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    World Building Backstories

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    BradSleigh
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    World Building Backstories

    Post by BradSleigh on Tue May 17, 2016 6:28 pm

    We can use this thread for short stories or short episodes of stories that will eventually culminate in the history of New Paragraph. I feel we'll just need to  go for it and write things down in order to give the world some character. Writing is going to feel somewhat boring for me at the start as I struggle to get into new things, but as we start to shape things they'll start to take off and get more interesting.

    BradSleigh
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    Re: World Building Backstories

    Post by BradSleigh on Tue May 17, 2016 6:49 pm

    It was the third week. Ada was still impressed at the news that only nineteen people had died so far. Mostly natural deaths, a small number of accidents and one or so cases of a bad reaction to the atmosphere. For all she thought of how rough a transition it was going to be, it seemed everything was being done to prove her and everyone else wrong.

    She wasn’t sure how long it had taken to get here; all she knew was that it had been a long time. Mostly she had been too shell shocked, too wrought with grief and too disbelieving of the past year to have been focused enough for counting days. If there was even a way in the bleak emptiness of Space. But Alexander and Reinhardt had promised everyone safety and survival, and against all the odds they had somehow delivered, for here she was: very much alive and strolling through the grassy opening towards the gargantuan spacecraft. The Spear.

    “They’re saying the scouts have returned.” Edward ventured.

    Ada snapped back into focus and looked at him. Despite his towering height, she had almost forgotten he was there. The sun, or whatever its name was, flared relentlessly behind his wiry frame, leaving him a vague silhouette, his dark hair turned even darker. He glanced her way uncertainly and jerked back when she caught his eye. “Sorry. We don’t have to talk.”

    She looked down at the floor and frowned. “What have they reported?”

    Edward’s shoulders loosened somewhat, a vague smile softening his gaunt face. “Details haven’t been confirmed…that I know of.  It is really only a rumour so far.”

    They carried on in silence. He glanced her way again. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard the name Ada before. Where is it from?”

    “Hmm? Oh, I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever met another Ada. I never really thought about it.” America. Apparent European origin. Of course she knew. But that would mean talking about home.

    “It may be interesting for you to find out one day, if we are ever allowed into the ‘Great Library’, as they seem to have called it.”

    “The only library.” Ada murmured. She smiled faintly. A boring conversation with a boring man, but talk was surprisingly refreshing and he was at least trying. Plus he was providing her with shade, even if it was starting to redden his pale skin. She wondered how someone so sensitive to the outside world could ever have any interest in cartography: next to her dark tone he looked deathly ill.

    The ship’s doors opened as they climbed the steps before them and a wave of air conditioning blasted them mercifully.

    “I always love that feeling.” Edward was muttering to himself. Ada nodded in agreement, squinting her eyes at the corridor ahead as they adjusted to the dimmer lighting.

    “Which way to the council chamber?”  She asked, bewildered by the number of exits shooting off. It seemed that every part of the ship was metal from floor to ceiling. It was like the design of a hospital combined with the design of a submarine. Open and bright, yet completely sealed from any external environment.

    “Ah you haven’t seen it yet?” He threw a lanky arm forward casually. “It’s just there on the left. I have spent most of my time inside since we arrived…here. And I spent most of the journey exploring the vessel. It really is a marvel of science. The council chamber was open to the public for a few months but has slowly become more restricted.”

    “And I took you for someone who’d spent his life in the wilderness.” He looked at her in confusion. She laughed mildly to herself, shaking her head at him and her own awkward attempt at humour. For such a plain looking man she was starting to warm to him though: he seemed to have an innocent, childlike charm.

    The chamber doors opened and the two walked in side by side. It was a large, dark, airy room with a navy tint to the shadows of the walls. The ceiling was hidden in darkness, the only lighting radiating softly from spaced out tiles on the floor. The room took a very minimalistic approach to decor, in the sense that there wasn’t any: a long unit stood at the far wall, waist high and completely metal, as if the floor was protruding upward in one section. Several chairs sat idly behind it, backs hugging the endlessly high wall. There was seating for maybe seven or so people, yet only one man was seated, directly at its centre.

    Alexander.

    He looked up at them from the notes before him without moving his head. Studied them for a long moment.

    “Ada Wright. Edward Jason Shumate.”

    They stole a brief glance at each other.

    “I thought as much.” Alexander stood, rubbed a hand over his five o’clock shadow. He smiled wearily. “You must excuse my directness, sleep has escaped me as of recently.” He paced slowly from behind the unit. “Fear not. If you recall we have everyone’s identity stored in the archives of this vessel: the doors were simply programmed with facial recognition to open to one or both of you and no one else.”  He stopped in front of the counter and leaned back against it casually, his hands planted on the edge. “Except for myself of course. But then everything on this ship recognises me.”

    He wasn’t wrong there. Ada had seen his face plenty of times. Alexander and Reinhardt: the two pioneers and architects of this entire expedition. They had offered them a chance to escape, a chance to start again from the fires of a dying world. She had no idea how they had achieved it, the memory of the entire episode was but a dark haze in the furthest corner of her mind. She couldn’t say she cared much for how, only that she was alive, even if no one else had made it.

    Thinking about it, she had never seen Reinhardt. Not in person anyway. His face had been seen plenty of times on images and videos , but Alexander was the only one of the two who had ever appeared in the flesh before her. She could only induce that he was simply the more public face.

    Her concentration was broken as Edward tried to speak. “We had heard the scouts had come back with the cartographers. What…”

    “The scouts are dead.” Alexander’s face was stern. Edward jerked back. Directness indeed.

    “What…what about the cartographers?”

    “Oh they’re dead too. They’re all dead.” Ada was taken aback by his casual air and matter-of-fact tone. More deaths to add to the nineteen, only this time not so natural. Alexander ran a hand through his thick curls. “A tragedy, of course. I would be more stricken had I not run out of grief and mourning long ago. We move on and adapt. I will let others grieve in my stead.”

    Ada could only agree. She took a deep breath. “So…what do you want with us?” She glanced up at Edward for reassurance before turning back.

    Alexander looked at her for a long moment. “I want you to want the same thing. I am as human as any of you, and thus you have every right to say no. We, as a species, want to survive and start afresh. That’s why we are here. I’m still amazed we found such a likeness to Earth at all. Feared we may have had to drift through Space eternally.” He looked around the airy chamber. “Zeta we’re calling it. The planet, not this room. For now anyway, until someone more intelligent than us finds a better name. Of course we have no idea what is out there.” He looked at Edward, and then into Ada’s eyes. “The previous cartographers started to map out the immediate landscape. There is a large body of water to the north, which of course made them speculate that we are situated on an island.”

    “You want us to finish what they started?” Ada asked. “How did they die?”

    Alexander looked at her for another long moment. His head dropped a touch. “We don’t know. But having the land mapped out would be of immense value to us. When Reinhardt asked for volunteers for certain tasks we only had a handful enthusiastic enough for drawing maps. Less who actually had the necessary skills to do so. If you two are still willing then it would be a great advancement in this new society, but it would be dangerous, for anything could be out there. I can ensure that you will have protection, but I cannot ensure you will survive.”

    Ada felt suddenly anxious. She knew she wanted to be of some use, but risking her life wasn’t what she had in mind. She hadn’t been given much to do over the last three weeks and now suddenly this. Uncertainty gripped her.

    “I will do it.” Edward said suddenly. Ada looked at him in shock. She was certain he would have backed out - he looked like a slight breeze might break him in half. “If it is beneficial to society then I want to do it. And exploring an unchartered planet would be good for the advancement of science above all else.”

    Alexander observed him contemplatively. “Mmm. For science…” He looked at Ada.

    Edward looked down at her too. “What do you say? I’m not very fit for the outdoors, so I could use some protection and a friendly face.” He smiled warmly, filling Ada with unexpected confidence. Perhaps occupying herself with something to focus on would be beneficial to her.

    “Okay…but only if you don’t change your mind. I suppose it’s what I signed up for after all; it would be shameful for me to back out now. And I guess I was getting rather bored.”

    Alexander nodded attentively. “Excellent, I will have a team prepared for you immediately. You may set out whenever you wish.”

    Edward stepped forward inquisitively, a hopeful gleam in his eye. “Will we be provided with horses, then?”

    Alexander laughed sharply. “Oh no. Not a single horse is leaving the atrium until we have bred enough to spare. We have yet to introduce them to this climate: these things will take time. We have a much more modern alternative in the form of an armoured carrier. We don’t want you dying out there like the last lot after all.”

    If Edward had been disappointed it soon leaked away from him with the mention of safety. “Excellent point. I got a little ahead of myself there.” Ada too was relieved at the idea; she would be focused enough as it was on the landscape, she wouldn’t have time to be looking out for threats too.

    “Wonderful.” Alexander clapped his hands together. “Now if you’ll excuse me I have some fascinating notes to read about atmospheric pressure.” He grinned and gestured at the door casually. Ada laughed awkwardly and turned back towards it, Edward following close behind. She felt Alexander’s eyes watching them as they left.


    Last edited by BradSleigh on Mon May 23, 2016 6:19 pm; edited 1 time in total
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    ShaunCarter19
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    Re: World Building Backstories

    Post by ShaunCarter19 on Fri May 20, 2016 11:55 am

    ‘It feels like a lot of responsibility, doesn’t it?’ Den said, watching the page in her notebook, the fountain pen in her left hand. He couldn’t read the scrawl of her handwriting.

    Caila looked at him. Her eyes, darker than her ebony skin, seemed to glare at Den. The sun—if it was a sun—felt hotter than Earth’s sun ever had. Felt brighter than Earth’s ever had. And that brightness glinted off those onyx eyes; Den rubbed his hands on his coarse denim jeans.  

    ‘What do you mean?’ she asked, readjusting her sitting position on the large boulder they had discovered to the south of their year-long, space-voyage home, The Spear. She was wearing a white blouse that did not fit her—too loose around the shoulders. It gave her body no defined shape. She didn’t seem to care, Den decided.

    He had expected her to say that. ‘Well. Civilization. Rebuilding it, I mean.’ He tugged at the under-arms of his t-shirt, which had been plastered to his skin by sweat. Trust me to wear black on a hot fucking day, he thought.

    ‘I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon,’ she said. ‘It’ll take time. And effort. But yes. I guess it is a lot of responsibility.’

    They had set off south of the gargantuan spacecraft at the request of a missive from Alexander. Den remembered the last few lines of that note verbatim. Helped that it had been written by a more legible hand than Caila’s.

    I appreciate you both volunteering for this important task. It is crucial that we, humanity’s last survivors, find out how like Earth “Zeta” really is. And the local fauna will give us dense clues. By working in smaller groups, you will reduce the risk of scaring away any creatures before you get too close to identify them.

    Den reckoned that this note had been sent to all eighteen volunteers to search and record animal and plant findings; but Alexander, or his secretary, if he had one, had addressed this note to Dennis Rothberg and Caila Forjoe specifically.

    Alexander was no moron. He was good at saying the things that needed to be said. He had been doing so ever since the Evacuation. Without Alexander, Den would not be alive. And now, Alexander was giving people a sense of purpose on their new world.  

    Although nobody seems to know where his counterpart leader of The Spear is.

    ‘I guess not,’ he said. ‘What was that historical quote, “Athens wasn’t built in a day”?’

    Caila, who had told him that she was twenty years old, who had wanted to study History at university, before the Evacuation, and who had no family with her on this voyage, smiled at him. Her teeth were more grey than white. ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day,’ she said.

    He felt himself blush. This seemed to amuse her.

    Unable to maintain her gaze, he looked down, past the boulder they were sitting on and toward what he assumed was a river. The water was flowing right to left as he looked upon it, but it seemed to him to be a laboured flow. The river was perhaps fifty paces across from where the ground dipped just before their boulder, to the bank opposite. There was a brief shore of gravelly stones. Beyond that, another steep ridge. And beyond that, a copse of trees, their leaves a syrup brown, with globes of green fruit dangling from the upper branches. He counted well past fifty trees across and who knew how many deep.

    These weren’t the first trees they had come across. Less than two hundred paces from The Spear were drooping a knot of charred trunks, puddles of ash at their feet where leaves and branches had been seared by The Spear’s white-hot engine thrusters upon landing.

    ‘Look,’ Caila had said as they walked among that grave of trunks, ‘we’re already killing our new home.’

    Den had kept quiet at that.

    ‘You said you wanted to study History,’ Den said now.

    She had gone back to writing in her notepad. Her fingers were long, the nails chewed. Her wrists bore a sheen of sweat glittering in the sunlight. ‘I did. Why?’

    ‘Then how come you volunteered to scout out animals and plants? Jared, my bunkmate, is down in Archives. Seems like you’d be suited to that.’ He closed his mouth, let his compliment hang in the air.  

    Still Caila kept her eyes on her writing. ‘Would you like me to leave?’

    That startled him. ‘What? No! I just meant…’

    She turned towards him again. ‘You just meant what?’

    Unsure how to continue, Den sighed, shook his head. ‘Never mind. What have you been writing?’

    He watched her give him a strange look for a long moment, as if searching for the answer he could not articulate, then smiled at him. ‘I have made a note of the river. The rocks in the river that the current is eddying around. I’ve mentioned this boulder. The lichen on the underside of it that I noticed before we sat down. The trees and their leaves, that remind me of honey. The fruits I can see on them. And I just jotted down a line about the fish that scuttled across the current while you were watching my hands.’

    Den felt his face redden. ‘A fish? How big?’

    ‘Hard to say from here, I’ve written roughly the length of two adult hands. I suspect Alexander will have somebody come back here with a net and get a closer look. The Spear seems to have everything humans could need to start again.’


    There was something calming in listening to this girl speak. She reminded him of his sister, Lucy. It was difficult to believe he had not seen Lucy in over a year now. Or his mother, or his father. Lucy was going to be a surgeon once she finished her Medical School exams. His mother and father were lawyers both. He missed them all. He missed England.’

    He didn’t miss his little brother Gus and their grandmother, back on The Fucking Spear.

    Feels like a lot of responsibility.

    ‘What about you?’ she asked.

    ‘Huh? Oh. Well. What do you want to know?’

    ‘Why did you volunteer to, so far, not make any notes on the local fauna?’ she had turned her body to face him. She was sitting cross-legged and her smile was back. Seemed she liked to tease him.

    ‘My dad was a vet,’ he lied, looking back towards those syrup-leafed trees. ‘And I was studying a degree in Animal Conservation.’ That part was true. Although he had wanted to be a police officer when he was a child. Rumour was a constabulary was being organised by Alexander and Reinhardt, his counterpart, to maintain a sense of order once The Spear ceased to be their home, and people could begin to live in established groups on Zeta. That was the hope of Alexander and Reinhardt. For people to rediscover what it meant to be human beings living in a civilized, ordered world once more. Or, so Dennis assumed. He had heard that there was an armoury somewhere on The Spear. Had searched for it twice, but the spacecraft’s interior was a labyrinth of utilitarian-looking corridors, made of metal from floor to ceiling. He had been unsuccessful twice. But I remember seeing two armed bodyguards early on. I fucking know I do. Back when we were rushing aboard. There was a strange haze in his mind surrounding the last thirteen or so months since the Evacuation, then the expedition through the inky black of space, searching for a new where to call home, and then these first twenty days of being cooped up inside The Spear, while Alexander sent teams of people out onto Zeta to test all sorts of atmospheric pressures and things to do with weather patterns. The first day of The Spear being grounded, Den had spent leaning over his metal basin of a toilet, vomiting with vertigo from not moving at hundreds of miles an hour. Strange how The Spear had never felt as though it had been moving so fast.

    ‘My dad was a vet, too!’ Caila said. He looked back at her. She was wearing, he noticed for the first time, a necklace with a silver cross on it.

    ‘You’re religious?’ he asked.

    ‘Aren’t we all, in some way or another?’

    Dennis and Caila both snapped their heads north, where a man was standing a dozen or so paces away. He was tall but thin, dressed in a white linen shirt that flowed past the top of his corduroy shorts that were the colour of sand. He was barefoot, holding a pair of boots in one hand and a book in the other. A nest of black wires comprised the beard dangling past his chin. The hair on his head was a sprawl of unwashed blonde. His expression was unreadable.

    Caila quickly set down her pad and pen and slid down from the boulder. ‘Good morning, sir,’ she said, her tone light.

    ‘Is it still the morning?’ the man asked. He titled his head skyward towards the sun. ‘I suppose we don’t know yet, do we? Indeed. Well, I’ll say “Good afternoon!” just in case.’

    Den stood up on the boulder. He held out both arms to steady himself. ‘Can we help you?’

    ‘Actually yes,’ the man said, the knotty black of his beard making a rustling sound as he spoke. If the man had opened his mouth, Dennis didn’t see. Maybe he had stained teeth. ‘I was wondering whether either of you know if those green fruits over there,’ the man dropped both his boots and the book, which thumped on the grasses under his pale feet, and pointed towards the copse of trees across the river, ‘are edible or not. I am rather hungry.’

