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  • Posted on r/WritingPrompts: [PI] Explorers - FirstChapter - 2105 Words

    “Hurry up Michael,” the woman urged as she led the way forward through the brush.

    “Ease up Raine, you know I’m an academic right, not a field researcher?” Michael said between short breaths. It was true, he wasn’t used to this much climbing. They were almost at the hill’s peak, but the vegetation didn’t seem to taper off. The trek from base camp had taken them the better part of four hours, most of it only under the light of the second moon.

    “Look!” He heard Raine’s voice call out from up ahead. “Hurry up and see!”

    “Alright, alright,” he said. He finally broke out of the brush and found that the hill’s surface levelled off a bit. As he caught up with Raine he put a hand on her shoulder. “Ok now, what’s so-- Oh.”

    His words trailed off as he finally saw what Raine was pointing at. A vast field of bioluminescent blue greeted him. The sea of bright blue lay in stark contrast to the dark of night. It covered most of the hill top and even some of the slopes that trailed off to the adjacent mountain ranges.

    Raine was already running forward and unstrapping her gear bag. “Hey, wait up!” Michael called as he ran after her.

    Raine stopped at the edge of the field and lay down her bag. She knelt down and ran her hand through the flower petals glowing with a vivid blue hue. “Look at them Michael! It’s like they’re pulsating!” She looked up and across the clearing. “There must be more than tens of thousands of them here.”

    “Yeah, we’ll never be able to harvest that many samples,” Michael said with a wry voice. Raine glared at him in return. She began digging through her bag.

    “We’ll only need less than a dozen samples. Don’t you dare touch the rest of them!” Raine said.

    Michael pulled out his handheld and tapped the screen a few times. He raised his eyebrow at the display.

    “It was a good call not taking a shuttle here. Not that I enjoyed the hike I mean. The energy field they’re putting out is subtle, but there’s a good chance it would have wreaked havoc with the shuttle’s instrumentation.”

    “Give me that,” Raine said. She didn’t even wait for an acknowledgement and just snatched the handheld out of his hands. She scrolled through the displays. “I think it’s the same signature we saw from the scout telemetry! Similar to the radiation fields on Al Ghedo Prime!”

    “Give me that!” Michael grinned as he grabbed back his own handheld. Raine could be like an excitable child when it came to her research. Maybe that was the reason he had found it so easy to join her on this first landing expedition.

    It was very rare for an academic to join the preliminary colony establishment missions, much more someone who had spent the past decade in a remote lab. Michael understood the spirit of exploration that drove humanity to colonize as many worlds as they could, but he was no explorer. He rarely travelled, and even when he preferred travelling to well-established colonies, the ones with full populations and their own rich culture. And preferably not trips that take almost four months in hyperspace.

    But Raine was a completely different creature, he mused. She followed her research wherever it took her, whether it was to the heart of a hollow moon or here to the farthest world humanity had ever attempted to colonize.

    She was completely engrossed now. She had laid out her portable instrumentation platform at the edge of the field and was taking a variety of measurements. Michael sighed. There was no talking to her when she was like this.

    Instead, he swiped on his handheld and scanned the display. “The signal here is really great, even though we’re not too high up.” He stared upwards at the second moon and the stars beyond. “In fact, I think the sky tonight is clear enough to see the orbital platform.”

    “Hmm?” Raine said, looking up at him. She had a stylus in her mouth, an odd habit of hers. “Whachusaid?”

    Trying not to laugh at her, he looked at his display again. “Ark Thirty-Seven should be dropping out of hyperspace in a few hours.”

    “Oh, you have a clear signal from here?” She obviously hadn’t been listening.

    “Yeap. It’s even clear enough for me to see Christine’s telemetry,” Michael said.

    “Ah, you must be excited. You haven’t seen each other in almost a year right?” Raine got up to stand beside him and look at his display.

    “Yeah. It’s the longest we’ve been apart in a decade actually,” he confessed.

    “Yeah well, you guys don’t really travel that much right?” she grinned at him.

    “Thanks for this Raine.” He said after a short pause.

    “Thanks for what?” She gave him a puzzled look.

    “All of this.” He waved his free hand in the direction of the field. “And all of that,” he waved again at the multitude of stars in the sky. “I never had it in me to be an explorer, but damn if I don’t see the appeal of it right now.”

