Hello! I haven't been around in a long, long time. I'm back now, and I have a new story I'm working on, and I would love some feedback. This was always one of my favorite places to go for feedback, and I really hope that hasn't changed.
Hello! I haven't been around in a long, long time. I'm back now, and I have a new story I'm working on, and I would love some feedback. This was always one of my favorite places to go for feedback, and I really hope that hasn't changed.
Three medical personnel, five military personnel, two BGW technicians, two ambassadors and a single star ship pilot. That was our crew. It was supposed to be a simple mission: reconnect with Earth after some four hundred years with no contact. We go, we explain who we are and where we are from, and we begin the establishment of a inter-planetary trade route. We build long-range BGW satellites and set them up to connect our world with theirs, to have instant communication between colonies. In all, the mission should take about 20 years from planet-fall. Should the mission succeed, further missions to contact the other colonies would be put in place, and inter-galactic trade would begin, slowly at first. Mainly, the idea was to get the ball rolling and hope to whatever higher power that it just kept going and expanding.
Earth, the primordial home world of human kind. We homosapiens have come a long, long way since we first started our evolutionary journey. Though physical evolution stopped long ago, mental evolution has never ceased, and we improve and upgrade almost every technology literally every day. Back home, although I guess I should be more specific and say back in the dual human colonies of Nemiidi and Taesthi, we live in massive Arcs, full city-sized sky-scrapers with 200 floors. Each floor is a fully functioning, fully self-contained city roughly the size of Earths New York. For a long time we weren’t allowed to travel the surfaces of our colonized worlds but, about a hundred and fifty years ago, two generations of a family got into politics and they started to changed things like that, the daughter assisting with and carrying on the fathers work. They teach about them in history classes now, lots of people know their names.
So we leave the tachyon-thorium faster-than-light speed and then we come out of temporary, also tachyonic, stasis in fully enclosed hyperbaric chamber beds. The whole process is a bit unnerving. Going in to the hyperbaric bed feels like getting into a coffin, which is bad enough, but its the worst for claustrophobic people. Then, when you wake up, you’re disoriented for about an hour, and it can take time to even remember something as simple as your name, never mind why you were in the chamber and why you would ever agree to it. The sterile smell, almost like alcohol, that fills the stasis room can seem like an assault on your smell receptors when you first wake up from a faster-than-light speed jump. The rest of the ship isn’t so bad, but that sharp smell when you first wake up is awful.
We had to do dry runs in the hyperbaric chambers just to acclimate ourselves to the process and give ourselves shorter recovery times on wake-up. My own recovery is down to about twenty minutes. The pilot is always first, so they can take over the auto-pilot in favor of manual controls and make sure everything is still operating properly after the journey. The pilot would be followed by the BGW technicians, whose skills are useful in many applications, so that if anything were wrong with the star ship they could get to work repairing it, then the military personnel and the medical personnel, and the political ambassadors were last.
I suppose I should introduce the team, though, since this is our story, not just mine. I’m Rico Mackenzie, twenty-seven year old BGW technician, groomed for the position as all BGW staff are, from age ten when they test the schools for those with the best potential. I agreed to it readily enough, I enjoy many of the involved job requirements, such as satellite repair, general mechanics, robotics, physical workouts to keep the body in shape for regular space travel to the satellites, the space travel - why I agreed to the mission - and coding and programming and interface maintenance and upgrades and so on.
We have many degrees, many skills, in order to keep the BGW running without a hitch. It is, after all, basically a bi-global internet. In this case, we had volunteered for the mission, but they had narrowed it down to the two absolute best, because their part in the mission was to get a connection to the BGW on Earth and establish real-time contact for the purpose of further discussion, trade and other fine political gear-turning. Also because two of that high a caliber of workmanship was all they would spare in the name of this endeavor. I felt like the luckiest man in the bi-global colony. If I knew then what I know now. I’m getting ahead of myself though.
I’m about five foot seven, with a stocky build. I keep my rusty hair short, and my eyes have been described as turquoise-colored. I’ve been graduated and working for the BGW full-time for the last six years. I’ve had an obsession with old Earth since I was a little boy, particularly their old movies, and especially their old horror movies. I’m pretty sure in the twentieth century Earth slang, I would be a “nerd.”
My partner, the second BGW technician, is a Mr. Carmine Maestro-Bowler. Fifteen years with the BGW at age thirty-seven, ten years my senior. Neither of us is in charge of the other, of course, we are a team and we work democratically. Carmine is about five foot three and wiry thin. His bone structure and metabolic rate cause him to look like anything but a BGW technician, but those spindly limbs have so much more muscle than they appear to. He keeps his black, curly hair long, in a loose ponytail at the base of his neck. He has the bright blue eyes that seem like they would emit a light of their own if he really wanted them to. Of course, they don’t, but they seem like they would. He is, in his spare time, a video game junkie. First person shooters and MMOs primarily.
Mr. Rajan Weiss, thirty year old soldier, one of the five military personnel sent mostly as a security squad for the ambassadors. Six foot tall, mocha-colored skin from all the mixed races in his families heritage. Short black hair, amber eyes. Piercing eyes, like he can look into your soul. Very muscular, but absolutely no real combat experience despite five years in the military. I should state, our military is also our police force, there is no distinction. When I say he has no combat experience, I mean he has spent five years patrolling the Arcs and never even had a fist-fight break out in his vicinity. Excellent warrior in theory, but wholly untested in any form of combat outside of training. Great shot, but untested with moving targets. I’m sure you get what I mean. Absolutely green.
Ms. Camille Reiner, forty-five year old soldier, and both the older soldier on the team and the higher ranking officer, also designated the squads commanding officer. Only about five foot three and wide-framed. Medium length brown hair, hazel green eyes, pale, pale skin. She didn’t like being outside of the Arcs, but this mission had too much of a draw for her. I never asked why. Now Camille is a warrior, thirteen years service and she’d not only broken up fights, but also taken down a murderer or two. Actual combat experience, actually tested aim on moving targets. A commanding presence and super strong for her age and height. She works out three times a day, every day, always different muscles being targeted - her routine. Yet, despite her intimidating presence, she is one of the kindest and most caring people I’ve met in my life. Came to think of us all as family in just the three months of preparations. I will admit, she is kind of like my second mother.
Mx. Shia Vernier, twenty-four year old soldier. Five foot five, medium build, shaggy blonde hair and pale blue eyes. Doesn’t assign self a gender, prefers neutral “they” pronouns. They have a lot more strength than they appear to, but again, no combat experience. Only three years serving, not so much as a punch swung. They have their nose pierced, its actually quite attractive with the shape of their face and the way their hair falls. I have a hard time not saying she, and I always correct myself when I mess up. I really like Shia, and I don’t want Shia to dislike me. As a whole, the colony is still adjusting to the acceptance of non-binary genders. Still, there isn’t an excuse, its common courtesy to use the pronouns a person prefers, and its really not asking much when you get down to it. Shia was the first non-binary gendered person I actually met face to face.
Ms. Maria Wong, twenty-nine year old soldier. About five foot two, clearly primarily Asian background, though mixed. Thin, but well-trained and muscular in the most aesthetically pleasing ways. I admire her physique, I’ve said so since we met. Black hair in a straight fall to her shoulders, and dark brown eyes. Its almost impossible to read her eyes, you can never tell what she’s thinking from her eyes, they betray nothing. Eight years service, and took down a mass shooter who got his hands on a military machine rifle and opened fire on a shopping district in the upper levels. Some aggro asshole crying about inequality between the classes. There will always be inequality between the classes, don’t shoot up innocent shoppers, become a politician and change it. Digressing, Maria’s a tough woman, and she spoke her mind, and I would enjoy her company periodically.
Mr. Carl Yawney, thirty-two year old soldier Carl’s shortest on the crew, five foot even. Dark brown skin, pale brown eyes. Effeminate, he identifies as male, but has no problem wearing clothing made with the feminine form in mind. He actually looks really good in a skirt, he has the legs for it. Not the most muscular, but trained in martial arts, and great at redirecting. Still, no combat experience in four years. Whether in spite of or due to his keen intellect remains in question. He also has amazing reflexes, even for a martial artist. Very, very impressive to watch him train.
Ms. Ryanna Mustafa, fifty year old battle medic with thirty years experience. Dark skinned, long blond hair, willowy and graceful. Ryanna is five foot ten and thin, with brown eyes. Her Yoga routines are interesting to watch, and her speed is unrivaled by any other member of the team. She is a quick thinker, and does excellently under pressure, as proven by her thirty years practicing medicine in an emergency capacity. She isn’t rude by any means, but she does keep to herself a lot. Very private person.
Mx. Amaranth King, forty-five year old battle medic with twenty-five years experience. Amaranth is genderqueer, falling outside the Male-Female gender binary, and uses xe/xyr/xyrself pronouns. Its a bit easier to remember xyr versus their, because it specifies a gender, even if its not a very common one. For some reason, using fully gender-neutral terms confuses my brain. I do try to, though. Amaranth is about five foot six with short, spiky brown hair and bright blue eyes. Clearly has some kind of Asian mixed in xyr line, evinced by the epicanthic folds of xyr eyes. Muscular, practices both Jeet Kun Do and Tai Chi.
