Real Life RPG: Biology Specialization

Author’s note: I tend to daydream that the world is a video game.  In video games, characters have different classes (wizard, warrior, etc.).  Why shouldn’t people in real life?  People major/specialize in what they know best, and that is where they’d draw their abilities!

Biology general bonuses

  • Target Mastery: Biologicals – All biologists gain +10% to hit and +10% to critical against living targets.
    • Pre-med specialists can increase critical bonus to +20% against humanoid targets.
  • Affinity: Science – All biologists gain an extra 3% effect with science or technology based items, including damage and healing.
  • Evolved – All biologists gain +5% to all stats.
    • Evolution/Ecology majors gain +7% to all stats.
Biology Buffs
  • Inhuman Strength – Increases attack power by 15%.  This cannot be used in conjunction with Inhuman Speed.
  • Inhuman Speed – Increases speed by 10%.  This cannot be used in conjunction with Inhuman Strength.

Biology Attacks
  • Induce Mutation – Decreases two random stats on target by 10%-50%, value chosen randomly.  Also has a 10% chance to increase chosen stats by 10%.
    • Genetics majors only: Induce Harmful Mutation – Decreases three random stats on target by 10%-50%.
  • Devolution – Removes one random buff from the target.
    • Ecology majors only: Trait Transfer – Steals one random buff from target and applies it to caster.  
  • Enzyme Imbalance – Sabotages the target’s metabolic processes, dealing damage and slowing their movement speed by 20%.
    • Biochemistry majors only: Proteolysis – Slow effect lasts twice as long, and an extra 50% damage is dealt over 30 seconds.
  • Nervous Overload – Overwhelms the target’s nervous system, paralyzing them for 4 seconds.
    • Neuroscience majors only: Nervous Stroke – After paralysis effect fades, target’s attacks only deal 50% damage for 10 seconds.
  • Drain Life – Deals damage to the target, restoring an equivalent amount of health to the caster.
Biology Ultimate Moves
  • Genetics: Genome Rip – Transforms the nearest two enemies into mutated abominations under the caster’s control, increasing damage dealt and attack speed by 50%.  After 40 seconds, the effect fades, draining the affected enemies of power, lowering their attack speed and damage by 50% for 40 seconds and increasing their damage taken by 20%.
  • Ecology/Evolution: Apex Form – The caster becomes a force of nature, doubling attack speed and damage for 30 seconds.  During this time, 50% of all damage dealt heals the caster.
  • Biochemistry: Biomolecular Mastery – The caster is able to alter all biological materials nearby.  Biological material may be converted into health for the caster or allies, or into catabolic enzymes, which deal damage to all nearby enemies.
  • Neuroscience: Mind Control – Up to three targeted enemies are placed under the caster’s control for 45 seconds.  Any beneficial buffs or auras on the controlled enemies are copied onto the caster.
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Island Keyes

The first thing that Keyes saw, when he opened his eyes, was the seagull.  It was very close to his face, standing on the warm sand of the beach, and had a predatory gleam in its eyes, as if it still remembered when dinosaurs had roamed the earth.

Keyes sat up abruptly.  The first moment of disorientation was always the worst.  This time, however, things didn’t seem to be so bad.  He was sitting on white sand, surrounded by several shattered crates and other pieces of wooden debris.  Smooth waves of cerulean lapped gently at his bare toes, and he could hear the rustling of the wind in the fronds of palm trees a few meters behind him.  Aside from the errant seagull, he couldn’t see another soul.

The seagull was still giving him a baleful look, leading Keyes to take a step back, towards the treeline.  He glanced down at his own clothes.  He was dressed in a ragged pair of khakis, ending just below the knee, and a faded cotton shirt.  His pants appeared to be held up by a thick piece of rope.  He checked his pockets, only to find that he did not have any pockets.

A sudden thought made his eyes widen in nervousness and his hand shoot to his neck.  Thankfully, he felt the leather cord beneath his shirt and drew it out.  A large, ornate brass key dangled from the end of the cord, bumping gently against his chest.  Reassured, Keyes returned the key to beneath his shirt.  He still had his way out.