    “I know right? For a lot of people, they don’t really think about this stuff,” Raine said. “Like people in the core systems or the factory worlds. They don’t care that humanity is still exploring, they don’t care that we’re still finding new worlds to live on.” She pulled out her own handheld from her pocket. She swiped to the GalWeb app and scrolled through a few dozen posts. “I mean, look at all these people. They’re just happy to have their weekends or their expensive off-world coffees. Thirty-seven different worlds to visit and all they want is to upvote vids of their space cats. They don’t think about what a wondrous age we’re lucky enough to live in.”

    “I didn’t take you to be the philosophical kind,” Michael said.

    “Hah, I’m not, usually. But come on!” It was like a light had come on in her eyes, and she couldn’t hide the spark in her voice. ‘Ark Thirty-Seven! Isn’t that hard to believe? Who would have thought? I mean, two centuries ago before the core systems first developed hyperdrives, did they ever imagine we’d have thirty-seven colonies up and running in such a short time span? Back then, travelling to strange far-off worlds just to study alien flowers might have seemed like pure science fiction!”

    As she was giving her spiel she was continuously browsing her friends’ posts across the GalWeb. Michael smiled and didn’t bother pointing out the other technology she was taking for granted. The technology she was using to see what was going on with her friends on a dozen other planets light-years away, the very same technology that let him monitor Christine’s trip remotely. The ansible. Two hundred years ago, they still had to deal with significant lag between planets in the core system. Faster than light communications would have been unimaginable back then.

    He looked up again at the shining green light in the night sky, larger than the other stars. He knew it was the orbital platform. Tens of thousands of tons of heavy machinery, all designed to power and the two machines that drove human exploration - the hyperdrive beacon and the ansible. It had been humanity’s sheer luck that both breakthroughs were made within the same decade, enabling the human colonization of remote worlds.

    “Don’t get too excited, young lady. This colony isn’t officially ‘up and running’ you know,” he smiled at her. “At least not until Christine and the ten million other colonists on the Ark get settled in.”

    “Hey listen, about that,” Raine said with some hesitation. “You’re not mad are you?”

    “Mad? About what?”

    “That I made you join the advance mission with me? I mean, you’d be with her right now if it wasn’t for me right?”

    “Heh,” he said. “You know, Christine and I actually had a short fight about it back when I first told her about the trip.”

    “Really?!? I’m so sooorrrry,” Raine drawled in that weird tone her generation had a habit of using.

    “Don’t be. It wasn’t much of a fight,” he reassured her. “More of a debate. We’re scientists, we don’t really fight. But she didn’t understand why we had to go on the advance mission. She said the planet wouldn’t be going anywhere. I had to walk her through your telemetry data slides so she understood why we couldn’t miss the window.”

    Raine nodded. “Christine’s a scientist too, I knew she’d understand.”

    “Well, she also wasn’t happy that I’d be spending my time with a hot young thing like you,” he grinned.

    “‘Hot young thing!’” she slapped him on the back. “What the hell Michael, sexism went out of vogue back in the twenty-first you know!”

    “I’m joking!” he laughed at her. Then he turned serious again. “Christine knows why our research is important. The scoutships really need this sort of data.”

    Michael thought about the scoutships. Small, autonomous ships travelling at sublight speeds to unexplored star systems. Literally thousands of them spread across the nearby regions, searching for new habitable worlds - or even the remote possibility of alien intelligence. The scoutships relied on surface survey data from scientists like Raine, allowing their machine intelligence to profile similar planets. The more surface data they could feed to the scouts, the more likely they were to be able to identify possible habitables.

    He walked up to the edge of the hilltop. It gave him a clear view of the valley below and the forward bases not too far away. The gigantic steel constructs were at rest now, their job mostly done. They had created a clearing, around one hundred and twenty square kilometers in total, he had been told. In just under a week, the ark’s landing module would come to rest in that clearing.

    The modern arks were marvels of decades of engineering. Self-sustaining systems, filled with robotics, communications, supply lines, replicators, and anything else needed to quickly establish a modern city. They were a far cry from the early ark models, which were mostly just life support systems that could barely keep ten thousand colonists alive during the first hyperdrive colonization missions. Back then the first wave of colonists had to rough it, setting up their own hydroponic farms and comm systems, and dealing with the local wildlife themselves.

