Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Meriwether - Von Aark Chronicles, Part II

3/2/13, Author's Note: I've updated this part of the story, modifying and expanding from 875 to 2103. Of course, Part II is now only 1/3 complete. You can also read the whole story thus far, which may contain edits of this and other Parts.


The landing was hard. We lost a lot of gear. And people. So few survivors from a complement of over 500, I wasn't quite sure how we made it. And the humanoid still refuses to say.
- N. Meriwether, Lieutenant's Log LD+21, The Good Ship "Von Aark"

Noah wiped the sweat from his eyes and peered out the porthole, searching for something, anything that might cause them harm. Ever since Landing Day +20, after they had finally stepped away from the edge of panic and organized themselves, he had 
checked the sensors. And every day the readings were the same: nitrogen, oxygen, water vapor, argon, carbon dioxide, and other trace chemicals, all near enough the right mix for humans.

It was safe to go outside, and the humanoid claimed the planet was harmless and had been selected for that very reason. But Noah had given the order to hold the doors closed until they finished inventorying the ship. Now, LD+42 days later, the task was done and it was getting hotter than hell inside. Everyone was clamoring at him to let them out.

He didn't blame them. Too much of the ship had been damaged and they had lost nearly everything. Just 10% livable space and all else was either a toxic mess or on fire. They had salvaged as much as they could before closing off the various bulkheads and shoving whatever they found into the little space that remained. It had been hard on those who were able bodied enough to search through the burned out lifepods, hoping to find anyone who might have made it through the crash landing. But there it was on his readout.

Only twenty-three survivors, and at least one so badly hurt their chances were slim especially with the few remaining viable medstores. Every calculation the humanoid ran had them using up what was left within weeks. They'd have to go outside and figure out how to survive on this strange planet. Or die, and Noah didn’t like the odds.

"Okay Hildie," he said, turning to the humanoid that guarded the door, "let's see what this planet has to offer."

The thing he called Hildie nodded its head and tapped in a long string of numbers on the touchscreen. The bay doors began to creak, metal on metal, too long unused and damaged from the crash. Hildie had done what few repairs had been possible, to make sure there was at least this one way out. And back in, Noah thought to himself. No matter how much the humanoid tried to reassure him, he wanted to make sure they could still defend themselves within the ship if they had to.

The bay doors finally groaned their way to the full open position, and Noah sniffed at the air as it rushed inside. Fresh air, clean air, and he appreciated the lack of body odor, smoke, and decay when he breathed in as deep as his lungs would allow. He felt light headed and started to stumble, but the humanoid reached out to steady him. Noah nodded his thanks and then took a tentative step out onto the ramp. He waited a few moments to re-balance his backpack, then took another step, and another.

At the end of the ramp he placed one foot on the ground and watched as a few dust particles floated up into the air and made their way back down again. Just a mere -1/1000th of a gee difference from the ship’s gravity in flight, it wasn't that noticeable unless you looked for it. But here was solid ground and it didn't make that metallic clank when his boot met dirt. Noah placed his other foot on the ground and then looked about, finally able to see more than what the small porthole could reveal.

They had crashed into a flat meadow, covered with a variety of overly tall wildflowers and grasses. His binoculars told him that a forest lay just a few miles to the north, and the trees were more than 500 feet tall. More signs of the vagaries of this planet's gravity, and no signs of anything menacing. He walked carefully out past the dirt mounds and crushed rocks of the crash site until he made level ground, then cleared a patch of growth by walking in ever widening patterns. When he’d tamped down a sizable area he finally stopped, put down his pack and turned to look back to the ship.

His sense of hope deflated as he scanned the crash site. It was a humbling view, so much of the ship had burrowed deep into the ground and was buried beneath huge mounds of debris and rock. There was no way they’d be able to dig out and make repairs. Their ship would never fly again.

Noah looked around one more time then waved at everyone who was anxious to come out, everyone but the humanoid who remained standing guard at the door. Just as Noah had ordered. The men and women walked down the ramp slowly at first, looking all about in quick and wary glances. Those who carried supplies shuffled the bulky containers as they made their way out of the crash area. Noah gave directions for how large a clearing to make, and where to set down supplies and erect their shelters. When he had finally pitched his own tent, two med techs brought out an old woman on a gurney and set her down next to him.

"How are you doing mom," he asked. The old woman breathed painfully, her gray eyes closed at first then finally opened to look all about and coming to rest on his face. She blinked once, and Noah nodded his recognition of her signal that she was okay. He moved away to hustle a small team to build a fire and start preparing rations. It would do them all good to have warm food for once.

Noah called out to four people, two women and two men, and led them over to his own shelter. He had hand picked them because of their service records, which showed they had the combat skills he wanted. Even though he didn’t remember serving with any of them, his commpad told him all four had been trained as soldiers prior to being put into cold sleep. He reached into his pack and pulled out the guns he carried, handing them out and placing one into his own vest pocket.

