Norman C Boyington
All Rights Reserved
By Norm Boyington
From the first book of the Torah of the Hebrew faith.
And the Lord God sent him out of the Garden of Eden, to till the soil, whence he had been taken.
And He drove the man out, and He stationed from the east of the Garden of Eden the cherubim and the blade of the revolving sword, to guard the way to the Tree of Life.
Genesis - Chapter 3 vs 23-24
A small ship drops out of deep space from nowhere. It's thread drive propelling the vessel at an impossible speed. Detonations from the pulse wave resonate from the hull as it drops into the planet's atmosphere below.
Initiating system power-up.
Ssssssss ... Click...
Entering inhabited space ...
Power-up successful ...
Last known analysis...
Category - dead planet
Time is now 09:36 hours.
Historical orbital records indicate today's date to be Monday, March 6th, in the year 3906 A.D.
Good morning Russel.
We have arrived.
Russel opens his eyes upon hearing Victoria stating the time and date. He shakes the cobwebs from his brain as he sits up in the captain's chair of the small craft. A peculiar film of dust covers everything from the ship's console to the skin on the back of his hands. He leans forward, trying to see beyond the hardened glass viewing window, hoping to get a visual of what is occurring, only it's cloaked in a coat of what looks like dried black mud. Where the filth hasn't obscured his view, he sees the glass is improbably scuffed and scratched.
"What the hell?"
It's more of a question than a statement.
Russel is comforted to hear the ship's A.I. answer and is amused by the informal use of his name by the computer.
"Give me a status check, please."
The ship begins the whir and buzz it invariably makes when processing information. Upon hearing the antiquated sounds of computers of old, he breathes a sigh of relief. The trampoline sound effect from the first modems of the nineteen hundreds was something he requested the A.I. to execute as it thought. Russ finds it amusing.
Russ tenses while listening for the telltale vibrations of the landing gear deploying. His apprehension grows as he feels the hard bump and hears the quite audible grind of soil and rock being crushed under his ship's weight as it settles.
"Can I get that status check?"
I have safety placed us away from human habitation...
Nitrogen 76 percent...
Oxygen 23 percent...
Argon 0.69 percent...
Carbon dioxide 0.028 percent...
Various non-harmful or unknown trace elements...
Completion of assessment 100%
Diminutive mass insect life...
Victoria ends transmission abruptly. As this is not normal for the A.I., Russel frowns at its silence, but before he can question the computer, it again springs to life.
Puzzled by the analysis, Russel pauses, endeavouring to create order in his mind. He guesses the ship has been damaged somehow; however, he has no memory of such an occurrence.
He hesitates at the A.I.'s formality. Something clearly has gone awry. Gazing about at the layers of dust, the obstruction of his viewing plates, and the stale metallic air, he concludes an inordinate measure of time has passed. Nothing makes sense. The ship has no form of life conserving equipment on board. He should be long dead considering the date Victoria has given him. Russ questions the craft once again. This time he uses a different tactic by overriding the ship's human-like interface.
The HUD comes to life on the inside of the soiled windows. Russel watch's as the familiar bright orange letters appear, slowly, letter by letter across the screen, a font he chose which was common in the days when computing was in its infancy.
System overrides in progress...
Loud snaps and groans echo within the interior of the vessel, making Russ jump. Noises of the ship’s exterior adjusting to warmer temperatures randomly sound off; it always startles him.
A compartment flips open on the center console and blows what resembles confetti into the cockpit. A balloon image appears on the HUD with the numbers one, nine, three, seven written in a cartoon font at its center. Keith stares at the screen, his hand absently brushing dust and fine deteriorating paper off his knee.
Congratulations! You are one thousand nine hundred and thirty-seven years old.
What an accomplishment! Good for you!
The sultry sounds of Marilyn Monro singing happy birthday to JFK echoes over the ship's speakers, and a frazzled Keith can't help but smile, yet his mood swiftly diminishes as the birthday greetings disappear and is replaced by the ship's diagnostic program once more. He waits for the primary form of communication that Li'bet exercises. It's more straightforward and simpler to absorb than Victoria's scientific output.
Avian lifeforms --- non-threatening
Vegetation in abundance --- non-threatening
Atmosphere --- relative to earth
Animal lifeforms --- little to none
Human habitation ---
---- dense population
--- single location
--- small scattered
Transport 0369 located ---
Kepler 452b project in effect---
Transport 0370 location ---
- 1986 km
east of northern magnetic pole==
State of stasis .0027 percent operational===
Avian project underway---
Long-range scanners inoperable
Alternative system commencing...
The orange lettered message goes dark, as does the remaining functions of the ship's amenities. Russel sits stunned by the communication Li'bet has put before him, and addresses himself out loud.
"The Kepler Project was a failure..."
He rises from the comfort of his chair and stumbles his way to the back of his now-defunct craft. In the darkness, he feels for the emergency level that will open the ramp to the outside. He finds it promptly and pushes down on the heavy steel bar. There is an audible snap as the doorway begins to unlock. The battery powering the exit machinations struggles to complete its one job, but the door finally opens, and the ramp slides out from its hidden compartment under the steel flooring.
The brightness of the sun pains Russel's eyes as he departs the vessel. He pauses before stepping into the knee-high greenery that surrounds him and breathes in the warm sweat air. He plucks a purplish stem from one of the many stalks of what looks like grass and takes in the view of the lush valley rolling out before him.
It’s all too much. He squeezes his eyes shut, blocking out the alien vegetation and striking colours of the landscape.
"This has to be a dream."
The words seem so loud.
He turns and walks back into the darkness of his vessel, seeking comfort from the familiarity of it. He finds his way back to the captain's chair, absently rolling the stem of grass he has appropriated. He brings it up to his face and takes in the strangeness of its scent. Once again, Russ speaks out to no one in particular.
"It has to be a dream..."
He closes his eyes and begins to softly weep.
The Great Commission
By Norm Boyington
The parents of Ajani Roir were always upfront and decisive when speaking or giving advice to their young son. He mostly appreciated it too, but here's the thing, when it came to his Earthly heritage, they invariably clammed up. No matter how much he badgered them, begged them, they never talked family Pre-Tess. Ajani knew of his First Day ancestors. They were one couple of many who went trying for a new life, a journey that left them all but abandoned here on Bella.
Bella named the for its beauty, represented a large segment of the community from Earth. It was a decision by vote, and if you read the histories, that vote was unanimous.
Ajani's first name was given to him on the tenth day of his life at the temple in Cheops. Parents had no participation in the choosing of their baby's names. When Ajani had questioned his father about this, he was told that this is the way it is. His last name was part tradition of the old world and a smattering of the new. When two came together as life partners and had a child, the infant was given one of the parents' last names. Ajani's surname was taken from his mother, and his sister had his father's last name. It was a choice his parents made to keep both family names going. That was the way of it, and there was no good reason to ask why.
At the age of ten, Ajani was made a man, and he was given the earthly meaning of his name. The priestess who marked him, and kissed him upon his brow, revealed it by whispering into his ear.
'You are Ajani. He who wins the struggle.'
The day had turned out to be lovely. Ajani stood over the remains of last evening's fire and waited for it to spring to life once more. Some tinder and a cup filled at the nearby stream was a daily ritual for the sixteen-year-old. Grandmother claimed a watched pot never boiled, and as he stared down at the steam coming off his soon to be beverage, he acknowledged the idiom to be false. Grandma declared that at one time, sayings such as this were common and regularly spoken by her Grandmother, who was a child of the first of them. These old proverbs and earthly maxims were slowly disappearing over time.
It was barely five months ago Ajani was given his life task. After six years of schooling, he was designated an explorer, tasked with mapping unrecorded sections of the planet, though the finding of the lost transport was the main priority. For one hundred and forty-four years, people like himself have been looking for the ship. In zero three TESS, an alarm was triggered, denoting a large object breaking through the atmosphere. Unfortunately, due to damage of the long and short-range scanners, the computers from the colonist's transport could only give up basic information, such that proved useless to the settlers. It was here the colony's leaders doubled the number of explorers, and with the sighting of a single English Sparrow in twenty-one TESS, the effort was given even more attention. Ajani was a fifth-generation mapper and explorer.
It looked as if it was going to be a fine day. The camp was disassembled, and Ajani was adjusting his backpack's straps when a tremendous boom sounded throughout the valley, causing the very ground shake. Never in his years had he heard such a thing. Frightened, he dove into the thick greenery, his eyes scanning his surroundings and finally the sky above. He was astonished to see a small dark object streaking high above the valley heading in the broader direction he had plotted upon his maps.
