Another short story…

17 01 2011

We come from Prime. And we are the Last.

Civilization deserted Prime a hundred years ago. The land was growing barren after three millennia of ceaseless toil. When the scientists failed to replenish our dying land the governments rallied together to build five thousand deep-stellar ships. Every last person fled the planet, leaving only refuse and fallout in their place.

Everyone left, that is, except my people.

We weren’t a people then, of course. A hundred years ago we were a misfit crowd of religious fanatics, the sick, the poor and the elderly. The only people left to lead were a small band of botanists and agricultural theorists- farmers really but brilliant ones. They found an island off the coast of So’s Merca where the fallout from the deep-stellars was negligible and we began to rebuild.

Three generations were born on that island. Generations of children increasingly weak with genetic mutations that killed or maimed. Then the children stopped and hope began to die. It had been our forefather’s desire to repopulate Prime- to rebuild the glory of lost Empires.

It was a dream and when I was born my people were waking up.

We had the technology to build a deep-stellar ship but resources for only one. There were 7oo of us and by the time the ship was built our leaders had selected the 300 most viable to depart. The rest would be left behind to die.

I was a child then. My memories of Prime are dusky with age but I do remember the feel of soil beneath my feet and the whine of the hydrolic machines that tilled the fields. Smells come to me sometimes, wind and sea and the warmth of my mother’s skin. I remember these things but nothing much else.

My entire world since has been a world of metal and computers and the sharp smell of ozone in the engine rooms. I’m a pilot by training and a mechanic by inclination. Little of my time is spent in any of the social areas of our ship and less in the aeroponic or hydroponic pods. My friends are bots and comp interfaces.

We’ve been in space for close to 75 years now and I’ve been awake for 21 of them. Our system is set up on a rotation, three years awake and seven asleep with the social groups being relatively constant. It’s a life, though not one I would have chosen. We’ve had to modify ourselves in ways that our parents wouldn’t have liked but they’ll never know. They’d have hated our having to get implants or interfaces and we’ve both. Most of us anyway. 

Over the years there have been messages from other deep-stellar ships. Only one was made on Prime and they spoke a language we never knew and could not learn before they were out of range. The other ships were unfamiliar and we ignored their hails, though I poured over the data streams they sent when no-one was around.

We the Last are still mostly human in appearance, even those who have mutations still look like people. The data streams, though, told me of human-non-humans. People with enhanced strength, eyesight, extra limbs or no limbs at all. My fingers traced the images as my comps whispered their stories to my mind. I’m in one of my tunnels now, writing this down because I sense a danger that I’ve never felt before and I want it said in words in case I’m right.

“Viridian!” A booming voice echoes through Engine Room T and assaults me in my tunnel/shaft. “Viri I know you’re here so you’d better come NOW.”

It’s Gamma. He’s one of the oldest on the ship and Senior Mechanic.

“I’m coming Gamma.” Quickly I shove the comp back into the wall and squeeze myself through the shaft opening. I land badly, falling onto my shoulder and sprawling on the deck.

“Get up girl.” He puts a hand under my arm and heaves me onto my bare feet. “You are too old to skulk in tunnels anymore. You were too old three rotations ago! And where are your boots?”

I squirm my toes and throw my shoulders back- a fake sort of bravado. “They hurt. And I can feel the engines better without ’em.”

“There are no bare feet in my engine room m’girl. Too many things to fall over and cut your toes off.”  He moves down the room between a couple of the fuel pumps.

“Yes sir. But sir?”

“What?” I can feel disapproval in his voice even though he’s working and turned away.

“It’s MY engine room, sir.”

Silence- or as close to silence as I’ve ever heard- settles over the room. He’ll either laugh or hit me but I can never tell which.

A thrumming that might be an engine or something else wells up around me. Gamma’s laughing.

“You insolent girl. You’re right of course but that don’t change that you need boots in here. Go get ’em and leave ’em on during duty shifts.”

I obey without answering. He prefers it that way.

My shoes are in my quarters. They’re the only thing in my quarters. On my waking shifts I move all my stuff into the tunnels and shafts and walls of the engine rooms. Clothes I leave in my quarters because they’re flammable and cloth is one thing that’s hard to replace out here. Boots are even worse. There’s no spare leather in space.

One hand on the wall I walk the gently curving halls. A couple of places the gravity reverses with no warning. You get used to it after a while- at least, I did. It’s what I imagine dancing to be like; just walking along and suddenly flipping and soaring upside down.

Normally I can hear the machines everywhere I go on the ship. She’s a friend of mine, this machine that traverses the space-between-stars. Our parents named her “Terminia” to me she is “Tess” and she speaks to me.

Today, though, something’s wrong. I feel it on the first grav-reverse. A momentary silence followed by a dull chirping noise. It’s not Tess’ normal speech. I double my speed. Each grav-reverse repeats the pattern and now I’m honestly worried.

My boots are near the door of my quarters and I shove my feet into them before taking off in a dead sprint for the Command pod. I’ve got full pilot’s access and get right through all the security check points.

There’s a full shift on duty but we designed the ship with four pilot interfaces. It takes that many of us to land her, theoretically anyway- we’ve never tried. I leap into one of the seats, pulling myself in with the grips and locking the straps around my hips and shoulders. The interface is a simple one- primitive almost- but effective. I’ve got it plugged into my wrists. The neck slot is reserved for actual piloting. I don’t want to MOVE Tess, I just want to hear her.

The chair warms as the circuits whir around me. When I quiet my mind I can hear Tess much more clearly than I can ever hear anything in the real world.

But it’s not Tess making the noise. I’m aware of the silence and dull chirp but it’s coming from outside the ship.

I scan all the channels and sensors looking for a ship or a planet or even a probe. There’s nothing.

That’s when Commander Ashley unplugs me and shoves her face into mine. I can feel her breath on my skin. She’s the only one capable of this maneuver- to get into a pilot’s face you have to hang upside down using only one handle and some toe grips above the comp displays. “What the hell are you doing Viridian?”

She didn’t use my rank. Bad sign.

I unhook fast and flip onto the deck so I can salute. “Nothing ma’am.”

She drops in front of me with a percussive thud.

“Nothing? You were scanning every single information terminus we have. No-one goes through that much data for no reason.”

My brain whirls. I’m not exactly the most trusted person on this ship. They think I’m strange and Ashley is particularly inclined to dislike me. “There was something in the engine room that I wanted to double check but I don’t have enough clearance on the interfaces down there, that’s all.  Honestly.”

“Fine. Dismissed.”

I’m edging toward the exit before the words are out of her mouth and running back through the checkpoints.

Outside of secure areas I pause and lean against the wall. Sounds do not come from empty space. What is out there? And what does it want?

Something is desperately wrong.  Mutation blinded me before birth but I can see that Tess and everyone aboard her is in danger. My instinct says terrible danger.

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2 responses

18 01 2011
Jennifer James

omg. I have to send you a picture of a pencil sketch I was working on for you. It it a perfect illustration for this story. Holy cow. I started it a week ago. Wait and see.

21 01 2011
Meghan

I can’t wait!

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