The doors opened and I rushed in, my heart beating at a million cycles a second. Thane walks in behind me, his wide stride giving him a much more relaxed strut but no loss of speed. The outer doors close and the inner ones-
They aren’t moving.
I press my helmet up against the view window of the inner door to see as best I can. The helmets to our suits are built of a flexible glass. It can take an impact of roughly 20 lbs per square inch, which happens to actually be more than it takes to crush the skull of the wearer, weird how that worked out.
A familiar lightly tanned palm lands against the glass. I hop back into Thane who seems unmoved, both literally and metaphorically. It doesn’t take more than a second after that smack for the scariest thing I could ever imagine to appear.
Claire’s angry face. Oh god, it is piercing. I don’t know if there was something in there but if there was she has obviously killed it and I’m thinking I might be next. Thane puts his heavy hands on my shoulders and I can feel the rumble of his chest as he speaks.
“I suspect she’s going to beat your ass. She’s shouting about something.”
A hiss like a serpent sprays from the walls of the entry room and we are quickly covered in a shimmering fluid. I can hear the grumbles of an incredibly unhappy metahuman behind me, this is one sandwich I’m not enjoying my place in.
Claire’s voice snaps through the crack of the door as it parts. “You idiots!” She shouts. “Did you even think to do a perimeter scan before you went outside?”
Thane bumps me out of the way and walks onto the ship, he has a thin coat of gloss from the room but even now it is drying rapidly.
“I’m guessing that burning feeling in my eyes means that was some kind of disinfectant you sprayed us with?” He says.
“Yes. I’m sorry Thane, but you two could have brought on microbes.”
Thane rubbed his eye lids and growled lowly. “Next time, warn me.”
Claire crossed her arms. “Next time think before you act.”
Thane leaned his head back and sighed, staring at the ceiling of the ship. “Fair enough.” He said, eyes still closed.
Ghein peered out from the stasis room. “I don’t know what to do, he’s just not waking up.”
I raise my brows in surprise, seeing as big boy and I are awake that can only mean one thing. That short prick is trying to get out of his ass kicking. Or something serious, but I’ll keep with my initial theory till data proves otherwise.
“He showing any signs of problems?” I ask.
She shakes her head. “No. His vitals are all stable, his brain waves are all smooth as butter. But the system can’t initiate a wake up, he’s stuck in there until it can fire him again.”
Well that’s not good. We’ve already got a vegetable, we’ll need to revive him if we ever plan to get out of here. He’s a much better pilot than any of us.
Then again, his coordinates did crash land us here. I wonder if he planned this? Unlikely, he’s a bit of a dramatist but I don’t see him killing all of us when he could just off himself.
“With him out of commission we are going to need to figure out the scanning system ourselves.” Claire says.
True, we are all a bit linear in our studies. I’m sure it can’t be all that complicated.
“I’ll give it a shot.” I say.
I walk into the Navigation Room and take a look at the controls for the system. Alright, I’ll admit there are a lot of buttons. Why the hell are there so many buttons? Who designs these things? Button fetishists I bet.
Alright. Getting somewhere, this is a menu. No, no, I don’t need a calendar. Is this a music player?
“Any luck?” Claire says, her voice breaking me from my spell.
“I figured as much, while you’ve been working on that we washed out Thane’s eyes.” She smiled. “He’s not very fond of bathing.”
Claire flips a book out from behind her back and holds it up. The cover has a medallion with a Hydra inside of a triangle and beneath that the words “Owners Manual.”
“This thing has a book?” I ask.
“If it doesn’t we’ve got bigger problems.” She says.
“What exactly am I holding?” She grins.
“Ah. Very funny, save your jokes for when we’ve satiated your scouting needs.” I point to a wavelength vibrating in three dimensions on the display.
“Is that a music player?” She says.
“Yes. But it is muted.” She inhales but I cut her off. “I have no idea how to unmute it.”