Okay then.  Still sending a couple of sidelong looks towards his beady-eyed companion, Keyes glanced over the wreckage littering the beach.  The wooden timbers appeared to have come from a sailing ship of some sort, although most had been smashed to splinters.  A few crates held glass bottles, most of them broken, and a white volleyball appeared to be floating in a nearby tidal pool.

“Well, this place certainly looks relaxing,” Keyes commented out loud.  He reached down into one of the crates and withdrew one of the bottles that had managed to survive its voyage onto the beach.  He sniffed the neck of the bottle after wiggling out the rough-hewn cork.  Smells like rum.  He took an exploratory swig.  Definitely rum.

As he strolled up towards the gently waving palm trees, Keyes noticed the lack of civilization.  He was glad that he hadn’t lost his key, but he couldn’t see any nearby doors.  He took another gulp of rum.  At the moment, however, the lack of a door didn’t faze him too badly.  The sun was shining, the breeze was blowing, the mountaintop was smoking . . .

Wait a minute.  Keyes dropped the coconut he had just scooped up from the beach.  He stared up at the mountain at the middle of the island, watching the plume of smoke swell and darken.  Even as he watched, Keyes felt a slight shudder under his feet.  This wasn’t good.

With one hand, Keyes fished the brass key out from beneath his shirt.  He turned in a circle, searching for someplace he could insert it.  He could swear that the seagull was smirking at him.  Grabbing for a stick, Keyes hastily traced out a rectangle in the warm sand.  He stuck a board into the ground to serve as a makeshift handle, plunged the key into the warm sand just above the board, and turned.

The sand was flowing, but it held together long enough for the doorway to open.  Once it was at a forty five degree angle, Keyes wrenched the key out of the door.  He spared one last glance over his shoulder.  The volcano was now belching angry black smoke, and a dull red glow was emanating from the lip as the lava began to flow.

Keyes winked at the seagull.  “See ya never,” he said, dropping through the doorway into the sand as the edges frayed and fell apart.

A moment later, the seagull was alone on the erupting island.

Rumblings

It is nearly midnight as I write this, and instead of sleeping, as I should be, I am lying awake listening to my stomach.

I don’t know what I ate recently that is causing me such distress.  The disturbing rumblings that are rising up from my midsection may be due to the near pound of prime choice beef that I consumed last night (happy birthday to me, I’m twenty-three, oh god what am I doing with my life), or perhaps they are instead being caused by the copious amounts of syrup I consumed this morning.  I really don’t know.

In any case, these sounds are becoming disturbingly loud.  Normally, given that I have my own room to which I am able to retreat, I would not be overly bothered by such emanations.  However, these are loud enough to cause my bed frame to slightly shudder.  While some of the vibrations are definitely arising from within my intestines, other sounds seem to be materializing out of thin air around me.  Several times, I have been startled by such noises, booming hollowly in my ear.

Currently, I am adopting the fairly safe strategy of remaining absolutely still, curled up and waiting for the bad things to go away.  However, a small but suicidal part of my brain is telling me, even now, that the best course of action would be to jump up and down, roll around a bit, work out all of the remaining pockets in a single stroke.  This is similar to the voice that tells me to shake a can of soda, ensuring that all the gas will be released at once and not trouble me any further.  While this may be technically sound advice from a purely logical view, I anticipate that the consolidated release will put me in serious, potentially mortal, danger.

I am currently experiencing a lull in seismic activity, but I fear that this is similar to the eye in the hurricane, the briefest moment of serenity before the next tidal wave crashes down.  I am in a trough of inactivity, nervously awaiting the next crash of chaotic release.  I know not when the next attack shall come, only that I must suffer through, and that it shall be gloriously horrible and destructive.