    These days, everything was set up to be ready for the ark as soon as it arrived. Forward missions like the one he and Raine had joined went ahead, bringing the heavy machinery needed to prepare the landing zone and to boost the orbital platform’s capabilities. Explorer teams would have already scouted out the entire continent, making sure there weren’t any threats to the colony.

    An instant city, with ten million brave souls ready to become the colony’s first official citizens. Many of them would be people like him and Christine and Raine - scientists, engineers, explorers, pioneers, volunteers. But many more would simple be people from the other colonies, hoping to start over with new lives for whatever reasons they had.

    “Michael?” he heard Raine’s voice snap him out of his musings. She was pointing up at the sky. “What is that?”

    “That’s the orbital platform, didn’t I tell you?” he said.

    “The platform is the bright green one, right?” she shook her head. “I was pointing at that other one.”

    “What other one?” Michael squinted, but then he saw it. Another pinprick of light, bluish-gray. Difficult to see against the night sky. Raine’s vision was much better than his. “What is that… is it moving?”

    “Yeah, I think so. It looks like it’s headed for the platform,” she pointed at Michael’s handheld. “Is the ark here early?”

    “No, it shouldn’t be due for a few days yet,” Michael shook his head. He frowned and began swiping through the displays on his handheld. “I’m not registering any other ship out there, I-- hey!” He slapped the handheld against his palm. “What the heck, I just lost the connection!”

    “Michael--”

    “Wait, just let me see what’s up with this,” Michael said as he tapped a few buttons on the display.

    “Michael! Look!”

    He finally looked up at where the orbital platform was. The second light was gone, apparently having already arrived at the platform. And for some reason, the green light from the platform was pulsating wildly. And then moments later, the green light died.

    “What in blazes--?”

    And then the endless night sky was set afire.

2016 September

2016 July

2016 June

  • Thank you for the kind words!

    There are still places in the world even today where villagers bringing vegetables to market happens on a regular basis, mostly in rural areas in less developed countries. I do however agree that I might have chosen some other activity to better represent the period :)

  • "What? Where?" Steve muttered over the cackle of his walkie-talkie. He dropped his fork on the plateful of bacon and started packing up. "I’m nearest, I’ll be there ASAP. Have Glen and Lynn follow me as soon as possible."

    His companion was looking at him quizzically from across the table. "Relax, John. You didn’t screw up this time. In fact, I guess it’s time for your trial by fire." He got up and tossed him the keys. "Come on, you’re driving."

    John just nodded and followed as Steve got up and stepped out of the supply depot. John had been on this internship for three days now and he still had that feeling of awe and majesty whenever he gazed upon the vast expanse. The green grassy fields were bounded to the north by a heavily wooded area and to the southwest by a small mountain range. The sun was on the way down by the mountains; it would be dark soon.

    "Where we going?" John asked as he stepped into the driver’s seat of the open-air off-road jeep they had been using for patrols.

    Steve jumped into the passenger seat and gestured. "North by northeast. Floor it, we need to be there fast."

    John nodded and soon they were speeding down the grassy plains.

    "Are we headed into the forest?" John asked.

    "Yup," Steve was rummaging around in the supplies in the back of the jeep. To John’s surprise, Steve pulled out a scoped hunting rifle.

    "What’s going on? There’s going to be trouble?"

    "I hope not," Steve said, loading and readying the rifle. "But best be ready."

    Before John could ask any more questions, they both heard a loud thunderous roar ring through the air.

    "Is that--?"

    "Yup," Steve nodded. "It’s Amethyst." Steve pointed to the edge of the forest. "There! Look!"

    They were still some distance away, but the dragon was large enough for John to see. Amethyst was on the ground, her amber-yellow scales glistening in the receding sunlight. Her large wings were pinned to the ground somehow and she seemed to be struggling with some sort of ropes. It was starting to get dark, but John could still see a number of small figures milling around the dragon. "What are they doing--?" John wondered aloud as they got closer.

    "Poachers." A grim look took over Steve’s face as he aimed the rifle and took a shot. It was a warning shot, there was no way he would hit anything at this distance. "Hang on Amy!"

