Unaware of his alien observer, Glunt squatted in the tall grass with the other members of the hunting party, wanting nothing more than to slink away, to disappear, to hide, anything to avoid killing the adorable baby deer-like animal in front of him.
The tribe had been following this herd for a very long time. The observer couldn’t get a handle on the way Glunt and his people measured time, but it had been at least a few years.
Glunt was a boy of eight or nine, about three years away from puberty. The spear in his hand was smaller than the adult’s spears, but no less deadly. Glunt had been practicing with the spear for as long as he could remember and he had an excellent arm. He knew, with complete confidence, that if he threw, the young mammal would die.
Which would be perfect. It would raise Glunt to the status of meat-provider. He’d never again have to dig in the dirt with the other children, searching for edible roots and grubs, or crawl thru prickly scrub searching for nuts and berries, boring tedious work reserved for the young non-hunters of the tribe.
The hunt so far had been fun and exciting. Almost relaxing. They’d circled the grazing herd, padding quietly thru the lush grasses that filled the valley floor. Glunt was proud of the approval he received from the older hunters at his ability to move as silently as the others. Glunt was the youngest of the hunters and although some of other young men resented his presence, (most boys had to wait until they were closer to puberty to try for their first kill) everyone was so pleased with the size and health of the herd and the good weather that the teasing he’d expected had been kept to a minimum. The recent cold rain had dissolved into warm, sunny skies, and if it weren’t for the act of horrific violence he was about to impart on the poor defenseless animal not 20 meters in front of him, Glunt would have perfectly content.
Instead, a wave of nausea swept over his body and he shivered. The man nearest him, his sponsor, looked at him, questioning, wondering why he hadn’t yet taken advantage of the opportunity that was standing right over there, munching on some grass and looking exactly like a toy he’d given to his niece last… what?
The part of Glunt that was the silent observer called Eric’Y’Lith’27, swore silently and tried to shrink back into nothingness in Glunt’s mind.
Glunt shook his head, embarrassed at the way he was losing concentration and slowly started shifting his weight to the balls of his feet in preparation of his throw.
Eric’Y’Lith’27 cringed and wished he could close his eyes.
Glunt’s eyes started to close.
“Dammit!” Eric’Y’Lith’27 had to get a handle on hiself and fast, his emotions were bleeding into the subject. Not good. Not a good time to learn that he lacked objectivity this far along into his career. Me’lis’H8T had warned him of this. She told him that this particular study was not good for someone of Eric’Y’Lith’27’s sentimental nature. Well, what she had actually said was, “What? You? The Paleoamerican study?” and then she had laughed so hard she’d fallen over.
Eric’Y’Lith’27 ignored her. The same way he ignored all the similar advice he’d received from other co-workers and his boss. The boss had simply alternated the rainbow hews of it’s protoplasmic jelly in a certain pattern that Eric associated with disapproval and said that the study was accepting all volunteers and would certainly accept Eric as well.
It was Eric’s pride, not his common sense, that made the final decision to enter the study tank and allow his consciousness to be implanted into the mind of the Paleoamerican child somewhere on the North American continent of Earth some 12,000 years before the Earthling Diaspora.
The study wasn’t critical. It was only being used to fill in some gaps in the understanding of Human Beings. Most of that research had been completed decades ago. This study was being funded by some wacky, albeit wealthy, Anti-Human Group hoping to prove that Humans were not far enough removed from their violent beginnings to be accepted into the Intergalactic community as a ‘Proven Peaceful’ member.
Eric had never studied humans before. Most of the research he’d done so far had been into pre-sentient organisms. Not nearly as immersive, and, honestly, a little boring. Boring, but comfortable. The Paleoamerican boy slept on the ground with his siblings and cousins crowded around each other for warmth. They ate a lot of bugs and raw, tasteless food, with the occasional bit of undercooked animal flesh. He’d managed so far to avoid imparting his own feelings of disgust and discomfort on his subject, but his reaction to the imminent murder of the cute furry mammal was just too strong.
He wanted to end the study right then and declare that yes, the Anti-Human group was right, that humans were too violent. Any group of people that would encourage an eight-year-old to murder something was barbaric beyond measure and Eric wanted no part of it.
Eric had memorized a pattern of numbers and letters that he would simply have to think of in a certain order to be removed from the study. Better for him and certainly better for poor Glunt who would be ostracized for life if he didn’t go through with this killing.
He started the pattern… than stopped.
Glunt would be ostracized for life if he didn’t go through with the killing. Eric had spent a few days inside of Glunt’s brain now and knew that the kid didn’t want to kill the animal any more than Eric did. Interesting.
And then Eric broke the rules. He gave Glunt a nudge. Glunt lowered his spear and sunk back down into a crouch. One of the other boys jumped at the opportunity and threw his own spear. He missed and startled the animal which bleated it’s distress and ran back to the safety of the main group. It’s panic caused a bit of a stir, but the herd did not sense the hunters and stayed where they were.
The other boy’s sponsor smacked the boy in the back of his head hard enough to throw him to the ground. Glunt was smart and knew to keep his own head down and just be grateful that the other boy’s clumsiness distracted the group from his own shame.