I wonder how gentlemen during Victorian times expressed sentiments relating to flatulence.  Obviously, these were not the topic of choice during afternoon tea, over cucumber sandwiches and small china saucers of the finest Indian import, but I am certain that several members of the upper crust must have documented such occurrences in journals and such, private writings that would not be shared with their fellow nobs.  I am certain that, although my vocabulary is extensive, I am still lacking many fortuitous words that would do an excellent job of depicting my current situation.  The loss of these journals is a grievous wound upon the literary world, I am sure.

Oh, here we go again.  It seems I shall get little sleep tonight.

Hay Bales, take 2

Author’s note: After writing the last post, I’m not super thrilled with how it turned out.  I liked the idea, but I didn’t like the storytelling, so here’s another take.  Consider this to be a bonus post!

“Hey, y’all hear about what happened to ol’ Ed, up north?”

I pulled my beer closer, took another drag.  I had been one of the first on the scene, but the flames had already been too high, too strong.

“Can’t believe he got caught in that brush fire,” the voice blithely continued.  “I mean, it’s been a dry season, yeh, but I always thought Ed was one of the smart ones, he wouldn’t be nabbed by something like that.”

I finally turned in my seat, saw Jergenson was the one speaking.  Jergenson and I had never gotten along well; he had always seemed too eager to gossip, to speak ill of his neighbors as soon as their backs were turned.  A couple of the other farmers were turning in their seats, though, and they looked ready to share.

“Yeh, he talked with me a bit the other night, before the fire,” one of the other farmers commented.  Benjamin, I thought it was, beneath a trucker’s cap.  “Wuz sayin’ something about his hay bales, that they were movin’ around and such.”

Another man, one I didn’t recognize, nodded in agreement.  “Yep.  He was asking me if I had seen kids up there, moving them or something.”  The man scoffed.  “Now why would kids want to go haul around hay bales, even if they could?”

“If so, maybe I could get ’em over to my fields, do a bit of work for me,” another commented to a round of guffaws.  I took another drink.

Benjamin hadn’t let go of the original idea, though.  “He thought there wuz somethin’ inside the bales,” he insisted.  “He wuz out stabbin’ them, before this.  Said he kept trackin’ em, they kept moving around his fields.  Had me out lookin’ at my own bales, he did.”

Jergenson sneered.  “Yeh, right,” he said.  “Only things living inside the bales are weevils, if you’re unlucky.  An’ weevils don’t move the bales.  Or set ’em afire.”

At this, I slammed down my beer so hard that it splashed over the lip and spilled on the bar.  The others turned and looked at me.  “You leave Ed out of this,” I said angrily.  “He might not have been quite right, at the end, but he died, and we don’t speak ill of him.”  I glared around at the others.

One by one, their glances dropped.  They turned back to their drinks, busied themselves in their alcohol, pretended that the conversation hadn’t been started.  Jergenson tried to give me a hot glare, but it cooled and died.  Besides, I knew that, though they shrugged it off, laughed at poor ol’ Ed, it had gotten to them.

Ever since Ed had passed away, I had been out, counting my bales, trying to see if they were still in the same places.  I had seen Wilkes, across the way, doing the same thing.  None of mine had moved yet.  But I was ready.  We all had a few gallons of gasoline sitting around.

Hay Bales

It took a long time for Ed to notice that the hay bales always seemed slightly different.  Each night, before he headed inside, he would patrol his farm, taking a lap around the edges of the fields, walking between the massive head-height bales that littered the fields.

One night, Ed noticed that, by happenstance, three of the bales happened to line up, pointing towards the old oak tree near his house.  He thought nothing of this, until the next night.

The hay bales were no longer in a straight line.  They had moved slightly ajar, so the line appeared crooked.

Ed lived alone; his wife had left him two years previously.  There was no one else on the farm, and he knew better than to try moving one of the massive bales before it had finished drying.  He didn’t touch the shifted bales and returned to his narrow bed in his house, but sleep was slow in coming.

The next morning, between chores, he strolled out to the bales.  They appeared exactly the same as any other time – Ed was beginning to doubt whether they had ever been in a straight line.  To be certain, however, he had carried a couple half-bricks out to the bales.  He dropped one of the brick pieces next to each bale, in line with the center of the roll.