“You remember how these work,” he said, unsure if they would have holes in their memory, like he had. “They've got a full charge, and there's two more charges in the belt. Safety switch is here. Don’t be trigger happy. We’ve all been cooped up too long and it could be any one of us wandering about.”

“Yes sir,” they replied and each snapped to attention. Noah didn’t salute back.

“We’re not in the military anymore. We’re stuck on this planet and we just have to figure out how to survive for now.”

“You’re still the commanding officer,” one woman said.

“Cassidy, right?”


Noah put his hand on her arm and gently pushed it down, so that the gun pointed to the ground.

“You three,” he pointed to the two men and the other woman, “you each take a point on the compass. You’ll stand guard at night and sleep during the day. If you get tired and need a replacement, come find me here, or Cassidy in the med tent.”

The three sentries set out to their designated positions at the edges of camp, while Noah had Cassidy pocket her gun and then head over to the med tent. She would stand watch there and help the techs make the wounded as comfortable as possible. He would stay with his mom in the tent he’d pitched, knowing he would sleep lightly while she was near.

He worked with several others as they chopped down the tall grass most of the afternoon, and then helped set up more tents. One of the women took the long blades of grass and wound it around the stems of wildflowers to make bouquets.  When they finished with the clearing and had set up all the tents, he made his way through the cook line, grabbing two plates and heading back to his own tent. He ate and fed his mother in silence, listening to the voices quiet down around them as the sun set behind the ship, it's bulk casting their camp in shadow.

He flipped on a small lantern and checked on his mother. Her eyes opened as soon as he began tucking the blanket around her. She motioned with her eyes for him to sit. She tried to speak, but no sound came out. He leaned forward.

“Are you in pain?” he asked. She blinked twice for no.

“Do you need something to drink?” Again, two blinks. He was annoyed that Hildie had not taught him the old signal code from Earth. Other than the simple one-two blinks, his mother’s eye movements were something only the humanoid could decipher. But Noah kept at it.

“Can you look at what it is you want?” She simply stared at him.

“Okay. Do you want to tell me something?” One blink. He was having a hard time trying to figure out what to ask next when he noticed that she kept looking at one of his vest pockets. He pulled out the computer pad, turned on the screen and showed it to her. She blinked once in confirmation, then he displayed the keypad and pointed to each letter of the alphabet until she had blinked once for each one she wanted.

It was agonizingly slow, and she was exhausted when he finally finished typing out the sentence she had signaled. She closed her eyes and he watched her for awhile, until he was sure she’d finally fallen asleep. Then he looked at the pad.

For a second, Noah felt confused, then he put a hand to her forehead. She was burning with fever. He put the pad down, ripped up one of his shirts and poured water onto it, then rolled it up and laid the cooling cloth gently on her forehead. He wiped his wet hands on his pants, then picked up the pad and reread the sentence.

I am not your mother.

It’s the fever, he thought, nothing more. He had been so relieved when he was told she was found alive. He'd scrambled through twisted metal and ran past flames to get to the location, and when he saw her face for the first time he was flooded with memories. She holding him on her lap and bouncing him on her knees. A spoonful of baby food flying through the air, her singsong voice buzzing as she placed it in his mouth. But the med techs broke through his reverie, and he learned just how bad off she was.

His mother’s pod was in the command area of the ship, which had taken the brunt of the crash. The lifepod had been crushed and she had broken nearly every bone in her body. When they’d finally extricated her, she had passed out from the pain and had stopped breathing. Hildie had done an old medical procedure, a tracheotomy that had left her unable to speak. The humanoid was the only one who could understand her eye signals, and the more they communicated, the more protective it became of her.

The contact also had an odd effect on Hildie. Late at night, after the exhausting work of search and recovery, Hildie would tell him faltering stories of a time before the crash. It would even recite poetry from Earth time. But Noah had no memories of any of the stories it told, and he would pour through whatever bits of recordings that survived the crash, trying to piece together what had happened. Trying to recover his own memories.

Noah thought about all the survivors and suddenly realized something. Except for his mother, they were all nearly the same age, between 25 and 30. He punched up a search on his commpad, querying the personnel and service records for each person. He nearly gasped when he saw the results. There were inconsistencies between the record types, and if he ignored the service records...

Except for his mother’s birth record from Earth, all the survivors had been born on the ship. And no one but his mother had ever been outside of the lifepods before the crash.

<word count: 2103>


Anonymous said... be continued....but you had better not make me wait too long.


Anonymous said...

This is a major change from the original incarnation. I do like it better. somehow it has a better flow and it's taken me to a different level of expectation. Can't wait for more.