Ms. Robin Nikolai, twenty-four year old battle medic with 4 years experience. Five foot eleven, medium build, long hair past her shoulder, naturally brown but dyed teal. Brown eyes. She is young, she is brilliant, and she has a comprehensive knowledge of the human body practically memorized, but is still relatively inexperienced in practicing medicine. I’d have to say, though, that if I was going to get an inexperience battle medic, I would definitely want one with a comprehensive knowledge of human anatomy. Knowledge doesn’t always make up for inexperience, but in this case it certainly helps.
Mr. Kyle Marcello, sixty year old political ambassador. Mr. Marcello was one of two ambassadors sent on the mission, and was chosen for his well-documented skepticality and practicality. About six feet tall, thin, with short, graying brown hair, dark brown skin, and brown eyes. He’s been a politician for about thirty years, and a good one. Not very social, though, he tends to keep to himself unless necessity dictates otherwise.
Mrs. Marianna Campbell, eighty years old and our other political ambassador. Chosen for a number of reasons, including the stern, motherly aura she projects and the no-nonsense attitude she takes. She has been a politician for fifty years. Six foot two, medium build, just barely over-weight. Short gray hair and striking gray eyes. She’s a more social creature, and often the bridge to Mr. Marcello. Since she is the only person on board older than he, he defers to her out of respect.
And, of course, who could forget the pilot? Mx. Oranna Cloud, forty, who doesn’t assign themself a gender and, as with Shia, goes by they pronouns. Again, when I mess up I always correct myself. I mess up less and less with two of them around, so to speak. Oranna has been piloting star ships short distances for twenty years to shuttle politicians to and from the bi-global congressional space station. Oranna’s about five foot ten with long, wavy black hair cascading like a waterfall down their back about half-way to butt territory and the greenest eyes I’ve ever seen. Very friendly, and always willing to sit and chat.
I mean, we weren’t much of a team when they picked us all. Most of us were shy of each other. That went away during training, a lot of us were friends by the end of training. Its hard not to think of someone as a friend when you see them every day, all day, and your rooms are all in the same corridor at the facility. Remembering each other became easier coming out of the hyperbaric chambers after three months of waking up to the same people, in the same order. When you can anchor on a recognition like that, right off the hop, it decreases the time it takes for the stasis haze to dissipate. Even still, I feel had training been longer, we would have worked even better together and maybe things would be different. If the weaker links had time to strengthen more before they sent us out, maybe nobody would have died. I guess I’ll never know. Like I said, it was supposed to be an easy mission, politics and trade. Not this nightmare we stumbled into.
Stasis wake-up went without a problem and there were no issues needing tending, so we were having a meal as a group in the star ships little mess hall. It wasn’t a very big vessel, honestly, just a small ship to take a small team to Earth, nothing more. The weird, pasty foods developed for far-flight missions had become normal to us by this point, everyone more or less sucking scentless paste from tubes. We were chatting about where we were going to go first when we made planet fall.
“New York City.” Ryanna said, a broad smile on her round face. “For one, I want to see how big it really is. They say all the Arcs back home are the circumference of New York City And,” she gestured to the food paste tubes, “they say the food is great there. I wonder if Hot Dog Carts are still a thing like in the old movies.”
“That sounds awesome,” Shia replied, “but I would go to Tokyo in Japan. I want to see what has been touted as the most cramped city on Earth.” We all chuckled at the idea.
“I wanted to take a trip to the United Nations,” came a quiet reply from Mr. Marcello. “I want to see the first attempt at a global governing system and see how it differs from the dual-colony congress we have back home.”
“Ah! Yes!” Marianna agreed, excited. “The United Nations would definitely be one of the places to go. Personally, I’ve always been interested in the Great Wall of China. I wonder if its still standing? I’d love to go see.”
“Ah, the Great Wall!” I chimed in. “A place to see for sure. I want to go to Hollywood, see if any of the old production studios are still there. Or maybe New Zealand, apparently they filmed a lot of fantasy movies there because it was untouched at the time. Or maybe, depending on how things are, I might go to Australia. They used to say everything in Australia wants to kill you, I’d love to see for myself.”
“Living dangerous, Rico?” Ryanna asked, mostly as a joke. I flicked an empty paste tube at her and we laughed.
“Really,” Mr. Marcello muttered, “I thought we were all adults here.”
“Oh, come on, Kyle!” Marianna said. “What’s the point of being an adult if you aren’t free to have some fun once in a while? Don’t be such a curmudgeon.” She smiled and Mr. Marcello sniffed and turned up his nose in an almost comical fashion. I couldn’t hold in my laughter.
“Anyway, what about you, Oranna?” Shia asked. “Where would you go, if you get some free time?”
Oranna gave a small smile, closing their eyes and taking a deliberate breath. “NASA.” they said. “Where else would a star ship pilot from a closed off colony go, but one of the most well known sources of modern space flight?”
“The cradle of origins for space flight tech...” Robin said, solemnly. We were all quite for a moment. Without organizations like NASA, none of us would be here on this mission, and our home would still be uninhabited and unexplored. “I think if we get a chance, we should all take a trip to NASA and pay some homage to the first Earth astronauts. We owe them a lot, I think.” Everyone nodded, exchanging glances.
The alert that we were entering atmosphere blatted over the intercoms,repetitions of a harsh buzzing followed by a loud beep. Even after months of training, that noise was like torture. Oranna sprinted to the cockpit to disable it and take over manual control. Everyone else made their way to the stabilization chamber to strap in for planet fall.
This part of the mission should be easy enough, I thought at the time. It should have been. It was supposed to be so simple, we just land on water and wait for contact, it was supposed to be immediate as we should be detected on our way down. The further we got towards the waters surface, the more and more I was getting a sinking feeling in my gut. I wrote it off at the time, of course, as being an effect of the gravity pressure from our descent.
“Alright everyone,” Oranna boomed on the intercom, “we’ve hit water somewhere just off the coast of a lake in what the map tells me should be Canada. We should get contacted any time now to find out who we are and why we’re here, so for now you can wander the ship and get your stuff together. Shouldn’t be long now, loves. I’m disabling the artificial gravity and presently testing the breathability of the air as a standard precautionary procedure. Take this as a chance to get used to the difference in gravity from what we’re used to. You’ve still got your sea legs, everyone, so it’s time to readjust yourselves.”
“Oranna really loves those ancient pirate jokes, huh?” Robin asked, chuckling. “Hey, whatever fuels your star ship, I guess.”
“Yeah.” I said, then a thought occurred to me. “Hey, I’m going to pop into the cockpit and see if Oranna wants some company while we wait.”
“Sure thing, Rico. Have fun, man.” Robin replied as I sprinted off to Oranna.
Oranna was going over the atmospheric data to confirm the air on Earth was still breathable when I got to the cockpit. Of course it was, and the ships internal life support systems could now be disabled in favor of the local atmosphere pumped through the ventilation. It was my job to keep those systems running, so naturally they were at peak efficiency.
Oranna looked up and smiled at me. I smiled back, not quite sure of how to proceed.
“What’s up?” The pilot asked, going over the various monitors and scanning the channels for incoming messages.
“I had a thought, Or.” I said, and Oranna stopped and looked at me. Oranna and I had come to take each other seriously whenever either of us ‘had a thought’ about something.
“Spit it out, Ri.” Fingers steepled under chin, elbows resting on knees, Oranna was hunching forward.
“What if the technology they use for communications isn’t compatible with ours?” I posed my theory. “We started with Earth compatible tech when our colonies were founded, yes, but its been centuries. Whatever they have now might not work with what we’ve managed tech-wise. We don’t know anything about how Earth has changed in those centuries, we can’t risk waiting forever because of incompatible technologies.”
“Ah! That would suck, wouldn’t it?” They looked to the instruments and monitors on the dash. “If they can’t get through to us, maybe we’d better send up a signal flare? Lets give it a couple hours, anyhow. We don’t know how long it takes the people of Earth to look into things breaking through their atmosphere. Still... They could and should have messaged us upon approach or descent. Something’s off here.”
“You get that feeling too, huh?” I put a hand on their shoulder and squeezed reassuringly. “I’m sure its nothing serious.” I told Oranna, though I was lying through my teeth. Every nerve in my body was screaming the opposite. I wonder if they could tell? It’s not for me to know.
“Like I said, we’ll give it a couple hours and then take action.” Oranna repeated. “If we don’t hear from any people of Earth within four hours, we’ll go looking.”
I nodded, taking the seat beside Oranna and leaning back. They made a brief announcement over the intercoms and that was that. We waited. We waited for four very quiet, boring, uneventful hours of radio silence and nothing on the scanners bigger than fish in our proximity. Not even a rowboat or a fishing vessel on the horizon. Nothing but organic objects in the skies, birds. The more time passed, the more Oranna and I felt like something was very, very wrong.
There was a knock at the cockpit door, which I hadn’t realized I’d closed behind me when I came in. I motioned Oranna to stay seated and got up to let the knocker in. The door split in the center and the two halves slid sideways to reveal Shia and Robin waiting.
