had ever seen. Yet I had felt like I would’ve been able to read them.

Perhaps it contained the instructions for how to operate the orb. That would make sense, except the voice had called it a ‘merit of leadership’, which seemed quite unrelated, and more like its own separate thing.

It didn’t really matter, because the tablet was over there, and I was over here.

I also experimented with the physical properties of the orb. I tried to scratch it with my knife, but that was completely fruitless. Harder than diamond. It floated at head height, but when I moved it towards a boulder, as soon as it got close it would slowly float up, until it was at boulder height + head height. Putting my hand below it didn’t seem to affect it, and neither did anything happen if I put moss below it.

It was truly a bizarre thing, and, more than anything, more than the alien landscape and underground forest and mutant cat, more than any of those things, made me realize that the world had truly, truly changed.

I cried, for a time. I was alone in who knows how large of an area, I was lost someplace deep underground, and I would likely die here.

I had done some more testing, and the orb would not let me survive the drop down, I was sure of it. I had climbed atop the largest boulder, and let the orb fall; first on its own, and then I jumped with me hanging off of it. Alone it floated down relatively slow, but with my weight the acceleration was noticeable. Significantly reduced, but noticeable. I estimated the fall height to be about a hundred meters, and even with the orb that would not be survivable. On the moon, with 1.6 G’s, 90 meters was sure to kill a human. With the orb I fell at perhaps two or three G’s.

Certain death.

Which of course only left jumping back. Towards the cat. Which was still staring at me.

Eventually I slept. I dreamed that I was a little mouse, being chased by an enormous black shadow with red eyes. I dreamed that the earth opened up below me and glowing vines sprouted and strangled me. I dreamed that I was in a desert, starving and dying of thirst.

In short: I did not have pleasant dreams.

Neither was it pleasant waking up with a parchy throat and a grumbling stomach. However, there were some good news: the beast was gone. It was gone!

Had it finally gotten tired? Whatever the reason, it was gone! I scrambled up and went to grab the orb, to repeat the jumping maneuver. Still a horribly dangerous thing to do, but it would be a bit easier from this side, as the plateau was slightly higher. Plus, I could jump from one of the boulders and make use of the extra two meters of height or so.

As I prepared myself mentally to make the jump again (it had been easier when I had been pumped full of adrenaline), I saw something that made my heart sink. The black feline was back. It was coming out of the tunnel that led to my cave, apparently having made a detour whilst I was unconscious.

It was holding my sleeping bag in between its fangs.

The monster made eye contact with me and then proceeded to prance around with its mouth full, proud of its find. Then it stopped, stared at me for a few seconds, as if it wanted to make sure I was looking at it, and ripped the bag apart.

With the four frontal legs it teared long gashes into the fluffy bag, all whilst it shook its head fiercely left and right with the bag held firm in its teeth.

It was an extremely violent and frankly quite terrifying display. Which I was sure was the intended effect, because as soon as the sleeping bag was little more than a collection of pieces of fabric and down feathers, it lifted one of its hind legs peed all over it, whilst maintaining eye contact with me. Then it laid down again.

The message was clear: it would rip me apart as easily as it had ripped apart my bag.

My enemy, because that is what it was, an overwhelmingly superior enemy, seemed smug. It somehow knew that the bag had been mine (probably could smell my scent on it), and it had enjoyed destroying me. It wanted to hurt me, to kill me.

My situation was really desperate. I was stuck on this semi-island, this small outcrop of rock and moss high above the cavern floor. Resources were next to nill: a makeshift spear, a mostly useless floating bauble, and myself. No rations, no water, nothing. I wasn’t particularly thirsty just yet, I had drunk a lot before (how long had I slept?), but eventually I would be. And what then?

I realized that, objectively, I only had one single, terrifying option. Which was to kill, or attempt to kill, the easily six hundred pound monster that I had offended. I could not jump down from this height to the floor to escape the beast, and waiting until it eventually left was equally discarded. It had made it plenty clear that it would not give up easily. A good amount of time had passed, perhaps almost a day, and the cat was still there, staring at me. It had my scent, and it knew where my base was. Even if it eventually left to drink or poop or whatever it is these alien creatures needed to do, and I managed to jump back, my situation would still not be improved. Eventually, it would come back and find me. Or ambush me whilst I was in the forest surrounded by other deadly creatures. Or kill me in my sleep.

One thing I had learned in life was that problems were best dealt with as early as possible. Delaying them almost never helped, and usually made them worse. Whether it was doing the dishes, writing an assignment or conveying your feelings to somebody, waiting rarely made the situation better.

And the cat was a problem. Fighting the giant multi-limbed alien feline to the death perhaps didn’t quite fit the analogy too well, but it was realistically the only option I had. Which sounded crazy and quite ridiculous. Then again, my whole life had taken a turn for the ridiculous the moment I stepped into that cave, thinking it would be shelter.

Perhaps it had been, perhaps I would’ve already been dead if I had stayed outside, when the sky started to explode. Perhaps everyone else who had been on the surface was dead, and I was one of the last survivors of humanity.

Regardless, I would give it my best shot. I would not give up. If fighting this giant, smug monstrous bastard was my only path forward then I would take it, to the best of my abilities. I would show it why humans had risen to the forefront of the food chain, I would show it that it didn’t matter if you were big, or had razor-sharp claws, or giant fangs that could rip my throat apart. It didn’t matter if you were strong, fast, and moved with supreme feline grace. It didn’t matter if you were the king in your little mossy underground kingdom.

Humans. Would. Still. Beat. You.

Ask the spush.