A conversation with a stranger in the middle of the night.
The rain was heavy with purpose, landing with resounding thuds all around them; Taks thought it might be trying to cleanse the ground of battle, to remove old sins from the soil and soak the earth with hope instead. Maybe it was sick of the old world’s scars and wanted to wipe the slate clean.
With what had happened here, that was a losing battle in itself.
“Taks, damnit!” Marta bellowed as the tarp Taks had been holding slipped and flapped in the wind. “Hold it steady! Hog’s teeth, I don’t want to spend all night at it!”
Their mind was wandering again. Taks half-yelled an apology that was eaten by the storm and groped in the dim light for the tarp’s edge. Their fingers connected with the Orb’s eerie metallic surface, centuries of detail exposed to the brutal elements; it still felt hot even after so much time. They helped Marta stake down the rest of the tarp in embarrassed silence, covering the gaping hole in the Orb’s top; of the field’s choices, this one had the most intact structure, which wasn’t saying much.
Earth isn’t gone. But sometimes, we wish it was.
When all this started, we’d just achieved long-range spaceflight with the Cleave drives – my great-grandparents were on one of the first cruisers out to the Alpha Centauri system. Kind of a big deal, getting to escape the solar system like that. We’d managed to colonize a few worlds in our backyard, but ideal they weren’t; if we could get our ships to cut through interstellar space the way they did in our neighbourhood, we might have a better chance at finding a liveable world.
Terraforming? That’s a fool’s errand. Best you can hope for is to change a series of icy moons into windy dustballs that snow like the devil’s dandruff, or make a bunch of dry rocks into slightly moist ones. ‘Course, other folks in the galaxy might have other notions, but they weren’t around then; it was just humans trying to find a new home in the badlands.
When the ship begins to sink
And hope is tossed asea
Don’t, clinging to your anchor, think:
“Surely this will save me!”
There is an ocean’s worth of difference
In knowing your boat is sinking
And knowing how to stop it
Without even thinking
If you find yourself adrift,
No paddle to your name,
Examine why you’re left becalmed
And do not jump to blame.
If it’s your design to end up here,
Congrats, you’ve done it, led by fear;
Now you’ve an ocean to sit and dwell
On why you chose to never tell
A soul about your personal hell.
If it’s fickle mind, poor chemical synthesis,
You might find the ocean a dense abyss:
More of a mire than a wide expanse
Less of a trial and closer to dance
With a partner who gives no second chance.
“Don’t panic”, they say, all teacups and sunshine,
Medicine bags full of useless tat.
But you’ve sailed these waters line by line;
There is no one fix to solving that.
All told, it is awful, and without cure;
Though there’s nothing wrong with you
You’re not impure
Your brain’s just a mess. Diagnosis: chemical
Full to the brim with habits inimical
But I believe in you, that’s the truth.
You can win against yourself.
Just remember, you’re okay,
And leave your habits on the shelf.
Apparently the first two verses were missing, oops!
The creature sat idle in its chair by the fireplace, fingers aglow with the last vestiges of its cigar. How long had it been smoking that, I wondered, as I rose to stoke the fire – not for the first time that evening, I realized. The woodpile had been steadily consumed, greedy flames lighting the dim parlour with their grim energy; when had the sun gone down?
“Ah, but it is no matter.” Said the creature, all horn and tooth and skin of scale, shifting forms in the twisting shadows. It took me a moment to understand that it had been speaking aloud to itself, and I had, what, dozed off? In the dim light, its shape was gigantic and diminutive all at once, a thing of true unknowing. Something beyond my ken. It continued, “I’ve another here. Pass me the matches, would you?”
The station wheeled through the void carelessly, metal carapace groaning and creaking against the sheer vacuum that surrounded it. The Jovian moon of Callisto swirled in the darkness below, framed by the gigantic sphere of gas and storms that was Jupiter. The rings glinted in sparkling sunlight, sunlight that had careened through space at such unimaginable speeds just to shine against all these tumbling, hurtling rocks. Even the other moons twinkled in the distance, hot white sparks against the deep black canvas behind.
It all looked so fake.
Even here, in the deepest void of space, there was comfort in moving through nothing.
The ship’s engines rumbled pleasantly; more than that, the feeling of the engines running, matter being converted to plasma to be ejected through narrow cones, the heat and pressure of it all – these were feelings no person could ever truly feel. The sensation of electricity coursing through the hull; automated drones, each one feeling as if a part of her body; the cold, pressure-less void trying to rupture the skin of her hull.
She felt more and more like a vessel, a Ship, than a physical being every day.
“You ever been shot, meddy?”
The medic paused for a breath, surveying the wounds on the soldier’s shoulder and abdomen in an instant, flicking through mental textbooks to adapt to the worsening situation in front of them. “Can’t say I have, L.T.”
The lieutenant grimaced under the medic’s ministrations, their breathing shallow and constant. “It’s funny.”
“Funny.” The medic chuckled distractedly, “what’s funny about a hole dug into you?”
Warning: this story contains brief situations revolving around a lack of control and use of power over another. If that makes you uncomfortable, please return to the Archives.
SystemStartup; run VitalStatistix
– GetStatus: Sleeve*; -GUI
– Error: Sleeve5; stat=Interference.LeftShoulderServo
– Request HotTransfer=Y
– Agent Found: #500392010-4A
– Initiating HotTransfer
The rushing sound of data and light, like a torrential waterfall of endless bits and bytes cascading over her head, was suddenly dulled by the sensation of having ears again. And eyes. Oh god, and a mouth, too. She could sense herself in a small, well-lit room, painfully white and sterile to her newfound sight. Sleeves hung in their rubber harnesses, charging up for the night’s festivities; basic skinjob bots like these rarely had the glamorous gigs.
The city bustled around Harald as he made his rounds, delivering things from far-off cities and towns to the east. The colonists here were trying their best to survive on the border of the salty flats that stymied most attempts at growing anything, but it was their connection to their old lives that truly gave them purpose.
Most had shuttled here when there was a promising find in the desert: a ruin out in the desolate wastes of white, crystalline salt. The problem was, most that searched for the ruin were lost in the flats, for every direction looked the same to the horizon once you lost sight of the foothills. The people that built this little town – Trestle – were those who stood on the precipice of that vast and daunting expanse and realized the folly of it all.