“Shia, Robin,” I said, nodding. “Come in. What’s up?”
Shia spoke for both of them, shooting sidelong glances to Robin. “Well, the thing is, it’s been almost four hours and there’s been nothing. We’ve been looking out off the roof of the ship and literally nothing but birds and fish. It’s eerie, it shouldn’t be that way. Not a helicopter, not a jet plane, not a watercraft of any kind despite the calm tides. I don’t even think I can see any real movement on the closest coast to the west there.”
“That’s the weirdest part,” Robin cut in. “There’s supposed to be people living in the big metropolis on the edge of this lake, but its like its completely dead there. No vehicles, no pedestrians on the lakefront, nothing.”
“So we were thinking, we should probably scoot in closer, see if maybe its just because we’re so far that we can’t see anyone?” Shia continued. “Right now, there are no visible signs of life. But that is wrong. Based on the data for Earth when the colonists all went on their missions, the population for any city that size would have been in the six to ten million range. Given the length of time that’s passed, it should be rapidly approaching the billions mark by this point. Yet its completely silent.”
“We can move a bit closer. I’ll tell you what I’ll do when we move closer, Shia.” Oranna started. “I’ll run the lifeform scanner over the city in a quick pass and we’ll grab some images from the ships outer security cameras. Sound good, my friends?”
“Thank you, Oranna.” Robin replied.
“Yeah, definitely.” Shia agreed. The two of them left the cockpit, and Oranna and I exchanged glances.
“Something is much worse here than incompatible technologies.” I said, quietly, when I was sure they were gone.
“Certainly is beginning to seem that way. Aren’t there old horror movies that start out similarly to this?”
I laughed, but it was a strained laugh, like I was holding something else back. “I hope we aren’t in danger.”
“From an empty city? I highly doubt it.” Oranna waved a hand, flippantly. “If anything, the planets gone dead and the mission was a waste from the start.”
“I hope it’s only that and the journey home waiting for us.” I said, looking out the shielded glass to the flat water surrounding us. “I’ve got this really bad feeling, and I hope it’s just my mind playing tricks on me. But it might not be, and I’m getting kind of scared. I don’t think we should be here, Or.”
“Chill, Ri. This is a peace mission, and if there’s no one here, we’ll check some other places. Worse comes to worse, the planet is void of human life and we go home.”
“But what if it isn’t?” I asked, my voice almost breaking. “What if it isn’t void of human life, but they’re not like us anymore? What if they don’t want us here, they don’t like us? What if they’re... Wrong, somehow? What if they kill us? Every part of me is screaming to turn tail now.”
“We can’t do that, Ri.” Now I was the one getting the comforting shoulder squeeze. “Go down to the lounge, inhale some cannabis vapor and calm yourself. Things will be okay.”
I shouldn’t have listened, I should have insisted we leave then and there, but Oranna was right. We had to at least ascertain if there was still human life on this world. So I went and I got myself together and I watched an Ancient Earth “comic adaption” movie, called Deadpool, and laughed my ass off for a bit. I let myself believe Oranna was right, that things would be alright, and we would all leave this place just fine. What a beautiful lie that was. I should have rejected it. I should have caused a scene. So many things, I should have done differently. So many regrets, starting with that one. So I waited.
I felt the ship move during my movie, and decided that I would wait to be summoned when the scans had been run. Oranna would want everyone there, we would make any decisions together. The call came over the intercom to come to the mess hall. I got there at more or less the same time as everyone else and waited for Oranna to speak. I could tell by the look on their face that it wasn’t going to be what we were hoping for.
“Okay, so there is no easy way to say this, so I’m not going to beat around the bush too much.” Oranna began, and I tensed. “The scans are showing no heat signatures, no signs of life in this city. For all intents and purposes, this place is abandoned. So, we have a choice: Look for signs of why, or look further inland for any signs of life and make contact. Or we can turn around, go home, and tell them no one was here. But I don’t think any of us want to go back without being sure, and there may be a valid reason this metropolitan area is like a ghost town, so to speak. So, lets discuss: Explore here, explore further, or go home?”
“I think we should look further in.” Mr. Marcello said, standing tall with his shoulders squared. He always smelled faintly of lavender, I think this was the first moment I actually noticed. “There could be any number of reasons this area was deserted. As Mx. Oranna has pointed out, we may have just picked a bad area for planet fall. I’m sure somewhere further up there will be someone who can explain this strangeness to us, but lets be honest - no one was expecting us to arrive, we couldn’t let them know ahead of time this trip was being made. That was why we were making this trip. So to expect a welcoming party may have been a bit presumptuous of us, and of our missions so-called planners. I vote we move forward and verify the state of this planet before abandoning it as a lost cause.”
“I have to agree with Kyle.” Marianna said. “The chances of this mission being a failure were calculated at 0.053%, we move forward and carry on the mission to make contact with emissaries of Earth. That’s my vote.”
Rajan, unusually quite so far, stepped forward. “I don’t know why this huge city is empty,” he began, “but I know I’m a dual-functioning soldier and police officer and I love getting to the bottom of a good mystery. I vote we move forward and scout for signs of life in other places. That makes three votes, so far. If anyone doesn’t want to go, speaking up and making your argument now is a good idea.”
I had the sinking feeling in my gut, like something very terrible was going to happen, but I couldn’t quantify it, I couldn’t give it shape and explanation. What would I say?
“What is the range on the scanners?” I asked, before I knew what I was asking.
“What?” Oranna looked at me, head tilted.
“How far out can we scan from the ship, speaking in radial measurements?” I clarified. “A hundred yard radius? Three hundred yard radius?”
“No, you’re thinking too small, Ri.” Oranna replied. “This little baby has a sixty kilometer radius on all scanning instruments. Sixty kilometers in every direction, scanned for life signs and human heat signatures. We will know well in advance if we’re coming up on someone.”
“Good, good.” I said, “And how fast would you take the ship along scanning for signs? Too fast and the instruments can’t do their job, right? So say we’re going somewhere between a hundred to two hundred kilometers per hour, like an old Earth car, which should be slow enough to scan properly while still making good distance in the search. What if we stumble into some Earth war and we get shot down? We have no idea what we are walking in to here, guys. We can play it as safe as we want, but there are too many unknown variables for me to feel safe in the decision to investigate. At any rate, we only have five soldiers, and only two of them have any serious combat experience, no offense meant. None of us are tested in actual war conditions, and most of us have never even been in so much as a fist fight. It might not be a good idea to go snooping.”
“Rico does have a point, even if he does sound a little paranoid.” Robin stepped forward. “We have absolutely no idea what is going on here. There don’t seem to be signs of too much structural damage, and what I am seeing on the cameras looks more time-related than battle-related. This city, it’s been empty for a while. But, when I look in at the streets, it looks like everything was abandoned in a hurry. I want a closer look at the city. There are still unknown variables...” She glanced at me. “But at least we know the city is empty of human life. We know its safe.”
“Nothing is safe.” I said, calmly. “When you face the unknown, nothing is safe for sure, ever. What if a building decides to fall over on us? You said yourself, the damage looks like standard decay. How long has it been decaying? One ancient skyscraper would be all it would take to take us out, Robin.”
“We have to see, maybe it will give us a better idea of what might be waiting for us further in.” Ryanna said, looking around the room with steel in her eyes. “Even if we can’t complete the mission, we can have something to report when we get home. More than just ‘we didn’t find anybody, sorry it was a waste of time and resources.’” My eyes were always distracted by her hand gestures as she spoke. Every time a hand-talker got going, I can’t help track the movement of their hands as they speak. I don’t know why. “No. We are going to bring them something, even if its ‘we looked around and the planet was dead.’ At least we know that for sure. One way or the other, we need to find out what happened here. I vote we investigate this abandoned city and see if we can learn anything. Anything, dead communications tech, personal computer tech, journals, diaries, any kind of digital or even analog recordings. An old newspaper with a bulletin calling for evacuation, maybe? Even if we find nothing, seeing what its like out there may give us clues to what happened. Were there riots? Are there corpses? Was it an attack on the city? Was there a contamination? Which, by the way, we should scan for before leaving the ship. As you keep pointing out, Rico, there are a lot of unknown variables. Our mission just changed from ‘make contact’ to ‘find out what is going on here.’”
Shia and Camille moved to stand behind Robin and Ryanna, a signal that their votes were cast to explore the city. I let out a somewhat exasperated sigh, my stomach feeling like it was full of stones, heavy stones dragging me down inside.
Carmine stepped over to me. “I don’t know what is going on here, and I don’t really care. If there is any chance that this mission needs to be cut short for the safety of the crew, I think we should take it. I don’t want to die because we were curious.” He put his hand on my shoulder. “I with Rico on this one, I’ve got a bad feeling.”
“Thanks, Carmine.” I said, quietly. “I appreciate it.” At least someone was on my side.
