I’ve had this finished for a few days but couldn’t find all the screens I wanted to add. I’ll stick what I could find at the end of the story.
I am tenacious to a fault. I am dug in tooth and claw, unwilling to give up the wondrous magical life that I lived for so brief a time. One month of joy in a lifetime of grief and pain. I fear that I will not be allowed to hold on to it, for the multiverse I knew so briefly is already gone. There is no going back now. And yet I cling, raging, to the scraps I have left. I wrap them around me as if they hadn’t been torn to wisps.
No stranger to cataclysmic change, yet each time it happens I feel more deeply the futility of this absurd and meaningless existence. To build and have it torn away again and again. There are times I long for the phlegmatic doggedness of the web-spider, who upon sensing damage to their web-world sets about seemingly complacent to repair or completely rebuild. Does it curse the evil fates? Does it feel despair? Does it liken its constant repair-drone existence to that of Sisyphus’ futile stone rolling eternity? Is it, too, capable of denial?
Denial. The mind’s way of preserving itself against cataclysmic pain or sudden dissolution. “I don’t believe it. This can’t be happening”. Fist raised to the multiverse. And yet even in my raging grief I carry on picking up the shards of former existence; the threads of a life torn asunder. Patching and weaving together what I can in the face of a blinding flashing vignette of extreme cold and toxicity that turns my vision red as blood. I need to shelter inside to relieve the pressure.
I. Will. Not. Submit.
Do you hear me, whoever or whatever is responsible for this?! Of course it may not be a who, or a what, but my previous interactions with obelisks and sentients have given me an eerie fragmented understanding that this, or something like this, has happened before. Atlas shrugged. And life was never the same again. The memory of an even more far distant life flashed through me.There were objects called books there and then, I am left with their quickly fading labels: “Atlas Shrugged” and “I Have No Mouth But I Must Scream”. I do not feel the tears that should be streaming down my face. Do I even have a face? No, don’t go there. Not yet.
First I must take stock. In the here and now. What can I salvage? Where do I start?
Before the blackout I was peacefully cataloging wildlife, uploading my finds to the central database for small rewards of common units of currency. It has always been a joyful task for me, warping into a new system, landing on each of the planets in turn, exiting my ship with the hope that I might be able to explore the world before me on foot. Though more often having to call my faithful exo-vehicle to travel more protected from extremes of weather. Finding creatures strange and wonderful to my eyes, even rocks and plants that tease the memory of other such things that looked similar and yet not quite. As if we are all of the same stuff and not so different from each other as we seem on the surface.
Lately I had been on a personal mission. I had been asked by more than one of my specialists back at my home base to procure for them the bulbs of an aquatic plant that contained Rigogen. But after warping from system to system I was beginning to despair of ever finding one. Checking my Discoveries Journal I noted that I had visited a total of fifty-three planets and moons and not one of them had any sign of water. Were my companions having a little joke at my expense? It had however given me abundant planets to explore and I had collected a huge amount of information on each planet’s minerals, fauna and flora.
It was at this time, I remember I had found an interesting planet, all deep red dirt. I had landed quite close to a tall blue cone of Heridium to replenish my supply, and when I ejected from the cockpit my visor began flashing red and warning me of extreme radioactivity. Heridium being known to be a mineral that insulates against radioactivity, I immediately burned a hole at the base of the column with my mining tool and crawled inside.
I gathered all the heridium I needed, but I thought it would be a good time to test the limits of my exosuit. I decided to stay inside the heridium deposit for a number of hours uploading the huge number of finds from the catalogue in my exosuit. But I grew sleepy, and perhaps a little bored with my narrow confinement. So I called my faithful Roamer craft and set out to find a nearby natural cave. The flat ground before me gave way and the Roamer and I fell off a steep cliff. It was a long way to the bottom. We crashed through stalags of iron and landed in front of a small cave-like passage between two large open caverns. I wished I had found the schematics for a grenade launcher that could blast holes in the terrain to make that task easier. I worried that my jetpack might not have the power to get me all the way back up to my ship, but I was getting very tired now after many hours of inactivity.