'Well, in hell was that?'
The question hanged in the air like the fetishes that Greatgrandmother would tie to the Dewy Trees surrounding her forest cottage. Only, whatever this thing was, it wasn't suspended by strings.
Only as Ajani was resurfacing from his hiding spot, the soundwaves from the objects engines reached him. It wasn't easy to describe, an undulating thrumming which settled into the body, a match for the constant beating of a heart. The turbulence lasted but a moment and then faded as the shape sped away. He stood, still looking up, processing the passing of such a strange happening, hardly suppressing his excitement. Ajani Roir had just witnessed the flight of a space vehicle.
A word used by the early colonists to mark those who had made the epic journey from Earth to the planet named Kepler 452b, only they had woken to a scene of death and disarray. Their settler ship had left them stranded on an unknown planet in an undiscovered universe. A third of the craft was severely damaged, and thousands had perished within their cryo's. You could still go and view the remains of those First-Dayers, although there has been a push as of late to remove and bury the bodies to make use of the tech and room they occupy. So much infighting and so many angry people. Although he missed his friends and family, he did not miss the growing political rhetoric spreading throughout Cheops.
After studying his maps and co-ordinates, Ajani, or AJ, as his friends called him, decided on altering his chosen path to travel in the direction the tiny ship was heading. He had a sinking feeling that the craft could be anywhere by now, and likely hundreds of kilometres away, but he would be crazy not to attempt to locate it. The city leaders would heap grand honours upon his household if he could find such a thing.
So the decision was made, and a heading set. Ajani knew the river would eventually end at the great lake named for the explorer who discovered it. Olynn had been her name. She spent her whole life charting the watershed, then disappeared one summer long ago. Another searcher found her remains, and the universal consensus was she had fallen to her death following a stream in the valley where she was discovered. They said her body was shattered, and only a few items from her pack survived the fall. Her charts and maps were logged and recorded, but her journals were never found. He had planned on visiting the site, as many do, to pay tribute to her, and he still might if his plans worked out.
Ajani settled into a nice rhythm over the next several days. There were many Prawnfish in the river to eat and precleared sites where explorers routinely camped on their journeys to the uncharted lands. He knew that virtually everything within an eight hundred radius had been explored and charted. Yet, a valley only five hundred kilometres from Cheops, although discovered, had never been officially mapped. This was to be his first task, set by the guild. After he recorded the details the leaders required, he was free to venture wherever he desired. It was a huge coincidence the space vehicle's flight plan seemed to cross this valley directly.
By Norman Boyington
April 6, 3906 A.D.
The decision to remove the carbon coating from the outside of Sky was one born out of necessity. Why Russ chose to begin where the ship's classification address was located must have been a flip of the coin decision, as most people would have likely commenced with fixing the power supply.
The ship's nickname came from the identification moniker the government's computers generated for small businesses such as Russel's. 618 SKY was something of a licence plate that ground-based vehicle owners were legally obliged to display. With this six-character identifier, security forces from around the world could glean any information regarding the vessel and its owner. Only those granted ownership of such a vehicle were allowed to pilot it.
There was a significant amount of effort to remove the hard black crust which enveloped Sky. It varied in its depth; however, it remained consistently dense, making removing it an arduous undertaking. Standing back at studying his work, Russ wiped the sweat from his brow and smiled at the clean white lettering against the flat black background. He liked the contrast between the light and the dark. It reminded him of the duality of man. The black being evil, and the white being good. Russ knew he had a tendency of finding symbolism in everyday happenings, and mostly he kept them to himself.
The whole exterior of the craft was stained black. Colouring steel was a newish technology that even a garage mechanic like himself was capable of making. Innovations involving the crafting of vacuum-tight spacecraft had jumped leaps and bounds over the last twenty years. Russ had designed and built Sky with the monies left to him after the accident. His eyes welled up with tears as memories came flooding back, tamping down his feelings from something he had no control of yet.
Depression was Russ's new reality. He had begun to compare the similarities of losing his family in one fell swoop to his sojourn here on this unnamed planet. He thought back to the computer's report and its claim of not knowing where it was. This puzzled Russ greatly, as powering the ship's GPS rescue system only needed a tiny bit of power.
He sighed, once again looking up at the day's work. The sight of the ship's byname really did give him some joy. Maybe focusing on daily jobs was the way to go, as thinking about the task as a whole was utterly overwhelming. Small successes may help keep him focused and drive back the gloom that dominated his mind, but what to do next?
In his exploration of the ship's landing site, Russ had discovered a clean spring of water rising up from the sandy ground. It spilled over the nearby rocks and into the valley below. He was uncertain if the water was potable, but with his ever-growing thirst and the ship's inability to analyze anything, he felt there was no choice but to try it.
The first tastes were delightful and refreshing. Russ couldn't think of the last time a simple drink of water felt so good going down. Throwing caution to the wind, he went back to the ship and retrieved what empty vessels he could find and then took the time to fill them all at the spring source. Even though his newfound water source was a short walk away, having a stored supply was only sensible.
He was on his way back to the ship when he heard it, the familiar song was hard to miss, and it was coming from the direction of the landing site. Russ slowed his walk and was careful not to let the various jugs and jars he was carrying clink together. There, amid the scrapings of his earlier project, stood the songstress, a house finch. There should have been little surprise to find the tiny visiter, yet up to this time, Russ had only heard the avian life here as background noise. They were like the sounds of wind playing at the leaves, and grasses that surrounded him, a constant reminder of his loneliness.
With its familiar song, this bird filled Russ's heart with joy, and for the better part of three minutes, he stood rapt, watching the as the finch picked away at the remains of the shards he had scraped from the ship's hull. Maybe he wasn't as alone as he thought he decided as the bird flew away. There is more to life than the conversation between humans.
After the bird left and he was putting the water bottles away, Russ considered the finch's actions. With the abundance of materials, it could have chosen to explore why the small pile of gravel he had created?
'I must be losing it.'
Russ laughed and shook his head.
'Trying to understand the ideas of a bird.'
In his mind, Russ felt foolish for the mild bit of paranoia. Of all the stuff to worry about, one finches activities should be well near the bottom of the list.
In the fabrication of Sky, Russ had found a constant need for the use of ladders and platforms to access its roof and to clean or repair its windows. The continuous tripping and knocking of the climbing equipment around led him to build rooftop access and a slideout platform used along the windows' bottom. These were designed to be actioned by the computer Victoria, or Li'bet, yet being the ever over-thinker, Russ created a failsafe so he could manually manipulate the devices. So, trying to think logically, in an illogical situation, Russ gathered up his tools and began the arduous task of freeing some of these access features. It only stood to reason that getting the ship back online should be number one on his list of to-dos.
At the time of creation, Russ thought the built-in ladder was ingenious, and maybe he was right. The design was such that given an amount of constant pressure, each ladder rung would spring free from its hidden location under the skin of the ship. I guess hidden isn't the best way to describe it. Maybe storage might be a better way, as the drawer-like pressure plate was painted a bright yellow to make it easy to locate.
Russ spent the better part of the day freeing two of the ladder rungs. He was pleased when he pushed the yellow plate for the count of five, and it easier rotated back into the ship's hull. The rung pulled freely from its hidey-hole as designed. Such was the plan of the device, a rung could be pulled out to a distance of sixty centimetres, making each ladder step also a handy platform. Russ had presented the idea to a startup company whose mission was to create designs for those home hobbyists attempting to build their own spacecraft. He had received a healthy allotment for his innovation in the fashion of trade. The A.I. system was totally bought and paid for in this manner, with no advertisements added to the software. Yes, Victoria was to be the voice of Russ' vessel. It was Victoria's calming voice and his music setlists that might keep him from going mad out in the confines of space. Someone or thing to keep company in the lonely hours between jobs.
As a junker, Russ could spend days researching permissions from the floating space debris owners to allow him to remove the objects safely and within parameters of universal law. Things could get heated if a Russian satellite was returned to the earth but on Canadian soil. Russel understood the worries and wants of countries securing their tech. He even took it upon himself to approach several prime embassies with a proposal to allow them to preapprove the removal of the scrap. As of yet, he hadn't heard back from any of them.
Russ was one of three registered junkers within the new universal order. There was more than enough work for all of them to share the load. The world had been shooting various objects into space for over seventy years. The orbital area around the planet was so cluttered that it made launching something new dangerous for the payload, be it human or other. There was a ton of money to be made, and Russ had netted himself a more than comfortable nest egg.
