Sarah Hartwell (Dream 3-4 February 2013).
The first words he heard were "Welcome home, John." The cocoon of silk had gone and he could move again, "How do you feel?"
John opened his eyes, temporarily dazzled by the hospital lighting. "I feel like I've had a very long day," he replied.
"You've had a very long seventeen years," the doctor said, smiling.
The doctor's face swam into view and John's eyes began to focus. He tried to remember what had happened yesterday. It was still just yesterday in his reckoning.
"Spiders ..." he said, furrowing his brow, "I remember spiders. Lots of spiders." He shuddered.
He had been stranded on the planet for several years after his craft had been damaged. His twelve month study mission had extended into several planetary years. He'd been given a character and a background story based on long-distance observations before insinuating himself into the society of the larger land-mass. The researchers had reckoned without the peculiar vegetation that had conveniently clothed, and then inconveniently digested, his ship. Resigned to his fate, he'd made a life for himself there - settled with a local woman, widowed young, and helped raise her children. Then there had been spiders ...
Another person came into view, "It was the only way to get you out of there. A sleeper ship would have taken too long at normal speeds. The spider ships can be sent at speeds that would kill humans."
John remembered watching the shooting star with Meli. To her it was just a wonder of the heavens. He had known its true purpose when the emergency implant in his skull began transmitting. It was an emergency retrieval craft. His cover story had been that of an explorer and Meli had become accustomed to his occasional peregrinations, so when he told her he would go looking for the fallen star she smiled indulgently. She'd wrapped him up warm in woven clothes and made him take travel rations. At first he had travelled the trade routes with trading parties or pilgrims. Later he travelled alone as his implant pulled him onward like a fish being reeled in.
The spiders had been waiting for him - in the trees and bushes, on the grass, inside the craft. The first ones had dropped onto his shoulders and he'd slapped them away , thinking they were indigenous insectoid pests. More rained on him and began to spin their silk over him. Some bit him - almost painlessly - and he began to feel drunk.
The man was still speaking to him. "They were genetically engineered to act as a single being, each with its small piece of knowledge contributing to the whole ..."
He remembered them acting as a single purposeful being. The whole mass of them had acted with a single unfathomable purpose. He had been pulled bodily into the craft, stumbling at the end of ropes woven of spider silk, and collapsing onto a hammock of the same. Then the spiders, silent except their clicking arthropod joints, had cocooned him like prey in layer upon layer of their gossamer. Some had bitten him, delicately injecting their soporific venom. As he slipped into semi-consciousness, he had wondered if these spider-creatures had already consumed the crew sent to retrieve him.
"... they were genetically programmed to make you safe for the journey and tend you ...each new generation carried on its parent's programming ..."
As spider-web had clogged his nostrils, John had opened his mouth to breathe. A tube, horribly warm and biological-feeling, had slipped down his throat. Then everything had faded into a mist of spider sedative. Occasionally he surfaced to the clicking of arthropod joints and the scratching of their feet as they scurried over his cocooned body, contributing to the silent terror. Each time he'd surfaced and struggled against their silk, the spiders had sedated and wrapped him again until he'd finally woken in this hospital bed, naked and apparently healthy under a clean sheet.
"... we changed their venom to a sedative that slowed your metabolism for the long journey home. Along the way they fed you with liquefied food and they recycled your wastes in their own bodies. And they bred, so that generations, upon generations, of spiders tended to you, following the original generations orders to keep you calm, clean and fed. They sampled your blood to correct any deficiency. It was all there, all on the instructions consoles ... you did read the consoles thoroughly before letting the spiders cocoon you?"
At the edge of John's sight, a money spider had let itself down on a strand of web, perhaps attracted by the vibrations of people speaking. He screamed.