Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Spaceman: A Planet Called Inhospitable

It was Year One Thousand And Seventy Six of the Second Cycle (1876 SC) and the fourth Eden was thriving with the excitement of youth. A Federation Star Cruiser had broken the delicate shell of the Eden's atmosphere and was landing in the clearing in the centre of the woods, grand plumes of white smoke escaping from it's roaring hover drives. Floyd Maywhether, his brother Grene at his shoulder, took a hand to his face to shield his eyes from the heat. "What if it burns down the trees?" He asked.
His brother Grene laughed. "Then we'll plant more trees, moron. And anyway, who cares? The Federation have landed!"
When the smoke had cleared, revealing the gleaming silver of the ship, a ramp began to lower from the front of the craft. Before they'd moved to the Unnamed Eden, Floyd's father had worked on Kirkwood building the mechanisms that lowered the door to be as quiet as possible, so as not to alarm natives when the ships first landed. In this case, the natives were causing more alarm than the Federation agents themselves. Market vendors, always the first to turn up at exciting events, barged their way through the clouds, wicker baskets of overpriced food raised above their heads. They positioned themselves around the ramp and readied themselves to present food to the people who'd soon be walking down it. "Have you ever seen a Federation Officer before, Grene?" Floyd asked his brother, who was two years the senior.
"Not in the flesh." Grene replied. "I wonder why they're here?"
As if in answer, the first agent of the Federation marched down the ramp halfway and stopped. He was an imperial sight, his cloak hanging low around his ankles and high around his neck, held by a golden chain. The Officer stopped and stared forwards at the growing crowd of intrigued natives. He swiped his hands through the air, summoning a blue rectangle of energy about twenty feet in front of his face. He began to read from the scrolling white writing that appeared on it. "Citizens of the Unnamed Eden, thank you for your hospitality. I represent the Federation."
A huge cheer echoed throughout the crowd.
"I have come to offer the one commodity no organisation is willing to give away." He announced, and the crowd instantly became silent. He couldn't be suggesting what they thought he was. No planet was lucky enough to receive such an offer, especially not the Unnamed Eden. "I present to you a chance to work for the Federation."
A rippled of applause drowned out the shouts of agreement from the crowd. A selection of rectangles higher above the spokesman on the ship slid open and great metal pods hovered out, a cloud of red haze masking the heat that their engines no doubt produced. As they began to spread out, fulfilling a prepared grid pattern, the crowd quickly spread out, allowing them to land without causing any harm. When the red haze dissipated, Floyd could see the Federation Logo embellished on the metal capsules. They quickly slid open and revealed android figures, with prepared microphones in their hands. "Recruitment droids." Grene said. "You tell them your details and they scan the local databases, before deciding whether or not to give you a job."
"What do the jobs include, brother?" Floyd asked.
"Searching far off stars, of course. Finding new planets and living on them, as well as travelling the Cosmos!"
Floyd's mind filled with excitement, hope. Desire. He needed that job, despite only being twelve.
"Can we go and get recruited, Grene?" He asked.
"I thought you'd never ask." Grene replied, and they forced their way through the crowds, pushing and shoving towards the nearest recruitment droid. Everyone else had the exact same idea, fighting to get to the machines, but Grene was tall and strong. He could get them to it, Floyd was sure.
In the end, they did get to it, and Grene said their names into the microphone. The Recruitment Droid whirred and then it's slit line mouth flashed blue with the timing of each word. "Floyd Mayweather. Grene Mayweather. Training engineers. Father is a pervious employee of the Federation."
It's eyes flashed three times.
"Misters Mayweather, you have been recruited for our services. Please report to the ship at once."
Floyd cast Grene a look that said it all. They'd done something with their lives.