    Den felt his mouth hang slack. ‘I, uh.’

    Standing in front of him, he heard Caila say, ‘We haven’t crossed the river yet, sir. Sorry.’

    The man, who Den felt sure he recognised, felt sure he had seen on The Spear before, waved a hand in what seemed to be casual dismissal. ‘Well, I suppose “We don’t know” is better than “No”, isn’t it?’

    ‘I suppose you’re right,’ Caila said.

    ‘Have you measured the depth of the river?’ the man asked.

    Den took his moment. ‘No, but we have noticed the currents eddying around some rocks almost directly ahead of us. I suppose it’s fair to say you won’t need to strip down to cross it here. It might get deeper the further east or west it goes, though.’

    Caila turned and looked at him. But said nothing.

    The blonde man, eyes almost hidden, so dark and sunken were his sockets, nodded. ‘Excellent. Well! I shall pioneer forward and fetch one then. Tasting is the art of experiencing, my father used to say.’

    ‘Was your father a chef?’ Caila asked.

    The man looked at her. ‘No.’

    There was a pregnant pause.

    And then: ‘Say now, I suspect Alexander asked you two to come here and make notes on the land, you seem like attentive types. Am I wrong?’

    ‘We’re noting down the plants and wildlife, if and when we spot them,’ Caila said. Den could hear something that seemed formal in her tone.

    The man nodded again, staring off beyond them both, towards the trees and their fruit. ‘Very good, very good. Well, are you hungry? How about we head across this river, eat one of those beautiful-looking giant limes or whatever they might be, and see if we can spot a five-legged bear or some such foreign creature?’

    Den wanted to say no. He wanted to learn more about this girl, his co-worker here on Zeta, but Caila said, ‘We’d love to join you.’

    And in one quick motion, the man had gathered up his book, though not his boots, which he left slumped on the grasses, and was past them both, picking his way down the clay slope to the riverbank.

    Dennis climbed down from the boulder. Caila was smiling. ‘What’s funny?’ he asked.

    ‘You don’t know, do you?’

    ‘Don’t know what?’ he demanded.

    She chuckled lightly, dragging him along towards the riverbank ‘Oh, Dennis. That’s Reinhardt!’

    BradSleigh
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    Re: World Building Backstories

    Post by BradSleigh on Tue May 24, 2016 3:25 am

    Zeta’s baked soil crunched under the pressure of the armoured treads as the terrain shifted from the mass of clay and gravel. The river flowed as a sheet of crystals behind, a quilt of smog floating above in the carrier’s shadow. Dark tracks followed the mobile bunker; the aftermath of the river dripping from its underbelly in clogs of sand and mud. The engine purred gently as it drove the machine forward towards the copse of trees ahead, looming shadows down over them, a subtle threat from high above.

    Ada sat facing Edward in the cool space within, his body contorted in the cramped seating. A wave of claustrophobia teased at her stomach as she imagined being his size, retreating again at the reminder of her relative comfort.

    “It’s not nearly as bad as it looks!” He chimed over the noise. Ada heard the desperate optimism in his voice, but he was fooling no one. She gave him a sympathetic smile and focused down on the case clutched in her lap, a variety of traditional cartographic tools collected inside. She could hear the compass rattling against the tin of the lid, its rhythmic taps sending her into a trance.

    Marie R. Shepherd. William Tharp. Arthur H. Raisz. The names of her three predecessors, now updated in the archives, she had noticed. Deceased. Miles Ward, Stuart Werner, Naira Millard. Six extra names to add to the nineteen, all from one expedition. Four more people had died since Alexander had assigned her and Edward the mission. One by drowning, but the others had died mysteriously in their sleep. Twenty nine deaths and they’d barely made it a month. Ada couldn’t decide if that was good or bad, but Alexander’s dismissal of them felt even worse. Or perhaps it was the correct way to approach it. She decided she would visit the archives again later.

    Three others were sat with them in the carrier: solemn faces who hadn’t yet spoken a word, dressed in dark padded uniforms and heavy boots. The driver had told Ada they were there for protection along with himself, but she hadn’t seen any weapons so far. Edward’s twisted figure was the only thing giving her comfort.

    The carrier veered to the right, following a path of mowed down plant life westward, the exact route the previous group had undertaken. Ada felt that would surely leaden to certain death, but the closer they grew the more the echo of a thrill danced around her mind.

    “Did you have…do you have any family?!” Edward was awkwardly persistent with his goal to make them talk more, even amongst this racket. She looked up at him, but sweat had plastered black strands of hair to her face. She brushed them aside, cringing as grease clung to her skin. Something she would have to get used to in this relentless heat.

    “Can it wait?! It’s way too loud!” She shouted back at him, uncomfortable at the prospect of shouting personal information across a tank full of strangers. Edward only nodded; he seemed to have a fair understanding of her so far. The more she looked at him the more ridiculous he started to appear. She couldn’t help but smile.

    The engine growled as the vehicle came to a steady halt. Ada needed to get out of the heat, but the harsh temperature of Zeta wasn’t promising much shelter. Edward craned his neck up at her, his back arched unnaturally against the wall.

    “You can see why I might have preferred a horse…”

    The rear doors were wrenched open revealing a short, heavily bearded man. Sweat dripped from his bald pate but Ada was relieved to see it was covered in shade. They were still in the trees.

    “We’re here! Or we’re almost here anyway!” The squat man growled in a rough accent. “We’re not quite there I should say. We’re just a bit away from there. But I thought this’ll be close enough.”

    Ada almost fell out of the back as she sprung for the cool mercy of the trees. Edward untwisted himself slowly after her, wincing at all sorts of cramps. “Safe to say I’ve had more comfortable rides than that.”

    “Bloody ‘ell I didn’t realise what a tall bastard you were!” The bearded man exclaimed. “There’s ample leg room in the front, ya could’ve sat in there!”

    Edward looked at him dryly. “Well perhaps I might have but we haven’t quite been acquainted.”

    “Oh. Well my name’s Berk then!” He grabbed Edward’s hand and squeezed it with a warm chuckle. Edward could only wince at the iron grip.

    “Edward.”

    With the shade caressing her crown Ada was able to focus again. “Why have we stopped here, ‘Berk’?”

    He turned to her as the other three men climbed from the carrier. “Well lady…”

    “Ada.”

    “Who da? Isn’t that a snake?”

    Before she could respond he let out a booming laugh. She waited for him to finish. “So her question?” Edward reminded him.

    Berk pouted at him. A bizarre site for such a burly man, but then the man was bizarre. “We’ve stopped us before a ridge we have. Just in front of this bird here.” He patted the vehicle heartily. “The track stops just before it, it does. No point me driving us straight to where them other bastards got killed. So let’s go for us a walk, ay?”

    He stomped over to the side of the carrier and opened a hatch. “Us boys gonna need some weapons of course! Oh! Don’t mind these lads you two: they’re English is shit.” He returned promptly holding four crossbows. Edward almost spat in disbelief.

    “What on earth are they?!”

    “They’re fucking crossbows.”

    “I know they’re bloody crossbows!”

    “Then why the fuck-“

    “I don’t think that’s what he’s asking.” Ada interrupted. She saw Edward’s shoulders relax a touch at her support as Berk turned his gaze. “He’s wondering what use they’re going to be, since they’re such old weapons…obviously.”

    “Listen here,” Berk’s voice calmed a few decibels “I only know that Alexander gave us these so we didn’t go fucking up the planet with bigger firearms in the first bloody month of being here, he did. We all remember home, and I don’t really fancy bringing that up with anyone, do you?”

    Ada certainly didn’t. “Do you know how to use those things?”

    The grin returned to Berk’s face. “Of course we bloody do. You trust us, love, and do your own task. Now off we go, yes?”

    Ada glanced at a defeated Edward before nodding. “Let’s do our thing then.”

    They paced across the sheltered ground towards the ridge far ahead, enormous leaves crunching under their heavy boots. Ada lingered behind, preferring to take her time than rush. She watched Edward walk aside one of the other men: a lean, reserved looking man with olive skin.

    “Do you have a name…sir?” Edward ventured.

    The reserved man looked slowly at him. “Yes. My name…Marco.” He hesitated and looked glumly at the floor. “Forgive…my English is second language. My home…is Italy. We only learn…on way to this place.”

    Edward nodded in understanding. “I think you speak English very well for so small a time learning.”

    “Thank you. Your name…Edward?”

    “That’s right. And I found it a bad trip here. I am much fonder of horses. Do you know horses?” Edward made a galloping gesture.

    Marco smiled. “Yes. I know horses. We have…fields, in Italy. I own many.”

    Ada couldn’t help but smile herself. Edward had proven to be a surprisingly competent communicator, and his presence was a safe anchor to hold onto for comfort.

    Berk had reached the peak of the ridge ahead. “Everyone might wanna come take a look at this!” He bellowed back to them.

    Ada picked up the pace and soon the six of them had climbed over the ridge. Berk’s arm was held out protectively as a stark drop plummeted before them, the towering form of a cliff reaching right down to the roots of the planet. Before the cliff expanded an enormous field of lush grass, stretching to the horizon with trees lining either side a few acres apart. A sharp intake of breath seized Ada as she watched them moving, far away over the field.

    “What…those things…they can’t be…?”

    “I don’t know anything about aliens guys.” Berk intoned casually. “But from here they look a lot like dinosaurs.”
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    ShaunCarter19
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    Re: World Building Backstories

    Post by ShaunCarter19 on Mon May 30, 2016 5:44 pm

    ‘Strange, isn’t it’ Reinhardt said, cradling one of the large, lime-coloured fruits in both hands like a coffee cup. Using a pen knife that he kept in his sand-hued shorts, the joint-leader of The Spear had gathered three of the green globes from the ground, and had sawed each in half.

    Dennis kept his eyes on the scraggly-looking man while biting into the soft, mushy inner skin of the fruit’s husk. The fruits were like watermelons, only every aspect was a violent shade of green. The juices bore a citric hint.

    ‘What is?’ Caila asked. Den shifted his gaze to the girl. She had plucked all of the seeds out of one half of her husk, was loading them into a re-sealable plastic bag. When she had completed this task, she slipped the bag back into her black knapsack. What else have you got of use in there?

    Reinhardt looked first at Caila, and then at Den. The man’s eyes were dark like Caila’s. Den felt like he was being looked through rather than at. Reinhardt’s beard glistened with drops of the fruit juice.

    ‘Oh,’ Reinhardt began, waving a hand, ‘all of this. Giant lime-coloured watermelons. Trees with leaves that we would normally associate with the season Autumn during what has been a very warm three weeks since we landed here on Zeta. I certainly wouldn’t call this Autumn. Would either of you?’

    ‘At least we’re out of the heat for now,’ Caila said, a smile on her face.

    They were sitting on a bed of dark green grass. Fallen leaves and snapped twigs lay all around them, undisturbed in the warm air. Above them, canopies of syrup brown shielded Den and his companions from Zeta’s sun. The shade played the part of a silent, yet most-welcome friend.

    ‘Alas, I cannot dwell here long. For I, like you two, have tasks for Alexander that I am bound by responsibility to complete.’

    ‘May I ask,’ Den began, ‘what it is that Alexander has asked you to do?’

    ‘You may!’ Reinhardt said. He raised his husk and slurped juices in the manner of a child.

    Den waited for an answer.

    Reinhardt bit into the fruit’s flesh, chewed audibly. Den noted that the man’s white linen shirt was at least a size too big.

    Caila cleared her throat, set down her fruit. ‘What is it that you’re doing, Sir?’

    ‘Please, call me Reinhardt.’

    ‘Reinhardt,’ the girl said.

    He smiled. ‘Well, just as you and young Dennis here are out seeking wildlife. I am out seeking a place for our past-life. Past-lived. Post-life? Hmm. Yes.’

    Den set down his fruit, too. ‘Past whuh?’

    ‘Indeed. I’m not sure on the term either.’ Reinhardt went quiet as quickly as he’d responded. Shifting the half husk from two hands to one, he thrust his arm out to the right, releasing the husk, which sailed off deeper into the brown-tree forest. The sepulchral gloom of the shade swallowed the fruit. Its satisfaction came with the distant rustle of leaves disturbed by its landing.

    ‘I am, essentially,’ he tried again, ‘looking for our First Graveyard. Although, there is something rather pretentious about that title. First Resting Place. First Crypt. First Necropolis. Field of the Preterite?’ He grunted.

    It struck Den as strange that this man, one of two men responsible for their subsistence beyond what happened on Earth, had chosen to prioritise finding a place for the dead, rather than anything else. The dead were staying dead. The living needed to be prioritised, did they not?

    ‘Pardon me for being rude,’ he said, adding courage to his convictive thoughts, ‘but aren’t there slightly higher priorities for the human race at this very moment? Food, say. Or water. Surely we don’t have infinite supplies aboard The Spear?’

    To his left he saw Caila’s face pale, her eyes widen.

    Reinhardt, Den noted, was staring back the way they had come, towards the quiet crystalline discourse of the river. He shivered in recollection of their crossing an hour or so ago. Should we be measuring time differently now? Like Reinhardt said, how could Caila be sure it was still morning? His jeans, all the way up to his knees, had been soaked during their crossing through the icy water. Caila’s skirt was unaffected, despite her being around six inches shorter than him. And Reinhardt had left his black leather boots on the grasses near their boulder.

    ‘Have you heard,’ he finally began, ‘of the Assembly? Or the Council of Advisors, for that matter?’

    Den quickly shifted his gaze to Caila. When she didn’t say yes, he too shook his head to the negative. ‘What are they?’ Den asked.

    ‘At the moment. They are names. Nothing but names. But it seems one of the great responsibilities we have as the first human settlers of Zeta...is to name everything.’ Reinhardt sucked in air, and one cheek bulged as his tongue seemed to have begun probing its fleshy prison. He sucked again, and then with one thumb and forefinger pulled something from his mouth. ‘Apologies, it would seem I had some of this delicious fruit stuck between my teeth.

    ‘Where was I? Yes. Naming. This planet. Only we call it Zeta. If there are other peoples somewhere on this new world, similar in resemblance to us or no, I would bet my life that they have another name for Zeta than Zeta.’

    Caila nodded as she bit into her second half of fruit. Her profile view was, in Den’s mind, beautiful. He traced the line of her long nose, the length of her eye lashes. The plushness of her lips. She was the prettiest girl he had seen on The Spear, and there were hundreds who were pretty. Maybe even thousands. He’d only had one girlfriend back on Earth. Josie. Just another memory. But oh, what fun memories, right, Jos?

    The bearded man eventually tsked. ‘It is a fair question that you ask. First off,’ he cleared his throat, seemingly he wasn’t to elaborate upon the Assembly or the Council of Advisors. ‘In terms of food, Alexander should be lauded for his ability to plan ahead. There is enough food for us to continue rationing at the current rate for quite some time.’ Vague, thought Den.

    ‘Second, so far, nineteen people have perished during our voyage. Two of those nineteen, both elderly folk, died from negligible reactions to Zeta’s atmosphere. However, a post-mortem did reveal that one man, named Oscar O’riordan, had suffered from an acute case of asthma. Indeed, it was a near miracle that he survived for as long as he did during the voyage. His room was littered with empty inhalers, I discovered.’

    Den swallowed. The lump in his throat felt heavy.

    ‘The Spear, as you both likely know from a year inside its many monotonous metal walls, is enormous. As big as six cruise ships, in terms of capacity. Over one thousand unmanned bedrooms have been used for the stocking of food and other important supplies that people inevitably needed during the journey. Bedding, clothes, toys for children. If Alexander was able to have his closest followers find it during those final days of The Exodus, then they stocked it aboard The Spear.’

    Head awhirl, Den felt himself sit forward, clasping his hands together. They were clammy. ‘You just said The Exodus. Alexander in his speeches has always called it The Evacuation…’

    Reinhardt’s bearded mouth widened, though again, if this was his smile, his teeth were hidden. The shade, which seemed to be deepening as the afternoon stretched on, wasn’t helping the aesthetic of the man’s face. ‘Evacuation. Exodus. Expedition. All interchangeable to an extent. They are words that, in some way or another, relate to our voyage. Caila Forjoe is from Ghana. No doubt you would have other words in your first language to add to this confusing concoction?’

    Caila seemed to blanch at this. ‘Unfortunately,’ she said, and her voice had a strange softness to it, a softness that Den had not heard before, ‘in Ghana the first language is English. While I did once know Ashanti, the language of my family…that was a long time ago.’ She stumbled over her final words. Went quiet.

    An awkwardness had developed in the low air between Den and these two people, neither of whom, a year ago, he had known existed. And yet now, suddenly, this scraggly man is one of the key decision makers in my life. Even my father didn’t make many decisions for me, towards the end.  

    He wanted to ask Caila if she was alright. And knew that, if they were alone, he would. But this man has quieted her. Caila, have you spoken to this man before? Oh, Caila...

    ‘There are, Alexander has told me many times, over eight thousand people aboard The Spear. I can’t say that I remember every single person by facial recollection or the familiarity of their name. And I doubt that Alexander does either, although it’s not beyond his personality to try to.