“No.” Maria said, looking at both Carmine and myself. “No, we can’t just go. I get it, I do. You guys are technicians, you aren’t soldiers or doctors or politicians. The soldiers want to stay for the investigation, one way or the other. The doctors, I can see them wanting to stay to help the wounded if there are any. The politicians need to be politicians if we do find people. But what do you guys do? Build BGW satellites, share tech knowledge? If there is a war, or if this planet is dead, or even if they’ve just had to evacuate major cities for whatever reason, you guys can’t build your satellites really. There’s only a, maybe, 15% chance you guys will get to do what you were sent here for, so of course you’d want to leave. Those odds aren’t that good.”
“No, Maria,” I said, leaning forward in my seat at one of two tables. “It is so much more than that, believe me. Ever since we broke atmo, I’ve been getting this sinking feeling in my gut. I’ve been feeling like things are very, very wrong here. You can’t tell me you don’t feel it. It gets more intense the longer we’re here and the more we find out. We will die if we stay, I can’t shake that feeling.”
“At this point, Rico, there’s no evidence to suggest there’s even anything on this planet that can kill us anymore.” She came back, her tone warning me I wouldn’t win this argument. “Either way, we need to trust that the structural damage is minimal and the empty city poses us no threat. We need to explore that empty metropolis.”
“There’s no reason to check an empty city, though,” Carl said from his seat, leaning back. “We know its empty, we should be looking for somewhere that isn’t. Wouldn’t it be more apparent if there were a war going on, Rico? Wouldn’t there be structural damage from missiles and bombs and firearms? Maybe there was a natural disaster caused this city to be abandoned? Or maybe massive metropoli like this one weren’t a viable option anymore and everyone had to go back to clean old country living? You said it yourself, Rico, and it keeps being pointed out, there are too many variables here. But not a single variable is telling me to turn tail and run. I may not have much, if any, combat experience, but I have far more combat training than you do, and I’ve been taught to trust my instincts. Mine don’t match up with yours, civilian. Whose instincts would you say are better suited?”
“Mine, every time. No matter how well I get to know you, Carl, I’m always going to know me better and trust my own instincts over any others. But I can’t argue this with you because it would take literally the rest of our lives, however long that may be.” I shook my head. “This is crazy, to me. But I can see you guys are intent on staying on this planet one way or the other. I’m tagging out of the argument, my votes cast on home and I’m not backing down on that.”
“I agree with Carl, though.” Amaranth stated. “Not about instinct and all that, but that we should be checking places for life, not exploring an empty city.”
“Okay!” Oranna said. “That’s enough debate, everyone has cast a vote but myself. So! In favor of checking here we have Robin, Ryanna, Camille, Shia and Maria. Five. In favor of checking elsewhere we have Kyle, Marianna, Rajan, Carl and Amaranth. Five. In favor of going home, we have Rico and Carmine. Two. So, we have a tie, and I’m the breaker. What this means is that we will be checking this city briefly for some sign of what happened here. You guys have about an hour to look around, use it wisely, because after that hour we will be searching out life in other places. Sorry Ri, majority rules, and majority says we stay planetside a bit longer. I know you’re itching to break atmo and head home, but we can’t cancel the mission on a satellite technicians bad feeling.”
“Yeah...” I had my shoulders slumped in the posture of defeat, but squared them, sitting up straight and looking Oranna right in the eyes. “I’m cool. I still don’t think its a good idea though. I won’t rescind that opinion.”
“Duly noted, and to be kept under consideration as the situation changes.” Oranna said, nodding. “Alright everyone, get ready and meet up to disembark in twenty minutes.” Then, after a moments thought, they added “Also keep in mind Earth only has a twenty-four hour day, and we’re used to running a thirty-four hour day.” The twin colonies did indeed have a thirty-four hour orbit, and a much longer year. A full orbit rotation for the twin planets works out to roughly 3.5 Earth years, and a “Bi-Global” year was twelve-hundred-seventy-seven thirty-four-hour days long. of you used to being outside the Arcs, the sun will be setting sooner than you’d be used to. It is getting close to sunset. Everyone must be back to the ship by then, no exceptions.”
We all agreed and set out from the mess hall. I did not want to leave the ship, but it had been decided. I made up my mind to stick as close to either Camille or Maria as possible. Where better to be than by either of the soldiers with actual combat experience? I hoped this decision would be enough to keep me safe, but I had extreme doubts and no idea why.
I have been having problems reading lately - before I start converting your text to .mobi (can only read my Kingle nowadays), can you tell me whether it's finished or I gotta wait till it is?
So much exposition at the beginning. What's BGW? A lot of telling and no showing. My advice is to break this up and disperse it over the rest of the narrative when you rewrite. It's a lot to swallow first bite. Take a moment to explain the team as they are naturally introduced. Most readers will forget their physical characteristics and their backstory is you just drop the entire team's in a row like that.
For when you edit, make sure you eliminate useless words. My prose use to be and still is, to a lesser degree, full of them. Often if you restructure the sentence, the words omit themselves. It's a matter of training yourself not to write them in the first place...which after writing a million+ words, I still do lol
If this were my paragraph I would change it to read like this:Stasis wake-up went without a problem and there were no issues needing tending, so we were having a meal as a group in the star ships little mess hall. It wasn’t a very big vessel, honestly, just a small ship to take a small team to Earth, nothing more. The weird, pasty foods developed for far-flight missions had become normal to us by this point, everyone more or less sucking scentless paste from tubes. We were chatting about where we were going to go first when we made planet fall.
"We woke from stasis. ('without a problem' with unnecessary since the reader won't know what problems can happen). We ate our meal in a little mess hall in the aft of the ship (or whatever section) and lounged around with nothing on the docket. We'd become accustomed to the strange foods packed in tubes like toothpase so we sucked it up with no complaints. (move this up, as it goes from meal, to describing ship, to describing meal, you also used pasty and paste to describe the same thing). We discussed our plan of action upon making planet fall. (we were, she was, he is...easy extra words to write. there is always a simpler way to say it.)
The vessel was small, (avoid 'just' whenever you can) enough to transport a thirteen man crew to Earth. (this doesn't fit in that paragraph. I would delete it or move it somehwere else). "
But for all I know you all all this and I'm just blowing hot air, but that's why I don't let people read my rough work. If you need any help when it comes to writing zombie horror, I'm your guy.
Oh, I'm goin' slap happy! I'm goin' slap slap happy! Slappity slapping ya, teachin' ya a lesson for comin' in my house!
Mattrick, I appreciate the feedback.
As a note: This is being written as if it's the main character writing a journal or giving a report, and he is a wordy bugger. The way I'm writing it is deliberately overly-wordy because that is who Rico is. I'm writing it the way Rico would write it or say it. I'm not going for the word count, I'm going for what feels true to the character.
I will keep some of those revisions in mind, though.
The funny thing is, last time I wrote in this universe I did explain what the BGW was when it was introduced... And got criticized that the explanation was unnecessary. I was told it was supposed to be obvious from context, LOL. It stands for "Bi-Global Wireless" and it actually has an even longer name than that, being "Bi-Global Wireless Information and Simulation Matrix". Which is basically a VR Internet overlay HUD connected to special, ultra-thin digital contact lenses and gloves. Sometimes people use the glove tech in their whole outfit. Usually online gamers.
I've been working on the world for the dual planet colony for close to six years now. I'm not even close to done the original story, but this one has been pressing in my mind for about a year and a half now and I want to just get it down as a first draft as quick as I can.
Our team regrouped at the loading hatch after Oranna landed the ship on a deserted street. The soldiers had their automatic military weapons, and the civilians had their basic energy pistols. I don’t know that any of us really knew how to use those pistols outside of the training we received, which had zero moving target practice. I remember being told by Camille that when you fire you don’t pull the trigger until its level with your eyes, that way the gun is aiming where you’re looking when you fire. I also remember being told by Maria that when you hesitate, people die. I prayed to whatever higher power might be out there, that I would not have to experience what either of them were hoping to prepare me for - combat.
“Okay,” Oranna said, stepping over to the control panel, “I want Shia to stay here with me so we can guard the ship. The life sensors showed nothing, but as Rico pointed out, the evolution of technology would have branched when our ancestors colonized and lost contact. Our tech may not be compatible with their tech, but they may also have created tech that can completely cloak signs of life. We don’t actually know for sure that this city is completely and utterly empty, just that nothing is showing up on scans.”
“Which is why this is a terrible idea.” I muttered.
“We are going to do this as quickly and safely as possible. There are four other soldiers, I want the remaining civilians to stick close to them. Try not to get separated, and try to remember where the ship is as best you can. As I said before, it will be dark before we know it, so keep an eye on the sky, but be aware of your surroundings. Anything that can give us an idea, a newspaper or magazine or diary or anything. It won’t give us any indication of how long its been, but it may at least give us what happened. Two groups, in the opposite directions along this street. I will be here and ready to go when everyone returns, so please get back before dark. Don’t make us come looking for you, its not so safe navigating a star ship in among all these buildings. I’ll give you guys a moment to break into groups.”
So we split up. Not a big split. Shia and Oranna stayed with the ship, just as a precaution. I ended up with Maria, Ryanna, Rajan and Amaranth. The other group was Camille, Robin, Kyle, Marianna, Carl and Carmine. They made off toward the front of the ship while my group walked from the back. As Oranna said, I kept my eyes on both the sky and the surroundings.