That evening, on his stroll through the fields of the farm, he paused at each of the bales.  The first two still seemed in line with the bricks, and he began to relax.  However, when he reached the third roll of hay, it was nearly three feet from the brick.

This time, even though Ed returned to his bed, his eyes refused to close.  He dragged himself back out of bed, selecting a pitchfork from the edge of the shed as he stumbled out to the field.  He stabbed the shifted bale several times with the long tines, making sure that he spread out his thrusts.  The hay bale didn’t seem to respond.

Lying back in bed, Ed tried to think of how the bale had moved.  He briefly wondered if some nearby teens had come by, trying to play a prank, but he didn’t think that even a dozen teenagers would be able to move one of those bales.  Besides, why would they be back each night, moving each bale only a few feet?  He couldn’t understand.

That morning, he went back out to his fields, ignoring the other chores.  The bales had shifted again, he was sure of it.  He squatted next to one bale, his head pressed against the rough, dry straw.  Could he hear some sort of noise from inside?  As he knelt there, he could swear that a tremor passed through the bale; some of the straws rustled and shifted.

Ed knew what to do.  Back in the barn, on his workbench, an acetylene torch was sitting on a shelf.  He ran back, grabbed it, grabbed a bottle of lighter fluid.  The bales had dried enough to go up with a few touches of the torch.  Ed was certain that each bale shuddered, tried to lean away from the torch.  He ran across the field, tagging each bale, not noticing how the fire spread through the crushed stalks, gradually encircling the field.

He sagged after he set fire to the last bale.  He had done it!  He had gotten them all!  He stared around at the wall of fire that encircled him, his thoughts stuttering.  At least the bales were dead, he thought, his last coherent one.  After that, all he could do was scream.

Phobias, part III

Author’s note: This is part two of a short story; part one can be found here and part two can be found here.

Having pressed the doorbell at the golden gates of Heaven, I sat and waited.  Of all the mindless tasks I’ve done while dead, this was probably the most frustrating.  There was nothing to watch, nothing changing, no sense of the passing of time.  I had nothing to track how much time had elapsed since I had pressed the button.  But what else did I have?  There didn’t seem to be anywhere else to go.

Eventually, on the far side of the golden gates, I finally caught sight of something moving, something that seemed to be slowly approaching.  As the shape drew closer, it resolved itself into an old man in a white robe, shuffling along with his head bent.

I waited impatiently as the man drew closer.  I spotted him a good distance away, still, but it took ages before he reached the gate.  Pushing on the gate, it swung open just enough for him to stick his head out.  He peered shortsightedly at me.  “What do you want?” he asked, sounding somewhat grumpy about being forced on his hundred-mile voyage.

What did I want?  “I want to come in!” I said, exasperated.  “I’ve been waiting here for days!”

“Days, huh?” he repeated, eyeing me.  “Why didn’t you just open the gate?  We don’t lock the thing.”

If this was an angel, I wasn’t sure if Heaven was run any better than Hell.  “I tried – they wouldn’t open.”

He stepped back, letting the gate swing gently closed.  “Try once more, then.”  I did so, and once again, the gate didn’t move an inch.

“You see?” I cried, exasperated.  “Just let me in so I can get on with whatever I’m supposed to be doing!”

The man shook his head regretfully.  “Afraid you don’t qualify, it seems.”  He looked genuinely apologetic.

“Qualify?”

“You weren’t good enough during this life,” he explained.  “Everyone has the chance to climb out of Hell.  Some people don’t, of course.  They think that they belong down there.  In a way, I guess that makes them happy, that they’re being punished for the crimes they committed.  But everyone has the chance to climb up, to make it to Purgatory.”

“That big tree in the middle of the field,” I guessed.  He nodded.  “It was nice there.”

“It is nice, and some people spend their time there,” he responded.  “But not everyone is allowed into Heaven.  I mean, this is the big finale!  You have to earn it.”