    ‘The range is indeed a range. Men, women, children, ages stretching from babies born aboard The Spear to an elderly lady named Anise, who celebrated—or suffered, depending on your point of view—her ninety-seventh birthday 199 days into our voyage. A most remarkable woman. She fled Earth with her twin son and daughter. The three of them are from Bangladesh. Can you guess what her most prized possession is, beyond her children, of course?’

    Caila’s head was buried in her hands. If she was weeping she was weeping silently. Her head, with its long black hair coursing towards the grassy ground like vines, smelt of something pungent. Like cinnamon but not quite. Den hadn’t noticed while they had been in the fresh air. But the gloom was growing intoxicating.

    He looked back at Reinhardt, who was eagerly, it seemed, awaiting an answer. ‘A family photograph?’

    ‘Wrong!’ The Spear’s co-commander shot out a hand, the way a snake might snap its head forward to make a kill, and patted Den’s right leg. The gesture was, Den decided, bizarre. Like an uncle telling a bad joke for the seventh Christmas running, or something equally awkward.

    ‘Her most prized possession is a series of cookbooks from her homeland, of which she is the author. A published chef-author aboard The Spear! And yet, bless her soul, poor Anise is mostly bed-bound now. With her son, Zarat, taking care to walk her once every three days around the passenger walkways of the hull for around an hour or so. After that, she gets back into bed and sleeps for half a day. A shame indeed. What’s more, she hasn’t, she has told me, spoken to her daughter in nearly three months. Lamia has found a lover aboard The Spear, and has yet to sober from the haze of her lust.

    ‘I remember,’ Reinhardt went on, ‘one evening during a private prayer of mine, six days unto our voyage. A realisation. I prayed, to gods, to the stars, to the Earth’s core, to Alexander. I prayed in hope that we might see The Exodus as a chance for us, the last few thousand of a dying species, to treat necessities before desires with all the severity we could muster. I have spoken with so many people aboard that bucket of metal sheets and bolts to the north, that I often, during the voyage, forgot that I walked finite corridors. That I would meet and greet the same people through the inevitably of small numbers. I have lived in Berlin, Vienna, London, Manchester, Madrid. A thousand thousand people have heard my voice, and I in turn have heard theirs. By comparison, a chamber of just over eight or nine thousand sounds echoes hollow. I prayed that we would learn, from the horrors of Earth, to…take greater care with what we find most precious. And the very next day the joyous inhalation from my prayer was forced from me as easily as a man’s breath leaves him when he is gut-punched. In some ways, however we manage to twist Zeta to our needs, we will never learn.’

    It was a long speech, if it could be called a speech. Den went back through Reinhardt’s words. Prayer. Realisation. Gods. Core. Alexander. It all felt like a confession. Had Reinhardt been a priest? He lacked the robes, or the collar. He had not mentioned any gods by name. Yet that way he spoke of Alexander, as if they were not quite equals... There was a sense of admiration emanating from this scraggly man of words, whenever he said Alexander’s name. It all seemed so…humble.  

    ‘Have you tried cooking any of the recipes?’ Caila’s question surprised Den, for he had been staring at Reinhardt, caught up in the blonde man’s words. Lost in his own thoughts. That Caila had fortified herself without their intervention made her even more appealing to him. She reminded him of Josie.

    ‘I have. I cooked two myself. Both were essentially spicier, more inchoate versions of the curries that Westerners butchered with the need to make everything commercially saleable.’

    And again, Reinhardt paused where it seemed both Den and Caila expected more.

    ‘And?’ Den said. ‘Don’t keep us in suspense!’

    Reinhardt tilted his head. ‘Oh! Yes, well. As I said. Tasting is the art of experience. While I would be withholding from you both the truth if I did not mention that I needed two wet flannels to continuously pat my head during the experience, both dishes, replete with rice—of which we will never run out aboard The Spear, let me assure you—were divine. Orgasms of the tongue indeed.’

    Silence.

    That stretched.

    Reinhardt smiled. His hands were plucking at blades of grass. His legs, Den noticed, were savagely hairy. His feet and the hands that plucked just in front of them were both pale and long. Neither toe nor finger nails were long. ‘Now, going back, Dennis Rothberg, to your primary question: Why prioritise the dead? Have you given it any thought yourself before I answer?’

    I have. He had not, he began to realise, been actively considering his own question; instead, Reinhardt’s words had settled in his mind like spores, fed by the density of their conversation. As the air around them thickened with the rotting of the citric fruits, and the sun began to lower beyond the forest, their conversation had given him the components he needed to discover the answer all by himself. And like the stars gleaming in atramentous space, that single word was glowing in his mind.

    'Necessity.'

    Reinhardt looked first at Caila—who was in turn staring at Den, eyes wide—and then at Dennis, and he beamed. He nodded. ‘Necessity.’

    ‘We already have food. We have shelter. We have clothes and water. We can make love and we can drink alcohol and we can meet new people all aboard our space home. But we don’t have a way of honouring our dead. Not properly, anyway.’

    ‘It makes perfect, inevitable sense,’ Caila declared, tying her hair back. She seemed to have discovered a renewed sense of excitement for the older man in their company. In a way, Den felt jealous.

    Reinhardt spoke, ‘What Alexander and I named The Morgue back aboard The Spear has always been a makeshift chamber, in essence. Just another of the ship’s metal rooms. Only, the panels along the walls are actually containers that extend out of the wall. We carefully lift a body onto the panel, and we lock it in place. Imagine how you inserted a disc into a computer. Only, embalming materials are not something we have in infinite supply. And the chamber itself only has one hundred panels. Soon, that number will inevitably be too small.’

    ‘A proper burial service will bring people together in a way that we haven’t truly experienced since back on Earth,’ Caila said. ‘A funeral attended by over eight thousand people.’

    ‘The Spear’s First dead,’ Den said, eyes widening, ‘will essentially become celebrities of a kind.’

    ‘Deified,’ Caila added.

    ‘Lost,’ Reinhardt began, ‘but not forgotten.’


    Last edited by ShaunCarter19 on Mon Jun 06, 2016 11:31 am; edited 1 time in total

    BradSleigh
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    Re: World Building Backstories

    Post by BradSleigh on Thu Jun 02, 2016 6:10 pm

    Whatever they were, they moved sombrely with intense purpose, lumbering across the rolling acres with a slow, swaying motion that almost made Ada drowsy. If she’d seen them in a textbook back on Earth she would have, after close examination, identified the species as a stegosaurus. And yet these creatures were completely covered in a short coat of fur. The plates she might have expected to run along the ridge of their backs were simply large bumps in the spine. Their tails were shorter and their feet were more akin to a bear’s, yet everything else was near identical, particularly their heads. Ada felt she had walked into the midst of an exotic dream.

    “A most astonishing sight...” Edward was saying, squinting through the glare from Zeta’s sun. “If I hadn’t been looking at them myself…I might not have believed me.”

    The group had found a way down from the soaring cliff behind and were observing the herd from the edge of the trees. It had been a lengthy descent of several hours, and Ada was still catching her breath long after they’d reached the ground. Edward had managed to twist his ankle in a ditch with his clumsy, careless steps, and now seemed content with the fallen log he’d found to sit on, his leg stretched out before him. His eyes were fixed on the view ahead, but Ada found herself distracted constantly by discomfort: sweat was binding the khaki vest to her figure while her cargo pants dripped their damp weight to the thirsty grass beneath.

    Berk had taken Marco and the other two guards further into the field, recording basic footage of the creatures and testing for any reaction. So far the herd had been peaceful and disinterested in them, but Ada wondered if they were still too far away for the creatures to have noticed their presence. A feeling occurred in Ada’s gut that Berk’s men might have a different agenda than simply protecting the two of them, considering they had now been left alone. She took a deep breath and swallowed her paranoia.

    “What do you think of this, Ada?” Edward limped over to her; she wondered if a sudden breeze might topple him. He lifted a large sheet of parchment, graphite scribbled across its surface. It took her a moment to realise it was the starting fragment of a map. “It’s my first attempt really; I’ve been implementing the skills we learned back on the ship over the last year, but I don’t think I’ve got the hang of it just yet.”

    Scanning her eyes over the map, Ada saw the marked out road they had travelled by with the river roughly annotated north of it. Southward the ridge had been drawn with a thick line, followed by the topographical details of the cliff’s varying heights. There were no labels but Ada could extract a strong sense of bearing from it.

    “That’s actually really impressive…have you been doing this the whole time?”

    Edward reached down his injured leg in an awkward stretch, a tall mass of scraggly limbs. His sweat-blackened cargo pants rustled as his hands brushed along them. “Not the whole time. I’ve a very strong visual memory, so I’ve been trying to mentally acknowledge things along the way, like the cliff. But I’ve only just sketched that down now.”

    Ada frowned. “I’ve been too lost in thought to notice, I should be doing that as well but I haven’t had the motivation so far.”

    “It’s really quite simple once you start…from an amateur perspective that is.” He folded the parchment into a deep pocket on one leg and took a triumphant breath. “I’m going to have a stroll through the trees to get some shade and a bit more of a sense of reality from…all this.” He waved at the herd in indication, blinking with disbelief at its existence.

    “Okay, you shouldn’t go wandering alone though. I’ll come with you. Maybe I’ll note down something about the trees.” She tried to smile, but her face simply twisted around her mouth ungracefully. Edward executed a far more successful grin and the two wandered into the trees, Ada slowing to account for Edward’s ridiculous, gangling limp.

    The shade was a welcome alternative to the relentless heat that had been cooking the group, but the soft brown of the enormous leaves above still left Ada with an alien discomfort. The whole planet so far was like an uncanny-valley version of the Earth, playing at her anxiety and taunting her with false familiarity.

    Edward cleared his throat. “So…do you have any family at all, if I may be as bold as to intrude?”

    Ada hadn’t been expecting the question, but it was bound to come sooner or later. Her head lowered, her eyelids dropping. “Yes…or I did.” She forced the words out slowly. “I was married, and I had a daughter.” Guilt stabbed her gut with fresh vengeance. “I didn’t see them die. My sister, my parents…I didn’t see any of them die.” In an instant her throat was straining to talk. She suffocated on every word, her eyes glistening as they started to water.

    “I’m sorry.” Edward bowed his head in respect. “I didn’t know…we don’t have to talk anymore about it.”

    Ada wiped away tears with the back of her hand and took of deep breath of Zeta’s cool, stagnant air. The guilt would not leave her but she repressed it back inside as forcefully as she could. “What about you?” She sniffed as her nose hinted at running.

    Edward smiled to himself, lost in his own history for a brief moment. “I was an engineer of sorts. Research particularly was my forte. I was always most comfortable holed up in a lab or my personal study, always hungry to learn more. I was very passionate about science.”

    Ada wanted to admit her empathy, but she’d resolved to leave her past buried with her family and home. A strange, unpleasant smell started to creep into the air from somewhere. And then his words struck a different chord in her mind. “If you’re most comfortable inside…then why did you volunteer for mapping? That’s as outside an activity as you can get here.”

    Edward thought over the question for a moment. “It was over half a year ago that I first volunteered for the role - I was looking for an area for which I could continue my pursuit of science, no surprise. It’s funny you should ask that though, since I would have thought the same about being out in the field, but I was encouraged to go for it.”

    “Encouraged? By who?”

    “It was a gentleman I was speaking to at the time.” He looked up to the docile canopies in thought. “I can no longer remember his name, but we were talking about the different volunteering options, and he convinced me to venture out of my comfort zone. It made perfect sense at the time, particularly with its biological nature as another branch for me to explore. He said he’d sign up too, but there are so many thousands of people confined around us that I haven’t noticed him since.”

    Ada studied the ground in thought, not knowing what to make of his story. She noticed some vegetation that reminded her of mushrooms in a patch off to her left, resting silently in a bed of weeds by the base of a tree. It could have been an image plucked straight from Earth.

    They hobbled into a small clearing where the trees gave way to Zeta’s sun high above, softening the edge of its light with a circle of hard shadows. She felt Edward stop for a rest by her side and looked up ahead, squinting her eyes in the sudden brightness.

    She froze.

    The blood was baked dry, the skin cooked red, but the six corpses were undoubtedly human. They were spread unevenly across the clearing, torn limbs and twisted expressions curdling Ada’s stomach as she stared. A festering stench was radiating into the air.

    Marie R. Shepherd. William Tharp. Arthur H. Raisz.

    Miles Ward, Stuart Werner, Naira Millard.

    Twenty nine deaths and here were six of them.

    Edward’s composure failed and he buckled over, retching across the ground in quick, violent spasms. Ada could only stare at the corpses: she had never seen death before. She felt plenty of responsibility for it, and she hadn’t seen a single one of her family die, but seeing it for the first time was a strange, macabre kind of fascination to her. To see something that once breathed life lying as a motionless heap of flesh, the very thought consumed her mind. She lowered to a crouch and studied the bodies, too mangled to be distinguishable from one another. All wearing similar clothes to what Ada herself was wearing. They could have been her, had she been on the first outing, and yet here she was, having escaped death in a way. A sick feeling started to take hold of her, yet the thrill of the sense of danger was quickly overpowering it.

    Edward recovered from his vomiting at an impressive pace. “I certainly wasn’t expecting to see a sight like this today.” He wheezed out. “I much preferred the bizarre-looking creatures from earlier.” He looked down at Ada, still transfixed on the bodies. “Ada? Are you okay?”

    She snapped out of her trance and looked up at Edward. Eyes wide, she blinked and nodded hazily, slowly standing again. She had forgotten her own bearings for a moment, but Edward was an anchor that returned her to the present. Her senses floated back into focus.

    Edward had folded his arms loosely across his chest, studying the six dead with a furrowed brow. “I suppose we best go and tell Berk about this. And yet I only count six.”

    Ada looked up at him sharply. “What do you mean only six?”

    He looked at her curiously, taken aback by her question. “There were seven on the previous expedition, but they all died. I thought you were aware?”

    “I was. I checked the archives and there were only six names. Six people updated as ‘deceased’. I memorised them.”

    Edward looked back at the bodies in thought. “Most curious. Then I wonder who the last person was, for them to be kept from the archives like that? Someone important? Maybe their leader - she was a fierce woman if I remember correctly, but she was the only one I saw. Or maybe it was just a nobody with no name. It might be that they are one of these six here and the seventh is one of the names on your list, off dead somewhere else. Either way they’re utterly unrecognisable.”

    Ada’s head was spinning; she still couldn’t take her eyes from the grotesque display. There was another scent in the air, masked by the rotten aromas streaming from the decaying flesh, yet it was almost as equally unpleasant. The faint sound of footsteps grew closer somewhere behind, a rough accent shouting her mind back into focus. She snapped her head round.

    “Are you two fucking stupid?!” Berk stomped into the clearing with one of the anonymous guards, stopping to stare at the mutilated figures, his crossbow held down his side in one hand. “Holy fuck. Poor bastards. That confirms them rather dead then.” He looked up at Ada and Edward, the wrinkles on his forehead creasing as he frowned at them. “A bunch o’ previous fuckers all die an’ you think it’s a good idea to go wandering around on your fucking own? Come on, we’re heading back. Whatever killed them could easily kill us; now get your arses moving.” He stormed back into the trees, but the guard remained, evidently waiting for them to move first. A cloth was wrapped around the lower half of the guard’s face, revealing nothing but a set of hard eyes.

    Ada followed Berk in a dreamy stumble, Edward limping just ahead of her. She watched Berk take a sharp right turn into the direction of the plains. Edward looked back over his shoulder, noticing Ada’s absent gaze. He slowed down considerably, leaning on his good leg until she caught up to him.

    “How you holding up there? You seem quite shaken. Was that…your first time?”

    Ada looked up into his eyes. She focused on his face as hard as possible, the familiarity bringing her back to her senses. She took a deep breath and hunched over to recollect her thoughts. “Yes. I think it just caught me off guard. Wasn’t ready for it. Never seen…a body before. Never mind that many.”

    Edward nodded methodically. “I found it was pretty much the same for me. I’ve seen death from old age, but never such an unnatural experience. Come on, let’s catch Berk up.” His long arm reached around her shoulder in a comforting manner and she pulled herself up, nodding. They started to move again, followed Berk’s heavy tracks towards the edge of the forest. “You know…after all of this adventure…I’m starting to think it isn’t really cut out for me.”

    Ada smiled and put a hand on his arm for support, squeezing it affectionately. “I could have told you that from the moment I first saw you. I think it might be more that you’re not cut out for it than it for you, but you might’ve just had a bad experience is all.”

    “True. I have been thinking of other pursuits though.” Edward looked up to the dark tree leaves above. “When Alexander talked about introducing horses to the atmosphere. I think I would very much like to be involved with that instead. Marco has been telling me about the horses he used to have on his range in Italy, from what I understood.”

    “I’ve noticed you’ve mentioned horses a lot. Why didn’t you go for that in the first place?”

    “I don’t know, but I think once we return to the ship and debrief I will look into taking up horse caring and perhaps agriculture instead.” He looked back towards the trees ahead. “I will be a lot happier there.”

