Monday, February 20, 2012

Chapter 2: I've Been Through The Desert With A Bird With No Name

(Z: I was in a classic music mood.)

Liann found out what "the news" was when the planet's sun rose the next morning. It was her. She was the news. Over the course of the day several of the not-aliens watched her from a distance, conferring with each other, but none approached except a small one that appeared to be a young female.

She introduced herself by the awkward name of Lani Duganlitter. When Liann asked, she explained that "Lani is who I am, and Duganlitter is what litter birthed me." That didn't clarify much, but Liann was distracted from pursuing it when the female child changed the subject. 

"Knott Braxlitter spoke at length about the starlady-who-was-not-Moon-Lady. I thought starpeople were supposed to be special. You don't even wear any hides to show for your hunting."

"I don't hunt!" Liann exclaimed. "Pilots need to be in top physical form. I eat a strict all-organic diet of fresh nutrients I raise myself. Or at least I do at home..." She looked around. There wasn't an Organic Growers' Union market around for lightyears. 

"Hmph. Knott said you were worth saving." The child shrugged. "Our dams Dugan and Brax are littermates, so I thought I would give him the benefit of the doubt, but I think he spent too much time in the desert heat." She wandered off, tossing over her shoulder with drooped eartips, "If you die, I think he will be very disappointed."

Liann had to find a source of food, and soon. The not-aliens had mentioned hunting, but she wasn't about to try that without weaponry, if at all. She was still that overzealous undergrad ecology major at heart, despite the intervening years.

She started in the immediate area around her ship, but found nothing growable that she could take back with her. Something must be around here, though, as she did manage to catch an interesting specimen of native avian.

Despite the tree matter, the crater she had crashlanded in was irritatingly absent of edible plants, but Liann had better luck down on the desert plateau. She still had not seen larger animal life, but she gathered up all the unsprouted seeds she could find.

Oddly, they looked familiar.

"Is that...this is an apple seed!" Why would a normal, SimEarth apple tree have spread seeds on CW8843? Had the colonists' food supply made it into the native ecosystem?

Liann was pondering this impossibility when she realized she was no longer alone.

"You! Skylady! You cannot be down here, not on the desert shelf!"

The male from before had appeared out of nowhere, the one the child -- his cousin? -- had called Knott. Despite his shout, he reassured her he spoke out of concern, not rage, and dismissed her apology for stepping onto sacred lands, or whatever transgression she had committed.

"The lands are not protected," he muttered, constantly looking around them as if expecting an attack. "They are dangerous. Prowled by creatures you are not equipped to deal with. Their camouflage gives them near-invisibility, and they can only be seen if you know how to look." He pulled her after him. "We must leave here. I will escort you back to your unnatural box." 

Oh, the pod. That was one term for it, she guessed.

At home Knott seemed uncomfortable inside the habitation pod, but didn't comment on it. Possibly he was confused at the juryrigged and depressingly empty food cooling unit she had fashioned out of cracked stones.

Instead he greeted Orion. They did not name animals here after all, but he was amused at the idea, and then approving when she explained the constellation-based significance of the choice.

Liann could tell Knott was lingering. "Is there something else you wanted?"

"I have spoken to my dam and littermates. We agreed you are not capable of fending for yourself here." She'd take offense at that, if it weren't so true. "It was determined that you needed one of us to stay with you, a hunter who knew the land, and I volunteered."

Huh.  Boys sure move fast here.

Judging by the constant small ear twitches, which she was beginning to believe indicated nervousness, Liann suspected he expected her to refuse. The joke was on him, then. She had no intention of starving to death on some undeveloped, barely charted world.

"Makes sense. Let's do it."

She was going to have to find a second sleeping bag.

Chapter 1: The Crash

It was not a beautiful world. Contractor-Pilot Liann Sable could tell that from her flyover survey. The planet was mostly barren desert, with a few pockets of foliage sheltered in craters in the mountains. The archived reports said volcanic craters, not meteoric. Small relief. And even those few oases were filled with strange, awkward plant growths: giant fungi as large as a ship, bushes in impossible colors, trees with trunks as wide around as four men standing with arms outstretched. But it wasn't her place to judge where the colonial inhabitants of CW8843 had chosen to spend the rest of their days. Her job was merely to find them, and if necessary, bring them to safety.

Of course, that was before she crash landed.

Liann wasn't sure what happened, which alone was enough to worry her. Fuel hadn't been a problem since the invention of the perpetual motion device, and the ship's interface had reported no errors...which in itself might have been an error. One moment she was leaving the scenery of the mountains and crossing over the desert plateau, and the next, something grabbed her one-man ship out of the air and dashed it towards the ground. Only years of skill allowed her to regain enough control to half-glide, half-plummet back towards the craters, and even then...