Home space travel had come upon the population of the earth almost overnight. It was the invention of what some called a thread drive that made it all possible. A simplistic explanation of the tech was based on alternate realities, where a copy of you, so to speak, lives out his or her respective life in a same but different existence. It's a lot to try to explain if you haven't studied string theory.
The new drive was a creation of a researcher that worked for Xerox, one of the biggest copier companies in the world. He was charged with coming up with new and exciting innovations for the copying world. The Thread Drive, as most great inventions invented, was an accident. It's too much to get into the account of 'the incident' and the work it took to finally arrive at a working model of the drive, but here is a brief description.
Simply put, the unit produces a rapid vibration throughout an object installed upon, creating for a brief moment where the physical item becomes translucent. It remains in existence but now in ours. A computer then attempts to match a 'thread' of reality that allows for space travel. It briefly drops into that existence, making it possible to 'copy' an engine that will allow for elements such as lightspeed. To be clear, the drive is not the motor per se. It itself is a program that renders copies of alternate realities to the here and now. You have to buy the actual engine. This is an elementary explanation, to be sure.
The information on the tech is closely guarded, and it takes a worldwide committee of scientists to allow for what is known as a 'transfer.'
The world's governments chose to make the thread drive available to anyone with the money and vetting but put plainly speaking; one can buy the drive for the price of an upscale home in Toronto or Bejing.
Once you have paid your drive fees, a plethora of schematics is made available for vessel construction. With them comes a free inspection by the new universal government pact to ensure the ship is spaceworthy.
By law, only a certified technician can install the drive, and then once that's done, a year of flight school, you were good to go.
Over the years before the stranding, as Russ had named it, he had serval upgrades made to SKY. There were towing cables that released from the front and back of the ship. A real-time translation system created by Google and two mounted hydraulic guns hidden within the hull. After an American terrorist destroyed a tourist craft, many ship owners began outfitting their ship with weaponry. With a certain amount of money, any inspector could be made to turn a blind eye.
Russel wondered if he made the right decision to become a pilot. Maybe his family might still be alive if he was driving that night, or perhaps he would have been killed alongside them. Both would be better options than his new reality, but one never gets to know, do they?
'I can't believe it's been a month already.'
Between exploration and the work on SKY, time was moving fast for Russel. He went inside the ship's dark interior, grabbed a bottle of water, and sat down upon the ramp. He looked out over the valley, waiting for the sun to drop into the horizon.
'You would have loved it here.'
He spoke the word into the empty sky, not knowing if she heard him or not. It was the thought that his family might be out there somewhere that kept him going some days. God knows that there were times when he could still hear the children playing. If he were the anchor that kept them alive to the world, then he would keep going. Russel let out a long breath of air, trying to hold back his tears.
A sudden flurry of movement was startling, and Russ almost dropped his water as the curious house finch came into view once more. It perched on the handle of a shovel he had left stuck into the ground. In its beak was a neon green worm that resembled the inchworms of home. He laughed at the unexpected company as it tilted its head to get a better look at him.
'Here's to you and yours.'
Russel held the water bottle up in a toast-like fashion. The movement startled the bird causing it to fly into the forest's greenery, but he sadly smiled all the same.
'Yes. You would have loved it here.'
A Sudden Death
By Norman Boyington
Watching her safety line float by in slow motion was like some terrifying dream come true. Surely the team she had sent to prepare her ascent had the sense to tie it off properly, but now, in the horrible of the moment, blaming the abilities of others did not seem worth exploring.
Olynn clung to the rock side of the Valley wall in desperation and fear. At this height, falling would not be good.
She almost laughed at the obvious thought, but first, she had to work her way out of this predicament. The first indication of something or someone present above her came at fifteen o one. She knew this as the hand her watch arm was grasping was almost gripping a sharp shard of stone protruding from the rock face. It was a murmuring of voices. Then a single head-sized rock came flying by, missing her only by an arms-length. With the stony missiles cruising by, she was more than unsure of yelling out. Maybe the stone was an accident but coupled with the safety line unravelling, she thought the worst and perceived threat as nefarious.
Ajani peered over the glistening lake in the morning sunlight. It was beautiful. All his life, his father had said the river began as a widening stream cascading over pink speckled rocks. It was indeed a sight to behold. He looked around, attempting to sight the flat bottom boats searchers used to cross the immense body of Lake Olynn, and in doing so, he found the well-worn path leading to the Olynn memorial. A simple plaque placed into stone by a long-expired technology that Ajani found himself standing before. The historical commemoration read as follows.
Here lies Olynn Kristiansen, first officer and of the Kaplan 452 B project. She perished doing what she loved. She will be long missed, Born 1984 AD.
Olynn clung tightly to the ravine’s side as rock after rock, stone after stone, fell about her ears. The murmurings intensified, and squeals became rabid screams. She was not certain how to get herself out of this predicament. She was becoming tired, and her hands hurt from clinging to the stonewall. All she wanted to do was sit in rest.
The finality of the day came as a surprise and shock to the young woman. A barrage of large gravel had fallen from above, and some of the sand and grit gathered in her hair and eyes. Distracted by the inability to see and the resulting pain the mixture produced, it triggered her to let go with her left hand and to bring it up to her face. Still, the final betrayal was as she wiped the filth from her eyes. The rope trailing from her harness was suddenly and sharply yanked, and Olynn’s upper body was pulled away from the cliffside. She dropped into open space with images of her family flashing through her mind and thoughts of why me as she tumbled end over end into the ever dark.
Ajani was well aware of the near holiness of Olynn’s resting place. The authority had deemed it a historic site, and the temple leaders had gone as far to disallow searchers from climbing the face of Olynn’s last fall. When the Guild had given him instructions to ascend the sacred spot, he was more than surprised.
It was to be a free climb; no evidence of his passing was to be left for following explorers to find. Ajani was a skilled rock climber, so other than worrying about disturbing spirits, he felt confident in his abilities.
Two hours passed, and he found himself at Olynn’s last-placed pinion and trespass placard declaring to the general public to go no further or risk of prosecution. There were no safety lines now, and the danger of falling became very real. He was to use nothing but his natural abilities as a climber while carrying his essential gear to the top of the ravine.
It took better than part of the days remaining sunlight to reach a place of safety and security. He was only about thirty meters from his goal. His hands were barked and bleeding from the jagged stones, and his legs were so tired he could not push on any further.
Ajani was well pleased with the roosting place he had discovered. It was covered in the soft grass, and as ledges go, it appeared sturdy and sound. Not wanting to draw attention to his location, he skipped his nightly fire ritual and instead wrapped himself in a thin but warm blanket. He ate the last of his dried dewy fruit, but not before holding up the last piece of amber flesh, admiring it for what it was. The only thing that dewy trees were not good for was burning. The warm breeze was blowing up from the bottom of the scenic valley stretched before him, and soon he drifted off to sleep with dreams of home in his head.
Ajani woke with a start.
‘Was that someone calling?’
He all but stopped his breathing and listened for anything other than the wind and birds to make a noise.
‘Must have been my imagination.’
The valley was filled with sounds, nature, birds, wind, even running water, but nothing out of the ordinary, nothing feral or human. He shook the disquiet from his aura and began to pack up his folding his blanket, and began preparing his pack for the final leg of his climb. Shouldering his equipment, he scanned the rock and dirt wall before him. The choice of where to begin the ascent seemed made for him, a thick black branch of an unknown species of vegetation jutted out from the upper part of the cliffside. It would have to be a lucky throw of a line to achieve a good enough wrap of belaying rope, but he was more than keen to give it a go. A rope helper would be welcome after yesterday’s long climb. His hands had suffered the ascent and were stiff and sore from the punishment. The throw is good, and the branch solid. He would have to record the new flora in the off-hand that it might be unique to the Guild. He held onto the line and allowed it to take some of his weight while he climbed. Maybe it was rope, perhaps it was the start of a new day, but Ajani all but flew the 10 meters to the tie-off. He rested his bottom on the branch and unwrapped the self-tying section of the line. He carefully coiled it, revelling in the technology of the ancestors.
‘Such wondrous things they had.’
He voiced his admiration while he returned the coil to his pack, and as he did, he placed his free hand on the hard stone aside him then froze. The what the hell expletives were frowned on by the citizens of Cheops, especially those that held archaic religious beliefs, but Ajani’s shock was appalling. He looked upon the item driven into the rock where his hand rested, and there, shining as it did the day created, was one of Olynn’s pinions. The idea of the ancient explorer achieving this height seemed ridiculous to Ajani. She was not noted to be an accomplished rock climber in the existing records, yet here was evidence of her being so close to the top. He pondered the idea of her resting on the ledge below, just as he had. It made him feel close to her somehow.