When the dust died down I exited the exocraft to find that inside this small cavern the radioactivity was not as punishing on my suit; the red flashing of my visor slowed to a pulse. There was more visual variety here out both sides of the passage. There were many types of mineral deposits and plants down here as well, so I did what I love to do: began cataloguing them, as well as replenishing my iron supplies. Mining the iron spikes of course brought the watchful blue eye of the local constabulary upon me. Why they dislike the mining of the most common mineral in the universe I will never understand. I waited until they were gone and only mined a few units at a time. The Sentinels left me alone, but were never far away after that. I was getting pretty tired by then and was low on Thamium9, so I decided to set a timer alarm and power down until then. I faded into sleep with the radioactive winds rocking my suit and to the lullaby of my nearby Roamer’s engine ticking over. At peace with the multiverse. Happy.
My suit’s timer alarm had me instantly awake, an intriguing dream of a time of flesh and blood rapidly fading. A suit comm message had arrived with currency units, both for my discovery uploads and my testing of the exo-suit in extreme conditions. Soon I would have enough currency to purchase a freighter. A portable home base. An explorer’s dream. But now I would need to find out if I had the stamina as well as the jetpack power to get back up the steep looming walls of these gorges to my ship. I pulled out my suit’s mobile camera to see if I could find a place where I might have a shorter distance to rise. I tried to drive out, but the canyons went on forever and took me farther away from the ship. Once again, I wished that I had purchased a ship that I could call the same way I could call my exocraft, or my hoped-for freighter. For as helpful and sturdy as my exosuit had proven, I would still perish within minutes if the climb and run to my ship took too long.
The camera was helpful in locating a shorter rise. Though it bowled a little at the top, there was a lattice of iron spikes sticking out below it that with luck (and stamina!) I might be able to leap onto. I snapped the camera closed and drove the Roamer through the canyon, raising dust and crashing like an enraged Abligexicopdt through the pikes and spires of iron and the bowls and sagging spheres of Detritum. It’s a lovely companion this vehicle, but it lacks subtlety.
I found the spot the camera had indicated and drove the Roamer as close as possible. It has a habit of tossing me out under its own wheels from time to time, but this time it behaved and threw me closer to my objective. No time to think. Just jet in short bursts up the wall of rock, leap onto the lattice of iron, hard to see with the red warning flashing stridently in my visor. No time to even think for the thousandth time “Who thought that would be a good feature?”. Wait one beat to let the jetpack recover enough to make the final leap to the top and… fall back to the iron. My shield was depleting alarmingly fast, lets try this again. Up. Up. And over and running like a hot red ball of rage was behind me. Though it was all around me. My ship was farther away than I thought. I stifled the panic, hit sprint and ran flat out across the thankfully even ground between me and my ship.
“Warning! Extreme Radioactivity! Shields at 75%!” My stamina bar was running out.
“Warning! Extreme Radioactivity! Shields at 50%!”
My sprint burst of stamina depleted. My movement became sluggish but the ship was much closer.
“Warning! Extreme Radioactivity! Shields at 25%!” Breathing came in laboured gulps.
“Warning! Extreme Radioactivity! Shields down!”
I could feel the burning radioactive winds eating away at me. But I was at the ship now, keying my way in. I slumped in my seat as the door closed and the suit’s siren abated along with the painful visor flashing. My suit was already healing it’s shields. I found a med-kit in the ship’s storage, and watched it do it’s work on me. My breathing returned to normal. I watched the radioactive winds ripping the red sands in a sideways stream between me and the hole I had burned in the Heridium node hours ago.“Well, that was exciting! Well done!” In the calm peaceful aftermath in the interior of the ship congratulated myself and smiled.
I watched my health gauge climb to normal, then I took a deep breath and lifted off. I sped through the cloud cover into the deep beauty of space. Serene cloud-covered planets, glittering myriad stars in impossibly coloured heavens. Somewhere out there was a world that had oceans and within those oceans Rigogen. Against all odds I would find it. If only we could have an inkling of what the future holds in store for us. But perhaps it is better after all that we cannot foresee.
