Chains of Loss
Wednesday, October 26, 3481.
Time: Early morning.
Location: Crater in wilderness, claimed by Overarchy. South of Worldsedge.
The light blinked every three point two seconds, and for some reason Derek found it riveting.
He was not in the habit of staring at blinking lights, but this one was all he cared to look at. It wasn’t until higher portions of his brain began to function that he began to wonder,
what exactly is that light?
Now that the question occurred to him, he wanted an answer. The light was actually a number of lights, each in a distinct shape. No, some of them repeated.
A few more neurons jostled back into position and began to fire. Suddenly he remembered what letters were. Yes, the lights were definitely letters. This raised a new question: Why couldn't he read?
He tried again. Critical…brain…damage. Please…stand…by.
Derek found himself unsurprised. He was damaged enough that he’d forgotten how to
, he thought. The light flickered in response.
A basic diagram flashed into view.
Spreck. What happened?
His brain was blinking between white and grey status, indicating cybernetics that were hard at work, trying to put him back together. The rest of his body was between white and yellow status.
His carefully-trained – if battered – mind went to work deducing the pattern of his injuries. He'd suffered a major concussion along with blunt force trauma to his entire body. There were no major lacerations, though, and he had suffered very little blood loss, which allowed his repair cybernetics the opportunity to work at full force. More, if his brain was being repaired, that meant that Shadow was fine and supervising the rebuilding. The AI just hadn’t realized that Derek had found his way to a form of consciousness.
Time to let him know.
There was a moment of silence before the AI responded. [Hey. Tired of snoring while I’m pulling you back together?]
Derek consulted the diagram again. His lungs were definitely too torn up for him to actually be breathing right now.
[It looks like your sense of humor died in the crash.]
Sorry. I just…nevermind. What happened and where are we? Crash?
[Yeah, crash. We went down hard.]
Hold on. What could we have hit?
Derek struggled to remember where he had last been, and came to a horrifying possibility.
Did we pancake into the side of Prometheus Station?
If so, he would never live it down.
[No. I’m still not sure what we hit – at least, to start. But we’d better start at the beginning. What’s the last date you remember?]
Going to bed last night, in guest quarters at the station. It was Tuesday.
[Not too bad. I’ll do another run on your short-term memory; you’re only missing a few hours, but they were…eventful.]
Okay. So fill me in.
[Seneca declared a full-colony alert due to NSW - that’s some kind of technical term. Means ‘I dunno what to call it, but we’re about to get squashed.’ Our orders were to gather supplies, abandon the planet’s surface, and ride it out. Full briefing was to follow the event – that’s usually code for ‘we might call this a drill if nothing happens’.]
With you so far.
[Well, that’s the last thing I have to tell you that makes sense. Zero hour came and the entire ship went crazy. Thermal readings all over the place, an impossible gravity flux…I have no idea how it happened, but our sensors were reading twenty Kelvin when we were scorched badly enough to fuse the hull. Then we got an exit wound on our port side. We lost two gyros, but there’s no entry wound anywhere – like whatever hit us came from inside the ship. After whatever-it-was scorched us, we did a full space to ground nosedive with single-digit engine function and no maneuvering gyros. With the hull fused, we couldn’t even deploy wings.]
Derek’s mind wandered for a moment, then jumped on a fact that happened to shine through.
Two hours, fourteen minutes.
We were at L1. Two hours, fourteen minutes to the lunar surface. Isn’t that right?
I’m assuming you meant that we hit the moon.
[Negative. Whatever we hit had atmosphere – and we were less than three thousand kilometers from Prometheus Station. Total time from last sensor reading to impact was fourteen minutes. We didn’t hit Artemis or Elysium.]
Derek’s brain, overtaxed by the reconstruction, ground to a complete halt.
If we didn’t hit the moon or the planet, then what DID we hit?
[Still working on it – and there’s been no contact since before the scorch. And our comm gear worked until we hit the ground; we squawked out a distress call the whole way down, and we didn't get a single response.]
Weird. Well, how’s the ship doing?
[That, at least, is something I can report on. The Nicobar got a quick refit to Leto-class for the evacuation. We’re carrying a lot more gear than normal, and while most of our systems are hosed, with a few weeks of both of us working on it, we might be able to get it space-worthy again. Most of the ship got beat to pieces, but the computer survived without a scratch. Not much we can do with it, but it’ll fix itself up in time.]
Derek stepped up his consciousness level to a low-quality simulation so that he could scratch his chin, or at least a reasonable facsimile of it.
Okay. What do we know about where we are?
[Right now, about all I can tell you is that it has atmosphere and it has a gravity level of .997 g’s. That’s about .4 g’s lower than anywhere on Elysium. Anywhere in the system, even.]
For the first time, Derek felt fear creep into him. A shattered body was nothing he couldn’t handle if he had a few hours. But if he wasn’t in the system, how would he get home?
He added a basic room to the simulation. Four walls, a roof and a cozy chair that he could sit in, drawn into existence without detail to cut down on the processing required.
[Checked and confirmed. We’re nowhere in the New Athens sphere of influence. My best guess? Well, you’re not going to like it.]