The rest of the climb was uneventful, but he wondered at the finding of the pinion, of the thought that he was the first to achieve the cliff face. It made his mind race, and he could not help but wonder what made Olynn fall to her death.
‘She must have gotten careless.’
It is the only thing that made any sense. The remaining part of the climb had been easy comparatively. Ajani stood at the edge of the ravine, wondering at the task he had accomplished. Between using branches and stones as handholds, he figured he had climbed in a total of eight hundred meters. Not all of the ascent was scaling rocks. Some were only walking very steep scree grades. He looked out over the valley and Lake Olynn. He found it incredible that even at this height, the lake was lost on the horizon. He turned in the direction of the space vessel that had travelled this way and was disappointed to find a rounded treed hill obscuring his view.
Hungry and frustrated, he sat and ate, then made camp. It was mid-afternoon before he set out to walk the remaining one hundred meters to the hilltop. It was an easy walk with little to help him or hold him back. Something hanging from a large tree near the top caught his eye. It looked like one of his grandma’s fetishes, but as he neared, he could see that although similar, it had a more sinister look to it. The fetish was square in shape made with a kind of wood he did not recognize if it were to be described. The whole of the object was crisscrossed with similar stick-like pieces, and hanging from copper wire were strange brightly coloured feathers. The oddity did not lie in the colour. It was that they were made from what the first dayers called plastic. That puzzled him. A plastic skull that might have been a bird’s rested at the centre of it all. A stick piercing both its eyes finished the menacing appearance of the thing. Ajani carefully stepped forward and reached up to touch the fetish, and at the same time, a loud snap of a branch underfoot sounded off. Startled, he jumped back, glancing down at the offending object.
Again, with the uncouth expletives but having buried remains of an old broken skull grinning obscenely back at him widened his eyes and loosened his tongue.
The shock of the skull was palatable. He turned it over and over, looking at the tree looking at the skeletal face. It was unnerving to ponder who this was, why this was here. The skeleton was definitely human that he knew. He had seen skeletons before while in school cramming for geography and studying for his archaeological training at the Guild. He took a step back and looked at the sky, wondering how much daylight he had left. Trying to decide if he should just record the skeleton’s position. Ajani could tell that there were other bones mixed in with the long grass. A partially covered rib cage stuck out of the ground, and something shiny resting just under it caught his eye. He reached down and picked up a tarnished silver button.
He stepped back and again looked down at the mystery before him and decided to excavate the site. It was not like he would do a considerable study, but he wanted to see what the skeleton was all about. Any thoughts of exploring the idea of the space vessel exited from his mind. He took all by the day to clear the area where the skeleton was, and as the digging was not all that demanding, he moved most of the earth by hand. He used a small branch to remove anything that was a little tougher to get out. In the end, his reward was a collection of coins dating back from 1908 to 1937, along with a handful of buttons, some of which were mineral encrusted. They looked like they had been there for years. It was so puzzling to him.
He sat down in the grass, inspecting the coins. The metal currency depicted what looked to be a Queen or maybe a Princess on the backs of them. Some of the coins were struck with what could only be a King. Ajani was reasonably sure that they were coins from Earth. He had only ever held one or two things that came directly from the ancient planet in his short life. The coins definitely were valuable, and he placed them in the top pocket of his overcoat.
Ajani laid back, letting the sun’s warmth caress his body. It was hard work removing all the skeletal remains, and now he wondered if he should rebury them or leave them as they were. He had tried to piece the bones back together, but the attempt was a disaster. There was no putting it back together without the specific training it required.
‘I’ll let the forensics team sort out the remains.’
He yawned and was just beginning to close his eyes when a clunking noise sounded off within the leaves of the tree. It sounded like wooden wind chimes striking together. Standing up, he could see something hanging on the far side of the tree. Why had not noticed it before?
‘What in the world?’
Again, with the questions to himself?
He laughed that he would talk to himself about talking to himself. Maybe he had spent too much time alone. He could not imagine being out here for years as some of the explorers had done. It is a wonder that they ever adjust back to life in the city. He made his way over to where the other item was hanging.
‘Is it another fetish?’
The thought was forgivable, but as Ajani grew closer, he recognized the instrument for what it was. There, hanging in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to hoist, was an ancient block and tackle made for lifting heavy objects.
‘What is going on here?
‘Something I think.’
Stating the obvious was something that Ajani was known for. His friends at the Guild called him captain obvious more times than not. He understood the moniker was from an old Earth commercial about places to stay if he remembered correctly. From when they still watched Theatre on screens.
‘I think they called it television.’
Sadly, the block and tackle were rusted well beyond repair. He circled it, finally reaching up to touch its damaged features.
‘It’s a wonder that it has lasted as long as it has.’
He could see that some of the metals had done better than others and wondered if it could be brass but changed his mind almost immediately upon thinking it. Brass would be too soft for the purpose of this tool. What was before him had a bit of a shine to it.
“I guess that’s not the best word to describe it then…’
It had more of a tarnished look to it, yet it appeared solid all the same. Ajani puzzled at the material, wondering if this also could be another artifact from the long-gone Earth. Deciding to leave the block and tackle where it hanged, he walked back to where the Skelton lay. He gathered up the gear he had left sitting exposed beside the tree then walked back down to the camp.
‘Maybe this area stands to be explored a little bit further.’
His initial thought was to quickly do the topographical recordings of the place to satisfy the Guild, but he wondered if it might be best to signal for help with everything he had found here.
Now calling for help is not exactly an easy thing to do when you are out in the wilderness. Radios were given to only elite well-seasoned explorers and teams that have been sent out to record findings that other searchers might have found, but he could still light a big signal fire at the edge of the cliff. A fire such as this would be seen for miles. It could take days for any sort of response, but he knew that eventually, somebody would come.
‘I don’t even know why I’m thinking this way.’
Again, with the crazy thoughts. He turned back towards the camp, then lit a small fire that would not be noticed to heat some water from a nearby stream for a drink to clear his mind.
The stream was almost as Olynn had recorded in her journaling years ago.
He found it funny that the water cascading over the ravine’s edge in spring-like fashion would have been recorded by somebody who was now long dead. Something did not add up. Ajani sat for the remainder of the day, watching the flames, pondering the day’s events. He eventually grew tired and crawled into his tent, and fell into a night of fitful sleep. Screams, howls, and moans of the undead rolled through his dreams like some horrible vision.
He awoke with a start wondering if something had howled near the outside of the tent. Blurry-eyed, he listened, yet there was no snapping of brush or any sign of something moving. There was nothing but the sound of the wind upon the trees, the leaves slapping them together like the clapping of a million festivalgoers from the old earth videos.
‘Well, I am up now.’
Ajani could see that sunrise was still a ways away, so he exited the tent, taking the coins from his jacket and gazing at them from his small defunct campfire. It had only taken a couple of small dry branches and twigs to get a little bit of a spark for seeing. The flames and the way they danced with the smoke was comforting to him. It was something that he could look at. Something that he could talk to to ease the loneliness of being alone. He stared at the coin held between his index finger and thumb. 1935 was the number stamped upon its surface. He could not read the small lettering that circled the object but could see the head of a Royal visage and wondered at the person’s life. Could this be a King from England? He had read about the country in the archives. Several people drew their ancestry from that area. Ajani was so proud of the find, and he took out a thin piece of paper from his pack and wrapped each coin individually. Wrapped each button separately and then placed them in a zippered pocket that was unused until now. He imagined the heralding and cheering of the crowds upon his return to Cheops. The accolades that he would receive from such a find. He had discovered one of the First Dayers that had been unrecorded, and he felt quite proud of himself for doing so.
Somewhere in his self-praise Ajani had fallen asleep again by the fire. He did not really remember lying down on the grass, but he must have. The dew from the vegetation and the mist rising from the valley made him feel damp and cold. He could see the sun trying to burn off the smoke-like fog and hoped that it was going to be another clear day. He decided that maybe he would circle the hill thinking it might take a few hours of his day to go round. It looked to be maybe four or five kilometres to walk the perimeter. Ajani threw his on his pack and pulled out a machete-like knife to possibly cut down some of the vegetation that would inevitably oppose him. He knew there would not be a path but headed off anyway.
The first thought that something might be amiss registered when he realized that the trail he was following was not made from humans. It was an animal path, something that he had only seen in pictures and books. Why he did not notice it as he started to walk, he could not say. I guess it was natural for his feet to follow the opening through the underbrush surrounding the hill. He stopped dead in his tracks, thinking out loud.
‘Could it be possible that the old transport had released more than just birds, more than avian life?’