"It's trashed," she sighed, thorough evaluation done. "Engine's burned out, stabilizing panels warped...and the vents are shot. Well, I'm screwed."

It wasn't lost on her that she may have just discovered what happened to the planet's colonists. In the early days of space travel, before FTL flight had been developed allowing for galaxy-spanning trips in a matter of weeks, rather than centuries, a generation ship had departed from SimEarth to the great unknown. Generation ships were all the rage back then: travel the galaxy, spend the rest of your life onboard, and never see your destination, but your great-great-great-great-grandchildren will colonize the planet when the ship arrives! How prehistoric.

This particular ship had been due to arrive and contact the homeworld 200 years after its departure, which was...roughly 15,000 years ago. That's bureaucratic paperwork for you. A research assistant had discovered the old overdue alert in an ancient computer, some low-level politician was running for reelection on a pro-colonial-recovery platform, and long story short, she got dropped into a ship and sent off to track the ship and perform a basic research survey to determine the colony's whereabouts.

All she knew so far was that they weren't here. They had been at some point, though. There were roads, and minor, ancient, but technologically advanced lighting. However they did it, it appeared they had managed to survive their own landing.

At least the emergency habitation pod was still functioning after the crash. Ahh, modern technology. Push a button and in seconds receive a fully-functioning multi-room domicile, complete with emergency lighting beacon and all the amenities of home.

"Okay...maybe not completely functioning..." she muttered. Empty. How does a EHP open up empty? She should be looking at a kitchen with fully stocked food pantry, five-man sleeping bunk, and bathing room with the most scientifically-advanced shower government money can buy.

Instead she had a light.

Oh, this was going to be fun. Except not.

As if the day could get any worse, the planet turned out to not be nearly as uninhabited as the pre-colonization report had believed, as Liann discovered when one of them gave her a cat.

At least, she thought it was a cat.

There she was, minding her own business, bemoaning her imminent starvation, when she noticed a peculiar alien man sneaking about her "lawn." Although, she supposed he wasn't an alien, if this was his planet. And maybe man wasn't quite the right word. Male. Male would be more accurate.

He was bipedal, and appeared to be carbon-based, unusual on such a silicon-rich world. And he was an oxygen-nitrogen breather, which she already knew from the preliminary reports on the planet's atmospheric content. But primitive, even more so than the ancient colonists with their generation ships. This race had not developed interstellar flight, she could tell. They probably had not even developed language.

"Moon lady?"

The words were twisted, in a strange accent, and so very, very unexpected she almost didn't hear them, but they were clear and understandable Simlish.

Conveniently, he repeated them.

"Moon lady?" His stubby, pointed ears twitched. Was that confusion? Suspicion? She didn't know what he was going on about, but the last thing she needed was some native tribe worshipping her as a god. She needed to keep unnecessary complications to a minimum.

"No. 'moon lady' person. No. Not me. Try someone else." Watcher, he probably didn't get any of that, did he?

"Apologies, skylady. It was my mistake. Are you in distress?" He tilted his head in polite inquisition.

By the Watcher. Had the colonists run into sentient lifeforms and lost?  He didn't seem aggressive. Maybe he wasn't a normal specimen. And what had he called her? Moon lady? His race clearly had some understanding of space travelers. Had they seen the generation ship?

The male not-alien was still waiting for an answer.

" ship, it crashed. Fell from the sky. I'm stranded without supplies. Do you know what supplies are?"

His ears twitched again. And he gave her a cat.

"Take this. And this fish. Give it to him, and keep him for now. He will help you hunt when he grows larger. Until then, I must share the news."

And that's how she got Orion. Liann didn't know if the not-alien's people named their animals here, but if they didn't, what they didn't know wouldn't hurt them. With her nomadic lifestyle, she hadn't kept pets at home, but using what she vaguely remembered from her childhood she fashioned an impromptu scratching post out of a broken branch from one of the vicious-looking spiked trees. Spiked, purple trees. Then she crushed up the fish and left it on a plastic panel scrounged from the dilapidated trash-heap she used to call a ship.

At least she could sleep in peace and relative shelter. She retrieved her emergency sleeping pouch from the cockpit while she was there, and settled in. As her mind faded out into what would be a long night full of restless dreams, it went back to something the pointy-eared male had said she had initially dismissed.

What exactly did he mean by "share the news"?