The blue of the sky, I remembered reading somewhere, was caused by the light reflecting through the ocean sending back only the blues. On Nemiidi, the sky was pink during the day, it faded into purples and blues and greens as the sun star, Etirtu, would set or rise. I guess the color that the water on Nemiidi didn’t absorb must be red.
I looked up at the high-rise buildings, what must have been cutting edge architecture several hundred years ago looked like miniature precursors to the Arcs we lived in in the dual colonies. Not quite the same, like scale prototypes almost. They were still tall, but not nearly as imposing as the massive Arcs I was used to before coming here. Some of the tall buildings had shops along the front bottom, and I assumed they were either offices or apartments after the first level.
I made myself guard of the exit as the team moved into one of the buildings, chosen at random. They fanned through a few rooms and found nothing, so we exited that building and tried again with another. Each time my group came out empty-handed. I didn’t see anything to give any indication of what had caused this once great metropolis to be nothing more than a deserted wreckage. No old tech, no newspapers, no magazines. There was a smell though, a foul smell all through the city, and no one could quite put a finger on it. The empty streets, the foul stench, the unnatural silence even from animal chatter... I still wonder why I was the only one to put it together that these things meant run and never come back.
Finally Rajan came out of one of the buildings with what appeared to be a wrist-watch computer, and he looked like he was about to throw up. Maria asked him what it was, and he said he had had to pull the watch from a not-quite-fully decayed corpse, which was amazingly the first one we’d come across at that point. Ryanna offered to take a peek but Rajan shook his head violently.
“Noo, nono.” He said, putting a hand on her shoulder. “For one, we don’t need to know the cause of death. For two, you don’t need to see that. No one else should see that. Please, lets just see what else we can find.”
“And we need to hurry, Oranna was right.” I added. “This sun is moving so much faster than I’m used to. Its already starting to darken here. I want to get back to the ship as quickly as we can here.”
“Yeah, I’m sure you do.” Rajan muttered. “Right, so lets check a couple more buildings and then head back up to the ship. We didn’t get too far, maybe six or seven intersections.”
“Something isn’t right here.” Amaranth said. “And its not just the empty metropolis, the lack of newspapers and magazines, and Rajan’s apparently awful corpse.”
“Something is wrong on a very deep level.” I agreed. “Lets move.”
“Why haven’t we seen other corpses?” Amaranth asked as the group moved down the road. “If there was one, there should be others, shouldn’t there?”
“Just because we found one corpse in a building doesn’t mean we need to be finding them left, right and center.” Rajan said. “They may not have been able to evacuate. I can say conclusively the cause of death was shooting themselves in the head. Death may have been preferable to whatever they couldn’t escape that was going on at the time.”
“Rajan is right.” Maria agreed. “A single corpse isn’t necessarily an omen of more to come, and if that one is the only one our group comes across, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”
“Less corpses is less frightening.” Ryanna mused. “But Rico and Amaranth are right, something is starting to feel more and more wrong the further we get from the ship. I don’t like this.”
“Because we found a corpse, or because we aren’t finding anything to tell us why there might be a corpse?” Maria asked. “Nothing about this situation is right. None of this is what we were being prepared for back home all those months. Just because the situation we came into isn’t the one we were expecting is not necessarily a reason to flee.”
“Can we stop arguing?” I asked. “No offense, but if there is somebody around with the tech to hide from our scanners, I’d really not like them hearing us first.”
“Fair enough.” Maria smiled. “Lets keep moving.”
Somehow my group managed to make it back to the ship without finding any more corpses hidden in offices and apartments. The other group hadn’t made it back yet, but it wasn’t fully sundown yet so we started moving in their direction, hoping to come across them before dark. They couldn’t, we figured, have gotten much father than we had. They must have just lost track of the time passing. Then there was the screaming, and we were off at a run hoping to make it in time. I had no idea what was happening, what to expect when we got to them, but I knew I had to make it there because these people were, however ragtag, my family.
We came across them running at breakneck speed for the ship. There was still screaming, and what looked like a mob off in the distance. At least, that was what I had thought I’d seen in the split second before Robin was in my face yelling to get back to the ship immediately. It looked, vaguely, like the mob was beginning to move toward us, and then I was running back toward the ship with the others and all thought of what I had seen was gone from my mind in the wake of the adrenaline high that was taking over. The screaming though, the screaming never stopped.
“What the actual fuck happened out there?” I shouted as the ships cargo ramp closed. “Who was screaming? Where’s Carl?” The last question came out almost a hiss as I realized he was missing. Everyone looked around, and those who were in the other group looked to each other. “What happened?” I asked again.
“We aren’t sure.” Carmine told me. “We thought they were just... Corpses! Sweet fuck, we thought they were just corpses!”
“There were people?” Oranna asked.
“No... Yes.” Carmine said. “I don’t know. They got up and started moving, but until they did I could have sworn they were just a pile of corpses.”
“Either someone’s made an incredible form of corpse camouflage to hide themselves,” Camille said, “or we actually just saw fifty plus corpses get up and attack us.”
“They separated Carl from the rest of us...” Mr. Marcello said. “I didn’t notice until it was too late to do anything. But they can’t be actual corpses.”
“There’s little to no scientific evidence to support returning life to a corpse once the brain has died.” Ryanna said. “They legitimately couldn’t have been dead people getting back up.”
“I’m not going to tell a doctor how to do their job,” Marianna said, looking Ryanna dead in the eyes, “but when a bunch of bodies lying in a massive stain of blood on the concrete, with clearly visible wounds and cavities, with patches of skin and even whole limbs missing, and no signs of breathing gets up and starts coming at you, it is really, really hard to say that it is impossible for that to happen.”
“No, it couldn’t have happened. They had to be pretending.” Ryanna came back at her. “The dead do not actually rise, its the stuff of fiction only. Back me up here, Robin? Amaranth?”
“I didn’t see it, I can’t comment.” Amaranth deflected, holding up xyr hands.
“I know what I saw.” Robin said. “Those people, they were not breathing. They had wounds that, if they were laying there as long as I think they were judging from the state of decay, the smell of them, the severity of some of those wounds? They would not be getting up. Believe me, Ryanna, when I tell you that I witnessed what should be impossible. Corpses got up. Corpses attacked us. Corpses cut Carl off from us and that was him you heard screaming right up until we got far enough we couldn’t hear him anymore. I think... I think they were trying to bite us.”
“This can’t be happening.” I said, leaning back against a ship wall and sinking to the ground. “No. No. This isn’t real. I’m having some weird stasis dream or something.”
“Get real, Rico.” Maria said. “We woke up, we went out there, and apparently Carl was taken by walking corpses. We have to figure out our next move.”
“I want to say, being the one who has probably seen the most old movies involving walking corpses on Earth,” I said, trying to be as calm as possible, but extremely scared and singularly aware of what could and would probably happen, my tone was not exactly nice, “we need to assume Carl is dead and most likely also a walking corpse, and we need to leave. Now. And never, ever come back here.”
I remember I was crying, not sobbing and wailing, but I couldn’t control the tone of my voice, I was almost shouting, and my face was hot and wet, the tears obscuring my vision. My nose was plugged, and running, I wiped it with my sleeve more than once.
“This is insane.” Camille said. “I’ve seen the old zombie movies too, Rico. Maybe not as many, but enough to know I think you’re probably right. The problem is, we need to make sure that Carl is dead, we can’t leave if there is even the tiniest bit of doubt. We have to fly around the area and see if we can find him. Oranna, you need to fly, I guarantee they might not be too fast, but they will mob us.”
There was a loud bang. Everyone looked to the source. “This is stupid.” Rajan growled, his palm flat against the table, arm rigid. “We have guns, none of you mentioned them having guns. We could take them down like nothing.”
“Thirteen people with guns, against fifty people?” Camille said. “These walking corpses weren’t deterred when we did attack, they did not respond to pain. Unless we can all manage to shoot them in the heads - which we all cannot, we have untrained civilians here - they will overrun us.”
“You guys fight this out,” Oranna said, “I’m going to lift off and find somewhere safer to touch down.” They sprinted from the room.
“Whatever is happening here, we don’t know how it spreads.” Robin said in the silence following Oranna’s departure. “We need to quarantine ourselves for a few weeks before we even think of going home.”
“That,” Ryanna said, “I have to agree with. As medical practitioners, we need to think about the safety of the colony and if its been compromised by our coming into contact with whatever happened here. Something is clearly wrong, because those people should have shown up on scans, but regardless of what is wrong, we have to be careful before we go home.”
“Unfortunately,” Amaranth conceded, “Ryanna and Robin are right. We have to give ourselves a bit of time to see if we have been infected with anything.”
“We can’t stay here!” I interjected. “We will die here if we stay.” But this argument was not going my way and I was losing my conviction.
“No, the medical professionals are right.” Mr. Marcello was leaning against a wall, arms crossed. “We can’t be responsible for the possible decimation of our own home. We will wait out the quarantine.”