[Well, gravity's very, very close to 1.0 g. You know what planet has that as standard.]
Yeah. Earth. But we can’t be on Earth…it’s a few centuries’ worth of travel away!
[So’s any other planet outside of the system. And we can’t be on any planet
our home system, so we’re at a stalemate: we are quite clearly nowhere.]
Okay! Okay! You win. We might be on Earth and outside the system. How soon can I get up and look around?
[About two hours. Until then, you should probably get some sleep.]
Two hours later, Derek was awake and alert. He could even move a little, and use his real eyes to look around. The ship’s sensors were trashed but there was enough flexibility in the hull left for him to create a small porthole.
It was one thing for his Shadow to have assured him he wasn't on his home planet, and another to see plants growing wild. Though his people had been working for centuries, their homeworld was still barren – at least, outdoors. His father had kept a well-cultivated garden, complete with imported weeds and pests, for added authenticity.
The world he saw was obviously not in his home system, but some of the plants looked familiar. He broadcast a request for the ship's computer to help out.
It instantly identified seven separate species before his eyes; twenty-six others were flagged
The speed at which it responded gave him pause when it occurred to him that he was cut off from Clotho, the data administrator. That meant that he was limited to what was in his ship’s databanks. He sent a thought, asking the computer what other files it had, then spent a moment blinking at its terse response:
All of them.
It was a completely literal response. The ship’s computer contained a full record of all public information. He could picture Seneca’s avatar, with that smug little smile and a wink, spouting his familiar motto, ‘Just in case.’
Derek found himself trembling as he faced what ‘in case’ constituted this time. He was somewhere out in space, now. His ship was crippled. Whatever phenomenon had thrown him an impossible distance may have destroyed his home as well.
He pushed down the fear and forced himself to focus. What did the computer have that could help
, right now?
The files included a briefing on why Seneca had ordered an evacuation, but it shed no light on the situation. Seneca had detected an incoming disturbance years ago, but the AI hadn’t found cause for alarm until he had seen its effects on an outer planet. The monitoring satellites which had recorded the event had survived unscathed but the planet had been ravaged. The solution was obvious: get everyone to go into space.
Related files included details on the refit his ship had suffered. It was comprehensively equipped. A full construction suite had been packed into the ship - enough tools to build an entire colony.
Another file, flagged for his attention, revealed that he currently possessed a firearm. Lacking other things to do, he ran himself through training simulations while he waited for other systems to come online. Especially his stomach; the ship had begun feeding him intravenously before he’d regained consciousness, but in their desperate need for fuel, the nanites had stripped his body of almost all its fat.
[Most of our internals are nominal; we just have a number of fractures to repair. ETAs on repairs on the ship include the environmental assessors in 43 hours—after which we may be able to go outside without the suit, which I wouldn't recommend until we know we can breathe here—gravity systems in fourteen hours, and advanced scans just came online. Conning tower is deploying. C’mere, you relevant bits of data, you.]
There were no screens; the visual feed went directly into Derek’s mind as new fields of vision. He panned his focus around slowly, taking in the crater his landing had produced. The subsequent fire had spread little but still smoldered. Beyond the burn line were trees; monoliths that reached up a good ten to twenty meters with vast layers of green leaves bearing just trace hints of red and yellow.
Derek made note of the species as tagged by the scanner. Only about a third were identifiable; the rest were clearly labeled as non-Terrestrial.
So is this Earth or what?
[Everything’s just a little off. Gravity is very close, but if this is Earth, it’s very little like the Earth our ancestors left. For one, even if we landed in a nature preserve, we should be swarming with people by now. It's possible that something happened—Hold up.]
[A human just came into scanning range. Headed right towards us.]
A New Athenian?
Let’s see him.
[Her, actually.] A window opened up a real-time display of the approaching human. Derek gaped.
She was definitely human, but her resemblance to anyone he had ever encountered ended quickly. Her skin, though tanned from exposure to this world’s sun, was slightly paler than Derek’s own, and she was dressed in crude garments of material he had never seen before. She carried odd implements, and moved through the rough terrain with a surprising—and, to Derek, unsettling—ease. Her right eye was covered by some form of thong; the other eye was continuously scanning the forests around her, as if she anticipated an encounter with someone, or something.
What in Tarus is she wearing? And carrying? And what's that thing on her face?
[Checking. Never seen it either…okay. The computer’s database says that the material she is wearing is most likely boiled leather.]
[Skin stripped off of dead animals, processed so that it doesn’t decay.]
She’s a barbarian or something.
[Or something. Other parts of her clothing are analogous to organic silk. Some of the things she is carrying are weapons; others appear to be crude mechanisms designed to help her survive.] The A.I.’s voice was suddenly very puzzled. [Despite the low technology of her equipment, some of the metal she's carrying is titanium-steel alloy. Compared to the sophistication of the rest of her gear, it's several orders of magnitude more advanced.]
A mannequin-like representation of the woman appeared. [She appears to be carrying bladed weaponry concealed on her person in these locations.] Red outlines appeared on the woman’s outfit. Derek shook his head in dismay. What kind of person was this?
[Also, for your last question, the leather thong on her head is covering up her right eye socket because she is missing that eye. ]