Tonight’s story, from Virginia writer Jennifer Povey, raises questions: is a monster simply a matter of perspective? If we are each the hero of our own story, might we not also be the villain of someone else’s?
She could imagine that she was still on her homeworld. The sky was mostly hidden. The trees here were a different color, but they reached for the sun in the same way, their leaves set at angles to form elegant patterns. They caught light, formed proteins and sugars, but too alien to her system. They would be toxic to her. This world would be her tomb.
There was a reason she was a scout. She had accepted the risk of dying alone on a distant world to pass knowledge back to her people. And there it was, the bitterness of this fate.
She could accept dying, but to die without passing on what she had learned…that was too much.
She tried not to think about it. A cacophony of sound disturbed her thoughts. A group of quadrupeds rushing towards her, vocalizing. Long, sharp teeth – some kind of predator?
She drew her weapon and shot the lead member of the pack. Instinct. Reflex. Pointless self-preservation.
The creature’s body fell, charred. The rest, their vocalizations changing in tone, fled through the trees. Only then did she realize they wore collars.
She’d seen primitive structures, evidence of sentients, but these creatures were not builders. Their servitors, no doubt. Her heart sagged with guilt over killing the quadruped, even though she had thought herself under attack. She moved in a direction other than that in which the beasts had fled.
She thought herself safe, but then she heard them again. This time, she would not fire unless fired on. This time…she would not be a beast. She would not. The local sentients, though? They could have had no contact with other races and species…
They were coming for her. She broke into a run, fear overcoming reason, knowing that running was ill advised when pursued by a predator. Even the sentient kind. She tore through brush and branches until the woods came up against a cliff. Trapped. Could she climb it?
Not in time. She prepared herself to communicate with them as best she could without a common language. They had a civilization, they would recognize a fellow-sentient.
They could not help her, of course. They lacked the technology to rebuild the stricken scout ship. But they could remember her. That might be, if not enough, at least something.
Then the servitors surrounded her, growling, making their terrifying vocalizations. A sentient rushed up behind them, with what appeared to be a weapon, aimed at her.
It said something.
She began lifting her hand away from her own weapon. The native fired. A projectile struck her in the torso, a wound she knew would be fatal. Perhaps a blessing, that. But then the beasts leapt at her. She would not be torn apart! She fired her own weapon again. Two bodies charred, survivors leaping back.
The word the native used was unfamiliar to her: “Mon-ster.”
It had fired first. No. It had found the body of its servitor. To it, she was the one who had caused the trouble.
She lifted her weapon…then let it fall. The native sentient’s next shot would, no doubt, plunge her into unconsciousness, seal her with death.
It fired again, and her thoughts faded into the echo of that unknown word.
Jennifer R. Povey lives in Northern Virginia with her husband. She writes a variety of speculative fiction, whilst following current affairs and occasionally indulging in horse riding and role playing games. She has sold fiction to a number of markets including Analog, Digital Science Fiction, and Cosmos. Her first novel, Transpecial, is scheduled to be published by Musa Publishing in April, 2013.