“Oh.” She flips through the book rapidly. “Anyways, it says that the data collection protocols are on page 95-105.” She stops quickly and runs her finger down the pages then without looking up guides me through the steps.
“Alright, hit the return a few times until you find yourself on the main menu screen.” She paused for a moment. “Alright, press something that looks like a pentagon and then type dmp.”
“Who the hell makes polygons into keys?” I snap. “And what the hell is dmp?”
“I don’t know.” She says “And I don’t care. Do as I say.”
I sigh. “Yes, yes. Alright. Ok, what do I do now?”
“Apparently you just talk to it now.” She says.
“Really? I just talk to it.”
It? How rude.
“Oh god no…did this ship just talk?”
You seem competent enough to do so, that must mean its easy.
“And it’s a smart-ass?” I grimace. “Could this be any more cliché?”
Possibly. I am what I am, I can’t help it if the programmer had no imagination.
“Alright. Can you do a scan of the perimeter? Give us a readout of the atmosphere out there and maybe a list of any organisms?”
One thing that I’ve always wished was that computers were as noisy in the real world as they are reported to be in books and films. You always know when they are scanning or searching because there is some familiar bleep bloop sound going off. But now, in the real world, we wait patiently as the ship does a run down of the world around us.
I give it a solid twenty minutes before I finally check up on the scan.
“What have you found?”
“The scans, you said you could scan the perimeter. What did you find?”
Oh? I take that back.
“Take what back? Wait, are you telling me you can’t scan the perimeter?”
I most certainly can.
I take back my initial statement of you being competent in conversation. You asked if I could do something, you didn’t ask me to do something.
“Oh god, oh god. I would kill you if I could do so.”
Well that’s ironic, I could kill you.
“Alright boys, lets be friendly.” Claire interjects.
Yes, Miss. I was only joking.
“Please scan the perimeter as Shiki stipulated. We are very curious about what we are dealing with.”
Of course. It will just be a minute.
Ghein walked into the room. “Well you two look like you’ve made some progress.”
“Yes, it turns out this pod has an AI.” I reply.
I much prefer you think of the pod as the attachment. But I digress, I have finished the scan and run it against the database for all onboard organisms. Which I suspect you will be happy to know currently only consists of terrestrial organisms that you are accustomed to.
The only nearby life is macro flora which doesn’t appear to be mobile, or most certainly is not triggering any motion scans. Alternatively there is some micro level organic matter in the air, I suspect it is similar to pollen if not literally so.
I also ran a complimentary scan of the ships integrity. With the exception of the underside of the ship we are basically at 100%.
“And the underside?” I ask.
Yes. Well the vine bed that we are resting in is doing a number on the ship. If we do not move it within a few months it will be entirely dismantled by the vine network. Think of it like water freezing in cracks, it’ll pry this vessel apart like a nut.
“Well alright then, that gives us a goal I suppose.” I clap my hands.
“Wow! You are fascinating! I’ve actually not met an AI before.” Ghein says. “Hydra Delta said that our main vessel couldn’t afford to have one installed.”
Well miss, I would bow but I am underequipped in the mobility department. Perhaps at a future time.
Ghein smiled. “Aren’t you a gentlemen.”
Think of me as a mirror, miss, I was programmed to return what I am sent. It’s a simple system and it guarantees that the user will receive exactly what they deserve.
Alright then, keep nice with the AI and the AI will keep nice with me. I’ll keep this in mind.
“AI, Is the air outside the ship safe for unfiltered breathing?” I ask.
I can’t find anything nefarious but it would be unwise to do so. This is the very definition of uncharted territory and my database is only so detailed. The big one in the kitchen is likely safe because of his natural filtration systems but any of you squishier folk should keep to the suits. In my humble opinion.
“Any ideas on the length of a day here?” Claire asks.
Judging by the data gathered before arrival it would appear that a day is roughly thirty hours long. About two thirds of that is spent under the sun. At least in our current location.
