Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Suggestion Box, Vol. 3: "One Thousand Words" List #36

 Suggested by: Kayla Vanderbilt

The List:
Admiral Yanze
The Dead Sea
Cardboard box

The Result:
"Godspeed and Good Luck"

Admiral Yanze watched the sky stream by as their destination loomed closer. It looked rather different than the pictures... But then, artists were more keen on representing their own assumptions than producing an exact replica. It was widely known that no human could replicate anything in the natural world with one hundred percent accuracy. That sort of thing was best left to other beings, such as robots and Mulligans.
A soft beep sounded from the console behind him.
"Admiral," the ship's comm burst forth amid static. "We have arrived; we will break atmosphere in about thirty parsecs. Estimated arrival time, 1100 hours."
"Thank you, Jersey," the admiral responded.
His pilot was a Mulligan; Yanze wouldn't have it any other way. Jersey had pulled off some landings that human pilots could only dream of executing—and he was always dead-on in his estimations.
Admiral Yanze began moving back to his command chair while counting slowly to thirty. The moment he reached the end of it, he heard the familiar klaxon signaling that the landing gear had made contact. The explosion of hydraulics faded into the stalwart hum of machinery at rest, and Yanze knew it was safe to move about. He pressed the comm button on his console.
"Team Status Report!" He called.
The crackling reply came without hesitation. "Team is booted and ready, sir!"
"Roll out in five, soldier."
"Roger that."

He struggled into the ungainly footgear designed to protect the wearer from every kind of hazardous circumstance, from hotter than fire to colder than freezing, from corrosive material and punctures of any sort. The rest of his body could be flayed where he stood by any number of creatures, but the boots would remain. He rolled his eyes and clumped down to the exit bay, where a team of soldiers likewise equipped awaited him.
"Now," he said, looking at each face in turn, "the scientists have heard nothing from this settlement in quite some time; we don't know why. It could be because something in the environment we were not aware of slipped past all the filters that should have been in place, and killed them all. It could be an animal attacked the colony and ravaged anything it saw. It could be just something as simple as a tech malfunction, and we are just checking with the governor to make sure no other emergencies crop up while they're out of commission. The point is to be alert and keep your eyes out for anything."
They were all humans, and humans were once indigenous to this planet; Yanze reasoned there shouldn't be any immediate danger—but he didn't become admiral of the Galactic Exploration Fleet because he assumed everything would be straightforward. The exterior bay doors opened, and Yanze disembarked with his team.

Their heavy boots sunk into the ground on contact. Yanze lifted one foot and watched the granular material slide off; sand, and from the looks of their surroundings, lots of it. They weren't far from the conglomeration of structures comprising the first and only settlement on the planet in three hundred years—but Yanze didn't detect any people. In fact, as far as he could discern, there wasn’t any sort of living organism whatsoever.
The cadet behind him sighed. “So much for repopulating the planet,” he muttered, waving his hand before his face as if he could simply bat away the sun’s harsh rays.
“Move out!” Admiral Yanze pushed the thought from his mind as he led his people in a march over the dunes to the settlement.

Loose awnings and curtains hanging within open windows flapped in the heavy, hot wind that blew. Everything about the town was packed in, tightly shut, and utterly abandoned. Whatever caused the entire population to depart the town (it was looking less and less like a massacre and more like an exodus) was important enough that the settlers didn’t intend to return any time soon. Crates were stacked, no food left in the open--he couldn’t even find anything that would give any indication of how long these people had been gone, or where they went.
“Sir?” A female cadet moved next to him, saluted, and spoke. “What do we do now?”
Admiral Yanze ran a gloved hand over the prefabricated shell of the hut beside him.
“Search the town,” he instructed the soldiers. “We’re packing up this settlement, whether we find the people who were supposed to be in it or not. Anything of value you find, bring it out, and we’ll transport it back to the ship.”
“Yes, sir.”

While the troop managed the buildings, Yanze inspected the surrounding area. In spite of the burning sand, the settlement at first glance appeared to be in a prime location: a wide lake nearby would provide water for them--and yet Yanze saw no wells, no reservoirs of any sort.
He was feeling a little thirsty himself, so he scooped a bit of the water into his hand and sipped.
Immediately, the admiral felt the urge to retch and spit the water out as fast as he could--if it could be termed “water.” The liquid substance was so salty that it practically crystallized in his throat. He wound up more thirsty than ever before--but now he saw that what may have been regarded as a prime feature perhaps had turned out to be the settlement’s fatal flaw.

“Admiral Yanze!” The voice called to him from within the larger hut--presumably the governor’s dwelling. The Admiral moved toward the noise.
A trooper stood outside the building, holding a square object in his arms. It was a box--but the material was unfamiliar to the admiral. Based on historical documents, he understood that the antiquarians called it “cardboard,” but the name made no sense to Yanze. He peeked inside.

The box held only three things: a map, with two locations marked, a letter within an envelope, and a strange, round device that consisted of one long continuous whorl, with several hands pointing to different lined spaces between numbers, counting down (or up) as the hands moved over the ridges of the whorl. Yanze unfolded the map.

He recognized the line-work, ancient though it was. The first area circled was a group of X’s ostensibly denoting buildings. This was the settlement, on the banks of a body of water labeled on the map as “The Dead Sea.” Yanze didn’t doubt it; nothing grew around or in it. The sea was dead in every sense of the word. The second location marked was some distance away from them, near a place called "Norway." The admiral next lifted out the  letter and began to read.

January 6, 2525

"To the Galactic Terraforming Council:

As governor of this small community, it falls to me to deliver the unfortunate report: we have made a grave error in our plans to repopulate this planet. A meridian area such as this one may have seemed ideal based on what little data our scientists could gather, but reality is much harsher than the assumptions we have made. Instead of a temperate, arid climate, we find harsh temperature variations, from a boiling, blinding sun to near-freezing at night. Instead of arable soil and fresh water, we find sand, rocks, and a lake of deadly poison. To preserve the health of those colonists we have left, and to attempt to rectify this mistake, we have departed in search of a better climate. We hope to find it in the northern parts of the planet. I leave behind this mechanism, which has been calibrated to seek its twin. May the rescuers you send to find us be swift and sure in their travels. Godspeed and good luck."

Continuous Stories:

"Serenity's Light":  (Part 1) (Part 3) (Part 5) (Part 6) (Part 7) 

Single Posts:

#26 "The Tides of Battle"

#19 "Story Time"

#1 "Red of Morning"