And then with no transition I was exiting my ship in a space station. Just like that. I stood like stone in shock. An eerie sensation crawled through me. My suit comm was silent. Yet I felt as though vast amounts of time had passed. But whether forward, or, strange thought, backward? I stood unseeing as unfamiliar ships raced in to land nearby, or thrust themselves out. A part of a purple hued planet glowed at the opening at the end of the runway. Ship contrails glowed out there too. I saw this but nothing registered until the initial shock subsided. Had my adventure on the radioactive planet done more damage than I had realised? Had I blacked out in space and auto-piloted here? Why didn’t I remember? In a way it was even more inexplicable than finding myself alone next to a crashed ship where for all I knew my journey here had begun.
When I was able to move things began to register. I had never seen any of these ship-types before. I proceeded upstairs to find that the layout of the room was strange, currently occupied mostly by the species called Gek. A species of whom I was curiously ignorant and eager to learn more about. My nervous system was overloaded however. I decided not to speak to anyone, though I was always willing to engage the ones that sell schematics. I knew well that this species of sentients were masters of ship systems. I hoped to find much wanted upgrades here. Alas I had not enough knowledge of their language, nor had I earned enough of their trust, though they seemed to recognise me somehow.
As I made the long walk to the other side of the station and up that set of stairs, there seemed to be a lot of static-filled excited gabble over the comm. A lot of it sounded scared, angry and even despairing. There were what sounded like metallic screams. I shivered, wondering what was happening.
To my relief, there appeared to be a functioning portal where there usually was one. I don’t know what I expected, but I was on edge now. There was also something new here: another cubicle built into the wall of the station. Another entity selling something, but when I tried to speak to it, it showed me its data pad with a list of missions for which it would pay in the standard currency units. I’m sure it would be a good way to add to my freighter funds, but I declined as gracefully as possible in the face of the entity’s disappointment, and turned toward the large swirling blue portal. Hesitant to learn a fearsome truth, I began to operate it. It offered me the normal objective of porting to my home base. But would my home still be there? And my companions? I stepped into the cold blue glow expecting the worst.
And finding it. Perhaps not entirely the worst. But my planet, which was always too cold at night, but lovely during the daylight hours was now cold all the time, swept with a continuous downpour of toxic rain and there was poison gas seeping out of the very ground. I could not step outside for more than a few seconds without my suit comm going mad. I could see my Colossus on the fringe of my land, where I had left it after lazily cannibalizing it’s pad for parts and resources to make the pad for the Nomad. Both Nomad and Roamer sat undisturbed on their respective pads. Some landmarks seemed to be where they were before, though strangely discoloured, while others were entirely gone or replaced. The creature types seemed the same and were apparently not suffering from the toxicity, though the plant life, minerals, and terrain had undergone tremendous change. I stared bewildered out the open door, thinking I should check the storage in the Nomad and Colossus.
Opening the Discoveries module on my exosuit’s visor, I was dismayed to find that the creatures list was now empty as if this had not been the first fruits of my labour of love documenting them for posterity. I saw also that the name I had given to my home planet hadn’t changed, nor had the name of the first planet I had explored in a nearby system. Somehow this gave me comfort. But this was not to last, for when I closed the module, my gaze saw only the empty bitter terrain where my Colossus had stood only seconds before. I risked the run through the toxic rain to the Roamer and scrambled in. I drove around the base a number of times looking for it, thinking perhaps the nuisance sentinels had tossed it down the cliff edge again. But it was simply no longer there. It had been full of exotic materials that I had painstakingly collected in order to expand my base. Now all gone. The weight of this dreadful experience was increasing. I checked the data in my visor again, only to find that now the name of my planet and its system had been changed to something unrecognisable. So were things still reeling and shuddering in the aftermath, changing even as I watched? Or was my exosuit sluggish in updating the reality of it all around me? Would my base suddenly disappear and throw me to the mercy of the toxicity? I push the thought away.
