The Wanderer

The Old Ways Must Die

The morning in the high places began cold and misty, as it had been designed to. The forward camp and all the land about it lay in thick, inky shadow. The sun rose late here, for to the west lay the grave and titanic majesty of Peak: 1A-Primary. It did not yet have a name, merely a designation. Light crept slowly over the ridge line and jagged pinnacles of both 1A-Primary and its lesser brethren; 1A-Secondary, Tertiary, Quaternary; 2 through 8; B through AF. It spilled down the slopes and into the valleys. The light ran quick and sprightly, gushing like torrents of hot oil, pooling only briefly in the forest dells before cascading on its way elsewhere. It coated the land in a thin layer of vibrant, electric blue. This was new light, vibrant light. As it passed it took the mists with it, burning away the night and rushing excitedly down to the lake shore. The waters were flat and still, no drones or survey platforms darted across its surface, there was no nets disgorging their seed-cargo of the thin white fish that had been picked to swim in the glacial depths. Today was the first day of what would be summer, and the first day upon which this new world began to spin and breathe and truly live. It was a day for new plans to be laid down, for protocols, and operating procedures to be established. It was the day of Landfall.

Marama had spent the entire evening on the thin rarefied plateau that was the mountain’s crown, a crude circle of flattened off space, perfectly smooth and a drab, slate grey that did not match the rest of the rock around it. Sometime around midnight she had collapsed into the simple, metal, folding-chair that she had brought with her. She had let her eyes unfocus against the broad field of stars, her mind becoming unmoored from any of the many things that could, or perhaps should be occupying her attention, which she was resolutely refusing to dwell upon. Most of all she was tired, and wanted nothing more than this slim moment of undisturbed peace. But just as the onset of dawn had shattered the darkness of night, so had it shattered the solitude of her reverie.

She heard the drones long before she saw them, buzzing toward her from one of the many forward landing posts; a low basso profundo keening that dwelt at the edge of hearing, setting every bone alight with a dull, white fire that grew in intensity for every step they took towards her. Marama fucking hated those drones. As useful as they were they, their presence served as a sharp reminder of the situation she now found herself in; a weight of expectation that was almost as grave and titanic in its magnitude as the mountain she was sat on. And as if to rub salt into the wound the drones always sounded so damn happy, and these were resolutely not times in which to be happy. These were times in which to be angry, and frustrated; times in which to tear at your hair and wail at all the sadness that was bubbling inside you, but which you couldn’t express or articulate, but instead had to cram deep down inside of you and choke back the merest idea of crying, because everyone else needed you to be “strong;” they needed someone to be in charge, and act like they knew what they were doing. They needed someone to lead. A mantle that Marama now found draped around her by simple virtue of every other possible candidate being fucking dead as shit.

The drones were less than a minute away now, Marama could hear their rumble being mixed and offset with the higher pitched tone of their grav-mooring emitters. Marama ran her fingers through the short, greying scruff of her hair, the straw yellow slowly being lost to the white of stress and age. With a laboured sigh stood up and folded away her chair, leaving it to rest against one of the towering pillars of night-black steel which ringed the mountain’s crown. They were one of the few things they had been able to salvage from the Old World to bring with them. Here they didn’t have the same lustre that had inspired so much hope and joy in her people for generations. Gone was their comforting and welcoming aura. Now they stood as sentinels, watchers and memorials, casting no shadow and looming with an eyeless, yet ever watchful menace. The other thing they had been able to salvage was just appearing into view, slung between two skull-shaped drones. It wasn’t a large thing; not grand, or imposing. It was just a jagged chunk of rock. But it was all that had been left of home, the sum total of what they could find. So, sentimental fool that she was, Marama had brought it with her.

The drones deposited their cargo at the edge of the crown, on a small ledge Marama had added to the mountain’s design for just this purpose. They disengaged the grav-mooring and floated gently towards her. The diamond and corundum of their optics stood out starkly against the matte white of their shells, sparkling with fire from refracted dawn-light.

“Good morning, Madame Secretary,” chirped one of the drones. “As requested we have delivered item 45708-G7-B to your designated drop-off site. Is there any other way we can be of service to you?” She could swear that, as immobile as this imitation of of skull was, the bastard thing was smiling.

Marama wanted nothing more to grab the drone and drop-kick its smug shell right off the edge of the mountain. But that would be most unbecoming of her station. “Acting Madame Secretary,” she replied with a sigh. Maybe if she kept emphasising that first part the title wouldn’t stick once the “project” was finally done and she could shed it as easily as a snake sheds its skin. “Can you give me a broad spectrum scan of the annular focusing array? I’d like to know the conduit stability to Site 2.”

“Processing…” replied the drone, while its compatriot spun hither and thither, beeping and burbling as it went. “The conduit has been successfully established. Relative spatio-orbital cadences will mean it will connect once every planetary year, as per specification.” It paused.

“But…” said Marama.

“There are some detected deviations form specifications. But that is nothing to be ashamed of, the rest of your work on this planet has been quite exemplary.”

She tried to brush away the drone’s friendly condescension, but didn’t sufficiently smother her distaste to prevent a scowl appearing on her face. “Detail deviations and possible solutions,” she asked.

“Conduit aperture is situated 10 meters from intended entry point. Increase in signal-to-noise ratio of carrier waves suggests that unshielded transit may be fatal. Degradation of wider core network and absence of the original central unit mean that there are no remedial options available.”

“Well…” said Marama with a grunt. “At this point I think that’s somebody else’s problem.” She picked up her chair and started to head back down the mountain.

About The Rogue Verbumancer

A chemistry graduate consumed by the demons of apathy and disinterest. Likes tea and cheese. Sleeps less than he should. View all posts by The Rogue Verbumancer

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