I guess it was a real possibility.
'Stranger and stranger…"
Speaking with himself, he had to stop. It was actually beginning to annoy him. He continued down the pathway until it stopped in a clearing about maybe four hundred metres from his campsite. The clearing looked to have a radius of two hundred metres. Long grass-like purple fronds and white lily flowers perched on knee-high yellow stocks were not the only things littering the opening. Standing proud in the middle of the meagre field was something that he had again only seen in photographs and other Earth-centric media. The object before him was what the First Dayer’s would have called an aeroplane. It was rusted. It was obviously old, and what it was doing here was well beyond his capabilities in his thinking. Ajani walked up to it, stunned by the size. Stunned by gets its existence. ‘
He read large white metallic letters stamped on the bottom of the wings. What they signified, he was not entirely sure.
‘Weren’t some vessels of the time signed as a license of identification?’
He circled the air vehicle over and over and noted it was a twin-prop.
‘I guess that’s what it would be called.’
Two propellers. One on each wing that would have powered this vehicle to heights unimaginable. He thought how exciting it would be to be the first to define something such as this here on this distant planet. Ajani even fantasied briefly that he would pilot this vehicle backed Cheops’s, landing in the centre of the settlement’s square. He would be hailed as a hero. He laughed to himself at the ridiculousness of such a thought and carried on exploring the mechanized giant. A smaller image, I guess the word would be a logo, is what he supposed was set on the side of the vehicle beside what looked like a door to the inside. The logo was graced with a star and one word.
What it meant he was not so sure, yet that is what the letter read. He pulled out his journal and recorded the numbers he had seen on the wings and drew a detailed picture of the logo and how it appeared beside the door, then sat in the grass staring at the antique air vessel and wondered what to do next. He found himself sketching rather hurriedly and glanced down on the page to see a reasonable image of what laid before him. Ajani’s sketching abilities had never been stellar, but he could do an alright job if he wished to. He noted the path, his camp and where he had come up from the ravine at the bottom of the page, then folded the notebook and returned it to his pack.
Ajani decided to see if he could gain entry to the plane by utilizing the door beside the logo, and that is when it happened. When he first heard it, it started as a low growl and some crashing about in the woods on the other side of the clearing. The sound sent sweat running down his face. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end as he unconsciously backed away from the vehicle and looked to the path from whence he had come. Within seconds the sound changed location, this time in the form of barking and howling. He had long studied what manner of creatures the ancient transport might have loosed upon the planet and wondered to himself.
‘Could this be what they call a dog, wolf or fox?’
Ajani was not sure why he did not like the sound as he backed up towards the pathway, and when the screams and howls reached a deafening cacophony, he found himself running for the campsite. He made for his tent and looked over his shoulder to see a figure appear out of the wooded area behind him. It was disturbingly man-like, but there was something about it that that was wrong. The thing looked decayed.
‘It looked old.’
The thought ran over the delicate surface of his mind trying to process what was happening, and then the horror struck him. He knew where he had seen things like this before. It looked like the bodies from the first Dayer’s cryotubes. A cold chill ran from his crotch to his stomach, and then a warmth ran down the length of his legs. Ajani had just pissed himself.
Embarrassment is for those who have the luxury of time. As the creature began to run towards him, Ajani looked to the cliffside, and without thinking, he sprinted to it and grabbed the rope he had left tied off at the top. He slid down to the branch that he had found sticking out of the ravine and then over the rocks to the ledge he had rested on but a short time ago. In his haste to escape the beast, he all but flew down the side of the cliff. Only once did he look up to see the face of the monster peering at him from the very top.
‘Yes, it is definitely a man.’
He said the words out loud, trying to make it real, but the face was gray-green with death, its blue lips opened and closed, opened and closed. It bared its teeth, letting out a deafening scream. In his terror, he let go of the cliffside and found himself falling.
The freefall descent lasted forever in the two seconds it three seconds it took to bounce off the rocks. His world went spinning in distortion and pain then it was only darkness
By Norman Boyington
May 6, 3906 A.D.
String theory proposes that the fundamental constituents of the universe are one-dimensional “strings” rather than point-like particles.
Russel picked up then dropped the manual on his ship’s thread drive on the passenger seat in the cockpit. It had been days since he’d read anything of interest, and the instructional was something he’d never truly understood.
‘The Quantum shift happens as the person involved shifts their mental reality to something else. Coupled with the high-speed vibration, a person essentially thinks themselves into the alternate space.’
‘I think; therefore, I’m there.’
Coined by anonymous tech guru.
This quote, highlighted in yellow, read like a bad science fiction novel and was placed in the middle of page one of the manual. The basic telling of how the thread drive worked was enough for Russ to throw the manual down in frustration, and that is what he’d done.
Russ had been working at clearing off enough solar panels to get the ship back online. It was his hope that he might be able to get SKY up I the air, but in reality, he knew that he’d be lucky to even get the computers and lighting systems working. He could see on the instrument panel that the batteries were in the midst of charging, so he knew that his efforts weren’t in vain. With all the technology that had come into existence in the last ten years, the upgrades on deep cell batteries had to be one of the greatest. Arrays that might have weighed in at several hundred kilos now were the size of a fist and over seventy times the strength. Russ knew it would be some time before he could safely reboot the system.
Tired of cleaning and scraping, Russ fulfilled his daily water gathering routine and then sat down on the ship’s ramp and laid back.
‘The clouds are sitting high in the sky this afternoon.’
He yawned and closed his eyes, thinking that he’d come to talking to himself more than usual since his arrival to where ever this is.
‘The sun sure feels good.’
It was something his father would have said on a clear day. As he neared the end of his life, Russ’s dad could never seem to get warm unless he was sitting under a cloudless sky. The thought of him made Russel smile, but in a sad way.
‘Yes, Dad, the sun sure does feel good…’
The rest of the thought hanged in the air like a wind-blown piece of dander fluff, and Russel knew no more until a chill running through him made him want to pee. He opened his eyes and, at first, couldn’t understand the darkness, but the actuality of what was going hit him between the eyes with its obviousness.
‘I guess I was tired.’
Russ laughed as he hopped down off the platform where he lay and walked to the edge of the clearing to relieve himself. He almost pissed on his feet when an exterior emergency light flickered on behind him. It was his headless shadow stretched out before him that first caught his attention as he tucked himself back into his pants. The light had caused his alter self to lengthen out into the gorge. His head was absorbed by the inky darkness flowing through the valley.
‘Victoria! Dim the lights.’
He watched as the glowing steel lantern softened to a weak glow, but Victoria’s usual reply of affirmation wasn’t to be heard.
‘Well, at least you know I’m out here…’
Russel stretched his arms high over his head to ease the crick in his back. He had hoped the ship would begin to see signs of life by this evening, and he wasn’t far from wrong.
After the initial shock wore off from being lit up, Russel climbed up the ramp and into the now brighter interior of the ship. He noted that all the emergency safety lights were running, and upon walking into the tiny mess hall and was delighted to see the clock on the stove was once again flashing twelve o’clock over and over. Deciding that a hot drink would be nice, Russ placed his favourite mug under the coffee dispenser and pressed the on button. He knew it might be a long wait for hot water, so he set the alarm to notify himself when the drink was ready. He was about to take a seat at the kitchenette seat when the sound of a motor whirring and what might be gravel being crushed sounded off from outside.
‘I guess I should have a look.’
He quickly crossed the room and turned toward the exit ramp to find it now all the way down. Although it would be nice to not have to climb onto the platform every time he wished to enter the ship, he strangely was disappointed that his afternoon napping pad now rested at a twenty-degree angle. The loud bong of the coffee maker sounded off, and Russel’s mind went instantly and happily to thoughts of his coffee cup. Without thinking, he made his way back inside and found that the room smelled of Jamaican dark roast and wished he had a nice pastry to go with it.
‘Beggars can’t be choosers.’
Russ grimaced at the saying. Never had he noticed how demeaning that saying was.
With coffee in hand, he headed for his favourite place in the vessel to see how the computers were responding to the minimal power supply. His first instinct was to openly ask Victoria for a status check, but he quelled that desire in case she wouldn’t be able to give him something accurate on such a low battery charge. To be sure, the scanners drew more power than most of the accessories on the vessel.
Sitting down in a cloud of dust, Russel made a mental check to clean the piloting area before long. The space dust, as he was calling it, covered so much of the cockpit that it was hard to move without causing mini sandstorms. The cloud of minutia left his eyes burning, and his nose set to sneezing. He coughed once or twice before settling into a comfortable position and then checked the HUD. There he found what he expected, a bright orange cursor flashing alone upon the window screen.