“We do have a duty to protect our colony.” Marianna agreed. “And while we are here, it wouldn’t hurt to scoot around and see if we can find signs of actual life left here. We can quarantine them too, and once the quarantine is passed we can take them home with us.”
“I can’t...” I sighed and shook my head. “I can’t deal with this. I’m going to go lay down.”
I left my crew mates to decide our fate, as obviously I wasn’t going to win this argument. I felt the ship take off while I was moving down the hallway toward the common area. Laying on the couch, I let myself sink into the oblivion of a nap.
I awoke to Oranna over the intercom.
“So, as you decided, we are searching out some possible survivors in other places.” Their voice boomed. “We’re heading north for now, we’ll see what we find. In the meantime, take this time to relax and make sure we are all rested in case we do find someone.”
Sighing and stretching, I tried to decide how this was going to work. Would I leave the ship to rescue survivors if we found any? And how to know if they were safe to bring aboard? One infected changing without warning would be all it would take to ruin us. I took a deep breath and centered myself as best I could, trying to keep myself calm. A satellite technician had no place here. But we weren’t coming expecting this, we were expecting normal Earth with normal people doing normal things. This was just about as far from normal as I could imagine.
I couldn’t relax, my heart was racing and my palms were sweaty. I wished I had a better way with words, that I maybe could have talked everyone out of staying. Slowly, using the walls for support, I made my way back to the mess. I wasn’t hungry, but I had decided a tube of paste was necessary either way. The ship was moving, and I assumed Oranna had the scanners going. I wondered how anyone could actually survive in such a scenario, I really didn’t think I could do it. I wanted to be anywhere but here.
I sat at one of the tables and periodically licked paste from the tube, staring at nothing in particular and trying to keep my mind blank. I didn’t want to think about anything, because my mind has a way of wandering to the subjects I want to avoid. Thinking about blankness leads to more blankness, I find.
I focused on my breathing the way Amaranth and Ryanna had shown me, a deep breath through the nose followed by a slow exhale through the mouth, and again, and again until I felt like I might fall back asleep. I abandoned the paste tube for a moment, standing to stretch out my muscles and then did a few jumping jacks. I felt a little bit better for it, but the possibility of death was still a looming issue at the edge of my thoughts.
I have no idea how much time passed before Oranna boomed over the radio saying there were signs of survivors ahead. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting it to happen at all. It startled me, I felt my heart jump into my throat and felt queasy. There was a sinking feeling in my stomach, like a large stone was weighing me down from the inside. At the same time, however, my mind was racing with possibilities. There were people ahead of us, we would be reaching them soon! How did they survive, how did they get food, where were they sheltering? I found myself more curious than afraid, and I wasn’t sure how to feel about that. Oh, the prices we pay for that kind of optimism. I wish I’d hidden.
Before I even really knew what I was doing I was in the cockpit asking Oranna questions.
“Whoa,” Oranna said, “whoa, whoa. Ri, you need to try again, more slowly. I couldn’t make out half of what you were just saying.”
I took a deep breath and gave myself a moment to collect my thoughts.
“Okay,” I started over, “can you tell how many people there are?”
“There seems to be somewhere between ten and fifteen.” Oranna replied. “Its hard to tell sometimes, we aren’t close enough to fully distinguish heat signatures right now.”
“These are the first human-sized heat signatures?” I asked.
“The first heat signatures at all. I haven’t even seen any animals, Rico.”
“Will we have room for them on the ship, Oranna?”
“I don’t know, honestly.” Oranna’s shoulders slumped. “We were meant to be a political envoy, to complete our mission and return, not to bring people back with us. If there are that many, if there are more than that many, we won’t have enough stasis chambers, and people will have to stay awake for the return. If we pass quarantine without any issues.”
“Bringing people on board after today will elongate that quarantine.” I said, meaning it to be a warning about finding too many people. “I don’t think we should be looking for survivors. I think we should be leaving.”
“I know, Ri. But majority rules, and this is what we have.” They smiled, but it was a sad smile. It was forced, and I could see the fear hiding behind it. “Frankly, this whole situation should be impossible.”
“Should be, yeah.” I agreed. “Here we are though. Zombies.”
“It’s really a terrifying idea. To see it is worse.”
“I agree.” I sighed heavily. “How far off are we? How soon will we get there?”
“About a half an hour, maybe less.”
“Okay,” I sat cross-legged on the floor. “When we get close enough, bring up wherever they’re hiding on the screens, I want to see what we’re dealing with before we try anything heroic.”
“Of course.” Oranna set the autopilot and leaned back in their seat. “I don’t know what to do, though, in general. This isn’t the mission, and there are no contingency plans for this because it isn’t supposed to be possible.”
“We keep coming back to that,” I said, and chuckled. “It should be impossible, but yet here we are.”
“Here we are.” Oranna echoed.
At about ten minutes out Oranna brought up the front cameras on the view-screen. We were coming up on what looked like an old hospital or asylum, I wasn’t sure which. It was boarded up and there were traps around the entrances, Chevaux de frise under the windows, the large spiked logs protruding to keep the zombies at a safe distance from the windows on the ground level. I admit, I was impressed. Those fortifications must have taken quite the time and effort to put in place. I wondered how many people they had lost while putting them in place.
There were two large groups of the zombies visible at the front of the building, and I got the impression there were other large groups we couldn’t see forming at the back and sides of the building as well. I had no way of knowing just how many walking corpses there were, but the throngs were definitely over a hundred a piece.
At the top of the building, what would have been a helicopter landing many centuries ago, a group of people was gathering from the stairwell, holding signs and sending up signal flares in the predawn darkness. The flares would lose effectiveness as the sun continued to raise in the sky. Earths sun, Sol, where the word “sun” came from. We were in the cradle of humanity, and it was reduced to this farce of survival. I felt hot and angry at that thought.
As we got closer, I could make out some of the signs. “HELP US” and “NEED MEDICINE” and “ALIVE PLEASE SAVE US” and other similar messages on large pieces of cardboard and Bristol board and even a large “HELP US” painted on the landing pad.
“We have to land up there.” Oranna said. “If we are going to land at all.”
I nodded and Oranna boomed over the intercom to the other crew members. Within moments the cockpit was a very crowded room with a few people spilled into the hallway.
“Okay, you guys,” Oranna started, “we have to decide right now if we are going to land on that roof and speak to those survivors, or if we’re going to keep our quarantine and circle around.”
There was a moment of silence where everyone exchanged glances.
“We have to help those people.” Marianna said, and her voice was strained and terrified. “They need us.”
No one argued, seeing the situation below.
“No counters?” Oranna asked, looking at everyone. No one said anything, no one so much as coughed. “Alright, I guess that’s that, then. We will land on that roof.” They took the auto-pilot off and circled back around hovering and waiting for the landing pad to clear enough before bringing the ship down. Oranna switched the cameras view to the hatch on the back and we could see the survivors gathered, practically huddled, unsure of what would happen now or how to proceed.
“Alright, well,” I said, shrugging, “we might as well go and talk to them now.”
“Keep your weapons handy,” Camille said to everyone, “but I don’t think we will need them. Those people need our help, I can’t see them attacking.”
“Even if they did,” Rajan pointed out, “they appear to have melee weapons and ancient projectiles in the form of crossbows and bows and arrows.”
“Doesn’t matter,” I said, “we’re here and they need us. Lets just get this over with. Every moment we delay adds to our quarantine.”
Everyone agreed and we made our way to the cargo bay, and the hatch. Oranna lowered it and we slowly made our way out into the pale light of the rising sun. The survivors shrunk back a bit as we descended the cargo ramp. No one spoke on either side, our groups sizing each other up silently.
Finally, I couldn’t take the silence.
“If no one else is going to do it,” I said, stepping forward and putting my empty hands up as a sign of good faith, “let me be the one to speak. We came here from one of the many colonies founded about four hundred years ago. We were not expecting this, we were sent as a political envoy, with a mission to establish communication and trade between Earth and our colony. Seeing the current state of the Earth, though, has us changing our mission to locate and rescue survivors. You guys are the first ones we’ve found, though to be fair we only arrived yesterday. Is there someone who speaks for your group?”
For several brief moments, though it felt like eternity, I thought maybe there was a language barrier. The whole group was reticent, exchanging glances with one another and not making a sound. I did a quick count and found there were twelve people on the roof, some of whom were children. That brought a fresh wave of terror and nausea, that there were children living through this nightmare.
Eventually, one of the survivors stepped forward and cleared her throat.
“I suppose, since no one else is stepping forward,” she said, “I’ll speak on our behalf.” Though she was doing her best to remain calm and friendly, I could see the terror and the confusion in her face. “My name is Jess.” She was saying, coming forward timidly to offer a handshake.
I took her hand and shook it. “I wish we were meeting under better circumstances.” I said to her, genuinely sorry for the situation. “My name is Rico. As I said, we changed our mission when we realized what was going on here. We are now here to rescue you, and after a quarantine on the ship for both yourselves and us, to bring you home with us to our colony where its safe.”