“So how do I earn it?” I asked.  “I’m dead, obviously, so am I just stuck out here forever?  I failed the cosmic test?”

The man grinned toothily at me from the far side of the gate to Heaven.  “Of course not!”  He gestured at the clouds beside me, where, totally silently, a hole had opened up.  “You can jump!  You’ll pop up somewhere back on Earth, and you get another shot at things!  If you’re good enough there, you can come in next time you climb up here.  If not, well, try and try again.”

I eyed the hole.  I couldn’t see the sea of green through it; the tube merely disappeared into the clouds below my feet.  “Couldn’t I just climb back down to Purgatory?  Relax under the tree?”

The man shrugged one shoulder at me.  “Course you can.  I’m not stopping you.  Do whatever you want.”  With that, he turned and began slowly shuffling back into the distance from whence he came.

I shouted one last question after him.  “Where is everyone else?” I hollered.  “I haven’t seen a single other soul!”

He glanced back over his shoulder at me.  He certainly wasn’t moving too fast to hear me.  “They each have to take their own trip,” he shouted back.  “No helping on this one!”  I had more questions, but I couldn’t vocalize them, didn’t know how, so I merely watched as he disappeared back into the distance.

I pondered that hole for a long time.  It had been pleasant, down beneath the branches of the massive oak.  I had felt in touch with Nature, with myself, with the world around me.  But it wasn’t really living, any more than I was really living now.  It was peaceful, but it was stasis, and it would never get any better than that.

I wondered if I had been here before, had been faced with the same decision previously.  I couldn’t remember any previous visits, any past lives.  What if next time I didn’t get in to Heaven?  What if next time, I didn’t even have the courage to climb out of Hell?  What if this was the best I could achieve?

For a long time, I sat on the clouds, thinking, looking between the ladder and the hole in the ground.  Finally, I stood, stretching my legs.  I had chosen.  My mind was made up.  There was only one choice I could possibly make, only one that I could live with.

Figuratively, of course.

Phobias, part II

Author’s note: This is part two of a short story; part one can be found here.

So eventually, after what could well have been years of climbing, I made it all the way out of that Hell-hole.  Heh, literally.  The climb was long, but the long thorns protruding from the sides of the cave made it fairly easy.  I really don’t think those devils were too intelligent.

After I hauled myself over the lip of the cave, panting, I found myself standing in a grassy field.  The grass was up to my thighs, and seemed to stretch on for miles and miles in all directions.  Off in one direction, I could make out a single tree, but that seemed to be it in terms of landmarks.  What else could I do?  I set off for that tree.

As I drew closer, I could see that the tree was a large oak, its branches spreading in all directions.  What type of oak?  Heck, I don’t know trees.  I only knew it was an oak from the acorns.  Swamp White Oak, maybe?  As I came closer, I could see that it also had something stretching straight up, high into the sky.  I couldn’t make out quite what it was, but it looked long and thin.

I spent a few days simply sitting at the foot of the tree, resting and enjoying the view.  Day and night certainly happened here.  During the day, the clouds were always white and puffy, and constantly changing shape, hypnotizing in their constant movement.  At night, the sky was alight with stars.  I could swear that every star in existence had to be shining down on me.  It was breathtaking.

Of course, even the most incredible sights can eventually grow to be mundane.  After some time, I felt the boredom begin to return.  Since I still couldn’t see anything else but the endless plain of grass, I started climbing the tree.

As I neared the crown of branches, I could finally make out the long, thin object rising from the center crown of the tree.  It was a ladder, silvery and almost ethereal in appearance.  I reached it without too much trouble, and began to climb, rung after rung.

Once again, I don’t know how long I climbed.  Day and night both passed several times, but I was focused on holding onto the thin and fragile rungs of the ladder, and couldn’t keep track.  I climbed through the clouds, until the tree was a speck down below.  Eventually, I was surrounded by clouds.  Every once in a while, a small hole opened up through which I could see the sea of green below, but most of the time I was shrouded in white.