If it interests you I would also note there are another 15 hours before night sets in.
“That’s quite a while. Who wants to go for a little trek?” I ask.
“I’m going to stay with Dim. Make sure nothing happens.” Ghein replies.
“I’ll go.” Claire says.
“I’ll be going too.” Thane grumbles from the doorway. “How much time do we have till nightfall?”
“The ship says 15 hours.” I reply.
“The ship says-you know what? I don’t even care. I’m going to go and I’ll be back before nightfall.” Without another word Thane marched off to the exit.
He’s positively brimming with friendly vibes.
“Do me a favor and try to keep your talk with him at a minimum. If you reciprocate like you say you do, a talk between you and him would not end well.”
Affirmative. I will mums the word when the grumpy fellow is around.
“Thank you kindly.” Claire bows slightly. “We’ll be back, please keep an eye on the perimeter and have a report for us when we get back.”
Sounds delightful, I’ll be a veritable encyclopedia of the region by the time you return.
“Sounds good.” I say.
Claire suits up. I put my helmet back on and check my suit. Protocol is important when you are interested in surviving. All readings are normal.
The doors to the ship open and Claire points out. “Lets go, Champ.”
It’s gotten warmer since my first trek out. Claire takes a quick stroll around the ship and walks back up to me. “What do you think?” She says.
“I say we just pick a cardinal direction and walk for a while, tomorrow we can pick a different direction and we’ll just see what we can figure out.” I reply.
“What do we do once we figure out if we can survive here?” She adds.
“I’m guessing at that point we work up a miracle and either get rescued or rescue ourselves.” I laugh weakly. “Or die, not really all that complicated.”
The ground beneath us is soft, the grass is familiar and lush. The long days must make for a smorgasbord for the plant life here. Our suits have respectable climate control and enough energy to run for a few days before they cut out. With that in mind it is just a matter of hydration and not falling down a hole or getting eaten by a space puma.
I can’t believe I just said that. Now I just know we are going to see a space puma, and they don’t even exist. This is how this works. Damn it.
We walk north towards the stalks I had looked at earlier. As we get closer they begin to take on a more vivid look. The stalks are green but shimmer like mercury. The light reflects off the surface creating a rainbow effect across the entire light spectrum. They wave back and forth in the breeze fairly far, they act more like windshield wipers than stalks.
While some are just rods jutting from the earth there are quite a few that have butterfly like petals stretching far from their shoots. They catch the wind like a glove and guide it towards their stalks. Upon closer inspection I can see vertical slits in the shoot were the air is being guided.
“Look at this. It’s like this thing is breathing.” I point to the shoot.
“If it looks like it is breathing you shouldn’t get so damn close.” Claire replies.
“Yes, yes.” I back up. “The AI said the plants aren’t mobile.”
“He also said he’s not 100% sure of anything.” She says.
“Uh, true. Alright, so that was stupid. Here is what we’ll do, I’ll just follow you and if you think something is safe to look at I’ll get closer.”
Claire waves me over. “That’s a good idea, because if anything gets you I’m not saving your ass.”
We walk for another ten minutes or so and reach a fairly tall hill. Along the way we’ve seen large fields of those shoots, to the untrained eye they look not dissimilar from farmlands. To me they look more like giant grasslands.
At the peak of the hill I hear Claire gasp. “Look at this!” She says.
I reach the top of the hill and feel my chin smack the bottom of my helmet. Anything that might have been holding up my chin had instantly left the premises. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of the most implausible nonsense assault my eyes.
Utter impossibility beats down the doors of my mind.
“Is that?” Claire asks.
“It, it looks like it is.”
Towering monoliths of society stand before us. Buildings that would make even the most confident engineer envious. From our vantage point we can see far across the cityscape.
Buildings vanish into the fog of the horizon.
It looks like it goes on forever.
Art by: Makubi