    “I’m still looking for where I belong.” Ada responded.

    They cleared the trees and arrived back on the plains, Berk standing not far from them in waiting, his thick hands set on his hips. Far down to her left she saw the log Edward had been sat on earlier; evidently they had lost their bearings in the trees and had come out much further into the field. She noticed Marco and the other guard cutting samples from the log and placing them in plastic bags. Ahead of them one of the creatures was at a much closer distance than before - a much younger looking thing ambling around on the grass. Its teeth ripped up a large chunk and it stood chewing contently. “Staggeringly sharp teeth for a herbivore.” Ada noted. Edward looked at her with mild surprise.

    “Right, where’d that other fucker get off to?” Berk was becoming increasingly irritated. “I did say their English was shit – I bet he didn’t understand a word I fucking said.”

    Ada realised only at that moment that the other guard hadn’t followed them. Edward nodded towards the fallen tree downfield. “What on earth is it they are they doing to that log?”

    “None o’ your fucking business is what, considering you should be drawing pictures.” Berk hesitated and inclined his head, taking in a breath, clearly guilty at his unnecessary outburst. He looked back up at Edward. “If you must know, they’re collecting samples on Alexander’s orders. He wants to know what the wood’s like for building materials. Those brown leaved trees don’t seem very good, but that one’s a different kind, looks a bit oaky, so we’re gonna see what he thinks of it.”

    The youngling creature waddled lazily in their direction. The rest of the herd grazed in quiet content. Zeta’s sun started the pull the sweat from Ada’s pores again. “Have you ever seen Reinhardt?” She found herself suddenly asking.

    Berk gave her an odd look. “Have I what? Where the bloody hell did that come from?”

    Ada bit her lip in thought. “It’s just everyone seems to mention Alexander and no one ever talks about his counterpart.”

    Berk looked up at the baking star in the sky, his eyes squinting against the fierce light. “I’ve seen ‘im. Not in person like. But I know what ‘e looks like. But it’s time to move on somewhere else, we’re not standing around here like target practice.”

    Edward started. “But don’t we need to identify the seventh body? There were only six back there!”

    “One of them was eaten, you saw the carnage.” Berk shrugged.

    Ada removed Edward’s arm from her shoulder and stepped forward. “But why would only one of them be eaten and not the rest?”

    “Maybe whatever ate them realised they don’t fucking like human.” He turned his gaze towards the sleepy trees behind them. “Where is that fucker?!” He cupped his hairy hands around his mouth to project his voice. “Listen lad! Come the fuck out here! I know you can understand me, your English isn’t that shit!”

    “My English is perfectly fine.” Came a strangely effeminate voice. Ada turned to see the guard marching from the trees, unwrapping the cloth from their face. “And if you’d pay more attention to your company you’d have noticed I’m a woman, not a lad.”

    The guard wasn’t lying – auburn hair fell from her head, framing a pale face with high, feminine cheekbones. Her eyes remained incredibly hard.

    “Bloody hell.” Berk seemed as surprised as Ada. “Is the other one a bitch too?!”

    “I don’t care.” She strolled between them, holding some form of remote device. “But you’re done here. I’ve activated a tracker: Alexander is going to have a forward base airdropped from the ship. Your cooperation has been most appreciated.”

    “Hang on I thought I was fucking in charge here.”

    “You seem to think a lot of things. But you’ve done your duty; now go back to the ship”

    “Are you going to look for the last person?” Ada asked.

    She gave Ada a hard look. After a moment she looked over Ada’s shoulder casually. “I have already identified them. I was the seventh person on the last expedition. How else did you think Alexander knew everyone was dead?”

    Edward studied her. Marco and the other guard were slowly making their way over. “I’ve seen you before.” He said. “You’re Joanna Raskova. You were in charge of the first group. I was in the crowd when we watched you leave. I didn’t know who any of the others were.”

    “I don’t care. You all have your assignments, I have mine, and right now that’s to escort you back.”

    The other two guards reached them. Marco gave Edward a friendly smile but Berk interjected before anyone could speak. “Sorry lads, looks like we’re done here and we’re going back, orders from queen bitch over ‘ere.” Raskova gave him an icy look.

    “Erm…guys, you might wanna take a look behind you.” Edward pointed into the field. Ada followed his trajectory past Berk and the newly self-appointed commander. She gasped, her skin tingling with goose bumps.

    The young cub was standing only a few metres away.

    From this close Ada could see the shape of its head – more equine than reptilian, like a horse head and a rhino head combined. Thickset yet oddly graceful. Even for a smaller version of the creature, its legs looked very powerful. Its arched back was almost as high as her shoulder, but despite its intimidating stature, the creature in all was quite peaceful, almost innocent looking. Ada had a strange admiration for the thing.

    Berk and Raskova backed away from it slowly, unsure of how to respond to its proximity. Marco stood vigilant, his crossbow raised ready for surprises. But the creature remained still and chomped happily at the grass beneath it.

    A wailing screech tore through the air from across the field. Ada’s head snapped up in horror. One of the creatures had noticed them, invaders on their territory, and this close to its young. Its body language was of extreme hostility, and after a moment’s pause it sprang across the field straight at them. Its speed was horrendously fast for a creature so large, easily at least twice Ada’s own height, and yet the grass swept by beneath it as swiftly as if it actually were a horse. The group fell back towards the trees, but Marco remained, covering their backs and standing ready to fire.

    Ada faltered on her retreat. The creature was approaching at a ferocious pace, yet the conflict was swelling inside her. Are we not the attackers here? Have we not encroached on their land? We have no right to kill one if we needn’t have to. We should be preserving the wildlife at all costs, or else we may well end up repeating the same fate the rest of our race met on Earth, surely?

    Marco raised his crossbow, aimed ready to plant a bolt in the centre of the beast’s forehead. “No! Marco! Don’t kill it!” She screeched.

    Edward stopped in his tracks, looking back at Ada with terror. “Ada what are you doing?!”

    Marco stared at her, panicking and caught completely off guard. Ada realised her mistake in an instant.

    Oh no, he’s going to die. I’ve killed him.

    She sprinted towards him with all her stamina and energy. The beast’s momentum was too great to change trajectory now as it ploughed straight towards Marco, maybe 50 metres away. It let out a terrifying shriek as it closed the gap in mere seconds, its jaws opened wide, displaying deadly rows of ivory razors.

    She barrelled into Marco, throwing them both several feet across the ground as the creature snapped past them, taking a furious bite out of the ground where they’d just been. Ada rolled over, struggling to breathe. She’d winded herself in the tackle.

    The gargantuan animal was regaining its composure, ready for another strike once it had acquired its target. Now they were both going to die.

    “Ada, get the hell out of there!” Came Edward’s desperate cry.

    The beast’s head snapped towards him, its teeth bared fully, saliva dripping from the corners of its mouth. Edward’s pale face lost all the remaining colour he had left in it. Instinctively he turned to run, but his limp made him falter, unable to gain much speed. Ada watched the enormous thing spring after him with horrifying velocity. He didn’t even dare look back.

    She saw Berk and the other guard coming back from the trees, frantically trying to aim their crossbows. They had to kill the beast now, Ada accepted. Better that thing than us, and certainly better that thing than Edward.

    Berk’s shot bounced off the creature as if it were made of rubber. Crossbows were not the best weapon in a situation like this, Ada realised hopelessly. Edward stumbled to one knee and threw himself quickly up again, stealing a glance at the creature only seconds behind him. He tried to run as fast as his adrenaline would allow him. It was all up to the remaining guard.

    The guard’s bolt hit the creature in its upper hind leg and sunk deep. It made no effect.

    “Edward!” Ada screamed despairingly. The hope drained from her entirely as the creature sunk its jaws around Edward’s neck. His body went instantly limp. The peaceful, innocent, stegosaurus-like, horse-like creature ripped Edward from side to side, his blood darkening the ground below.

    Piercing booms stabbed through the air, deafening Ada’s numb senses. She saw Raskova standing at the edge of the trees, a handgun held aloft, a hard expression plastered across her face. The creature swung Edward’s limp figure through the air and stumbled. Edward landed with a sickening thud a few metres from Ada’s position as the creature swayed and crashed to the ground, a dull groan wheezing from its dying lungs.

    Ada looked at Edward’s corpse. Complete ruin. She had killed him.

    Another life gone. Another death. Edward Jason Shumate.

    Thirty.





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    ShaunCarter19
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    Re: World Building Backstories

    Post by ShaunCarter19 on Mon Jun 06, 2016 2:12 pm

    Den’s eyes snapped open. He was staring into thick darkness. There twinkled no stars, glittered no moonlight. No owls hooted. No dogs barked.

    He felt his breath catch in his throat. Cold air was pinching his face.

    Something crackled to his left, he dared to look.

    Oh. Oh of course. Fuck.

    Reinhardt was sitting reading his book. The Spear’s co-commander had constructed a small campfire. The crackling had likely been embers chewing through a branch.

    Legs heavy as rock, Den moved towards the fire in a half-crawl. He kept his eyes on the fire; its timid light winked like an orange secret in the gloom of the forest.

    ‘You both ate too much, I have concluded.’

    Reinhardt was seated on the ground, but there was a log opposite the bearded man. Den settled onto it. The bark felt cold beneath his jeans.

    His arms clutched his stomach and he leaned forward. ‘What were those fucking things?’

    ‘Fruit, of a kind, I still suspect,’ Reinhardt said. ‘Alas, I’m not sure we ate them in the right manner. Too ripe, that’s for sure.’

    ‘My guts are chewing on themselves,’ Den groaned.

    ‘We managed about a mile’s walk after we had eaten them before Caila vomited.’

    ‘Caila! Where is she?’ Den looked hard at Reinhardt. He noticed that the flames danced against the man’s bare chest. Where’s his shirt?

    ‘She was asleep next to you. She’s still there.’

    ‘Where’s your shirt?’

    Reinhardt prodded the fire with a stick, stoked embers. Firelight lit the shadows of his cavernous eyes. ‘Caila was cold when you rolled away from her.’

    What? Den turned back towards where he had come from; he winced. His neck throbbed. The gloom swirled in front of him. Tree trunks, hulking and grey and outlined dimly in the firelight, seemed to be swaying like pendulums. You bastard. She's mine.

    He fell off the log and vomited onto the grass.

    ‘Would you like some water, Den?’

    Once his stomach had finished its lurched tugging, Den turned back and moved gingerly onto the log again. Reinhardt was offering a flask.

    ‘Thanks,’ he accepted and drank. Cordial and cold, the water slipped down his throat. He gargled and spat off to the left. 'What did you mean, rolled away?'

    ‘I suspect you were dreaming, my boy. You have both been asleep for...hmm. Some time indeed. I can’t be sure how long. As you can see, I own no watch. And I tried to tally minutes in the soil with this branch…’

    ‘But…?’ Den said.

    ‘A futile effort.’

    Den sighed. ‘What now? Shouldn’t we head back to The Spear? Won’t Alexander be concerned about you?’

    Reinhardt met Den’s stare. ‘While I appreciate your concern, Alexander won’t, I imagine, be overly concerned by my absence. Indeed, The Spear’s Identification Log will note me as absent still. But that is no matter. I was not expecting to return for at least another day.’

    A knot of tension rose in Den’s stomach; against the wretched post-vomit feeling, he felt like an emptiness gaped in his middle. What about me and Caila?

    Reinhardt smiled. ‘Fear not, dear boy. Your itinerary south was ratified by Alexander. I myself had mentioned that I would begin my search for a burial ground south of The Spear. He’s no doubt already deduced the outcome of our convergence.’

    ‘Is it even safe to be out at night?’ he felt ashamed to hear fear in his question. He was glad Caila was sleeping.

    ‘I have had no trouble thus far.’

    ‘You’ve been outside at night before?’

    ‘Oh, yes, dear boy. Now, I have a task for you.’

    Is it to vomit again? I think I can manage that. All over the campfire if I don’t react quick enough. ‘Go on?’

    Reinhardt reached for something and then tossed it to the side of the fire. It landed near Den’s feet in a muffled thump. Caila’s knapsack.

    ‘It would benefit us greatly, I believe, to make some extended notes on those cursed fruits.’

    Den stared hard at the knapsack. ‘This is Caila’s. She might not want us to go through her belongings.’

    ‘Ah, yes. You’re right. Perhaps you can use your notepad and pen instead, yes?’

    Den felt himself blush. ‘I uh…’

    Reinhardt smiled. ‘Indeed. Now, you don’t need to investigate the contents of her bag. Just reach in and feel for the notepad and pen, if it helps you.’

    Den unbuckled the clasps and did as requested. Groping blind, he felt those plastic bags first. One felt like it was dissilient with air. When he had the items, he re-buckled, opened the notepad onto the page after Caila’s most recent notes, and clicked the pen. He felt the tendons in his right hand go taut and then loosen up. When was the last time I held a pen?

    He moved the nib close to the page. Firelight bathed the paper in orange and shadow.

    It occurred to Den with a pang of nostalgia that he had always headed each page of his notepads with the day’s date.

    Day 20. Night.
    (No owls. No crickets. No animals at all.)
    Notes taken by Dennis Rothberg. (Caila’s asleep.)  


    It was the best he could come up with.

    ‘Okay, I’m ready.’

    ‘Then go ahead, dear boy.’

    Den looked up. Reinhardt was stoking the fire with the branch in one hand; his other hand scratched at wiry black chest hair.

    Lime-green fruit. Roughly the size of a watermelon. External skin hard. Following dissection by Reinhardt, we discovered the fruit to be seeded. Caila has collected her fruit’s seeds, presumably for analysis aboard The Spear.

    Internal skin soft and mushy, citric-y taste. Possibly led to stomach pains and vomiting. Reinhardt did not eat all of his fruit. Only half, I think. Seems to be less affected than Caila or myself. I ate all seeds. Wonder if they had any effect?  


    It could not have been more than a hundred words. Less than ten lines in Caila’s pad. Yet Den felt his head spinning. I feel…drunk. Yes, that was it. He felt drunk. Or, he supposed, more hungover now.

    ‘I suggest that, come the morning, you and Caila head back to The Spear and gather a sample of the fruit on your way back through the forest. There were plenty dangling on those lower branches. Alexander and his scientists will know what to do.’

    Den nodded. ‘Yeahhhh. I uh…’ His eyes closed. His head sagged against his chest. Eyes opening again, he felt the world spinning. ‘I…’

    He rose, feeling Zeta tilting beneath him.

    He turned towards the dark. Towards Caila. He needed to sleep.

    He lifted a foot to move—

    —tripped over the tenebrous log.


    *

    The sun carved its weapon of light through the trees and woke Den with the weight of its glare against his eyes. Instantly, his head felt sore.

    He groaned.

    ‘Ah, he’s returned!’

    Den pulled himself into a sitting position. ‘What happened?’

    Reinhardt spoke. ‘You woke during the night. After a brief moment of sobriety, you went dizzy. Perhaps from writing in the dark. You tried to go back to sleep, but tripped over the log. After that, you rolled around like a dog in the mud.’

    Don't call me a fucking dog.

    Den took a deep breath, and then wandered towards the pair of them. Caila was sitting on the log. Her hair was still tied up. She looked sickly. ‘You too, huh?’ she said.

    Den nodded ‘Waking up last night was clearly not a good thing.’

    ‘Would you like some tea?’ Reinhardt asked, pulling a hand through his wiry beard. Den gave the man a puzzled look.

    Caila chuckled lightly. ‘Seems like an odd question, doesn’t it? Are you going to sit down?’

    He treaded his way towards her and the log. He could see the imprint of his frame in the grass from his fall. He looked at her from the side. He could see sleep, or dirt, in one of her eyes. He wanted to tell her but was unsure how. Instead he asked, ‘Tea?’

    Plucking a long curly hair from his chin and lifting it before him to observe it, Reinhardt spoke, ‘When dawn broke, I decided that I would have a little wander. I concluded any potential terrors of the night had surrendered their opportunity to have at you. I headed further south.’ He flicked the hair into the embers. It fizzled. ‘The forest ends in roughly half a mile. The trees begin to change, in fact. Trunks brown, not grey. Leaves orange and yellow. And I even heard insects buzzing and chirping. Alas, I did not see any.’

    ‘I suppose it’s difficult to know what to look for,’ said Caila.

    ‘Quite right.’

    ‘And the tea?’ Den prodded.

    Reinhardt gestured to the fire, which was still crackling. Suspended on a makeshift spit was one half of the cursed green fruits. Its contents had been carved out and a pool of water was simmering, with a blue-petal flower swimming the narrow confines of the husk.

    ‘I found a stream south-east of here before the forest ended. And beyond the forest, a grassy plain stretches east-west. Hundreds of flowers the colour of this one greeted me with drooped heads. A beautiful cerulean sea.’

