Perceptions is a short story that I started during a much needed break from TWOAF. I hope to do some developmental work on it later in the year.
Daile shook the sweat-damp sand out his hair as he woke in his bivouac near the edge of the verdant forest. Poking his head out, he could see that morning on the beach was well under way. He needed to eat and his bladder demanded release, but he wished he could just sit and contemplate his new surroundings.
Yesterday had been a long day that had completed a long journey across a number of star systems. Once the noise and din of Earth had forced him off world, he had hitched a ride in one of the holds of a slow cargo barge bound for worlds on the galactic rim. He hadn’t cared which one, so long as it afforded him the opportunity to grow some food, hunt some small game, and most especially afford him profound solitude. Daile was flatly worn out by the constant pounding produced by the whining, self-centered immorality of the rest of humanity. He wanted out, and yesterday had been the culmination.
Once the required necessities were complete, Daile walked down the beach, close enough to put his feet in the edge of the mild surf. He’d had barely enough time to construct his meager dwelling from the remains of his drop pod and a crude network of branches laced with rope he’d brought down with him, let alone mentally process his past for what it truly was. It seemed to him to be a good place to start.
With the water just lapping the bottoms of his feet, he laid back and looked sightlessly into the blue sky of his new home. He thought about the family he had left behind two months prior, who had begged him to stay but understood when he refused. His father, with whom he shared the same affinity to sense the surface thoughts of others, had been the most understanding. Unfortunately, he hadn’t been able to reproduce his father’s compromise, that of being able to block out the trivial and deafening cacophony. That inability had wrought an awkward, inward focused boy of Daile.
His first real peace – though incomplete – had been found in the hold of the cargo barge, as far from the sparse crew as he could get. The quiet had been like a gentle breeze in a parched land.
Their circuitous journey through system after system had yielded no viable prospects until they had happened upon the one on which he now lived. The steward who brought his meals aboard the barge had also brought him the printout of the planet-side conditions. Although he had burned through only about half of his capital, he had spent enough time around people and he wanted to be away. The world must have had a name, but Daile had focused solely upon what the surface was like, and he completely missed it. The crew had put him in a drop pod and sent him down to a forested spot near fresh water in the temperate zone. He had the best chance of making it there.
As the graffiti of other people minds was removed aboard the barge, he discovered that his heightened perceptions were due to a weird gap in his senses. It wasn’t a thing he could touch or see; it was just a feeling, somewhat akin to sensing something unseen in the dark. He had poured his concentration into exploring the sensation, but he was too distracted to get more than an impression that his mind called a hollow, and that it seemed both expansive and infinitesimal. He had no other words to describe it.
Now that he was laying on a beach with his feet in placid surf and the sunshine on his thin frame, he felt ready to explore his hollow. He closed his eyes and let his breathing grow shallow, his mind grow quiet. Then he swelled his perception and turned it inward. From the outside the hollow seemed shaped something like a seed, with a crust that resisted his delving. Slowly, as he pushed through, he became aware that the inside of the hollow was filled with a gossamer ink. Immersed, he probed further but sensed nothing in his abyss.
When he withdrew, he became aware of his surroundings by painstaking increments. First it was his cold, damp feet, and the periodic pulsing of the surf upon his soles that caused him to shiver. Next it was the cool air upon a gentle breeze and the pebbling effect it had had on his skin, deepening the shiver. As he rolled and drew up his legs, he tried to snuggle down closer to the meager heat within the sand beneath him, but its rough sensation upon his forehead only served to wake him to the world faster. Eventually he sat up, and it was then that he realized it was dark. He’d spent at least the whole day in the solitude of his meditation.
His body didn’t care that the mind had wandered, and had driven on with its slow, methodical processes regardless. He face was scratchy with what fell like the growth of a few days, and his undergarment was fully soiled. Looking to the sky, he realized that it was night, and the beauty of alien stars above caught his breath. He was awake to the present now, and he’d never felt more alive.
That he had become filthy in his unaware state was irrelevant; all that mattered was that he was alone, and he was learning what he was.
He got to his feet and padded down through the mild surf until he was waist deep, where he held his breath and dropped beneath the surface. Though he held his eyes open, he could nothing in the inky blackness of the water.
Sitting on the bottom of the edge of a nameless, alien lake – now his lake – Daile combed his fingers through his hair as it flowed in the gently oscillating water, shaking loose the sand that had stuck to it. He surfaced, swallowed air, and sank back down. Grabbing handfuls of the sandy soil beneath him, he began to rub his legs and his torso, abrading the dirt and the sweat from his skin. When he could hold his breath no longer, Daile thrust from the water to exchange what he had for fresh air in big breaths. The water had been cold, but standing in air and wet the cold was like a thousand razors. Bizarrely, his reaction was one of excited elation, and he began to emit great howls of victory that in a few seconds had bounced back to him from the mountains in the distance. When he noticed the effect, he played with it back and forth a few times.
His euphoria waned, and the cold of the air on his torso and damp hair seeped into him, and he waded up on to the beach. As he trudged back to his mean shelter, he discovered that he felt worn and sore all over. Without resistance, he crawled inside, drew his polymer blanket around himself and fell unconscious within seconds.