Of course, the ladder didn’t go on forever.  It finally came to an end atop the clouds, a fluffy white plain.  I cautiously put a foot on the cloud, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it supported my weight, somewhat springily.  It felt like walking on a mattress.  A few hundred feet from the ladder, I could see a set of golden, intricately wrought gates.  I was momentarily annoyed that Heaven was so cliche, but I still headed for them.

When I reached the gates, I realized that they were closed.  They didn’t budge when I rattled them, but a nearby button looked suspiciously like a doorbell.  I pressed it.  And waited.

Part III can be found here!

Phobias

I have to admit, my first few hours in Hell weren’t too bad.

First came the clowns, but they really don’t bother me.  The big shoes just make them easier to trip, and after a while it’s easy to see the fear behind the painted smiles.  They’re just ridiculous, really.

After the clowns failed, they sent in spiders and bugs.  Come on, I’m a scientist!  I had to be quick on my feet to squash the poisonous ones, but they certainly didn’t scare me.  In fact, I managed to befriend one of the big African Camel Spiders by tossing it some of the bugs I crushed.  I was considering naming him “George,” but I guess at that point the devils decided that the arachnids weren’t working.

Darkness resulted in a few stubbed toes and some minor cursing, but nothing major.  I actually find small spaces rather comforting, so I enjoyed the chance to meditate on how my life had turned out.  I’m cautious about heights, but they don’t really freak me out – besides, once I realized that I couldn’t actually fall, I had fun jumping from high ledge to ledge.  What’s the worst that could happen?  I’m already dead!

I’ve always been a bit of a showboat, so public speaking didn’t bother me in the slightest.  I may have been in my underwear in high school, but I’m pretty sure that the cheerleaders actually paid me more interest than I had garnered in real life.  I was charming one of them, laughing as she blushed, when that nightmare faded away.  Dentists?  My uncle was a dentist, and he wasn’t scary at all, except maybe his breath.

The pit of snakes just gave me a chance to gleefully shout Indiana Jones quotes.  Dogs are just irrepressibly cute.  Needles are sharp, but much less scary than a dagger or something with an actual blade.  Lightning and thunder make me sleepy.  Blood can be unnerving, but when the devils tried throwing me in a swimming pool full of the stuff, it really loses its edge.  I think they gave up on that idea when I started doing the backstroke.

Eventually, I guess I was tossed back to the default punishment, where everything seemed to be on fire and there were spikes everywhere.  Here’s a tip: once you’re dead, you only feel pain if you believe that you are in pain.  Accept that you don’t have a body any more, and the pain goes away.  I noticed that I was in a giant cavern and so, ignoring the jeering imps scattered around the cave, I started climbing spikes.

I have no idea how long I climbed.  Could have been days, could have been years.  It turns out that an internal clock is one of the first things to go.  Eventually, though, I reached the top.  Man, you won’t believe what I found there.

Author’s note: Part Two is coming in two days!  Stay tuned!  It can be found here!

Creation

He gazed out into the darkness, the nothingness, his fingers trembling with anticipation.  He could see nothing, but he felt the potential, building and sparking from his fingertips.

The first steps were always the same, a framework for later creativity to stand upon.  “Let there be light,” he spoke out.  “Point source, coordinates x zero,, y zero, z one thousand.”

Light clicked on above him, brilliant and blinding.  His eyes snapped shut reflexively.  He always forgot about specifying a brightness modifier.  He commanded the brightness to drop to seventy five, and then opened his eyes again to gaze out into the whiteness.

“Let there be earth,” he announced next.  “Origin x zero, y zero, z zero, variation constant zero point two eight, z-min minus four hundred, z-max two hundred and fifty.”  The land flashed out in all directions from his feet, the rough pixelated grid appearing in each square for a split second before it was filled in with generated terrain.

He paused for a moment to admire the newly created topography before his next creationary command.  He had learned early on to make the oceans and valleys deeper than the highest mountains, to help avoid cropping issues with the light.  The variation constant, however, had taken him years to perfect.  He nodded approvingly at the rolling hills that surrounded him.

