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Journey to Entru MAG
What really surprised the wanderer at first was the sky. In the pictures it was gray, constantly storming and broiling, shooting down acid. But really it was clear and bright with stars.
There was so much the wanderer had to do and she didn't even care. She just lay down, the helmet of her suit cushioning her head against the rocky earth, encasing her in a plastic cocoon. Through the visor, crafted of fortified glass, the moon was reflected, looming with a sense of subtle menace. With the moon this far from the planet, she was surprised she could see its surface at all, littered with the impacts of countless meteors. She wondered if everything in the sky would shine like that if you got close enough.
It was strange to remember how massive the stars were. They were sharp and beautiful against the blackness, but so tiny. The moon, despite its distance, dominated, and still they persevered. She found herself admiring them. With tired eyes she searched for home but couldn't find it.
She was still searching when she fell asleep. She dreamed about falling through the blackness, or it may have been flying. The once sharp line between them had been obscured with experience. She dreamed she was home and lost and no matter where she turned, the shadows of the gelatinous bushes and thin, towering gray trees stopped her, until she was enclosed in her capsule again, going a bit crazy from the universe around her.
As the wanderer drifted in and out of consciousness, she wondered if she would go back. She doubted the one-man rocket she'd commandeered would survive another trip through the atmosphere. She'd have to reattach the heat shields, a difficult task since she was no engineer; and she'd a need to find fuel. She'd have to hope for another miracle. Several miracles actually. It would be a miracle if she got home and found anything left.
When she woke she thought for a single, beautiful moment she was home, cradled in her hammock with just a bit of sunlight touching her. Then she heard the whir of the suit as it performed its many functions and was blinded by the sharpness of the sun in the moments before she could order the visor to tint, protecting her sensitive eyes. This wasn't home. This was nothing like home.
The first thing she did was assess the wreckage of her capsule. It was worse than she'd thought. The heat shields were a ruined mess of crumpled, blackened metal and though, upon impact, she had been surrounded by air bags that cushioned her fall, the ship's exterior was cracked and dented. One peek at the smoldering controls told her there was no hope of salvaging her transportation or ever leaving the planet upon which she'd made landfall. She could only hope she'd chosen right, the signs she saw on the surface were truly the marks of colonization, and most importantly that the explorers sent here from home years ago had survived beyond the communication shut-off and the beginning of the war.
The wanderer had to hope for another miracle.
She remembered just before she had toppled onto the sandy, lifeless surface, the navigational system promised a colony had been detected a mile east. The systems in the smart suit weren't enough to detect life, but it was enough to direct her eastward. There was nothing to tell her if she was headed in the right direction. The terrain all around her was dry, red sand, blown gently by the breeze and tinting the glossy whiteness of her suit. She prayed to fate and luck and mercy that she would find the colony and carry on. There was little to look at in the desert, and so her mind wandered.
When she was a child, there had been rockets, great cylindrical beasts of metal that burned and flew, scorching the whole sky behind them. They had been so beautiful that all her world had watched as radio signals projected them upon their show-screens, documenting the first steps of their race into the stars.
When she had been just young enough to believe in everything, the rockets carried the bravest of her people, taking them to far-off lands for the sake of adventure and discovery. Their fates varied.
Just before the war began, when hostilities were flaring and everyone knew there were hard times ahead, there was a lottery of rocket people. Their dream and home and only love was the space above them. Their fear was seeing their world end, and they longed to be the best of the best and receive the right to make a home on the nearest planet.
In the end, they selected forty colonists and sent them in rockets into the unknown, to carry on their line. The planet was called Entru, named for one of the old Asiaq gods her family clung to until the scientists scoffed at old faith and showed them proof that they were the only wise beings walking their planet.
Entru had been more a concept than a god. Entru was love and welcome and hope, worshipped by families for safety and lovers for prosperity. The Old People believed Entru lived in the sky, the brightest, indeed one of the few visible despite the shine of their moons. The children would raise their palms to Entru begging for happiness.
No more would the people of her homeland look toward Entru. They were probably dead. The people who had given life to her. The people who had taught her, and cared for her and loved her. She couldn't count how many she had left behind.
So the wanderer thought as she walked. The suit was not heavy; the Entru models had no oxygen tanks. The planet's atmosphere had some oxygen, but the methane and thick soup of gases had to be filtered so she could breathe. The gravity was similar to home, and the form-fitting suit, already adjusted to her movements and size, barely weighed her down.
The sun was scorching but the suit kept her cool, and had a small store of water. Food, she would have to go without. She had finished off the stores in her capsule days earlier, and though she was adept at fasting, there was an ache in her belly that made her beg to the gods her progenitors had long ago abandoned that she would find the colony soon, find them alive and welcoming.
The journey to Entru had taken about three months – her sense of time had been sacrificed. She longed to speak to someone other than walls and herself, to hear another's voice before she forgot her own tongue.
She sang an old song a progenitor taught her. It was praising an old god, Kampabir. God of light and goodness, the song proclaimed his praises and his virtues. Her voice echoed back to her through the distortion of the helmet as she sang of his joy, his kindness, his undying love and humble nature. She sang of his rivalry with the cruel, angry Ved, who the story claimed, was the other half of himself. To become full, the song preached, one had to love good and evil and everything, but her people had forgotten the song. Maybe that was why they died.
The wind was picking up and soon the red dust was blown in whirlwinds around her, sticking to the glass of her helmet. All she could see was grainy red and though she brushed it away, it was quickly replaced and, blinding, she could only stumble.
The wanderer recalled that she had passed a cave in a wall of thick rock. She moved clumsily in that direction, following the bleeping electronic directions her suit supplied, until she felt the rocky overhang and pulled herself into its shelter.