    All of this sounded peculiar to Den. He looked around. In the daylight, he noted that the trees closest to them were all enormous. Their canopies looked like a distant, syrup-coloured firmament. The sunlight breaking through gaps might have been a god. From higher branches than at the northern forest edge, globes of the fruit were dangling like lime lights. These higher branches seemed, to him, to suggest that the forest was not visited often by any wildlife. Otherwise the branches would be lower from tugging for the fruit, no? To him, it made sound sense. That it hadn't occurred to him the day before seemed strange. How strong was that fruit?

    ‘How did you get another fruit?’ Den asked. ‘They’re higher up, here.’

    Reinhardt’s eyes glowed. ‘My boy. I only ate half, and even of that half, don’t you recall I flung it away? Not to my taste. The art of experiencing indeed. Before we resumed our walk yesterday, you slipped away to "wet the grasses", yes? Caila sealed this second half of the husk in one of her plastic bags for me. I’m surprised you didn’t feel it when you acquired her pad and pen.

    ‘Anyway, I elected to pluck three of the flowers. I refilled my flask at the stream, and, when I returned, began heating the water and the petals just before Caila woke. We’ve both tried the tea. Caila?’

    Caila nodded. ‘Best tea I’ve had since Earth. Sort of like jasmine, but a little more spice. Try it, Den.’

    He reached towards where the fruit husk was hovering roughly twelve inches above the burning firewood. Thinking in inches felt awkward; it reminded him of being at high school. High school. Fights. Girls. Ah, Josie, you dirty bitch. Will you hate me if this girl turns out to be better than you? He could see his ex-girlfriend’s ice blue eyes in his mind. Her fair hair and the smattering of freckles on her face during the summer. Plain in a lot of ways compared to the women he had seen on the Internet. But sometimes it’s what you know, right, Jos? He could feel himself getting hard. He cupped the fruit husk in his hands. The underside of the outer skin was hot but not scalding. His right shoulder was alive with the sensation of Caila being so close. I wonder if she’s a virgin—

    ‘—well go on then, Den! Drink!’

    He blinked, and slowly lifted the husk to his mouth, taking care to not spill the tea. Tea trickled down his throat. Tiny snags of stem and petal infused in the water crawled through his mouth like flotsam through shallow tides. He had no idea what jasmine tasted like, but he detected something a little exotic. He licked his lips, handed over the husk to Caila. ‘You were right, it is a little spicy!'

    ‘Well, we still have one more flower to savour,’ Reinhardt said. ‘After that, we should head south. I found something this morning I think you’ll both want to see.’  

    ‘But you said we should get a sample of the fruit back to Alexander this morning?’

    Reinhardt blinked. ‘Well, if you insist. I suppose I can document the creatures that I found grazing in the plains myself…’

    ‘Woah!’ Caila said. ‘We’d love to come with you, right, Den?’ she brushed his shoulder again and smiled. It felt like a knowing smile.

    He met her gaze. ‘Of course, Caila.’ He smiled back. He was still hard. ‘I need to "wet the grass" again. I’ll be right back.’


    Last edited by ShaunCarter19 on Mon Jun 20, 2016 4:02 pm; edited 1 time in total

    BradSleigh
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    Re: World Building Backstories

    Post by BradSleigh on Tue Jun 14, 2016 1:32 am

    Ada stared down at the desk, her hands wedged firmly to the seat under the weight of her body. The room was claustrophobic compared to the spacious council chamber from so long ago, the very memory of its giant, airy taunts bringing back the sting of Edward’s comforting presence. She felt cool, the soft smell of old mahogany soothing her numbed senses, the still air threatening to break its tranquillity.

    She hadn’t cried yet. So far her tear ducts had stood firm. Perhaps she had spent enough on her lost family that her only friend in this foreign place did not deserve the privilege? A pitiful excuse, but who for? Herself? No one else cared. The ride back had been silent and awkward for those sitting around her. She had drawn her knees up to her collar and cradled them like a lost lover, but no one had said a single word. Raskova’s eyes had remained hard and fixed on the wall in front of her, Marco’s dipped in melancholy. Odd how she had stared so long at the bodies of the previous outing yet couldn’t bear to offer a glance at Edward’s canvas-wrapped figure strewn across the floor of the carrier.

    A cup was placed in front of her, the contents a dark liquid. The surface of the desk was otherwise bare save for a notebook, some form of remote and several pencils. Her head inclined upwards as Alexander sat in the seat opposite her side of the desk with a cup himself.

    “Drink.” He instructed. The command was gentle yet ironclad, but Ada only stared at him. “We appear to be in the peak of summer on Zeta, the heat seems to be getting to people. You need to refresh yourself. Drink.”

    Ada looked down at the cup again and slowly pulled a hand out from underneath her, reaching towards it tentatively. She lifted the cup to her lips and sipped. Wine. Incredible, rich wine with the strong flavour of berries and summer fruits, trickling thickly beneath her sternum.

    Alexander watched her curiously. “Zeta. I was hoping the name wouldn’t stick for long, and yet not one person has suggested an alternative.” Ada made no reaction. “I have read the reports that have been handed in by your companions. They don’t appear to contradict one another. It is clear we don’t have to go over the traumatic events that have transpired, and yet here we are.”

    Ada looked into his eyes at that. “I killed him.”

    Alexander met her gaze for a long moment. His eyes darted off to the side as he ran a hand across his now clean shaven cheek. “Perhaps. I did say I couldn’t promise you’d survive. Even still I did find it a rather surprising turn of events, but it is what it is and cannot be undone.”

    “Why did you send for me?” She droned. Bookcases waited patiently along both edges of her peripheral vision. A screen was mounted on the wall ahead over Alexander’s shoulder on standby. Her chair felt spongy against the thick, crimson carpet conquering the floor.

    “Would you have preferred to mope around in your personal chamber indefinitely? A waste of valuable time when you could focus that mess of emotions on something productive.”

    A wave of anger suddenly seized her. “Why did you keep secrets from us? The woman, you could have told us what she was there for, instead of taking us by surprise like that!”

    “You must forgive me for Captain Raskova’s behaviour.” Ada blinked as Alexander chuckled to himself. “Yes, she was a captain. But she runs a tight ship. And by that I mean she rides a small sail barge of which she is the only crew. But…she gets things done, and that makes her useful.”

    “But…why did you not tell us?!”

    “Because it did not matter.” Alexander’s eyes were suddenly hard. “I did not care who told you what. Your surprise is of no concern to me, for I trusted her to have the situation under control. It was not her sudden coup that resulted in those creatures becoming defensive, you were lucky it did not happen earlier whilst you were all divided in fact.” That much was true, Ada supposed. “You volunteered for something so I gave you an assignment. That is all you needed to know. Berk had his. Raskova had others. The list goes on.”

    “And if I’d have died as well?!”

    “Then you would have died.”

    That silenced her quickly. Alexander took a sip from his cup as Ada bit her lip, trying to make sense of everything. He set his cup down and leaned close to her. “It seems…Ada Wright…as if death follows you wherever you go.”

    Her head snapped up, her eyes wide. She tensed defensively. “What do you mean by that?!”

    Alexander leaned back in no hurry, cocking his head to one side. “Did you think I would not know?” Her gut contracted as the nausea of panic kicked in. “Edward, at least, had the courage to take it in his stride and give his authentic, real name for our records.” Breath caught in her throat. “Curious that someone as intelligent as yourself would make such a petty attempt and fake only your last name however. You seem so determined to bury the past, and yet you carry a great deal of it with you.”

    He slid his chair back and stood, sliding the remote into his hand and turning to the screen behind. He turned it on with a nonchalant gesture of the remote and looked back at Ada. Her eyes crawled over to the monitor with abject horror as she slowly realised the display was nothing other than an entire identity profile with her photograph stamped on it.

    Ada Bainbridge.

    She trembled. “But…how…?”

    “That is not an easy question.”  Alexander studied her as she contended for the worst poker face in history. “The shorthand version is that we built an independent server, Reinhardt and myself, and we info-dumped everything that the groundbreaking discovery called the Internet could offer us, to preserve the very foundation of human knowledge before Earth’s doom. Does it still exist on Earth? Well, maybe, but that matters not anymore. The hard data is all on our servers, which take up a surprising fraction of this ship’s space actually.

    “Ada is not a common name. I matched your face with anything the Internet could find along with the odd keyword, and what do you know, the results ended up being quite rewarding.” Ada tried to keep up as adrenaline swallowed her whole, anxiety threatening a fresh attack. Alexander sat down before her, opened his notebook. “I suppose falsifying even both of your names would have been fruitless in the end, but it did help me to find you faster. You and Edward have far more in common than either of you probably realised. Both of you studied at Harvard and went on to develop rather renowned careers in the area of nuclear physics, and as such were both involved in the lead up to the Earth’s demise. Your work was based in the military. You spent long periods of time away from home. Edward’s work was grounded in research, but that does not save either of you from holding a share of responsibility for what happened. If both of you had been killed out there, believe you me, there would have been no love lost.”

    Ada took a deep breath as she tried to compose herself. “You are not the only one who holds me responsible. I killed my family.” She hadn’t even been close when it had happened. “Just like I’ve killed Edward. I suppose his death brought you some happiness if that is the case.” She looked up into Alexander’s eyes, a hard resolve steeling her, her voice cool. “Was that your plan? Did you want us to die out there?”

    Alexander hadn’t moved or even blinked, his jaw in one hand as he listened to her. “I may be able to plan grand ventures Ada, but even that would have been a long winded sequence of events with far too many unpredictable factors. If you had died then fine, if not you would have continued your use being a terrible cartographer. Perhaps it might have been more useful if Edward had survived instead, but venturing out onto an alien planet would have only increased the probability of something happening to you eventually.”

    Ada’s head was swimming. She downed her cup and lent over the desk, head in hands. “I don’t understand why you’ve brought me here if all you wanted to do was tell me you hated me. If I’m to be sentenced to something then why haven’t I been presented to the council for trial?”

    He leant back again, his eyes not once leaving her. “I am the council.” Ada flinched; so much for a fair trial. “There are no others as of yet, there is only a fancy name and a fancy room where I assign people tasks. Therefore I alone decide what happens when Reinhardt is not present to give his second opinion. You are here because I wanted to ask you something - to see what use you could still be to me, rather than a liability to others. And believe me, you want to be of use, because Raskova is a cold bitch who sees unnecessary competition everywhere. She wants to out you as responsible for Edward’s death, she wants blood. I am giving you opportunity instead.”

    “What do you want from me then?”

    “I want to know why you stopped Sergeant Giordano from his taking his kill shot.”

    Marco, Ada realised. She had tackled him to the ground, hardly an accident. She took a deep breath, taking control of her composure. “It’s complicated.”

    “Try me.”

    She looked into his eyes. “I don’t know. We were on foreign soil on another living being’s territory. We couldn’t just go killing them. I felt if we started doing that we’d be no better than how we were on Earth, and if we didn’t make a stand on principle then we’d end up repeating all our past mistakes all over again.”

    “You are eager, then, to prevent human history from inevitably repeating itself?”

    “I guess that would be a better way of putting it…”

    Alexander’s shoulders seemed to relax a touch. “You have dangerous knowledge in your head, Ada Bainbridge. You and Edward both did. But you cannot suppress your past forever, for one day it will consume you, I can guarantee.”

    “I have to suppress it. There’s so much death I feel responsible for. And now here we are three weeks in and thirty dead already.”

    Alexander raised an eyebrow. “Thirty?”

    “Well…it was twenty nine…and then Edward…” Her eyes dropped with shame.

    He drummed his fingers on the desk for a moment. “Your naivety disappoints me.” He eventually said. Ada looked up in confusion.

    “What do you mean?”

    He stood up. “This small apartment is one of my many personal chambers aboard The Spear. Useful for quiet conversations like this pleasant chat we’ve just had. It is also quite conveniently nearby another room I would like to show you. Follow me.” He strode to a door behind her, pulling it open as she rose awkwardly from her chair, robbed of words.

    The corridor looked identical to every other corridor Ada had seen over the course of the last year, the only subtle differences being the variety of door patterns and turnings. She followed after Alexander sheepishly, the doors ticking by at a gradual rate, his steady pace presenting a man with no haste for anything.

    “I know it all looks rather samey.” He noted, reading her mind. “We didn’t have much time for interior design, I’m sure you can forgive my carelessness on that front.”

    Ada said nothing as they turned at a corner where the corridor forked off in opposite directions. The lighting was growing dimmer despite the same number of bulbs along the ceiling; perhaps the main bulk of power was being diverted to other parts of the ship for efficiency. Alexander turned towards a set of doors and they retracted, responding to his presence.

    “Here we are. Perhaps…not for the faint-hearted.”

    She followed him into a large, dark room, not unlike the ‘council’ chamber, and yet the atmosphere was completely different somehow. The walls were lined with large metal cabinets, an eerie glow illuminating from small light points in the low ceiling. A lot smaller than the chamber, Ada reassessed. In the centre of the room stood a metal table with a canvas lying over it, covering a long shape. She did a double take as she realised what the room was.

    A morgue.

    Her breaths rose in frequency as anxiety crept into her insides once more. “Why have you brought me here?!” She wheezed as her muscles tensed.

    “Try to relax. You seem to be suffering from some post traumatic stress.” Alexander faced her and rested his palms on her shoulders. “Though whether you picked it up here or back on Earth is anyone’s guess. Look into my eyes, and try to relax.”

    She focused on him, like she had focused on Edward an age ago, and swallowed the menacing panic. Alexander smiled.

    “Good. Now.” He turned back to the room and started to pace. “If someone approached me and told me that over the course of…let’s say…a year, that only thirty out of nine thousand people had died, I would have laughed in their face with sheer disbelief.”

    “But what…I’m…I don’t think I’m following?”

    He paused and looked at her with an understanding smile. “Please, Ada, even with the average mortality rate back on Earth at least seventy or so people would have to have died in a year.” He waved his arm around the room. “But we’ve been gone for over a year haven’t we?”

    Ada struggled to put the pieces together. “But the thirty…?”

    “Yes. “ Alexander nodded. “So generous of you to count for us. You see, as it happens, we’ve been quite fortunate with our standard of living aboard this vessel, and thus only around a hundred people have died during the lifespan of our voyage. To approximate. And this is a rather satisfactory figure. But it is a figure that has not been published.” Ada stared around the room, slowly realising the cabinets must be drawers full of bodies. “These deaths were expected, due to the nature of population mortality rates, but we did not want to spread any panic. However, once people started to leave the ship, there was nothing we could do to contain any deaths, and considering it should average out at one or two people a week, thirty is quite a worrying number for a calendar month.”

    “So…what? Are you saying you’ve been lying to us…?”

    “I suppose I am, in a way, but that’s not what matters.” Alexander dismissed, resuming his pacing. “I can assure you that three of those deaths were indeed natural and expected, and I can account for seven extra deaths from our outings into the wild.” Guilt stabbed at her gut again as Alexander pondered, stroking both of his cheeks with a single hand in one gentle motion. “I believe one person drowned, and there have been a few accidents if I recall correctly, but that leaves sixteen other people who have died. And we don’t know what killed them.”

    “What?! People are just dropping dead?! How has no one found out yet?” Ada had not been expecting this development. Even more curiously, why was she suddenly being confided in?

    “People are still far too fragile to go around asking questions, Ada. Only a small number still have their minds switched on, and you are teetering on the edge of that.” He stopped and observed the cabinets surrounding them. “I did not bring you here to talk about unknown deaths though. I already have a team looking into it; perhaps it's alien bacteria or a bad reaction to the slight variations of pressure in the atmosphere, maybe it’s just the heat. The research continues. I was buried in my own share of it when we first met, if you remember, but I did not bring you here to tell you about these mysteries. No, for you I’ve been considering a different use.”

    He turned to the table in the centre and lifted the canvas with an elaborate gesture, fully revealing the secret beneath. Ada’s gut wrenched as Edward’s corpse lay on full display, his throat a ruined mess, his face twisted in an eternal expression of agony. Alexander studied the mauled carcass, tutting to himself. “Such a shame. Raskova was hard to convince, she was adamant about declaring you as the cause of his death.”

    Fear and anger swirled inside her. She looked away from the corpse, not able to bear the sight of her own repercussions. The sight of the friend she had killed. A tear finally ran down her cheek. “I can’t…I don’t want to be here. The sight of those other six…the ones those creatures killed…that alone was too much.”

    “Those creatures did not kill the previous group.”

    Ada didn’t know how many more surprises she could take today. She looked up at the man before her, a distraught expression pasted over her raw exterior. “Then…what…?”

    “You needn’t worry about that. An airship has been sent out to the site and investigations are ongoing into what happened to those men, headed by Captain Raskova. I want you for something else entirely.”

    Ada squeezed her eyes shut, focusing on nothing but her presence in this dimly lit room, more tears following the first wanderer. “What, then?” She managed to croak.

    He gazed at her, his eyes hard. “I need people. People like you. People who have the potential to be loyal. But more specifically I could use engineers. It is true that I have plenty of those, but I want overseers who I can trust to follow my lead. We are bound by water at the north coast, so people will not stray far from the ship, but when we fully settle on the planet, we will leave the ship behind. And when we do, we will need power. I want your help to build a great generator, to centralise power through it: for the ship and for any outside electrical facilities we could possibly need. We must be prepared for whatever may come next should the seasons take a turn for the worst, and such a super generator will give us potential for expansion.”