    The poachers turned at the sound of the warning shot. John saw that there were six of them in all, and they had a large truck nearby, barely large enough to carry a small dragon. Two had trapped Amy in a net of ropes weighted down by what looked like metal drums. One of them, a stocky man with a dark tan and wearing army fatigues was shouting instructions to the others. Three were holding rifles.

    "Shit, " John said, recognizing the threat. He quickly braked and turned, sending the jeep into a spinning drift. "Get down Steve!"

    The two of them ducked as shots rang overhead. The jeep skidded to a stop and John and Steve quickly spilled out the passenger side and crouched down, using the vehicle as a cover.

    "Great instincts kid! Here!" Steve tossed the rifle to John as he pulled out the walkie-talkie from his belt. "Keep ‘em busy!"

    Nodding, John picked up the rifle. Now he understood why weapons training had been a requirement for this internship. He took a peek over the jeep’s side. The poachers were still firing, but keeping their distance. Amethyst struggled uselessly against the weighted ropes and her roars kept echoing. John fired a shot, then sat back to reload. "I think the dragon’s wounded Steve! Her left wing looked like it was bleeding!"

    Steve nodded. "Bastards! They probably clipped her wings to force her to land." He spoke into the walkie-talkie again. "Glen, Lynn, where are you? These guys are heavily-armed!"

    "Ten minutes out!" a voice cackled back.

    "Not nearly quick enough," Steve grunted as more shots rang overhead and John managed to fire back a few times. "You got any of them yet kid?"

    "They’re too far, I can’t get a good shot," John shook his head, "I don’t understand, why doesn’t the dragon breathe on them?"

    "Amy’s too young kid, just like you," Steve replied, "You saw her snort out a couple of small fireballs outta her nostrils the other day right? That’s all she can do without getting exhausted." A few more shots rang over their heads. "Well, we only got one shot now. Cover me." He reached over back into the jeep again, being careful not to expose his head.

    "I don’t suppose you have a rocket launcher in there," John said as he fired off a couple more shots.

    "Better," Steve said, finally pulling out a weapon only slightly larger than a pistol.

    "A flare gun? How is that going to help?"

    "It doesn’t fire flares kid," Steve aimed the gun upwards. "Watch and learn." He pulled the trigger. What shot out certainly looked like a flare to John, as it slowly arced upwards into the sky. At the peak of the shot, where a flare would have exploded into bright light, instead a loud roar pierced the heavens. "Gotta hope she’s nearby…"

    John saw the poachers look up at the sound in alarm. "What the heck was that?" John asked, "Who is nearby…?"

    He was cut off by another roar, seemingly a short distance away, from beyond the woods. He looked to the sky.

    "There we go," Steve grinned. "You’re in for a treat kid."

    A large winged figure was descending towards them quickly. "Another dragon!" John exclaimed, "And she’s a lot bigger too!"

    "Not just any dragon, kid," Steve said, "That’s Amy’s mom!"

    Her shadow was almost fifty-feet long as she flew over the two of them and circled back towards the poachers. She flew so close to the ground that her scales glistened with the reflections of the fading sunlight, and every flap of her enormous wings sent a strong gust towards John and Steve. John was pretty sure his mouth was agape.

    The larger dragon roared again in fury. John looked behind the jeep just in time to see the poachers in a panic, dropping their ropes and guns and making a mad dash for their truck. He looked up and saw the larger dragon take a deep breath and then what seemed like pure hot boiling rage burst forward from her open jaws. The grass seemingly parted way to burnt leaves as the fiery breath scorched the ground, heading straight for the poachers.

    The leader of the poachers was already in the truck’s driver seat, willing the engine to start. The others were scrambling into the back of the truck. But it was too late for them. The dragon caught up with them and in a matter of seconds the truck was completely wrapped in flames. With another roar, she swooped back upwards and around for another go, but it wasn’t necessary. As she turned away from the truck, it exploded into a violent ball of fire.

    Amy cried out to the skies as her mother circled around and finally landed next to her. The mother’s majestic wings spread out as she landed and she let out another roar.

    "Come on kid," Steve said, finally getting up, "Just stick close to me, they know who I am." He started jogging towards the dragons. John shook himself out of his stupor and followed.