She remained still, afraid of a drop off, until she could clean her visor. There was still a bit of pinkish residue on the glass that would need washing off when she reached the colony, if they could spare water.
The suit was prepared for cavernous environments like this and lit up, guiding her way. To escape the dust blowing through the entrance, she ventured further. As she walked further, she found stranger and stranger marks on the cave's walls. In deep, natural colors, scenes were depicted, simple but unmistakable.
Her already complaining stomach churned. Something had been drawn – it had to be a drawing – it was more than random animalistic scratching. A depiction of a thin figure in blackish ink yielding a long and pointed weapon toward a massive, hairy beast.
Life. There was life on Entru.
And yet her people had explored and scanned and viewed through telescopes every speck of the surface. If there was life they would have known.
So it was gone. It was dead.
With her lower right hand she moved slender, incased fingers gently over the picture, hardly daring to believe it was real. The figure was thin, without enough arms, and yet it seemed recognizable. Not completely alien.
She wondered if the colonists knew about this, or if she had the blessed and beautiful news to sugarcoat the tale of their people's downfall. Extraterrestrial life. She could hardly believe it. Her mind couldn't stop explaining and disbelieving and rejoicing.
How did they die? Like her people, she imagined. Killed with their own precious weapons, a fatal civil war to defend the right to live. For a moment she mourned them with the sorrow she reserved for her own family. For a moment she even let herself cry the tears she'd been terrified of releasing. The helmet released a burst of heat to dry them from her cheek.
She stayed in the cave for a long time, waiting out the storm, as the reality of what was left and what future lay before her truly sank in and she could only yearn for all she'd left behind.
She walked for hours, going east and thinking of fear. On the trip all of those fears had faded, dull and numb. Now, it was as if she had been given sight, and all of her misfortune hit with a vivid and fierce force that weakened her. She carried on with the promise of companionship and the fear of loneliness. She was chased by silence, only to find more waiting.
By the time she reached the colony the boiling sun was dropping behind the horizon, though the suit barely
let her feel a difference. The landscape grew darker, and strangely, hauntingly beautiful.
The surface could have been a desert, surrounded on all sides by life, rather than just an unlucky stretch of rock rimmed by more of the same. She could even believe it was possible she wasn't alone, with that cool bit of darkness settled on everything.
The colony was a gray shelter, glinting with solar panels and bulky in shape with add-ons and antennae that kept it running. It appeared on the horizon like just another rock.
She was so tired she had to fight the urge to lie down on the dirt and shut her eyes. But now, with the sight of her salvation, she couldn't help shouting for joy and her call echoed back to her with a distorted hiss of sound. And, forgetting the weakness in her legs and her hunger, she ran, covering the desert in long strides.
She had nothing to fear. She wasn't alone. This wasn't the end.
She fell upon the door and beat it with her fists. "Hello! Hello!" she cried and then stopped to consider their reaction at the sight of this strange woman in a space suit banging at their entrance. “There's nothing to fear,” she assured them, congratulating herself for remembering how to speak. “I come from Predon. There's been a war. But I found something. Signs of life in a cave a mile away just beneath the surface. There was life there long ago. Life like ours.”
She was screaming to nothingness and as such she was met with silence. She had walked past the graves, just a dozen feet from her, but she hadn't seen them. They were what she was afraid of, and so in desperation, to give herself a moment of sanity, she had been blind to them.
But now she turned and saw.
The graveyard was massive, stretching around the colony. Back home they had been marked with elaborate likenesses of the lost, flora and letters of farewell and signs of life in giant gardens of memorial. These were makeshift, with carved rocks positioned to mark the grave.
There were more than 40 graves that she counted. There were smaller ones, child graves, marked in the traditional fashion with the symbol of Geniat, most enduring of the old gods for her innocence.
Perhaps their supplies and technology to convert food had failed, or their solar panels ceased to operate, some space disease snuck past the safeguards or some nameless disaster had crippled them. Maybe they just got tired of living.
There was one body left out in the open, preserved hauntingly in the suit as he lay on the ground, staring up forever at the sky. The last one left. There had been no one to bury him. The empty grayness of his face stared out beyond the glass visor and she had to look away. She could not meet his empty eyes. She turned from the graveyard and kept walking, seeking to put distance between herself and her false hope.
She was all alone. Abandoned and lost and trapped and hopeless.
She had three days left to live, she estimated. Three painful days of thirst and hunger and grief. No. She would not endure any more pain.
She reached for the control panel of her suit to cut off the oxygen and then changed her mind. If she simply removed the helmet, there was enough breathable air in the atmosphere to keep her alive for a few minutes.
This place had supported life, so much precious, incredible life once upon a time, and she had only touched it through plastic. It was unfair to Entru, which had never asked for any of this tragedy.
She removed her helmet. Immediately, she coughed as the gas of the atmosphere flooded her lungs. She had only a minute or two before she couldn't breathe and she didn't know what to do. She could only laugh.
Falling to the surface, she kissed the dirt and rocks, pressing her face to the surface, wanting to feel something real and natural after months of factory-made rocket metal. The dust stuck to her mouth and she coughed again, almost joyous as the lack of oxygen made her crazy. As she rose, she whispered a prayer to Entru and Kampabir, and the ghosts of the people who had once made their home and committed their own genocide here where she stood.
“Hello!” she shouted, holding her arms up to the brand new sky. Night had fallen again, and the stars were laughing at her. Home was somewhere, long lost, and the moon was all she saw. “Hello!” she cried again, hopeless and desperate, tears clearing tracks of dust on her cheeks.
All that answered her was silence, and silence was all she knew before the world went white and, mercifully, she fell.