“Of course,” Camille interjected, “you are looking for a rescue? We will need you to gather all of your things, whatever you want to bring with you, any food and clothing and weapons, and bring it to the ship. Especially blankets, pillows, sleeping bags, things of that nature, as we don’t necessarily have enough room for everyone to sleep without bunking several of you in the cargo hold, right up that ramp.”
“Right,” Jess relaxed a bit, “everyone! Did you hear that?” Her group murmured and buzzed as they tried to discuss it quietly. “There’s no need to discuss this,” Jess said somewhat loudly. “These people are here to rescue us! Everyone go back in, grab what you can and come back up to the roof!”
“We’ll help.” Rajan said, moving forward, his weapon resting on its strap against his back. “Bring us down, show us what you need, we’ll help carry it up here and get everyone situated on the ship!”
Everyone moved forward at that point, the two groups mingling as we made our way down the stairwell, survivors taking our soldiers and medics onto various floors to gather up their things. Against everything my gut told me, this was actually going fairly well. Though they were confused and probably shocked to find us landing on their roof, they knew that this was probably their only chance of rescue, of getting away from the horror outside their walls.
By midday we had everyone and everything loaded up and we were ready to begin our quarantine. We let the ship rest on the roof, helping the survivors put things away and setting up the cargo hold to serve as a make-shift sleeping area, cots and blankets and sleeping bags strewn on the floor. The canned goods and other non-perishable food items were taken to the small galley and people were given a chance to eat in the mess and to shower in the bathrooms nearby.
The room where I had watched Deadpool several hours prior was now serving as a make-shift examination room as the medics checked the survivors over, checking vitals, examining wounds and treating colds and fevers. Those who were sick were set up in the rooms that were, up until recently, the crews quarters, and Rajan and Shia stood watch to assist them with anything if they needed it, and to keep them roaming the ship until they were better.
Impressively, we had everything sorted well before nightfall. Jess was extremely helpful, talking to my companions and passing information among her fellow survivors. A young boy stayed fairly close to her, he couldn’t have been more than fourteen or fifteen years old, and it seemed they were related. I found out over time that this was her younger brother.
Once everyone was set up and shown around and examined, we gathered everyone who wasn’t on bed-rest in the crews quarters, in the recreational room that had been used as the exam room just prior. Oranna took the main stage, so to speak, and got the survivors talking. Talking about themselves, their experiences, how long this had been going.
It had been four years, easily, since the zombies started to ravage their world. A little over, as it had been four winters and it was very clearly summer. They hadn’t all been a group in the old hospital for long, in fact most of them weren’t even from the original group who had set up there. People were brought in as often as they could be found, but people were lost just as often. On supply runs, on scouting missions, on perimeter clean-up. So many people lost, in so many awful ways. They had given up hope until they heard the ship coming. Seeing us heading toward them from the roof, a fully functional off-world travel ship, had been like a dream or a mirage. Which explained why they were so hesitant when we said we were there to save them. I’d hesitate to trust a possible hallucination too.
Every single one of them had a terrible story of loss and pain and hardship, as was to be expected in a zombie apocalypse. They were ragtag at best, a motley group of strangers forced to work together to survive the horror show outside their walls. They were running out of places within a days travel to scavenge, they were having to repair old vehicles for the inevitability of searching further out than they had been.
It was so hard to imagine how these people had managed to pull together under such extraordinary circumstances, their will to survive was impressive at least. Sitting and listening to them tell their stories, seeing the pain in their eyes as they recalled the loss of loved ones and the regret that they hadn’t done things differently in the beginning was palpable in their voices. I know I cried, I’m pretty sure everyone else on the crew was crying, too.
Impossible as this situation should have been, these people managed to survive for four years under these appalling conditions. The human capacity for fight and survival will never cease to amaze me. None of these people had had any combat training prior to the apocalypse that put them in our path, yet here they were, and they had all taken out at least a handful of the zombies each, if not more. I hadn’t even had the guts to face up to the fact that this was real at first, these people put me to shame in that regard.
There was so much, to ask them and to tell them, and we had at least a 30 day quarantine to wait out if we didn’t find any more survivors. It was getting late, however, and everyone was tired from the days excitement. Oranna locked the ship from the cockpit and everyone tried to sleep.
In the morning it was chaotic trying to get everyone fed and bathroomed. It wasn’t a large ship, as I mentioned, and there was some definite cramping going on in terms of people versus space for people. Arguments about who needed to go to the bathroom more were rampant, as there were only six bathrooms and now there were twenty-four people on board the ship.
Everyone was having a hard time adjusting to the cramping, and there were arguments mainly between the survivors, who didn’t seem to have learned how to work too well together. No one respected anyone else's authority, and no one was sure what to do next. The sense of being lost was around all of them, and I was actually kind of glad we had found them when we did. I’m not sure how much longer they could have held out without us, fortifications not withstanding. How soon until they had begun to turn on one another, leaderless and afraid? I shuddered to think.
Jess and her brother, whose name was Mark, stayed fairly close to me that first day on the ship. We were still parked on that roof, for now, while Oranna tried to decide what we should do and where we should wait out the quarantine. Apparently Jess had been going to school to become a teacher, and was looking after her brother after their parents died in a car crash. Mark was quiet, keeping an eye on his surroundings. I couldn’t say I blame him for that, I would have been just as wary in his shoes. I understood, I think, why he stuck so close to his last remaining family in the world.
I think I understood, as well, why they were staying close to me. I was the first one to speak, I was the first one to have enough of my wits about me to be diplomatic, which is strange, considering Mr. Marcello and Marianna were both experienced politicians with decades of experience each. I suppose none of that experience was while under extreme duress, in a situation no one wanted to admit was actually happening. Regardless, speaking first had, in the eyes of the survivors, made me the defacto leader of the crew, in a sense, in terms of dealing with the survivors. I had become their liaison to the crew, completely by accident, and just as accidentally she had done the same to herself, speaking to the crew for the survivors. That meant that the two of us would be talking a lot.
That first week, we spent sorting out the details of what would happen to them all back on the colony. I explained that they would need to be processed, interviewed and given citizenship. I explained how they would be questioned on their skills and training, and if necessary, retrained under Arc guidelines in their previous field free of charge. From there, I told them, they would be placed within the Arcs, set up with homes and allowed to live their lives as normal.
I described the Arcs school system, the economy and infrastructure. How all education up to the first post-secondary degree was covered by the Bi-Global Government, paid by the federal taxes. How health care, also paid by federal taxes, was free for all and they would have full access to doctors, though they would need to undergo full examinations and scanning to create a basic health report before any medical professional would begin any treatments. They would be covered completely, even for pre-existing conditions, just as any other Arc citizen.
I told them about the Arcs, how each one was supposed to be the length and width of New York City, and 200 floors high, each floor a height of 30 feet and as fully self-sufficient as a city with UV lights and a thirty-five hour day-night cycle.
I told them about how the colony was spanned across two Earth-like planets, Nemiidi and Taesthi. How they were governed by a massive Bi-Global Congress which met regularly on the Bi-Global Congressional Space Station, and how those congressional representatives were elected every two years, so that if ever your congressional representative wasn’t doing their job properly, they weren’t locked in for an extended period of time. Most politicians kept their seats for decades, keeping things running smoothly and approving new budget readjustments and funding for any new projects, and so on.
Everything I told Jess, she was writing down in a notebook she had brought on board with her. She would share the information I was giving her with her fellow survivors later on, but she had so many questions, and she wanted to have all the information before trying to explain everything to the others. I was patient, I answered every question she gave me honestly. It was good that they should know these things well ahead of time, rather than finding it all out blindly groping to find their place in the new world they were to be brought to.
This change, it was very sudden for them. I don’t blame them at all for their insecurities, confusion, feelings of loss and helplessness. I don’t think they could have really done much better adjusting to the new situation. The stress, the anger, the depression, the post traumatic stress, these things effect how everyone reacts differently, and I want to say that I was as patient as I was capable of being, but even my temper flared from time to time trying to fit these new people into our lives. It wasn’t fun, but it was necessary. It was also our choice, and there was no turning back now.
Jess, Mark and I were walking past the cockpit when I heard Mr. Marcello and Oranna having a heated discussion. I motioned for Jess and Mark to continue on, and I stopped near the door. Mr. Marcello was trying to convince Oranna to pick the ship up and go find more survivors, and Oranna was holding out on the fact that it needed to be a group decision, not something everyone is simply forced to do because Mr. Marcello wanted to. I knocked on the door and entered the cabin.
“Everything alright in here, Or?” I asked, looking from her to Mr. Marcello and back. “It sounded like there was an argument going on.”
“We’re fine, Ri.” Oranna replied, and they glared at Mr. Marcello. “Kyle was just leaving. Weren’t you, Kyle?” When we wanted Mr. Marcello to leave in no uncertain terms, using his first name was generally a good way to do it. He preferred to be Mr. Marcello to anyone younger than him, leaving only his congressional counterpart to use his first name without upsetting him.
“I was,” he agreed, and was out of the cockpit in a huff. It was so easy to see when he was upset, he wore his emotions openly, whether he meant to or not. He didn’t even try not to bump me on his way out, his way of notifying me he was upset that I interrupted. Oranna and I exchanged glances and I sighed.
