Photo by Erika Garcia on Unsplash
The silence hung in the dense air, cloistered in the darkness like a waiting beast.
“You are describing an insect, c-cccccorrect?” Came a jagged reply from the deep void in front of them; the speaker – an old-world machine they had barely gotten working – spat and fizzed when it spoke, if it did at all.
They were fine with that. The summer sun had finally dipped down, and the cool of night’s shade was a balm. Talking to the dark was a strange comfort, so far from home.
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.
This story takes place in my scifi setting for the game “The Void Cavalcade” that I GM. The party has just pulled off a heist to kidnap a local crime magnate, an alien named Rekkis. This tells what happened to them after the party turned them in…
“The scene here on Tartalus is one of shock and awe. The starport behind me was assaulted by a group of mercenaries rumored to be part of the P.A.D. around midday yesterday.”
The screen shifted from the reporter’s visage in front of the starport to a series of montages.
“The group had apparently been settled in for nearly a week before the strike, and they had acquired uniforms and passes to blend in during their investigations. Several sources say that the group hijacked a ship from the hangar after a general evacuation was sounded; external camera footage confirms they flew to the roof, then kidnapped a local person of interest: one Rekkis Yuilt, a Hox who apparently went rogue after their Inundation. Local business owners and citizens claim Rekkis was skimming profits from nearly all sales of a locally-made ceramic and halting all trade off-world of the material.”
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.
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.
Niké stared hard out of the viewport, trying to convince their brain that what they saw was reality. Those huge, unimaginably strange bodies outside, so alien compared to the cool Martian sand they grew up on. So cold and barren, devoid of life or shelter. Niké squinted their eyes. Still doesn’t look right, they conceded.
“Niké!” The old caretaker bot shouted down the connector.
“Yeah,” Niké responded distractedly, eyes glued to the surreality of such an immense spectacle. The unfathomable vastness was just wrong-
“Nee-Kay.” Came the synthesized voice again, stressing the syllables. It always got their attention, and not for good reason.
“What, Tink.” Their reply was flat.
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.
She answered the signal with a slight nod. “Par’terre responding.”
Her Carrier’s voice replied. “Mines ahead. Recommend we move around – too dense to push through.”
“Negative, Hunlock. Fuel is too slim to allow reroute. Deploy sweeper drones to clear a path.”
“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.
(Warning: This story contains mention of suicide. If this is something you don’t wish to read about, please return to the archives here.)
door.17 opened. door.17 closed. heat readings identified as human; fourteen(14) prosthetics detected…zero(0) essential cybernetics detected
door.18 opened. door.18 closed. door.18 locked.
The AI slid between pipes and wires, giant transformers latticed between cooling units and fans galore. The deeper it went, the more complex and maze-like it all felt, as though the very core of the planet were nothing more than a quantum collection of endless piping and machinery. It often wondered whether that might one day become the truth.