1896SC. Floyd and Grene Mayweather were stood on a Planet called Inhospitable, staring out beyond  the frontier set by the original federation scout's who had landed there. The Mayweather brothers had been amongst the original scouts, their first mission, and it had changed their perception of the Federation forever. Their mission had been to find new planets and introduce the people of those planets to the ways of the Federation, and the civilised cosmos. Now, it was in question as to who the civilised species was.
The frontier was a thin black wall of huts, in which the superiority of the Federation Scouts lived, armed with the very best laser cannons. Beyond the frontier was an endless white blanket of snow, stretching west and north beyond the bleak horizon, but to the east it sloped away into a jigsaw cutting that overlooked the Nitrogen Sea. But the focus of their attention was closer to them than the frontier, and a hell of a lot scarier than either. There was a crack in the ice.
It grew bigger by the day, at first a thin slit in the ice but now it was a gaping fracture, revealing the inky blackness beneath the planet's crust. The Outward Scouts, those like Grene who investigated the ground beyond the Frontier, reported that more and more cracks were building in the outwards ice.
"Of course," Grene said, as Floyd stared into the abyss beneath the ice, "the natives are blaming us. You heard about Fletcher?"
Floyd shook his head, a wasted gesture beneath his tight blue hood. "I haven't, no."
"He and Jonesy went out on routine patrol last week, studying the ice beyond the frontier. A load of the natives ambushed them, stole their rations and killed Fletcher. According to Jonesy, and our translation matrixes, the natives were screaming curses at them."
"God." Floyd said, standing up. Through tightly gloved hands, he straightened his blue jacket and felt the familiar weight of his blaster on his side. He'd only used it twice since their landing on Inhospitable, but both times had been experiences he never wished to repeat. Some found the stealing of life for 'the greater good' an honour. Floyd found it a disgrace. "When do you go back out to the Frontier?" He asked, worried that Grene may come to harm's way.
"Tomorrow." He said. "Which is more than enough time for you to show me around the encampment."
Floyd laughed. "Solace, Grene, Solace. Nobody calls it the encampment anymore."
"You've got to admit it looks like a concentration camp from the outside."
"I don't know what you mean." Floyd said, turning back to look at Solace. It was composed of twenty buildings, all constructed from heating inducing metals that released geothermal bursts into the nitrogen liquid beneath, every hour. Barbed wire fences guarded it from all sides, should the Frontier ever be breached, and the youth had come to decorate the wire with anti-native propaganda and graffitied signs. Not that the adults ever took them down.
They began to stroll towards it, their spiked boots clawing grains of snow away from the paths they took. When they'd first landed, 240 moon cycles for each of Inhospitable's twelve moons ago, it was possible to feel the planet's crust against the foot, if you dug far enough. Now, it was just compacted snow.
"Although, technically, it's not snow." Grene reminded him, when Floyd commented on it. "That would make it water."
"And would mean it would have frozen two hundred and ten degrees ago." Floyd replied, having heard the lecture before. "Thank God for the warmth gel in the lining of these coats."
"The only thing I respect about the Federation." Grene said, spitting a ball of saliva from his lips. It froze as it left the embrace of his mouth.
"Indeed." Floyd said, and they got to the barbed wire fences. A short entrance that could be hastily closed led into Solace. Attached to it were signs that read words like, "Ice Walkers" or "Nitrofaces."
The least imaginative was, "Native Scum."
"Where do you want to go first?" Floyd asked, although he already knew the answer.
"The Saloon, of course." Grene said.
The Saloon was a Federation run bar that was opened on every planet the Federation landed on. This one in particular had swinging doors that provided the illusion of a partially open doorway, however heat fields combatted the invading cold. As the Mayweather Brothers walked in, they were suddenly enveloped in heat and had to pull off their jackets and gloves before they sweated too much. A man with a synthano was sat on the raised platform in the corner, moaning along to the artificial music he was producing, and a couple of old men raised beers to them as they entered. "Gentlemen!" The bar woman, a stumpy middle aged woman with dyed blonde hair, cried. "What can I get you?"
"Iond." Grene said, stating the favourite drink of the Unnamed Eden. "With ice."
"Of course." The bar woman said, and took the small glass bottle form the shelf. She took a shot glass and filled it with a single ice cube, which she then topped with about twenty millilitres of the Iond.
Grene took it in one and then grinned. "I have missed drinking." He said. "Give me another."
Floyd rolled his eyes. It was going to be a long night.

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