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Sam Manchester's breath came in gasps as he stumbled through the woods.  He could hear the calls of the policemen coming after him, and he knew that if he turned around he'd see their flashlight beams flickering over the trees not far behind him, and maybe even the flashing lights of their vehicles back on the highway.  But he was more concerned with what was ahead of him.  He needed to find someplace he could hide, lie low, where they'd overlook him and go past and then give up without finding him.  Failing that, someplace defensible where he could hole up for a while.  He had no illusions about what they'd do if they found him, and maybe he deserved it, but he had no plans on dying quite yet.

He crashed into a wild rose bush, cursing under his breath as the thorns pricked right through his jeans and scratched his hands.  His right foot slipped on a patch of mud and he nearly fell, only catching himself by flinging his arm forward and grabbing a tree, which scratched up his hand even more.  What he wouldn't give for some firm footing...

A few seconds later, he hit a patch of dry ground and was able to lengthen his stride slightly.  That was better, but he wasn't going to be able to keep up the pace for long.  What he needed was some kind of concealed hollow, where he could at least catch his breath and hide for a while, but the only way he was likely to find something that in these unfamiliar woods was to stumble into it and break his leg or something.  Unless...

His brain was beginning to buzz as fatigue began to overtake him and his breath felt like a knife in his chest, but he thought he heard a faintly hollow sound to the earth beneath his feet.  There was a dip in front of him, and he chanced slowing and stepped into it instead of jumping over.  Glancing back over his shoulder, he saw that the flashlights were a little farther back than he had thought, so he stooped and peered into the side of the ravine.  Hard to tell in the dim light, but he thought there might be a darker patch against the back face.  Crouching down, almost falling as his tired muscles rebelled, he found a gap, possibly large enough to fit him.  Trembling, he got down on his hands and knees and crawled towards it and into it.

By the time the policemen reached the dip, Sam had wedged himself into the crevice he'd found.  The walls around him were reassuringly solid, stone rather than dirt, but smooth.  There was none of the rank animal smell he associated with dens, so hopefully he wasn't sharing his hidey-hole with anything liable to bite.  He lay as still as he could as the shouts and flashing lights passed over him and continued on.  Once they were gone, he dared to try to stretch his cramped muscles a little and feel around his refuge.  He extended his legs behind him as far as they would go, and was surprised to not find a wall, but instead, at full extension, the floor began to slope downward.  He listened, in case some of the cops had stayed behind, but heard nothing.  He contemplated sneaking back out and doubling back, but he didn't really have anyplace better to go until the cops were well and truly off the trail.

Instead, he began pushing himself further back, but cautiously.  He didn't want to get himself wedged in place, to starve to death or get eaten, and if there was a big cavern back there, he didn't want to fall down a steep slope into it either.  The slope continued to be gradual, though, and soon he had enough room to fold his legs underneath him and raise his chest off the floor.  If only it weren't so dark in there...

When he turned his head, though, he saw some light behind him, in the corner of his eye.  It was dim, even though his eyes had begun to adjust to the darkness, but he could see it clearly.  What was it, glowworms?  No, they would be hanging from the ceiling, it must be some kind of moss or fungus or something.  Cheered up by the thought that he wasn't heading into complete blackness, he wiggled around, still as quietly as he could, until he could roll over and sit up.

No gigantic cavern, but still roomy enough.  The floor looked to level out before the slope got too steep, and it was possible he might even be able to stand up.  The floor was stone, but not too hard, and even a little warm, and quite smooth.

There was no way this was a natural cave, Sam realized.  Maybe it was carved by Cree hunters hundreds of years ago.  There might be valuable archaeological crap buried in here somewhere.  Once the cops got off his ass, he'd have to see what he could do with it.  It'd make somebody a good safe cache, too--probably not him, because he wasn't going to stay close to this hick town too much longer if he could help it, but he'd have to see if someone was in the market for knowing where this place was.  He wasn't quite sure himself--near Mayerthorpe somewhere, east of the highway, but he'd need to find a few landmarks or something so he could find it again, or lead someone else back.

As he thought about how make some money on this fortuitous discovery, he was inching slowly further down the slope, until he reached the level floor and proved that he could stand up after all, with a few inches' clearance over his head.  As long as he didn't try to do any jumping jacks, he should be fine.  Now to see if there was anything else down here.

The light from the fungus or moss or whatever it was--he really didn't feel like getting close enough to find out, in case he damaged it or got mold all over him or something--was a little low-contrast, but as he walked carefully around the small cavern, he did spot a fissure in the back wall, all but invisible unless you were right on top of it, but it looked like it would be wide enough for him to make his way through it sideways without too much trouble.  Mentally, he upped the price for the map.  There wasn't too much in here, but maybe there was something in there...  Did the Cree have gold, or was that the Inca?  He couldn't remember.