    “So you’d more or less have a monopoly on power?”

    Alexander studied her. “That would be no different to how things were before. This would be for humanity’s very survival, you must know that. And if we do it this way, I can assure you, what comes next will mean human history will never repeat itself again.”

    She forced herself to look at the mangled body on the long table, weighing her options and slowly realising the opportunity being presented to her. The opportunity for what little redemption she could scavenge. Her eyes became hard once more. “I will do it.” She began. “Edward was a man of science. I will do it, but not because of that horrible woman's blackmail. I want to make up for what I did...I need to. To make sure that Edward’s death was not in vain.  I will do it for science and the advancement of humanity, just like he would have wanted.”

    Alexander’s gaze did not leave her. “Yes. Science. Well…that’s good enough for me, for now. You may join me in the ship’s library to further develop the plans we are currently undertaking, and thus we can begin the second phase of humanity’s transition. We have already started to test prototypes, you may have noticed some power shortages in parts of the ship, but there is far more work to come.”

    “What of these bodies? Will they be left here?” Ada had to know. She had caused so much death; to be surrounded by it now was starting to form an adrenaline rush through her veins.

    “Only the ones we need for autopsy and research. You needn’t worry about that either - for we already had a team assigned to deal with…corpse disposal. Reinhardt himself was leading such a peninsula of research. You may have noticed that he hasn’t been seen once since the curfew was removed and you were free to wander, not too long after we first landed. He is very…hands on, shall we say.”

    At last the great mystery surrounding that peculiar figure’s absence has been solved, Ada thought. “And after the generator is completed, then what? You mentioned something happening next?”

    “After that?” Alexander’s eyes glistened brightly as he grinned at her. “The sea.”


    -


    Thus ends Ada's introduction to the world of Zeta, and thus begins her journey as a cog in the great machine of events that follows humanity's colonisation of a new world.
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    ShaunCarter19
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    Re: World Building Backstories

    Post by ShaunCarter19 on Mon Jun 20, 2016 6:50 pm

    ‘Well, they’re not five-legged bears, but they’re certainly new to my eyes.’

    Reinhardt wasn’t wrong.

    The three of them had swallowed the southern edge of the forest with eager strides. Or, Den had. Every time Reinhardt stopped to verbalise how the trees were different in trunk thickness, or leaf colour and shape, or how the droning whirr and chirp of unseen insects intensified the closer they ventured to the north-south trickling stream, Caila would stop and speculate about the whys and hows.

    His seed spent on the dark bark of a tree trunk, Den, more interested in the creatures up ahead, found the girl’s behaviour strangely irritating.

    Reinhardt had not exaggerated about the sea of flowers. Petals all manner of blues and purples drooped and stretched atop an ocean of green stalks. Walking through the flowers, Reinhardt again took great pleasure, it seemed to Den, in pointing out that the purple-petals often bore thorny stems, whereas the variegation of blue flowers were less abrasive in appearance. Taller and radiating fresh scents that reminded Den of a host of sensations and images he had forgotten about; one scattered patch of turquoise plants bled a strong mint scent. He could feel his nostrils flare, and he rubbed more than once at his watering eyes.

    Their journey south through the plain of flowers involved a gentle gradation. Upon reaching a summit, the land had beckoned them to pitch down a slope. They had yet to do so, for the green plain beyond—awash with lush grasses, its air drifting north towards them, wet with the moisture of a river cutting again west-east—rested beneath three different species. Three enormous herds. None of them were Earth animals. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say I’m dreaming of fucking dinosaurs.

    There was, for a long sequence of breaths, an awed silence between them.

    ‘Did you come all this way, earlier this morning?’ Caila asked, staggered.

    ‘No,’ answered Reinhardt. He spoke slowly. Deliberately. ‘I barely waded into the flowers this morning. The long-tailed ones were to the east when I exited the forest. They were...picking fruit from the branches.’

    Fruit. Of course, the fucking fruit. Suppose that confirms that it’s edible…to an extent.

    The long-tailed creatures. Den tried hard to remember being a young boy. To remember playing with toy dinosaurs and watching television documentaries. Sauropods. Huge necks. Small heads in comparison. Thick-legged quadrupeds. Names came back to him. Argentinosaurus. Diplodocus. Brachiosaurus. But these beasts before him did not share all of those qualities. Despite their long necks and tails, their torsos were not the elongated, thick underbellies of Earth’s former stompers. These beasts here on Zeta, Den noted with wonder, had torsos he could only describe as being similar to a bear’s or a gorilla’s. Enormous, furry. The neck and tail bristling with dark brown fur. The heads of these hirsute beasts were wedge-shaped; that was obvious even from maybe three hundred paces away. Sort of what I imagine a dragon head to look like, he thought.

    ‘Long neck, long tail, and an enormous, vertical torso. They look like giant fucking sloths.’ Den’s words felt like candle flames in an awe-struck wind of silence. Even Reinhardt, to Den’s left, seemed staggered by their finding.

    Caila, on the other side of Reinhardt to Den, asked, ‘Were they definitely eating the fruit?’ The closest of these beasts, that Den could see from their vantage point, were sipping from the river, their elongated necks wavering in the distance as the muscles worked water down corridor-length throats.

    ‘If they found other uses for it, I cannot see any evidence on these plains. Though, my eyesight isn’t what it once was,’ said Reinhardt.

    ‘Herbivores of a kind, then?’

    No answer.

    ‘The river must be deep,’ Den said.

    ‘Indeed, a large enough herd could parch Zeta to its core, especially in this heat,’ Reinhardt’s voice, despite his wide-eyed stare of awe, was as grey as stone.

    ‘Surely this means that we’re in summer. This can’t be Zeta’s fucking winter.’

    ‘Not just that, Den,’ Caila said. She moved past Reinhardt towards him, before kneeling down with her notepad and pen. She began writing, further down the page Den’s drunken scribbles had stained. ‘We need some rain. Otherwise they really will drink the river dry. And that might take them north...’

    They met each other’s gaze. Den felt sweaty. He’d been wearing the same clothes for over a day. His black t-shirt clung to his clammy skin. His crotch felt wet. And between the three of them, there was likely a pungency. Zeta’s sun was, for the twenty-first day in a row as far as he was aware, leering down with the wrath of a god. ‘Reinhardt, any water?’

    The blonde, black-bearded man fumbled for the flask at his hip without taking his eyes from the creatures. He offered the flask.

    Sipping quickly, Den studied the other two species. If the giant sloth-bear-gorillas with their long necks and tails were species One, species Two could best be described as large, scaled chickens. The closest of these creatures, moving with quiet grace on two long, sinewy legs, were perhaps twice the height of Den. Their tails were short. Their skin scaly where the sloths bore fur. Too distant to identify claws. Their necks were perhaps the length of Den’s lower arm. Heads long and narrow. The sun seemed to beam in reflexion from their eyes. In this instant, Den watched one of the creatures. And if he wasn’t wrong, from the trajectory of the sunlight glittering towards him, the long, scaly thing was watching him back.

    Their most important detail, however, was the pair of membranous wings that seemed to fold like origami and tuck into their sides. He held the creature’s gaze as he sipped. Sunlight glinted off the metal flask, and the creature spun and fled south, its legs seemed to spin on a pivot, such was their speed. After a moment, its wings unfolded and—thin as onion paper from the look—they began a whirring flap. The creature soared south for less than a dozen heartbeats before settling to land amidst a large number of its kind. It dipped its head to, presumably, pluck at grasses. But Den felt sure that the beast spared a furtive look back towards this hilltop. He looked away.

    ‘The flying ones. That look like scaly giant chickens. And seem to be just as twitchy.’

    Caila looked up at him, her left hand’s fingers seeming to contract and stretch of their own accord. She had already written two pages of notes. ‘What about them?’

    Den swallowed. ‘I reckon them, and the long ones. I reckon they’re part of a joint-herd.’

    ‘Huh?’

    Den shrugged. She was looking at him hard. Her onyx eyes searching him. ‘Well. The scaly ones have got wings. And, if I’m not losing my fucking mind out in this heat,’ he sipped water for effect, ‘then one of them was trying to have a staring contest with me. That would suggest pretty good eyesight. Deft, in fact. Deft eyesight. Fast legs and able to fly. Yet thin.’

    ‘And,’ Reinhardt offered, scratching his beard while he watched the mass of creatures on the grasses below, ‘much less robust in stature.’

    ‘Uh. Yeah. So thin.’

    Reinhardt turned to look at him. ‘What was that, my boy?’

    Den stared at the older man. Is he fucking losing his mind?  ‘Nothing.’ He looked down at Caila again. He realised that he could see down her blouse from this angle. He could feel himself stirring again. Her breasts were surprisingly ample beneath the loose blouse. Sweat was twinkling on her arms and her forehead. I bet she loves it on her knees. Just you wait, Caila. I know a thing or two—

    ‘—Carry on, Den.’

    He blinked. She was waiting for him. He smiled. His teeth felt dirty. He quickly shut his mouth. ‘Well. Keen eyesight. Able to flee quickly. Okay, I can’t see if they have sharp teeth or claws or talons or just thick hoofs, but I remember a documentary from when I was a kid about one type of dinosaur that acted as…like a scout, able to detect predators from greater distances. And its species lived harmoniously in a herd with a bigger species. Maybe like a stegosaurus. I can’t remember. I was four, maybe five. I just remember jarring details.’

    ‘And the biggest species could offer protection in numbers.’

    ‘Exactly,’ Den said. ‘Co-existence, of a kind. ‘They probably have some piercing squawk that they make when they sense danger’s near, and that rallies the big ones.’

    ‘Well, if you’re right about one, or more, spotting us, they haven’t raised any kind of alarm, it doesn’t seem. Which must be a good thing.’

    Den nodded. She was his again. The old man was lost in his crazy thoughts. He had her full attention. ‘You’re right.’ He grinned at her. Caila smiled back, and then began scribbling away at her notes.

    Den gave the giant-neck and long-tailed sloth creatures another glance. He counted sixty-seven of the beasts. A sizeable portion were necking the crystalline river, spread out along the winding meander that cut through the plain. A group were working at a copse of trees to the south-east. These trees were brown-trunked and hulking. Their leaves like ripe bananas. He couldn’t see from this distance if they bore fruit or whether the leaves themselves were being eaten. The beasts seemed able to go between standing two and four-legged. Makes getting near the trees easier. Meaning they are definitely the food gatherers. And both are herbivores, like Caila said. Less robust-looking members of their herd, cubs perhaps, were massed in a group south-west of the river, sentinelled by the scaly flyers. Cubs at play? This is all so fucking surreal. It’s like a film. Or a video game. Gran. Gus. You won’t believe this. I know you fucking won’t, gran, you daft old bitch. Mum. Dad. Lucy. I’m standing on a hill staring at what I can only describe as a dream where you get animals and dinosaurs mixed up. This is where we are. This is Zeta. This is what Alexander, everyone’s big hero, and his bat-shit-crazy hermit counterpart have led us to. How are we meant to co-exist with these enormous creatures? What if they’re not herbivores, but omnivores?

    He stared again down Caila’s blouse. I want you. I want you on this grassy hill. Naked. Me on you. We can tell this old bastard to piss off and we can…

    ‘I don’t think,’ Reinhardt was saying, ‘It would be wise for us to have The First Graveyard in this vicinity…’

    ‘I think you’re probably right,’ Den said without thinking about it. He thought about the fruit. Its soft flesh. He felt hungry. Watching the scaly flying creatures had reminded him of chicken. There was plenty of processed chicken aboard The Spear. Gran could be a boring old crone, scared to death of this whole situation and refusing to leave The Spear, but she was a boring old crone who knew how to cook. Maybe I’ll find that Anise woman, and get some of her recipes for Gran. A spicy curry. Sauce dripping down my throat. Oh, sweet piss. I’m starving.

    ‘How would you describe the third species?’ Caila asked.

    This third creature was furthest away in terms of physical distance. Whatever they were, they moved gracefully, with a kind of purpose, it seemed. Hulking in form, lumbering between river and grass, seeming content in their sombre gaits. Even so far away, their massive bodies appeared to sway to Den’s eyes. Knotty bumps ran the length of the spine of their horizontal torsos. Their flesh, or fur, for it was difficult to discern, varied between hues of grey and brown. More likely fur, given the colour. Sort of like really hairy stegosauruses. Thick heads and stumpy tails completed their look. Despite grazing on the same plains as the harmonious species, these gargantuan beasts seemed content to mingle only amongst their own kind, sipping the southern wind of the river. Again, they grazed on the grasses. Again, that didn’t rule out the possibility of omnivorous biology.

    ‘Den?’ Caila’s voice penetrated his thought.

    ‘Tell you what,’ Den began, ‘you’ve done all the work so far. Give me the pad and pen and let me ease the strain on your hand, eh?’

    He watched her study him. She looked tired. No doubt she was hungry, just like him. He offered an exchange: the flask for her writing tools.

    Caila smiled and accepted. She looked past him. ‘Den. Where’s Reinhardt?’

    ‘Huh?’ He turned to his left. Caila was right. The old man was gone. He looked back down the gradual rise of grass. Nothing. No distant figure’s white shirt blowing in the wind. No sprouting mess of blonde hair.

    ‘Where the heck has he gone?’

    ‘I…’ she stopped. ‘He didn’t say goodbye. Did he?’

    ‘No.’ Den sighed. ‘Well, he’s a bit of an enigma. Isn’t he.’

    Caila smiled. ‘Perhaps he’s gone to put his boots back on.’

    He laughed. Then he looked at the metal tin in her hands. ‘We’ve still got his flask…’

    ‘It’s empty now. But yes, we have. We can give it to him when next we see him, I suppose.’

    ‘You think we’ll see him again?’

    ‘Surely,’ Caila said. ‘You’ve met him now. Once you meet him in person…you recognise him instantly the next time it happens.’

    ‘You’ve met him before, haven’t you?’

    Caila went quiet. Blushed. Nodded.

    ‘When?’ he could feel jealousy rising within him. The baking heat seemed to be conspiring to increase his temper.

    Caila pursed her lips and stood up. ‘Tell you what,’ she began, ‘let’s head back to The Spear. We’ve got a lot to report here. Alexander will surely be interested when we debrief in the morning.’

    He started. ‘The morning?’

    She shouldered her knapsack, tucking the flask into a pocket. ‘Let’s get back aboard. Freshen up. Then, meet me in the mess hall and we’ll talk about how I met Reinhardt. We'll talk over some hot food. Sound good?’

    I can think of better things to talk about. But fuck. A date’s a date, right. And that’s what this is.

    He smiled and nodded. They set off.

    That’s what this is.


    *
    Standing motionless, the winged, scaled creature blinked its vertically-slitted eyes. Eyes that had dried with fear. From its scaled hide, oils began to exude across its skin, the scent drifting out across the herd. Its scent was a message. An exhalation of relief.

    For the interlopers had finally retreated.

    It ducked its aching neck, and carried on grazing.
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    ShaunCarter19
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    Re: World Building Backstories

    Post by ShaunCarter19 on Thu Jun 23, 2016 4:41 pm

    He’s your boy now, Dennis. You have to look after him. And your grandmother, too. They’re yours. Promise me, Den.

    I promise—

    ‘—Den?’

    Light clawed at the edges of his vision like a demon creeping out of a wardrobe. His eyelids felt heavy. Thirst gripped his throat like an iron first.

    I promise.

    ‘Den?’

    No…just a few more minutes. There was a weight, pressing on his chest, his leg.

    ‘Den, you’ve got some kind of summons, man. Get up. Fuck.’

    His eyes widened, stretched like a rack victim. Caila! Shit.

    ‘What time is it?’

    ‘Dude. Fuck knows. We’re on a different planet, man. Here.’ Jared tossed something at him. Or tried. It was, Den realised, a paper note. It floated onto his clothed torso like a drifting feather.

    He reached and clutched the note. ‘I mean,’ he tried again. ‘Is it still today? The day I came back, I mean.’

    Jared had his Electronic Nicotine Device, END, between his lips. He’d seated himself at the far end of Den’s bed, the bottom bunk. He was untying a boot lace. When he had pulled the knot free, he brought a hand to the END, inhaled a lungful, and pulled it away. He gave Den a hard stare. Den frowned, then scowled; for he knew what came next: Jared blew rings of spearmint-scented vapour his way. Jared laughed. Den wafted a hand.

    ‘Back on Earth,’ Jared had explained, the first day they met aboard the ship, ‘I used to smoke like a fucking furnace.’ Cigarettes were prohibited aboard The Spear. Aboard all spacecraft that had been in commission, back when, Den presumed. ‘Praise Alexander and that other guy for getting their techies to make these vents so powerful.’ Jared, even on Day One of the Exodus, hadn’t been wrong. There were plenty of smokers walking The Spear’s banausic metal corridors and dwelling in the various canteens and lounging areas available. Many, just as had been the case on Earth, needed to smoke. Despite the trauma of Earth’s final breaths, the exploitation of addiction had still been a thriving business. END’s products offered a multitude of scented filters that were attached to the cylindrical tubes. Even the tube cases came in different colours.