His next command was much more complex, referencing several inserted templates.  Water was tricky to create, and he preferred to simply reuse the code that specified variables like light permeability, surface tension, flow rates, and so on.  Some purists rewrote their water code from scratch with each world, but he personally felt that doing so was just overkill.  He had written the original code he worked with, and knew every line.  He finished the command and watched approvingly as the bottoms of the valleys filled with clear water.

Now that the basics of the landscape were in place, he pulled up his assignment to check the specifics.  He was glad to see that this world was supposed to be lush with vegetation across a variety of biomes.  He had designed post-apocalyptic worlds before, when work had been scarce, but irradiated wastelands quickly grew repetitive.

He called up his subroutines and templates for grass, bushes, and trees.  He set the grass to a ninety five percent spread rate, where light levels were above thirty, and watched it grow outward from his feet to cover the distant hills.  Trees were next; he set a variable spread rate, from five percent up to sixty percent, knowing that this would give him both plains and forests.  With clumps of trees now dotting the landscape, he added scattered bushes, keeping them sparse enough to prevent them from obstructing the view.

Before moving on he stopped, drinking in the panorama.  The very first clouds were starting to form, and the sky was darkening from white to pale blue.  He coded a faint intermittent breeze, rustling the leaves of the trees and bending the blades of grass.

After a deep breath, he leapt up into the air, scanning for chunk generation errors as he flew over the land.  The buildings and animals would be added in later, lovingly released by their own individual designers.  For now, the world would wait, peaceful in green stasis.

He saved the new world, his creation, and specified the proper code names and extensions for the world to be linked to its project file.  He unplugged himself briefly from his terminal, stood up, stretched his arms over his head.  After a sip of rehydrated coffee, he opened his next assignment.  He called up a new file.

Plugging himself back in, he gazed out at the darkness.  His fingers tingled.

The Bear

It is definitely a bear.  No question about that.

I stare through my scrawny tree cover as it snuffles closer to my tent.  Fully grown, too.  It doesn’t seem to have noticed me yet, but I think I remember reading that they have a great sense of smell.  Isn’t that how they find their prey from miles away?  Maybe that’s sharks.  In any case, the bear has found me, and that is all that matters in the world right now.

I try to remember what I’ve heard about bear encounters.  This bear has brown fur, so that makes it a brown bear?  It seems logical enough.  Now, brown bears can’t climb trees, only black bears can, right?  Does that mean I should climb a tree?  The bear doesn’t seem to want to attack me right now.

Oh, crap.  There’s a granola bar in my pocket.  Can the bear smell that?  I haven’t opened the wrapper, so shouldn’t the factory seal keep it from being noticed?  I turn my head slightly, trying to figure out a path if I need to sprint away.  The bear has moved on to my backpack, pawing at it with a vague sense of curiosity.

Maybe I’m supposed to puff myself up, scare away the bear.  Do I roar at it?  I think I remember seeing someone in a movie rattle a tin can full of nails at a bear once.  I wish I had a can of nails.  Or am I supposed to play dead, and then the bear won’t eat me?  I don’t know what to do – I am paralyzed by indecision.

I end up sitting in that little grove of bushes for nearly forty minutes, watching as the bear disinterestedly paws through my meager belongings.  It does find the cooler I left next to the tent, but its claws can’t gain purchase on the latch.  It bashes it against a tree once or twice, but gives up; maybe I am a tougher campsite to crack than most.  It never glances in my direction.  Eventually, the bear ambles off contentedly through the trees, never gazing back on the somewhat mussed and rearranged camp.

Maybe my encounter with the bear sounds anticlimactic.  I certainly didn’t fire off a pistol or stare down the bear in an intense Man-vs-Nature battle.  But that chance run-in reminded me, and still does, of our own insignificance.  All it took was a few minutes in a bush, ten feet from a wild bear, for me to lose all my control, all my calm, all my knowledge and training and teaching.

Maybe someday I’ll meet the bear again.  Maybe things won’t go my way next time.  I hope I will be ready.