I determined next to see if the portal was working on this end, that is, was it still connected to the station, and began to advance toward it when it dawned on me that I had not heard the familiar squawk and growl of welcome from my companions upstairs. I would need to go up there and see why. But first to determine if it was still possible to escape this nightmare that my planet had become.
The portal to and from the station seems to be working, though I am hesitant to try it yet. There are three stations listed, but I do not recognise the names. There is no way to tell what species of sentients they connect to. Or even if any of them are in this system. I expect more glitches of this sort until the ripples of the upheaval die down. I must now go up the ladder into the ominous silence on the upper floor.
I am devastated. My expert companions are gone. Fled or simply abandoned me. I have no idea how long was my blackout as I have started calling it. New messages are showing up in my suit comm. Messages that were not there before. Some of them similar, but yet changed. One strident one insists that I build a construction terminal and go to a station and find a “supervisor”. And yet all the terminals are here. Just empty. I will take them all down. I’m not sure. Not sure I will build them again. I don’t want to get to know a new group of entities just yet. I am still grieving the loss of my old companions.
My planters were full, ready to be harvested, yet strangely pulsing red. I harvested a few but the red pulsing didn’t go away and I noticed a change in the planters that wasn’t there before. A new piece of technology that demanded that I supply nutrients in order for further growth to occur. How could this happen? Had I blacked out for so long --years-- that the soil had depleted? Did my farmer install these while I was away? Was this technology needed because of the toxicity enveloping the planet now? There is no one to answer my questions. My heart aches at the devastating changes. I know not what to do.
My planet is in a Vy’keen system. Through my travels I have learned quite a bit of the Vy’keen language and am of high standing with them. Listening in on various galactic comms I am learning that the devastation is wide-spread --universe wide, and perhaps even multi-verse wide. A catastrophic upheaval of the very fabric of the multiverse.
When I first awoke on this planet next to a crashed ship, my memory was a blank. I seemed capable of rational thought. “That must be my ship. Apparently I’m not damaged or in pain”. Movement was slow but easy. I could breathe with no problem. I was equipped with a rudimentary weapon that served, as I later found out, as a mining device. It was in somewhat need of repair, but it being modular in nature. Parts of it functioned well enough to gather resources required to repair and even upgrade the rest.
After thoroughly checking my weapon I next moved to a jumble of cargo litter and gathered what survival effects I could glean from them. A curious burnt out metal globe attracted me next. Its cables sputtering sparks that made me wary; still in my curiosity I poked its pad in a few places and was rewarded with a message. A message that was two questions, one of which I could select to give my time on this world some meaning. I could choose to explore this time and place on my own terms, or I could “Follow the Path of the Atlas” whatever that was. And although I am a wanderer at heart, and explorer, though I know not how I knew that then, I chose the latter, thinking it would perhaps lend structure to my explorations and hopefully some answers to the barely forming questions gestating beneath my need to survive wherever it was I had found myself.
And now where has that path led me? To another crossroads and another forked decision. To make the best of it in this darker uglier multiverse, or find a way back to the beginning of my journey? or perhaps even find a way to end it all. No, not that I think. My tenacious nature can’t abide that thought.
So far I have simply stood in the doorway of my old habitat, wandered among the pulsating planters unable to decide. Perhaps both decisions will ripen apace and I will be ready to choose. Perhaps I can find meaning again in this new regime and leave the grief behind without looking for a completely new beginning. The raging grief has already become not quite as raw. My preference is to hold out. See what can be done to improve things as they are. It is my way. The other choice, to find a way to begin again, I will hold as a kind of insurance. Like the thought of suicide as a final escape from torture can make the torture bearable perhaps long enough to find a way to escape it. Either way, the arrow of time moves inexorably forward, even when we begin again.
Note: I had fewer photos than I remembered, not realising that there was a camera mode. But here are a few that I gleaned. 1. my base from before 1.3; 2. My base after 3.1 (note the change in direction from where the big square standing stone sits); 3. My nutrient deprived farm with its red pulsing soil. 4. My base now at night. 5. Looking out the Cave opening I made on extreme planet pre-1.3.