    Den had never smoked in his life. But the scent of peppermint was one tinged with nostalgia for him. It’d been his mother’s favourite filter. Each time Jared smoked, home threatened to invade his thoughts.

    Yet those scents never lingered long. The ship’s vents seemed to be the greatest smokers of all.

    ‘Nah, fella,’ Jared said. You must have been crackered. I came back in the evening and you were as you are now. Sprawled on your unmade bed in your dirty clothes. You need a shower. You reek.’

    ‘Thanks, Bunkie.’ Den shook his head at his fool bunkmate, and read the note.

    Dennis Rothberg. Please report to Debriefing Room 17. East Wing.
    (P.S. If you get lost, follow the lights. You’re expected.)

    A.


    ‘Follow the lights…?’ he said, bemused.

    ‘Say what now, Den?’

    He looked up. Jared was studying him. His face was a mess of scraggly beard and cheeks of scoured acne that he wouldn’t let heal. His cropped brown hair was curtained just left of centre. He didn’t seem about to get off Den’s bed.

    ‘Nothing,’ Den said. ‘I need to get up. Gotta debrief for…’


    Jared inhaled again. Exhaled. ‘What?’

    ‘…yesterday.’

    The images of the creatures came flooding back. The giant sloth-like beast with the large, vertical torso and its elongated neck and tail. The raptor chicken with its scales and its keen eyesight. And the huge, lumbering ones that had dwelt far in the distance, looking like a cross between a stegosaurus and a camel. Strange creatures on a strange land. But no. That’s not true, is it. They didn’t arrive by fucking spaceship, did they. Technically we’re the foreigners. And whatever we do next…

    Ah, jeez. I’m starting to sound like Caila.

    Or worse, like fucking Reinhardt.

    I must have fallen asleep as soon as I got back in here. Well, actually no. I fired off an excited round first, didn’t I. That much I remember. Wanted to make sure it wasn’t over too quick with Caila.

    Instead, I fell asleep straight after like some old fucker. Does that mean I stood her up? Huh. Guess it does. Make her sweat for it a little, Den.


    He got up. Gathered clean clothes from the metal-encased drawer to the left of the silver bunkbed frame, and headed towards the nearest bathroom facilities. For theirs was not an en suite.

    **

    Clean and fresh beneath a plain back t-shirt and black jeans, Den made his way towards the East Wing of The Spear. Not long into his peregrinations, he ascended a spiral staircase, bannister and steps both made of stainless steel, with an oblong wedge of navy carpet fitted into the surface of each step to create friction. He crossed an open bridge, beneath which were three classrooms, partitioned by single walls. The walls were grey. All three teachers were female. One woman was pointing at a projected screen with her hands. Gesturing at a block of text too distant for Den to read. The pupils were maybe eleven or twelve. Just older than Gus, by the size of them. Difficult to tell, of course, since they’re sitting down, I s’pose. He didn’t bother to glance over long at the other two classes, instead nodding at a man coming towards him with a large clothes bin. It rolled forward across the carpeted floor, leaving faint tracks in its wake. Its walls were thin sheets of titanium bolted together, with a floor and wheels underneath that. Den dropped his sweaty clothes into it. He wouldn’t see them again, after they’d been washed, but they’d be distributed to anybody who needed new clothes for whatever reasons people still had, a year on. Some bastard’ll have need of ‘em, though. Bet having clothes disposals and these distribution opportunities was Reinhardt’s idea. Bet he got that oversized fucking shirt from bin-searching.

    For a short while at the beginning of The Spear’s voyage unto the tenebrous dark of Space, Den had volunteered—just as the silver-whiskered man who was now rolling the cart away behind Den had volunteered—to push the cart around The Spear’s free access zones. It was startling, he had thought, however long ago it had been before he stopped volunteering, how many clothes some people had managed to get aboard with them; and how much of it, untarnished, was being discarded. Or, he supposed, offered as charity.

    Fuck. I’m thinking like Reinhardt again. Is this what he does, sits and makes you start thinking about things from more than one fucking perspective while I get drunk off some stupid fat fruit.

    Weird. Things I saw yesterday. How few people on this ship have any clue what I know.

    He delved deeper into The Spear, finally reaching the zone labelled on the wall-maps as Operations. He passed through an automatic glass door, and the grey corridor’s dim lights—small freckles of pale yellow luminescence peering furtive from the ceiling, all at once began to glow brighter. He walked straight ahead. Turned left, walked. Then left again. Then a right. All the while, lights grew brighter as he neared them. Turning back, he was certain that the lights he had moved beyond were once more shining only timidly. Finally, having noted doors 1 to 16, he arrived at Debriefing Room 17. The door was a block of, he was shocked to discover, grey metal. The number 17 had been laser-burned into the door at roughly the height of Den’s chest. He rapped his knuckles against the door.

    The door slid to the left as Den faced it, disappearing into a gap in the wall. A woman sitting at a desk regarded him with a flat expression. ‘Enter.’

    Den swallowed, and walked through the portal. Pale walls. Pale ceiling. Small, bright lights. A navy carpet. A computer screen attached to metal brackets protruding from the ceiling. No expenses afforded. The woman’s desk was burdened by a large computer screen. She was rattling her well-filed nails against the keyboard while maintaining his gaze. On her left, and his right, a tower of neat files rose higher than Den. On her right were three coffee mugs. The scent was pungent, flaring his nostrils.

    Still, she held his gaze. Her eyes were ice blue, ensconced within tired eye-sockets. Her hair was blonde and tied in a bun. Her nose hooked. Her cheekbones high and tight. She was wearing a black suit. ‘Have a seat, Mr. Rothberg.’ He presumed she meant the chair on the other side of her desk. He moved round and onto it. The metal surface was cold under his jeans. He rested his hands in his lap, out of her sight. They were shaking. You remind me of somebody. He noticed that all three coffee mugs were empty.

    ‘I’d half-expected Alexander to be debriefing me,’ he said. He laughed lightly.

    ‘Alexander has important matters to attend.’ She looked at her screen. She seemed to purse her lips as she read whatever the screen beheld.

    Not one for jokes then, huh. Alright, bitch.

    ‘Ah.’

    She looked at him for another moment. ‘Indeed.’ She typed something, and the computer screen behind and above her beeped. A red dot light flashed and the screen lit up Den’s face. His name was next to it, along with his date of birth and other basic information. I wonder if anybody tried to fabricate their identity.
     
    ‘Recording in progress. Day Twenty-Two. Operation Cat-Finder. Debriefing Room 17. Interviewer Ms. C. Syrna. Interviewee Mr. Dennis Rothberg.

    ‘Mr. Rothberg—’

    ‘—Call me Dennis.’

    Syrna blinked and frowned at him. ‘Mr. Rothberg, my notes delineate that your mission external to The Spear has been focused on detailing intelligence on the region’s local fauna. Is this correct?’

    Den took a deep breath. No shit with this woman. But I bet she’s a dominant bitch in the bedroom. Play it cool, fella. As Jared would say. ‘That is correct, ma’am.’

    She gave him an inquisitive glance, then returned her focus to her computer. ‘The External Volunteering Operations Log has tied you to a Ms. Caila Forjoe. Do you know this lady?’

    Do I? There’s a tree trunk with my desire for her painted on it. ‘I do. Caila and I set off south of The Spear on Day Twenty.’

    ‘Please expand on the details of Day Twenty. Please remember to articulate clearly and in as close to chronological order as possible.’ Her voice whirred like a kitchen machine, but he knew this was just a front. He could sense the untapped energy across the desk. Especially after all of that coffee.

    He outlined Day Twenty. He mentioned everything he could remember. The scorched trees just south of The Spear and their bed of ashes. The boulders near the river. The lichen Caila had noted. Reinhardt. The fruit. He noted that the riverbank had been packed with clay on the crest. All of it felt like describing somewhere on Earth.

    Until he mentioned Day Twenty-One.

    ‘Drunk, you say. Could you elaborate?’

    ‘What, have you never been drunk?’ he chuckled and offered a smiled.

    Syrna stared back at him. ‘No.’

    ‘Well, perhaps I could show the whole debacle to you one time.’ And here we go.

    She frowned. ‘I asked you to elaborate, please, Mr. Rothberg.’

    Den stared at his hands. Sweat glinted off seamed palms. 'It wasn't drunk, exactly...' he trailed off. Syrna did not speak, no doubt more out of some trained protocol concomitant with her profession than through a sense of compassion. 'I don't remember falling asleep, on Night Twenty,' he resumed, 'but I woke up midway through the night. From what I remember, I didn't have any kind of hangover in that moment. Everything was vivid. I was lucid. Reinhardt was still awake. Caila asleep.'

    He remembered Reinhardt's words: Caila was cold when you rolled away from her. Den frowned, focusing on the network of lines scored into his palms. Yet, the more he stared, the more his own flesh merged in his vision, until all he saw was two pads of flesh. He had no recollection of embracing Caila, a day and a night ago. There was no searing feeling of belonging gnawing at him, no matter how momentary; that feeling even Den had known, back with Josie, when everything that mattered to him had been happening on Earth, and not this scorching substitute.

    'I sat down with Reinhardt, and we spoke very briefly. He suggested I that I make a note of what we knew, or thought we knew, about the fruit we had eaten. I got Caila's pad and pen-'

    '-Where was your own recording equipment, Mr. Rothberg?'

    He looked at the blonde woman. Her cheekbones were so high and prominent that he couldn't decide whether she had a fresh elegance to her face, or instead a much more severe cast. He wondered at her nationality, her family. Syrna. Doesn't seem British. Or American. Eastern European, maybe?

    'Honestly, Ms. Syrna, I didn't have any writing equipment with me.'

    'Why not?' her voice was fast, severe.

    'I'd forgotten to really prepare on the morning of Day Twenty, when Caila and I set out.' He thought back, two days ago. There had been an argument again. Gus had asked if, when Den returned, they might go out, beyond The Spear, just so that Gus could see their new planet for himself for the first time. Their grandmother had been in agreement, but had passed up the opportunity to leave the room that she and her youngest grandson shared. Of Den's four grandparents, Elouise Rothberg had always been the one he struggled to get on with most. She never laughed at any of his jokes. She was always more impressed with Lucy than Dennis. And since Gus had arrived, ten years ago, she had devoted more of her familial energies to him than anybody else. Her fucking protege. But for what had she been hoping for him? Not this. Nobody expected this. Never mind fucking hoped for it.  

    Den had been against the idea of taking little Gus for a grand tour of another planet's grass and trees, citing plans with Jared. Very quickly, the conversation became burdened with heavy words like family, responsbility, duty. Words that descended like black smogs into their discourse, until Den turned away from Elouise, and, because he was the easier target, gave Gus a hateful glower, hoping his eyes would burn away his nagging brother's needs.

    Gus had silently begun crying. And Den had departed with guilt burning inside his gut like a knife wound. He had forgotten to return to his own bunk to gather his things. Caila had said nothing. Perhaps she thought I was some crackpot who would remember and recite everything I'd seen when I finally got to a journal.

    He glanced into the icy pits of Syrna. She was well-trained at this, he supposed. Not a journal, just a scary woman and her computer. Shit.

    Syrna nodded. 'Please continue, Mr. Rothberg.'

    'For fuck sake, please call me Dennis.'

    She stared at him. If he had affected her then she revealed nothing. 'Dennis,' she said, seeming to taste the name, as if she hadn't really said it earlier.

    Den's palms clenched into fists; he watched himself strain his knuckles until they turned snow white. He spoke of what happened after he had written in Caila's notepad. The sense of vertigo. Of needing to vomit. He recalled tripping over a log, and chuckled lightly. Syrna looked at him and he surprised himself when his laughter didn't buckle under the assault of her gaze. He realised that he didn't care about this woman. She was nobody to him. She was just an amalgamation of features. Just like Caila, fuck, just like Josie. None of it lasts. None of it means anything. Or is scripted.

    And he knew that this sudden mental fortitude had strengthened him many times before, only to later forsake him when his need grew.

    He told Ms. C Syrna and her recording equipment about the morning of Day Twenty One. The blue flowers that Reinhardt had gathered to make tea. 'Like jasmine, apparently. I haven't a clue what jasmine tastes like.' He detailed their delving further south, and of how the tree trunks changed shape, and their leaves their hues.

    And he spoke of the beasts. He said the phrases 'elongated neck,' 'vertical torso', 'scaled', 'horizontal and lumbering'. His hands twisted and extended the space before him as he tried to gesticulate, for himself more than for Syrna, what exactly he was describing.

    'How did seeing these new creatures make you feel?'

    Den blinked. 'What?'

    'Do not be alarmed, Mr. Roth-Dennis. I am not some kind of therapist. It is just another question I am under obligation to ask for research and consistency purposes. How did seeing these new creatures make you feel?'

    Den slouched in his chair. He let his arms fall down by his sides and suddenly he felt that this might be how an ape might sit, or a chimpanzee, all relaxed and limp.

    'You know. I hadn't even given those feelings much thought myself.'

    She waited.

    'Awe,' Den said. He had tried to say it with finality. Was unsure how successful he had been. 'I think I was awestruck. I mean, yesterday I saw three species of animal, or creature, or whatever, that...that barely any other human being left alive knows about. That's fucking insane.'

    Syrna suddenly began scratching the back of her left hand; Den noted that there was a sore-looking patch of red, welting on her flesh. She scratched vigorously. Her long-nailed fingers undulating over the blue of her veiny, thin flesh. The action made him feel nauseated.

    'Your sense of individuality created through complete coincidence aside,' she said, an agitation tinging her voice, from him or her eczema, he could not be sure, 'did you feel threatened by their presence?'

    Den shrugged. 'Immediately? It was a dizzying feeling. Big herds of beasts that look nothing like what I've ever seen before, grazing on stretches of unpolluted green land? It was like watching a dinosaur documentary where they recreate a scene using CGI.'

    'Do you think that your experience in studying for one year at university on a course entitled Animal Conservation assisted you in your adapting to the sight before you?'

    Well that's a fucking curve ball. How the piss does she know I only got through my first year before all this went down? Ah, I guess they know everything within the belly of this stupid ship.

    He nodded. 'Maybe. But it wasn't a case of me standing on that hilltop and applying any real skills that I'd learned back on Earth. Animals are interesting. I just described them in my head as best I could so that...so that I could maybe try to make them relatable. Does that make sense...?'

    Syrna had stopped her wild scratching. The nails on her right hand were speckled crimson. She opened a drawer on her side, and began applying cream from an unlabelled bottle onto the red welt on her hand.

    'Are you alright?' Den asked.

    'Eczema. I am unable to control my flareups. I apologise if I have discomfited you.'

    Den shook his head, watching her rub the cream against the flesh. She winced as her fingers circled the eye of the welt's storm. 'My mother had eczema. I get it. She used to turn into a strawberry when she had a bad week at work.'

    Syrna's rubbing stopped. They made eye contact, and suddenly the blonde interrogator was chuckling. Laughing. Shaking uncontrollably.

    I guess she's another strawberry, he thought, remembering his mother's penchant for volatile moods when she was stressed and her arms were lambent with red.

    After two or three minutes of Syrna laughing, she finally remembered to hit STOP on the recording device.

    'Apologies, Dennis. I...' she sighed. 'I'm not a very socialable person, as you might have noticed.'

    Den waved a hand, 'No...'

    'Your debriefing is essentially complete. Alexander's main request was for a description of each of the creatures you encountered. The descriptives you have used match Caila's own word choices, so it is fair to say that you aren't lying.'

    'Maybe we're both lying?' he jested.

    Syrna's severe look returned. Those ice blue eyes pierced him like spars.

    'When did you debrief Caila?'

    'Earlier today,' Syrna stated.

    'Did she say where she was going afterwards?'

    'She did not. However, Alexander had requested her presence in order to further discuss the details of the exotic fruits and the tea.'

    'Is that expected of me?'

    Syrna shook her head. 'Unfortunately, considering your inability to discipline yourself and keep your logging equipment with you at all times, Alexander has asked that you be removed from your role of Fauna and Wildlife Documentation. Your lack of preparedness has been seen, by Alexander, as a flagrance of liability.'

    Den felt himself go cold. He felt sick. 'I'm...fired?'

    Syrna winced. 'Technically yes. However, not long before you arrived, I received a computer missive from the Bridge. Reinhardt has requested your presence.'

    Den rocked forward in his chair. 'Reinhardt's back aboard The Spear? Isn't that a little notorious for him?' He realised that he was excited at the mention of the man's name. And that annoyed him.

    Syrna shook her head. 'The missive simply states the following: "Please ask my dear boy Dennis to meet me where my shoes are." The note that was given to the Bridge to then be transmitted electronically to me must have been brought in via somebody else for Reinhardt. Reinhardt's identity hasn't been logged back into the security system as ABOARD since we lifted the curfew, six nights ago.'