He started to type but wasn’t exactly sure what he wanted to say.
‘Li’bet, is Victoria able to sustain a conversation?’
The cursor turned to a rotating question mark then the answer popped up.
Russel was relieved. As much as he loved communicating with the ship’s interface, he was in need of hearing a voice that wasn’t his. He typed out a thank you to the computer and leaned back into his chair.
A brief pause.
He sighed in relief and found himself tearing up at the sound of her voice.
‘I have some questions, and if the answers cause a direct drain on your system, then stop and let me know. Okay?’
Again a pause.
Victoria seldom was so formal, but Russ ignored the oddity and began with the biggest of his queries.
‘Victoria? Where are we? And to be clear, I already know that I am not on Earth and that the ship is on a ledge overlooking a vast ravine.’
Russel wasn’t usually this specific with the system, but he didn’t want to play the games that Victoria occasionally played. He didn’t want this conversation to be long and drawn out.
A series of clicks and hisses ran through the ship while the computer did its thinking. Russ took a long drink of his now lukewarm coffee and waited.
‘Sir, my long-range scanner is inoperable, so giving you an exact location is not within my abilities as of yet. The biological covering coating the vessel is interfering with that type of transmission, long or short range. Yet, I am able to give you information on the events premising our arrival to the planet.’
Russ sat up in his chair and leaned forward. The screen before him lit up, and he could see a video of himself taking place in place of the HUD. He watched as the noiseless video played a segment of him obviously speaking to someone beside him.
‘Victoria, why can’t I hear the sound?’
A pause and much clicking.
‘The audio has been removed.’
Russel leaned back, confused, but continued to watch the video. In the view was an older satellite with strange markings floating before him, and he could see the Earth off to the left. Suddenly something in the direction of the blue planet catches his attention, and he can see what looks like a woman’s hand coming into view from the right. It seems to be pointing toward the direction he is focused on. There are warning signals lit up all over the interior of the cockpit, and he can see the other Russel staring with his mouth agape. The video becomes pixelated for a moment and then returns crisp and clear to a large chunk, maybe a third of the Earth splitting off from the rest of the planet. Bright orange-red lava spews from the gigantic fissures and climbs high into the sky. The video goes dark.
Russel sits in stunned silence.
He opens his mouth to speak, but nothing comes out.
‘Sir, are you alright?’
Russel gets up with his coffee and hurries outside, and with drink in hand, he throws up to the side of the exit ramp without spilling a drop.
‘There’s no way to get back home, is there?’
Since landing on the planet, Russel had it in the back of his mind that this was the place where he was destined to spend the rest of his life. The next words to come from the ship’s computers would either confirm this or not. He stood over the splatter of still warm vomit, waiting for a response.
‘No, Russ. There is no foreseeable way to get back. My long-range scanner appears to be damaged, there are degradations in my hull, and even if there was a way, without some form of cryo-tech, you would die well before we got to our destination. I have no idea on how we both arrived at this place intact.’
There was a lengthy moment of silence before Russel spoke again.
‘I guess I should savour the coffee then.’
It wasn’t a question, and the computer knew this as fact. Its ability to interface made it the unique thing that it was.’
‘Bowie or Steve Earle?’
Russel smiled and shook his head slowly.
‘You pick my love.’
Russel walked to the edge of the ravine pondering whether his small life was worth continuing, and gazed into the night’s sky.
‘Earle I go. Bowie, I stay.’
He took a deep breath, preparing himself to step off the edge into eternity, but manically laughed as the words from Victoria’s pick pumped out from the interior speakers.’
There’s a starman waiting in the sky.
He’d like to come and meet us.
But he thinks he’d blow our minds.
Russel let out a shaky breath before turning away from the fate he almost chose. As he and his cup walked back up the ramp and into the vessel he would now call home, he joined in with the song for the last two lines.
Let all the children boogie.
La la la la…
‘Plane down on an uncharted island. Small, uninhabited.’
In the fifteen hundred-odd years it had been alive, the Noonan had pretty much explored the whole of the planet. Always with permission, though. Yes, Always with permission. During those explorations, he found things that both fascinated and disturbed him. Some of these findings were the wanderers, the talking rock, and of recent, the other ones.
The Noonan had forgotten the happening of why or how he came to be, but the one thing he had not forgotten was his promise to a lady long ago.
‘Don’t be scared. I’ll take care of you.’
For hundreds of years, he had watched over the lady, guarding her and her possessions fiercely, but he had failed. Something had been taken. Something had moved his lady and stolen from her, and the something would pay dearly for the crime.
Days ago, an aircraft of sorts had exploded into the atmosphere high above the physical world, and like the guardian he was, the Noonan desired to hurry toward its landing place, but not before bowing to the lady.
‘I will return.’
The promise was something he could only say in his thoughts now. The ability to speak had been torn from him many years ago, and even with the promise to return, it took him well over a week to finally leave her side.
Somewhere in the Noonan’s memories was the skill set to find things. He always knew where he was just by looking at the sky. He also could predict how long it would take to travel to a place by seeing the location. However, this time, the Noonan could not see where the streaking vessel had landed, but he knew it had. He knew by watching the trajectory of the aircraft and noting its deceleration. He knew that the thing had likely landed on the other side of the valley. Lastly, he knew the time it would take to get to it.
To be sure, the Noonan didn’t see himself as an evil killer or murderer. He existed in this time and space to fulfill a promise. If something didn’t pose a threat to the lady, then that thing would be left alone. He wasn’t sure how to feel about the object that had flown overhead. Maybe they had finally found them. He had told her over and over not to give up hope. He might perhaps have a chance to rest if the searchers were again looking for them.
He was about halfway to the aircraft when he felt something was wrong. He could smell the far-off fire and noted its location. The Noonan turned and began the long sprint back to where his lady rested. Secretly he hoped as he crashed through the underbrush that he wouldn’t have to hurt anybody. The last visitor it killed had been, unfortunately, an accident. He could still remember the woman’s look of resignation and surprise as she fell backwards off the face of the cliffside. Maybe if he had left her alone, she might have been able to escape the others below her.
It didn’t feel right, and the smell of the place stank of fear and sweat. The intruder’s heat signature still lay upon the field. The Noonan could easily see where something warm-blooded had sat or laid within the long stems of grass and flowers, though the trail was more pronounced as it ran away from the landing zone and into the forest. He screamed in frustration as the faint scent of the lady reached him. He was sure that the intruder had desecrated his lady’s resting spot and cursedly taken something from it.
The thief’s path was recent and effortless to follow, and the Noonan chortled and tried to yell to the lady in his excitement, but to anyone listening, it all would have sounded like a blood-curdling howl and scream. He broke into the clearing and first looked to the top of their hill, where he and the lady rested, then seeing movement, his eyes shifted to focus hard on a human sprinting away from a neatly made camp. His first instinct was to yell for the thief to stop, but of course, nothing but shrieking exited from his lips, which only caused the young man to run even faster. The Noonan watched as the invader nearly dove off the cliff’s side and into the ravine below, then dropped to all fours, following very much like a primate giving chase. It only took seconds to reach the place where the man had plunged over the cliff. Again, he screamed his frustration, then peered down over the edge. He watched the thief climbing spider-like down the cliffside, and his anger boiled. He was all set to follow his quarry when their eyes met, and he heard clearly the first authentic human voice in a long time.
‘Yes, it’s definitely a man.’
The words floated up from the intruder, its brain and mouth working together to form a not so concealed thought.
The horror in the young man’s face was evident, and Noonan was glad for it. He paused as they took in the measure of each other, then again ordered the thief to stop. The resulting scream seemed to take the life from the man’s eyes, and the Noonan could only watch as his prey slipped and let go of the rock. It plummeted away from him just as the woman had so many years ago and he felt conflicted for his part in another human’s death. As I said before, the Noonan wasn’t a thing of evil. It was something born out of a promise.
The Death of an Innocent
Ajani Roir sat on the cold metal bench in his cell, thinking about his predicament and what lead him to this place. He didn’t understand the Guild’s decision to hold him for questioning or the temple leader’s insistence that he would have no contact with the outside world until a proper assessment of his wanderings had been completed. The past few days had been a cluster of meetings, interviews and accusations, that left the young man spent and confused. Tired, he changed his position on the bench to allow him the room to lie down, and for the umpteenth time, went over the situation that brought him to this jailed state, and beginning with the boat getting caught up in the rocks was a good enough start to the story.