“He’s real adamant, isn’t he?” I asked my non-binary friend.
“Mr. Kyle Marcello is a prickly person.” Oranna said, smiling and shrugging. “He wants to go find more people. I told him I wouldn’t do it unless it was a group decision. Do you think we should include the survivors when we vote now?”
“Ahhh...” I hesitated. I had misgivings, and I wasn’t sure it would be entirely a good idea. “I don’t think most of them are in a proper mental state to be making decisions about the welfare of everyone. I think for now we should keep it among the original crew. We have the ability to make decisions objectively, and I really don’t think a lot of the survivors do at the moment.”
“You’re probably right, Ri.” Oranna agreed, a strange look on her face. “This is a weird situation, and right now the people who have seen zombie movies have the most knowledge about whats going on and what to do. That means, out of everyone on this ship, you are the most knowledgeable of all of us. You don’t just like things on the general level, like the rest of us, you obsess and learn everything you can when you’re interested in something. I think you might be the key to our surviving.”
“I hope that isn’t true, I don’t think I can handle that level of responsibility in this.” I confided, my shoulders slumping. “This is ridiculous and it shouldn’t be happening. That being said, our best bet is to wait out the quarantine somewhere relatively safe where they can’t prevent our take-off, and go home. Once we get back to Nemiidi we can tell our government what happened, have the survivors integrated into our society, and go home. Alive.”
“You’re probably right.” Oranna said, trying to be comforting. I got the corresponding shoulder squeeze. “The thing is, Kyle is going to call a meeting to vote, and I don’t know if everyone will agree with you. They haven’t so far. Even if Carmine and I stand behind you, everyone else still has to believe and agree.”
“I know.” I said, and I took a deep breath. “Whatever happens, group majority rules. I don’t like it, but its how we’ve always operated. I think it might get us killed, though.”
Oranna was right and Mr. Marcello called a meeting among the crew members. More than a few of us were antsy about the situation, and I was hoping he would sound crazy to the rest of the crew at this point. After all, we were over-crowded and having a hard time as it was with just twelve survivors, and I shuddered to imagine what more would do to us. I could see the tension, it was that palpable.
I also doubted it would be as safe the next time as it turned out the first time. We were lucky. So were our survivors.
I had the sinking feeling in my gut, and my heart was skipping beats. I really didn’t want to have to go risking everyone on board for more survivors. I couldn’t find a scenario in my head that made sense to go look for more.
What was weirder was that Mr. Marcello did not normally take any kind of risk, even if it were deemed necessary. I wondered what he could be planning with this move.
Mr. Marcello, with his years of experience as a politician, made this big, meant to be convincing speech about duty and helping our fellow man. I argued our cramped conditions and that we couldn’t take on more survivors without risking ourselves, or risking not having enough food for the return journey.
During the argument, Shia made a comment about this being a dream and before anyone knew what Shia was even talking about, they were locking themself in one of the crews cabins. Shia refused to leave the cabin, so we had to continue the meeting without them.
In the end, the majority of the crew agreed to look for more survivors, despite my best efforts. I guess that’s the price of arguing with a politician as supposedly accomplished as Kyle Marcello. The man knows how to argue a point in his favor.
So, the soldiers - minus Shia - were tasked with asking the survivors if they knew of any other places where people might be able to fortify and survive like their group had in the general area. There were a few places, and despite not wanting to, Oranna took the ship into the air and started searching.
For days, we found nothing. No other signs of life, no other signs that anyone else had been in the area aside from our two groups, the off-worlders and the survivors. Oranna was heading west instead of north this time, flying across the continent instead of up it.
Days, during which everyone was on edge, counting down their quarantine before the return trip. Also during which, despite the thorough screening, one of the survivors turned unexpectedly during breakfast.
A tiny scratch was all it took. It took ages to take effect, and I’d bet my life the survivor didn’t even realize where the scratch came from or what it was doing to them. There was no fever, no preliminary warning signs that I could give you for this change. It was unexpected and we couldn’t have done anything for it.
The man was a survivor Jess didn’t know very well. One second he was eating his space paste and the next he was lunging across the table toward Rajan, who managed to throw the guy off before anything happened to him. Then the man, his name was Marcus, began attacking other survivors. Despite all attempts to subdue Marcus, in the end Rajan had to shoot him in the head.
Marcus managed to bite three people that morning. One of them, a survivor named Marcelline, grabbed one of the pistols off of Camille and shot herself in the head before anybody even had a chance to finish telling her to stop. Camille and Carmine were also bit, and immediately we got them into a sealed room away from everyone else on board. With Carl gone, Camille bitten and in a lock-down quarantine, and Shia locking herself away, this left only Rajan and Maria from our group of five soldiers.
The medics looked everyone else involved in the attack over for any new wounds. They, miraculously, didn’t find any.
Everyone was on edge and understandably so considering the attack that morning reset the quarantine to another 30 days. Doctors’ orders. I don’t know why we kept Camille and Carmine locked up, by rights we should have shot them in the heads before they could turn. Holding out hope, I guess, that maybe we could find a way to reverse it.
Fools Hope, honestly. We couldn’t reverse it before they would turn, there would never be enough time for that. Still, Robin and Amaranth took blood samples from both living patients, and from the corpses before we disposed of them. We let them go over the water with a brief word on our hopes that they were now at peace finally.
Robin and Amaranth took all of their samples and studied them, and experimented with them, trying to find some kind of vaccine to the infection. Neither one of them had any experience in this, and it was trial and error, mostly error, when they began experimenting on field mice they got Rajan and Maria to collect from a field devoid of all but wildlife.
Oranna managed, with my help, to rig the sensors to detect moving cold signatures as well as heat signatures, so if any of the zombies happened to get within sixty kilometers of us, the ship would alert us and we could call our people back in well in advance of them reaching us.
I thanked our lucky stars for that radius, it gave us more than enough time to evade.
We stayed in that empty field for several days. There was a stream running through it and it was a place where everyone could stretch out and not be so cramped. Everyone carried a communications device, even the survivors carrying our spares and going in groups of three or more, so that if the alarms sounded we could all be notified with relative ease. It was actually kind of peaceful, despite the looming threat at every moment of every day.
It rained more than a few times, chilling the air and making the entire cramped ship feel gloomy and lost. It was so strange for me to think that only half of this ship was used to these weather patterns. The Arcs were so massive and so few people really went outside to explore despite the lift of the ban, that really no one on the crew was familiar with rain falling on their skin or wind blowing through their hair.
Even when people went between the Arcs the most common method is via shuttle, so over ninety percent of the Arc systems combined populations on both Nemiidi, and Taesthi, have never actually set foot outside. Though, to be fair, that percentage was lowering every year, at least by a fraction or two, as more people decide to check out the whole wide worlds we inhabited.
It was different, being outside like that. Everyone was glad for the reprieve, though, I think. It gave us time to collect ourselves and our thoughts and plan how to proceed. Interestingly a few of the crew seemed to really enjoy doing their morning routines outside. Ryanna practiced yoga, and Rajan meditated. Amaranth liked to do Tai Chi, and really enjoyed doing that outside just before the sun set for the day. I would sit and watch, or sometimes I joined Rajan in meditation and let my mind drift off a bit.
We finally moved on when Oranna’s sensors detected a mob of walking corpses heading our way. On the ships cameras as we passed overhead, I could see that it was a throng of easily hundreds of them. I was glad we moved on when we did. I was glad we had access to the technology we did, without it we would have all died.
As we flew I sat and contemplated. I knew in my heart we should have left as soon as we found an abandoned metropolitan area, but it wasn't up to me and now Shia had locked themselves away, three people were dead, and two were infected and could be dead and turned at any moment. Every second we kept them alive, we endangered the entire ship. Yet no one could bring themselves to kill them. They were our friends, our family, how could any of us take the responsibility of killing them?
I felt sick about it all. My heart felt like it was running through a meat grinder and all I wanted to do was go home. We couldn't go home, though. Not yet.
When Carmine finally turned we all heard Camille's death screams. They haunt my dreams still, most nights. Rajan waited until he was sure Carmine's attention would be diverted and Camille was dead, the second mainly because he didn't want to hear her whimpering before he shot them both in the head. We gave a water burial for the second time, diverting the actual path we had been taking to pass over a lake and paying what respects we could.
They still continued looking for a cure, but with no experience and given the lack of available human test subjects should they succeed with the mice, it was just wasted effort. Still, we found another empty field and we looked for more mice and we waited out more of the recently reset quarantine.
This time, when the sensors went off, it was a heat signature they picked up. A living, breathing body was heading toward us. Wary, we waited within the safety of the ship and watched through the cameras to try and see what we were dealing with.
Fantasy unless you use the original zombies that were drugged into being perfect slaves, rather than being reanimated corpese.
Okay, I fail to see how that's relevant to the actual writing itself, which would be what I want opinions on. Telling me that "you aren't writing sci-fi because of x" doesn't help me improve the actual writing itself. Especially when the story itself takes place about 500 years in the future or more. That isn't constructive criticism, that's unnecessary nitpicking over a minor detail unrelated to the actual writing, and isn't appreciated.