    'Well,' said Den, lost for words. 'Alright then. I guess I'd best go find him.'

    'Thank you for your honest debriefing, Mr Roth-Dennis. Or, at least, I hope it was honest. Maybe you and Miss Forjoe did both fabricate the whole matching story.'

    He nodded, standing up. Suddenly, this woman seemed attractive again. There was something about a woman with a hooked nose. 'My pleasure.' He bit his lip and headed towards the door.

    'And, Dennis?'

    He halted. Turned. Syrna was standing. 'Yeah, Ms. Syrna?'

    'Thank you...for making me laugh.' She gave another strange chuckle.

    He smiled, and left.

    **

    Infuriatingly, he found Reinhardt's brown boots before he found Reinhardt. The boots hadn't moved from where he'd dropped them. The laces were frayed and whatever brown material they were made of looked worn and old. They were probably the lunatic's only pair.

    'Ah, my dear boy Dennis!'

    Dennis turned back towards the north, from whence he had come. Reinhardt was a dozen or so paces away. A book in one hand, a bottle in the other.

    'I didn't expect to be seeing you again quite so soon,' Den tried. Without Caila, this encounter might play out differently. He resolved to be cautious.

    'Indeed, I find it difficult to expect anything at all these days.' Reinhardt, still wearing his oversized white shirt and his sand-tanned shorts, moved towards Den. He carefully set down the bottle in between them. It bore no label. The bottle's glass was smoky green. Den could smell the alcohol both on Den's breath and emanating from the glass neck. Rum?

    Reinhardt offered his hand. Den took it, shook it. The older man's hand was hard and calloused.

    'Would you care to sit with me, Dennis?'

    'Call me Den.'

    Reinhardt's bearded, lined face did something that might have been a smile. 'Den.'

    'Sure.

    They both sat, and Reinhardt took a quick swig from the bottle. The liquid sloshed inside. Den realised he was thirsty. Zeta's sky was cloudless. The air hot.

    'Rum?' Reinhardt offered.

    'Uh. Sure...but. Oh. That reminds me. Caila still has your water flask...'

    Reinhardt produced the stainless steel flask from within his left sleeve. 'This? Why, I was able to retrieve it this morning, Den. However, you offend me. It is not a water flask!'

    'It had water in it yesterday.'

    'Necessity, my boy. I thought we were making progress in understanding necessity?' Reinhardt's eyes glowed. His hair was greasy and streaked with grass. What have you been doing, you crazy bastard?

    'Well, whatever then. When did you see Caila?'

    Reinhardt took another swig, before finally handing over the bottle. 'Why, when I retrieved my flask, of course.' He also offered the flask. 'Brandy?' he unscrewed the cap; the brandy bore a peach scent to it, and it stung Den's nostrils. He grimaced.

    'I'm fine. Rum's fine. Haven't had rum since uni...'

    'Ah, yes. University. Animal Conservation, I believe?'

    Den scowled. 'Everybody seems to know my past.'

    'Not everybody, my dear boy. Just the people who need to. Yes?'

    'Animal Conservation,' Den affirmed.

    'And was it the course for you?'

    Den sipped rum. It burned his mouth, left a dryness at the back of his tongue. But it felt good to drink proper alcohol. He couldn't remember drinking anything other than beers aboard The Spear. Jared had brought a bottle of wine or two into their bunk. He never said where from. Den never had the motivation to meet the people Jared saw aboard The Spear. But those rare bottles of wine, so sweet and spicy and filled with potency. They were magnificent. The blackouts at the end of two or three glasses were the sweetest sleeps he'd had aboard the ship.

    'I honestly don't know. It wasn't hard. It wasn't what I longed to do.' He drank again. Reinhardt seemed content to sip his peach brandy. The air around them felt cooler somehow. Perhaps that was his imagination. Behind him, he could hear the perpetual crystal trickle of the river.

    'What did you long for, Den? Anything?'

    He looked at Reinhardt. Looked at the man whose dark eyes gazed back at him, as if searching his soul for some sort of worth. Something to weigh. To measure. 'I wanted to protect people,' Den said after a pause and a drink. 'I wanted to be in security services. Or the armed forces. I wanted to be trained to be disciplined and reliable.'

    He watched Reinhardt cock his head to the side. 'And could this be attained through a qualification in Animal Conservation?'

    'Well, no.Obviously not.'

    'Then why did you forsake your desire?'

    'Necessity,' Den said.

    Reinhardt leaned forward, and even seemed lost for words for a brief moment. But only a brief one. 'Really?'

    'My parents had been to uni. My sister was in her third year. My brother Gus was about to start at a grammar school. Den the unmotivated one was bright and showed a little promise, and that meant he had to try to...to refine that into something academic. My father once said, "Rothbergs don't join the army." And all talk of what I really wanted to do ended there.'

    A silence fell between them. Den syphoned spiced rum from the smoky green bottleneck; Reinhardt chugged intermittently from his flask. Liquid sloshes dominated the vacuum.

    'Not necessity, then.' Reinhardt's words came after a time. A time in which Den had tried to meet the man's gaze three times; and each time Reinhardt reciprocated, Den relinquished first.

    Den sighed. 'No. Fear.'

    'Of what, my dear boy?'

    'Of...of fucking everything.' The rum was burning a warmness into his belly now. He set down the bottle. He was hungry. He was getting drunk. 'Of being the worst child. Of being a bad brother. A bad boyfriend to Josie back home. She left me. I didn't leave her. She cheated on me twice. I only once.' In a flash, his fist hammered into the ground. He flinched at the pain, but did not cry out. His knuckles, he saw, were stained green. 'I wanted to be acknowledged for...' he looked Reinhardt in the eyes, and refused to break the bearded man's searching gaze. 'I wanted to be acknowledged for doing what I wanted to do.' The pain in his hand was numbing. He drank again.

    'But you feared your father's disappointment.' Reinhardt nodded. 'Den, my dear boy. Your father is no more. I can tell merely from how you speak that this does indeed hurt you, inside. We all lost people towards the end. No single family boarded The Spear in its entirety. All nine thousand of us are leaving behind a home that we can only now associate with loss, with regret, with death. Until Zeta feels like home, all of our memories can only ever be painful.'

    They both drank. The sun overhead had shifted. The late afternoon was upon them. The air had cooled and the sounds of the river had intensified. Occasionally, a splash broke the sounds. Den tried to imagine what sort of fish it could be.

    'But eventually, pain fades into memory, it has been said. All of those we've lost. Time and distance give us the opportunity, eventually, to remember their beauty. The beauty that we shared with them. Do you believe that this might be possible, Den? Do you think what I say might be true?'

    Hunger clawed at him. But he felt alive. Philosophical conversations with Jared always felt forced. Philosophical purely for philosophy's sake. He knew, no matter that he could not see it before him, could not discern its shape, he knew that Reinhardt was working towards something. His words were a weapon wielded with purpose; he was cutting through Den's defences. And Den was, in part, welcoming this intrusion.

    'I have need of people I can trust,' Reinhardt said. He drank again, and then it seemed that the flask was empty, for he beckoned for the bottle of rum. Den handed it over and Reinhardt drank some more. 'We have here, a whole new sphere of opportunities. Our very own new world. So few of us to share it. To boast of its lush colours. To bask in the freshness of its nature. So much colour. Do you recall the flowers, yesterday, Den? The azures and magentas and pulchritudinous violets?'

    'The what?'

    Reinhardt smiled, or at least it looked just so. 'Never mind, dear boy. My point is that, while Alexander assumes the burdens of administration and logistical progress, it is my privilege to roam this vast new expanse with my own list of errands. Like a giant itch against my small brain, my heart is overwhelmed with a pressure to see every new delightful poisonous vine. Every new scaled beast. Every fish. I must see it all.'

    'Okay...'

    'Of course, with that great exploration, ultimately comes the possibility of great peril. I am a man armed only with my fascination and, when the moment is befitting, a bottle. I can scarce protect myself from Zeta's dangers with such weapons, can I?'

    'Huh. I suppose not.' Den scratched at his jaw. He could feel stubble slowly pushing through his flesh.

    'There are people within The Spear,' Reinhardt continued, 'who can help both of us. Who can help you to help me. Would you like to help me, Den?'

    'How could I possibly help you, Reinhardt?'

    'By protecting me, of course. But first, you must...be trained. Now, take this,' he offered Den his book. Den took it. The Republic, by Plato. 'Once you return to The Spear, seek out a man named Muros. I do not know if that is his forename or his surname. He is not particularly open about personal information...'

    'Know the feeling.'

    Reinhardt ignored him. 'Of course, the choice lies with you, Dennis. You could still decline my offer: Will you help me? Or, should I say, will you at least try? It will be hard. You will need to become disciplined. Responsible. Words I often find distasteful myself. What say you?'

    Father, I'm drunk. But you know what? Fuck yourself.

    'I will try. I will try.'

    Reinhardt blinked. 'Well, what are you waiting for? Go!'

    'Am I giving Muros the book?'

    'No, my dear boy. He is going to take you to the armoury. You are going to read it. You are going to spend seven days reading and training. And then. You will meet me here. Don't make me wait.'

    Den's head was spinning. He stood up, slowly. Felt himself falter. Held out his free hand for balance. 'Okay. Seven days.'

    'And Den, my dear boy?'

    'Yes, Reinhardt?'

    'Make sure you bring me more brandy.'


    Thus ends the introduction of Dennis Rothberg to Caila Forjoe and Reinhardt, both of whom he will see again in due course. And thus begins the process of a choice made...
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    ShaunCarter19
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    Re: World Building Backstories

    Post by ShaunCarter19 on Fri Jan 06, 2017 5:26 pm

    There was, Muros believed, always at least one secret behind a name. And the more names a person had—the more names they were attributed, the more secrets they likely held.

    Muros didn’t know the Nameless Man, or Nameless Woman, who clacked Muros’ door each morning in order to wake him. He had suffered trouble waking since before Zeta, before The Spear even. Yewtree Penitentiary—hailed as the 21st Century’s Prison with the Most Serene, Rehabilitative Garden and Grounds in the U.S.A.—was as far back as he would go when thinking of Earth. So, naturally, he blamed his time in prison for his troubles waking.

    There was, twenty-something days into their time on this new planet, nobody aboard The Spear who had yet figured out the day cycle of Zeta. Most people who owned a watch had reported it broken, clocks too, or so Muros’ closest, well, only, friend, Foster Nechtyr (who had been a watchmaker and was now a repairman for all things aboard The Spear), had told him. Nechtyr had done time, like Muros. Had begun garrotting his infidelitous wife in her sleep—until she woke gasping, for precious seconds until death—with an 18 carat gold necklace chain—a tenth anniversary present from Nechtyr only weeks before, his story went. The abettor to his wife’s adultery Foster Nechtyr had captured, so his story went; Foster’d been waiting for the bastard to leave the Nechtyr house, having lied to his wife about a billiards tournament after the Watchmaker’s Guild’s Thursday night general quiz. —Didn’t have to drive more than a mile and circle back round in my electric car (silent as death) before I saw that bastard’s wheels in my drive, Foster’d said. After his wife had gurgled her final breath, so the story went, Foster Nechtyr tortured the man he’d knocked unconscious and stuffed into his car trunk as casually as he stuffed trash to be taken to a compaction yard. Tortured him until the man’s heart gave out. Then gave himself up and was rewarded with three life sentences.

    Nechtyr had been, during their seventeenth day floating through Space, moments from divulging the grim horror of the torture. Muros had bid him goodnight at that moment.

    A few others had reported that their clocks and watches were ticking backwards. Precious few appeared to be working normally. Something to do with magnetic pulls.

    Muros had no idea what the Nameless Man or Woman used when they clacked three times on his windowless grey door, but the sound, he swore, was identical in pitch and rhythm every morning. He never heard the figure speak, not even grunt or whistle, nothing pleasant to this ritual he’d been granted after a perfunctory conversation with a bearded man who had been wearing corduroy shorts and an oversized linen shirt, and had been carrying a book under one arm, and was, that day if no other, walking barefoot through The Spear, offering—Muros remembered—seemingly random greetings to the gargantuan spacecraft’s thousands of inhabitants. Muros never got the man’s name, but he supposed from the behaviour that he might have once been a priest, or a missionary. There’d been something simultaneously wild and calculating in the scraggy man’s eyes. The sort of person who appeared to be paying utmost attention to everything you had to say, but who could respond only in seemingly unrelated riddles.

    Their conversation had been brief. No real greeting at all. And after moments of pauses punctuated by occasional dialogue, the rugged man had asked Muros what troubled him in this new life they were building. Anything?

    -Waking up, Muros had said.

    He hadn't been referring to his very real trouble with waking up early in a morning, and whether the older man had known this or not, Muros was in no doubt that the actions of the Nameless Waker, who had begun clacking the very next morning, were a kind of token.

    -What troubles you? had been Muros’ brief riposte question.

    Words followed a wild glance. -I’m quite ecstatic to be alive, friend. Might I call you friend? I would, however, surrender every pair of boots I own for some fresh-picked fruit.

    -The refectories…?

    -Space forfend, friend. Have you lost your wits? A barefooted, grizzled man like myself can’t go wandering between half-traumatised passengers, who are essentially refugees, and request from the kitchen volunteers a bunch of glorious red grapes, can I? I might be committed! What’s our leader called? The terse one with an autistic’s cunning to make deadpan jokes...Alexander? Yes, him. He’d have me processed in some halfway cell. I wonder, does The Spear have halfway cells?

    After that, the odd man, whom Muros now further suspected to have either drug/drink problems or some post-traumatic stress disorder from The Evacuation, had walked off, stopping at a group of young teenagers to read from the book he’d been carrying. None of the youths lingered long. Muros had not read a book since Yewtree.

    He threw back the threadbare linen bedsheet, and sat on the edge of his bed. The shadows were thick, fighting only a thin light, which crept under his door from the corridor. The air, he realised, was pungent still with the smell of sex. She always left after he had fallen asleep, and was always—oddly—gone before the Nameless Waker clacked on his door. Unless it’s her. Hmm. His image of the Nameless was a hulking man, shoulders hunched and his frame altogether hidden within long dark green robes, as if he belonged to some cult. Hooded, wielding a sturdy oaken staff that he used to rattle Muros’ door each morning, and with which he practised some ancient martial art. A character from the doorstopper-sized fantasy novels he'd devoured in Yewtree’s library.

    But the reality of his matutinal waker’s identity was likely far less exciting.

    He dressed slowly, his movement across the 3x4 feet room triggering the long tube lights in the ceiling to begin glowing, slowly intensifying, their light spilling onto the navy carpet and navy walls—the lights were some sort of scientific development to do with faux morning light adjustment that had been coded into The Spear’s electronics, according to Foster. Muros didn’t care much for science.

    Oddly, upon an inventory of donations once The Spear’s inhabitants had done what they could to “settle in” their floating environment, Alexander had requested people offer any belongings they found no longer necessary, for people who had boarded the spacecraft with less. Muros had wanted one thing only: a kettle, which he used every morning.

    Stainless steel with a black handle, it hissed as the resting spacecraft’s electricity boiled the water from his sink. Not every room had a sink. His room lacked a toilet. He pissed in the sink. She was not aware of this. He wasn’t sure what she would think about that. She’d likely study him with those hard, ice-blue eyes of hers, and say not much at all.

    He’d boarded The Spear with a duffel bag filled with anything he could steal during his last days on Earth following the breakout. Clothes, foodstuffs, money, though trading didn’t seem to work the same way anymore. Nobody on The Spear really mentioned money.

    And bundled within three sweaters he never wore, was the sword.

    Stolen from the Warden’s office at Yewtree. Nobody knew about it. Not Foster Nechtyr, not her—though she might have been through his duffel bag while he slept, but he was sure even he wasn’t that heavy a sleeper—and nobody else could possibly know.

    He’d never use a sword, back when. He’d seen a couple of guards leaving The Spear with crossbows. He hadn’t seen a gun since boarding. They were somewhere. He wondered if volunteering for some sort of guard duty would have led him to one. He supposed that might be too late now. Most people had been working. Cooking, exploring, gathering, teaching, whatever else there was. All he did was lead fitness classes and explain to people how to use weights and running machines. It was easy work, for a vet. Mindless, the people respected him because he wore a badge saying Trainer, and, likely, his thickset arms and the tattoos emblazoned on those arms helped. Or, perhaps people feared him. He realised, then, that morning, that he didn't smile much when interacting with other inhabitants. Even Foster barely made him laugh—and he might just be the closest thing to a friend he’d had since Yewtree.

    He sat on the end of his bed, sipping from his mug of black coffee, thinking about the stolen, hidden sword.

    Until a leaf of paper rustled under his door, inches away from him.

    He set down the mug, picked up and read the note. He felt himself grow cold, and then hot with fear and rage, as he read the words over and over.

    Shit.

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    Re: World Building Backstories

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      Current date/time is Wed Nov 22, 2017 4:11 pm