    "We’re gonna need the water choppers over here," Steve was talking into the walkie-talkie again as they jogged past the burnt grass.

    Amy and her mother let out quiet wails as they approached. Not quite roars, but more like cries of… recognition? That’s what it seemed like to John.

    "Easy there, girls," Steve said in a soothing voice as he slowed down and walked towards the ropes holding Amy to the ground. He kicked one of the barrels the ropes was tied. "Must be fifty pounds of rocks in there," he muttered as he pulled out a knife and started cutting off the ropes as the two dragons quietly looked on.

    Finally, Amy had been cut loose. She loosed another cry again, perhaps in gratitude. "She looks tiny in the shadow of her mother," was all John could say as Amy tried flapping her wings. The left wing was useless, she wouldn’t be able to fly.

    The mother let out a subtle roar, and started flapping her wings. Steve held on to his hat as the gusts blew over them. She hovered over the two of them and Amy for a bit, before she finally grabbed the smaller dragon with her hind claws and lifted her up. The two of them took altitude and flew off towards the mountains, into the sunset.

    "Wow." John said. Then after a while he said it again. "Wow. That was… intense. What happens now?"

    Steve nodded towards the mountains. "She has a nest there somewhere. She’ll nurse Amy for a few weeks until the wing heals. Dragons have naturally good healing, so she’ll probably make a full recovery."

    John looked back at the charred remains of the poachers’ truck. "Does this happen a lot?"

    "Not really," Steve shook his head. "They don’t often go for the dragons themselves. Couple of times a year, they’ll try raiding the nests for eggs or scales or leavings, that kind of thing. You’ll be surprised what they can get on the black market." He mused. "The last time they got a live one must’ve been something like seven or eight years ago. It’s why we only have eight dragons here in the preserve. Used to be nine."

    "No new ones have been born since then?" John said.

    "Nope. Dragon births have been getting rarer and rarer. Not enough males. We haven’t seen our male in a few months," Steve nodded towards the mountains again. "Amy’s the most recent birth we know of. No one knows if there’re any in the wild. The older ones are starting to die off too, so there’s a good chance the eight we got might be the last ones ever."

    John shook his head. "It’s sad isn’t it, in a few generations, kids might think they’re fairy tales." Steve had no response, so they stood there in silence staring at the charred grass until the sounds of a helicopter started coming in from the east.

    "Well, took ‘em long enough," Steve muttered before gesturing John back to the jeep. "Cheer up kid, you did good today. Who knows, maybe we make a difference. Maybe soon, dragons will be all over the world again."

  • “I don’t understand,” Liz said, scratching her head.

    “What’s not to understand?” The old man looked at her with a look that was somewhere between condescension and amusement. “There’s simply nothing there.”

    “You mean like, no one lives there right? Behind your house? Or is it just a steep cliff that I’d fall off if I tried to walk into whatever that mist is?”

    The old man shook his head, “No, no. No cliff. A cliff is something after all. There’s nothing there.”

    “I don’t understand,” Liz repeated, looking even more confused.

    “Tell you what, why don’t you go out back, pick up a stick, and poke it through the “mist”, see what happens,” the old man turned his back to her and started fussing around with the oven again, “After all, this pie will be a few more minutes.”

    Liz didn’t really have anything to do but wait, so she decided to satisfy her curiosity. She still wasn’t sure if she could fully trust the old man (although he didn’t look he was in any condition to assault anyone), so she picked up her backpack before heading out the door at the back of the kitchen.

    She stepped out into a small, grassy back yard (not very well-maintained) surrounded by a number of trees of varying age. Beyond the yard and beyond the trees, a swirling black and grey and white shrouded her view, and she could not see anything more than a few dozen meters from the house. The black and grey and white extended in both directions, as far as her eyes could see, interspersing with the trees that dotted the landscape.

    Slowly, Liz walked towards the mysterious black and grey and white. She glanced back at the house as she did so, the aging red-bricked walls no different from the facade she had sighted from the distance. The house looked a lot smaller up close, even though it was two stories. It must have been some trick of perspective that made it look like a mansion when she first spotted it not thirty minutes ago. Or perhaps a trick of her mind, deliriously happy to see smoke coming from t