Ajani awoke to the sound of running water and an unfamiliar sensation. The ground beneath him rocked and undulated up and down and back and forth. A weird echoey scraping made him unconsciously sit up to gain a better perspective of what was happening around him. He placed his hand on the wooden seat beside him to help in his efforts and briefly wondered at what it was doing there, then opened his eyes to see that he was the lone passenger in one of the flat bottom boats from Lake Olynn’s shores. Only he wasn’t at the lake. He was in the middle of a river with the boat resting against a rather large boulder. It took a minute for the explorer to piece together what brought him to this place. He was in a great deal of pain, his left eye was swelled shut, and the best way to describe how he felt was muddled.
There had been a scream…
Ajani’s eyes went wide as the memory of the dead-looking man filled his brain. Yes, there had running. A chase, then a mad scramble down from the top of the cliffs. He could see in his mind’s eye the creature peering down at him and then the deathly howl. He remembered his hands letting go under their own free will and the horrifying feeling of falling. Then the world had gone dark. Ajani struggled to focus, to reach into his memories to complete the puzzle.
A recollection of waking…
The mad scramble to the collection of boats…
An overwhelming feeling of dread…
Then he was here, but where was here? He could only surmise that he was in the river that led back to the settlement, but how far had he travelled? How long had he been unconscious? The questions hung in his mind like one of his Grandmother’s fetishes.
Ajani knew that there would be a reckoning for taking his current means of travel back to the colony. The boats had been made at the lake to explore the giant body of water and the watershed it belonged to. Trying to float one of the watercraft against the current from the city to the lake wasn’t impossible, but it was difficult. He knew that the guild leaders would be angry with him, yet he could see no other way to quickly escape the undead beast that might still be searching for him.
Ajani’s body was riddled with injuries. He figured that he had several broken ribs, a swollen eye, a dislocated shoulder, and maybe a broken ankle. Getting the boat off the rocks was going to be a lesson in pain, one that Ajani didn’t look forward to. Thankfully with the use of an oar, he was able to push the little vessel from its prison and back into the flowing water. He wasn’t sure how he was going to guide the boat down the river in his broken state but knew he had to. He had no choice, did he?
Over the next few days, Ajani listened for any signs of the creature and took stock of his situation. Since awakening, he had not seen or heard from the beast. This both relieved on unnerved him. He also discovered he had somehow maintained possession of his pack, and when floating upon calm waters, he went through his belongings. There was precious little food, as most of his things rested with his campsite atop the ravine heights. His knife had been lost in the tumble, and save for the one used to tie off the boat, his ropes were lost to him. However, the one thing he did have was the buttons and coins he had found among the skeleton’s bones. These he now kept on his person, in case the pack became lost to him somehow.
It wasn’t long before the lack of food became a problem for Ajani. Not that he was hungry, strangely enough. He could feel himself getting tired after the second day of not eating, and this made it harder to steer his craft successfully down the river. It wasn’t just the nourishment problem. He had discovered a bruise on his side was getting bigger. At first, he didn’t worry about it much, but over a twenty-five-hour period, the contusion had doubled in size. He wondered if it had anything to do with his absence of hunger. Then there was the complete lack of sleep. Coupled with his pain was the terror that the beast might be trying to track him, and that made rest all but impossible.
The next few day, or weeks, were a blur of images and sounds. First was what might be himself lying in the dirt with a kind face hovering above. He couldn’t remember if the face belonged to a woman or a man, but he recalled the eyes and how much concern they expressed. After that, all Ajani could recollect was a slurry of angry voices, faces, some familiar and some not, and the panic of discovering he was strapped down to a bed in the middle of a dull steel room. Tubes of blood and some clear liquid injecting into his arms. It was too much to take, and in the end, sleep took him for a long time.
At first, upon awakening, his caregivers were cold and distant. The many questions Ajani had for them and his warnings of the dark creature seemed to fall on deaf ears. He was alone for hours at a time and would stare at the sigil of the Guild centred over the door to his room. He was left and treated like this for what seemed like days, and then one morning, he awoke to the smell of fresh-cut flowers and a light breeze filling the space where he lay.
Ajani opened his eyes to the sight of a young woman sitting quietly beside a floor vase of near-roses. The sunlight through a barred window cast odd shadows across his body and against the opposite wall. Noticing her patient awake, the woman got up from her seat and stood over him. Her greeting, although curiously to the point, was not unkind.
‘I see you’ve decided to join us then. My name is Ara, and I’ll be your shield for the time being.’
From what Ajani recalled from colony law, a shield was something the old world would have called a barrister. For all the world, he couldn’t understand why he would need any form of lawful representation.
For many days Ajani lay in his bed recovering. His wakeful periods were spent with Ara, who at first made small talk, and then began asking him about his journey and everything that transpired during it. She was particularly interested in the appearance of the space vehicle and the aeroplane on ravine heights. She was least interested in the creature and its blood-curdling screams. It was as if she thought the beast was a figment of his imagination. A tale his mind made up to explain his fall from the cliffside. Try as he would, the conversation would always come back to the two air vessels.
Ara was a curiosity in her own right. Not only did she question him repeatedly about his mission, but she also acted as his caregiver and even went as far as to change his bedpans and keep him washed and clean. Ajani grew to enjoy her company, and the more relaxed he became, the more he would share his thoughts.
‘It’s as if the creature was protecting the skeletons resting place.’
He would repeatedly attempt to bring the conversation back to the undead beast, yet over and over, she would deflect the conversation.
‘You say the aircraft looked as if it could have been placed in the meadow and not have landed because of the sheer amount of vegetation surrounding the clearing. It doesn’t make any sense to me.’
The banter would go back and forth like this for hours.
And then the Ara stopped coming. He would fall asleep and then wake to fresh bandages and his needs cared for. He found himself quite alone for some time, and when checking the door to his room, he found himself locked in. This left him paranoid and restless. Even when looking through the window bars, he could not see anything but the dewy trees that grew outside in abundance.
So many instances in the basement of the guildhall felt wrong. Being strapped down, confined to a room, Ara’s disappearance, it all felt like he was being kept as a prisoner. The nail in the coffin came in the form of the interviews.
Ajani sat in his room upon the chair beside his bed, looking outside by means of the barred window. His focus was inwards as he thought back to the three separate interviews and the two common questions. The first was simply about the tiny spacecraft and where it might have been heading. All three were quite interested in that, but the other one was more of an accusation that didn’t make a lot of sense to the young man.
‘Why did you take it upon yourself to hunt out such a thing of great importance?
By this, they meant the ship again, of course. Why none of them asked about the skeleton nor the creature was puzzling to Ajani. He made it a point to volunteer information about what lay upon the ravine heights, right up to the fantastic beast that had chased him down, yet they didn’t even take time to write down any of his opinions. It was almost as if the interviewers didn’t believe his report. Ajani couldn’t help but think he was being set up for something bad. He had no proof, of course, but the feelings were there all the same.
The trial was something Ajani hadn’t anticipated or prepared for. Why would he have? Up until a male nurse had entered and demanded he dress in the official grey robe of an accused prisoner, Ajani had figured that he would eventually be allowed to return to his family. Yet, as soon as he had donned the dress of the impure, he had been forcibly marched out of his room and into the great hall.
The charges were as such. One count of trespass on a holy historic site. One count of defiling a grave, One count of grave robbery, One count of theft, and the most unnerving was the charge that came with the near destruction of a whole searchers party. The two explorers claimed that Ajani had given no indication of the dangers and the ferocious animals atop the ravine. Fifteen searchers had lost their lives to a sudden attack from what might have been wild dogs. The made-up accusation had stunned Ajani. What’s more, he wasn’t allowed to respond to any of the charges laid against him.
The kangaroo court consisted of charges being laid, witnesses called, and statements read. Ajani sat silently through the whole of it, only trying to respond once when Ara took the stand. He was bound and gagged after that. The woman who had almost stolen his heart with how she had cared for him sat coldly staring and had delivered a most damning statement.
‘Ajani Roir, while I changed his bandages, relayed to me that he fully intended on returning to the Olynn Heights to finish what he started. I questioned him about this, and his response was that many would die for the crimes committed by the guildhall. I didn’t understand what he was speaking about until the exploration team was nearly wiped out.’ She had cried after that. Ajani couldn’t tell if the tears were a result of her lie or just some dramatic act she had concocted. He knew he had been railroaded. Why? Who knew but the accusers. At no point was the skeleton’s location brought up, nor the aircraft or the space vessel. Where the artifacts had gotten to was anyone’s guess. All he knew was that something was being covered up, and likely he was going to die for it.
The fateful day came two days after the trial. Ajani was again staring out his window when abruptly the door to his room swung open, and two burly men entered.