The fissure was just short of being too tight for him, but there was more light coming from ahead, so there must be another cavern up ahead.  As he got further down the fissure he could see the light was much brighter in there that it was in the first cavern.  There wasn't somebody already down here, was there?  His gun was almost out of ammo, but he'd been pretty quiet in the cave so far, so he should be able to catch them by surprise if they were there.

The crevice widened slightly at the end, so he was able to straighten out and walk the last few steps.  He poked his head around the corner, and gasped.

The cavern beyond was huge, and far from empty.  First thing Sam noticed was the floating cloud hovering in the middle of the room, but Sam's attention was drawn immediately after to the structure underneath it.  If it hadn't been for the fact that it had the same texture as the stone in the rest of the cave, he would have immediately identified it as some kind of UFO, like he'd seen in dozens of sci-fi movies and TV shows over the years.  It looked to be lodged in the ground, though, like it had crashed, so maybe the stone was just some sort of camouflage.

This was not any kind of shit that Sam wanted to get involved with, so he was about to edge back down the fissure and take his chances with the police when he glanced behind him and saw the luminescent moss he'd seen before, except now it was creeping down the walls of the fissure.  As he watched, it began to spread into the air, until it resembled a smaller version of the floating cloud in the large cavern.  He wasn't quite sure what it would do if it touched him, but he wasn't keen to find out.  His only other option was to head into the cavern, which he did, slipping his gun out of his pocket for reassuranec.

There was a gentle stone ramp spiraling down the wall, and what looked like scaffolding, also made of something stone-coloured, around the UFO itself.  As Sam tried to tiptoe as fast as he could down the ramp, a humanoid creature stepped out through the side of the UFO and onto a platform.

<At last.>  The voice reverberated in his head, not his ears, like a movie voiceover.  In fact, it sounded a little like James Earl Jones.  <For longer than you have been alive, I have been waiting for one such as you.>

Sam glanced over his shoulder to see the smaller cloud hovering there, blocking the entrance to the fissure.  Looked like there wasn't any point in stealth, but at least it sounded like this alien guy needed help with something.  "Yeah?  So what's in it for me, then?"

<Saving you from your pursuers was insufficient?>  Jones sounded amused in his head.  <Perhaps then, I could refrain from delivering you back into their hands?>

Sam raised his gun and pointed it at the alien, presuming he was the one who put Jones's voice in his head.  "Just try it, dickhead.  And keep that floating moss away from me."

The voice said nothing, nor did the alien move, but faster than Sam could react, a tendril of light snaked around his finger from behind and tightened it on the trigger.  The bullet pinged off of the alien's skin, and then Sam felt the muscles of his hand involuntarily loosening as more of the glowing stuff coated his skin, the gun dropping to the ramp at his feet.  He tried to turn and run, but more and more of the stuff coated him, and his muscles relaxed until he stood there passively, only raging on the inside.

<Now, then.  My ship had the misfortune to crash into an area where the substances I needed to repair it were very sparse.  The metal in your weapon will be very helpful.  Much of my energy stores were exhausted in fashioning this cavern over the crash site in the first place, but I did lay a trap for anyone who should come close to my hideout in a state of desperation.  It has been years, but now you have come, and you will serve me.  Will you not?>

Sam felt his head nodding without conscious volition.  He tried to wrench back control of his legs, his arms, anything, but nothing happened.

<I have sensed, from a distance, that there are large metal vehicles that travel back and forth not far away.  After your hunters have abandoned the area, you will bring me such a vehicle, close enough that I can make use of it.>

Sam felt a sudden tightening of his jaw and throat muscles, and coughed.  "Then you'll let me go?" he was able to say.

<Unfortunately, no...  Part of my control and computer systems was damaged in the crash as well, and while there is a certain amount of low-quality organic neural material available, the inefficiency of the design in comparison to my usual circuitry has made it highly unsuitable.  Your own brain, on the other hand, should be much more promising.  It's possible I may need more than your own brain can provide, so I may get you to bring me more sentients until I'm sure I have enough.  But I think it is unlikely that you will be spared.  Except to the extent that your nerve cells will live on in my ship...>

Sam began to scream, until he was forced to be silent again.  Slowly, against his will, he turned around and walked back up the ramp.

No big ideas lurking in my head this week, so I went back to my trusty old four-word story method.  The words that inspired this story, chosen from the Sowpods Scrabble dictionary, where "shotproof", "submit", "homogenetic", and "demesnes".

May 2017

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