Over the next hour, while the group moved to another more advantageous position, Eric examined the turmoil in Glunt’s mind. Eric’s own sponsor, in his case the study monitor, sent him a warning signal, informing him that they had noticed his transgression and would expect a full report upon his return. They could have just yanked him out then and there. That they didn’t gave Eric the confidence that he had in fact stumbled onto something interesting.
Glunt was a mess. He berated himself for his cowardice while trying to suppress the feelings of relief he felt at having again successfully avoided the sight of blood. Eric sifted through the the kid’s relevant memories…
A younger Glunt crawls silently though the bush towards his prey, an animal skin sack almost full of berries. His own sack is mostly empty, as he has spent the last few hours lying on a bed of moss and pulling apart wild flowers while watching birds fly south instead of picking. He is sure to get in trouble if he is found slacking off again. One of the other children has dropped the full, heavy sack while answering a call of nature. While the other child’s back is turned, Glunt takes the full sack and leaves the empty one behind.
The hunters have returned successful. Glunt hears the crys of joy and runs with the other children to see what is happening. Two large animals are thrown to the ground. One is still bleeding from the gaping hole in its shoulder. A few of the women start sawing and hacking around the creatures neck with their stone awls working to remove the head from the body. More blood and other mushy red bits spew out, covering the hacking hands, oozing through fingers. Glunt hears a rushing sound and the next thing he knows, he is lying on ground in the shelter while an older child sits near by with half an egg shell filled with water for him to drink.
The older men stand in a loose circle behind him. They’ve moved Glunt back even further away from the target, and he knows they believe he will certainly miss this time. The target is a patched together hide, roughly animal shaped, staked between two sticks. A black spot drawn on with the end of a burnt stick approximates the location of the eye. Glunt breathes in and out, shifts his weight, takes a step and throws. The spear sails cleanly through the hide, creating a hole where the eye used to be, and the men erupt in cheers behind him. Glunt’s pride melts away to fear when he realizes his success means the men will take him on the next hunt.
As far as Eric could tell, the other tribe members hadn’t noticed Glunt’s dislike of blood and hunting and his unwillingness to do any actual work. They were distracted by Glunt’s superior spear throwing ability, the only aspect of his life that Glunt put any sort of effort into.
It dawned on Eric that he and Glunt had a lot in common.
Eric and his race were the galaxy’s negotiators. They communicated entirely by telepathy and had the highest levels of empathy among the known sentient species of the galaxy. They were trusted by all to be impartial judges and researchers.
Their own planet was to them, if not to anyone else, a paradise. The stable climate, the abundance of digestible energy, and low birth rate meant that for all of their known history, there had never been war or suffering. For countless centuries, the entire race focused inward, all of their energy spent on exploring their own minds. They had levels of mental control that seemed like magic to even the most scientifically advanced cultures.
Eric was not a good representative of his race. He found mental exercises, the prime obsession of his peers, boring. He was, like Glunt, squeamish and a bit afraid of things that his peers took for granted. Like strong emotions.
Eric liked reading fiction. Fiction was a new concept on his world, introduce by alien visitors. Writing and reading fiction required a denial of reality, inconceivable to his kind.
To Eric, delving into a fictional world full of fictional people with fictional emotions was pure joy. The most relaxing sensation possible to a being that, by nature, never turned off it’s mind.
His peers called it escapism and laziness and believed he was a useless member of a group that never rejected anyone.
Eric felt Glunt’s pain when the hunting group arrived and another perfect spot and moved Glunt to the front where he had a clear shot at another living, breathing creature.
There was nothing to be done. Eric did his job because he had no choice. Everyone had to participate. Everyone had to at lease pretend to be useful.
If Glunt refused a second time to throw the spear, he would be forgiven for now, he was still young, even by the standards of his people. But eventually he would have to throw the spear. He would have to kill. He would have to learn to skin and gut the dead animal. He would have to participate in the survival of his people.
If Eric refused to participate in the expected, acceptable activities of his peer group, the ramifications weren’t life threatening. It was known that some individuals did not fit in, and there was room for all in his world. He’d be fine. Very lonely, but fine in the end.
The same was not true for Glunt, and in his secret pocket of the boy’s mind, Eric cried silent tears for this distant soul-mate.
If Glunt refused to participate in the good of the whole, he would be forced out. He’d be shunned by the other members, and would probably wander away on his own to live or die without passing on his over-sensitive genes, hence protecting the future of the race.
But it wouldn’t happen that way, Glunt would throw the spear. And over the course of his life he would grow harder and harder until the squeamishness of his youth would be a distant memory that only resurfaced in the middle of the night when he woke up screaming, rubbing the skin of his hands raw, trying and failing to remove the indelible bloodstains.
Eric hid away in the corner of Glunt’s brain, cowering from the surge of emotion as Glunt rose from his crouch, found his balance, raised the spear level with his ear.
The pattern to release himself from the study came unbidden to the forefront of Eric’s mind. He visualized the numbers and letters in their proper order as a unstoppable mental scream.
Glunt focused his whole mind, his whole self on the animals eye, developing in that very moment the trick that would save his sanity, using all of his imagination to pretend the eye was just a smudge of black on a patched together hide.
Eric felt the relief of losing consciousness as Glunt cocked his arm, stepped forward and threw.