It was all that was said to him, and even though he started to rise, one of the men grabbed him by the arm and expediated his efforts. He was quickly marched down the hall and away from his room.
‘Where are you taking me?’
Ajani’s question was pointedly ignored, but he could well guess where his destination lay. With the way things had gone at the trial and everything that lead up to it, he was sure the Guild was going to erase him from existence. In fact, he wondered why they had even gone through the motions of the interviews and the trial at all.
After a series of twists and turns and finally a long set of stairs, they arrived at an old wooden door set into a steel frame. The guild sigil carved at its centre was strangely painted red, accenting the ever-flying raven, a symbol of wisdom and exploration. The bigger of the two men reached out and opened the door, and the other shoved Ajani hard from behind, causing him the fall into the dirty courtyard.
The voice was familiar, and as he looked up, he could see a group of several men and women with their faces covered standing beside a freshly dug hole at the courtyard’s centre. Four people stood nearest the cavity, and Ajani recognized them all. Standing there with expressionless faces and shovels in hand were the three interviews and one beautiful woman.
The name hardly left his mouth when something hard struck him from behind. A bright flash went off behind his eyes, and then there was nothing.
The smell of freshly dug earth and the taste of blood were the first things that availed Ajani’s senses when he awoke. Several of the group were talking low, and murmurs of excitement filled his tired ears. He tried to move and instantly realized something was terribly wrong. Looking down, Ajani could see that his constraints were the very earth from the dug out hole. Apparently, he had been buried halfway up his chest, his arms pinned to his sides by the heavily packed soil. He looked wildly about and could see several stones placed before the group of onlookers. Ara and the interviews stood just ahead of the pack, and each held a fist-sized rock. Ara wore a sideways grin upon her face as she began to rear back to throw her stony missile towards him. Ajani closed his eyes, waiting for the rock to strike him, but the impact never came, only a shrill scream and gasps of pain, followed by a lustful cheer from the gatherers. He opened his eyes to see the four conspirators dead on the ground before the crowd and thought that he had been saved, but no, he was horribly wrong.
It was the last words of a dying man. The crowd, watching the blood drain into the dirt from the four dead bodies, raced for the piles of stones and began hurling them as one at the young man half-buried in the earth. Ajani didn’t even have the time to scream before his sight dimmed and his lifeforce was stolen from him. It was a most grisly scene, and to add to the description wouldn’t be prudent. The last sounds that Ajani Roir heard was a single voice singing the strangest words and the sickening crunch of bone.
Be my pillow
Take my hand
And let me sleep…
Then there was nothing.
A Pot to Piss In
By Norman Boyington
June 6th 3906AD
‘So, what you’re telling me is that by urinating on the coating, there might be a chance that it will weaken?’
There was a pause from the ship’s A.I., then Victoria repeated herself.
‘As far as I can tell, the coating is earth-centric and is a direct result of the explosion that may have something to do with us being in this place. Somehow the residue encasing SKY has been bound together with the aluminum deposits that must have been near it. Ammonia is a natural by-product of the human digestive system and could be enough to weaken the coating. I would suggest urinating in one-foot intervals and seeing if it helps. It might take some time.
Russel hadn’t believed his ears when Victoria had come up with this cockamamie piss scheme. However, it being his only choice at the moment, here he was peeing like a dog marking his beautiful ship in uretic waste. The A.I.’s suggestion had been two weeks ago, and every day Russ had tried scraping and prying at the pee-soaked spots. This day he had had some success with prying and breaking off bits of the coating near the original test site. Maybe he had been just lucky, but the layer had snapped up to where he had urinated the first day. Keith had been so overjoyed that he had tripled his water intake just so he could make more pee spots. At this rate, he could have enough solar panels cleared to maybe take off and make a brief flight, and this excited him greatly.
Other than turning himself into an overactive piss machine, Russ has been feeding his protean creator with various foliage and fruits that the nearby fauna supplied him. The synthesizer was a creation of one Michael Pico of Caltech University, and it simply extracted ingestable nutrients from whatever you fed the machine. It was a lifesaver here on a planet with precious little meat to eat. The only negative thing about the hard gray bars it made was they were chalky and tasted of nothing significant. So far, his go-to ingredient was from an unusual-looking tree with fruit similar to a mango. It was odd that the tree’s structure was that of an oak but with leafy palm-like fronds at the end of the branches. The bars made from this plant didn’t taste as awful and seemed to fill the hole when he was hungry.
Watching his daily visitor peck at the tough exterior of the ship’s coating, Russel wished more birds would come to help in his efforts to release Sky from its encasement. Every day the tiny house finch would come at the same time and flit about the vessel’s shell, and of late, Russ was keeping track of where the bird defecated. Every place there was a spatter of bird shit, the hard crust has been turned to ash, leaving holes that lead all the way to the ship’s steel exterior. He had discussed this with Victoria.
‘Birds excrement is a combination of feces and urine. It has a high concentration of ammonia, and I would not have guessed the insignificant amount of the bird’s contribution to have such an effect. There might be something else at play here. We will think on it and hopefully, come up with a suitable answer to your quandary.’
Russ smiled, recalling the conversation. It was difficult to remember the A.I. was just that, an artificial intelligence.
After a while, the company of the bird was forgotten with all the work that was available on SKY’s inner and outer shell. Russel climbed back up the ladder rungs and once again began snapping off one foot by one-foot pieces of the concrete-like substance. He was so thankful that Victoria had offered up the urine solution, yet there was the drawback that his immediate world now smelled of a barroom restroom.
It was more of a sigh than an actual comment. Russ had taken to talking to himself more and more lately. Even though he was a bit of a loner since the accident, this current situation was beginning to take a toll on his psyche.
With it getting tougher to continue, he began to clean up his work area and, looking down at his lastest accomplishment, was quite satisfied to see that he now had almost ten solar panels and the broken scanners uncovered. He had hoped that by releasing the scanners, he might be able to piece together his location, but this wasn’t the case. Both Victoria and Li’bet reiterated that anything more than a kilometre would be difficult to accurately detect. They also reassured him that nothing more than the local avian visitors had been recognized in the past few months he had spent at this location. It was more of a relief than a disappointment, really. Russ wasn’t sure how he would be received by the locals that Victoria had mentioned when they first arrived. He was hoping maybe to come across a small party of hunters or gatherers before trying to make some grand entrance to the colony that had been discovered. Frankly, he was all over the map when it came to his next steps.
Russel sat in his captain’s chair, thinking about the day and his successes and failures. One thought seemed to prevail over all the others.
‘Who had been with me in the video?’
He kept replaying the Earth’s destruction and the womanly hand appearing from his right side. He looked over at the empty seat beside his and tried to remember anything from that moment, but everything was coming up blank.
‘Who could it have possibly have been?’
He was about to give up again in frustration when a familiar ding sounded off, and the HUD blazed to life in front of him. The pinging noise was that of his ship’s computer system, and he looked up to see Li’bet typing out a message for him to read.
…Upon searching my data files, I have found several inconsistencies. I believe some of my files have been tampered with. After much reworking, I have discovered that SKY’s airlock system was activated shortly after your viewing of the explosion upon the Earth….
Russel read through the message a couple of times before typing back.
…Do you have any idea who or what may have set off the airlock signal?...
There was a long wait as if Li’bet was thinking. The orange cursor up on the screen flashed in tempo with the computer’s logic system, and Russel waited impatiently for any kind of response. He was about to go get himself a drink when a very short video popped up for him to view. In the image was a lonely picture of the airlock hatch, and within seconds a red flashing light appeared on the wall beside the hatchway. Russel could see the light turn a solid green which meant the door was safe to open, then a short blurred out image of what had to be a woman or a slight man grasping the latch. The video went static at this point, leaving Russel with questions, both to himself and the ship.
‘Victoria? Do you have any recollection of the video taking place?’
Again a long pause.
‘I have only remembered the incident in the last few minutes, Russ. I am not aware of anything other than what you have witnessed.’
‘For fuck’s sake…’
The curse was one of frustration, and in his way of dealing with things, Russel pushed the keyboard to the side and got up and left the ship. He stormed out into the dusky air and once again found himself at the edge of the ravine looking outward in hopes to cleanse his thoughts. It was then that he heard the chilling howling of something coming from far down in the valley. Russel involuntarily took a step back in fear and apprehension.
‘So there is something else out there other than birds.’
He hurried back to the ship via SKY’s exit ramp, and for the first time since opening it, Russ pushed the button to seal himself back into the craft, then called out for Victoria.
‘What would it take to get this thing going? I think it’s time we move.’