Monday, 18 May 2015

Spaceman: A Planet Called Inhospitable (part 3)

Floyd Mayweather turned the dial at the base of his hood, pulling it closer against the growing cold. As his snow shoes traced footsteps further away from the confines of the Frontier, it seemed to become colder, prolific winds biting at the exposed skin around his neck. Despite the thermal gel his snow mask was lined with, he could feel goose bumps pickling across his flesh, and the crunch of the spittle in his mouth as it froze. The cold seemed not to affect his brother, hundreds of yards in the distance. His black figure had been difficult to follow at first, but as the twin suns rose to the east, he'd become a sore thumb in a bath of hands.
The temptation to stop the cloak and dagger routine and simply call his name across the plains had nearly overwhelmed Floyd many times, but always as he got so closer to doing so, he realised the danger he may end up facing, and so instead he continued the walk in silence.
After a few hours, as numbness began to creep through his legs, he found himself staring a structure he'd never seen before. The Federation, including himself, had often flown around Inhospitable, just within it's atmosphere, searching for signs of life. They'd never noticed anything definite, the source of the belief that the Natives were a transient race, but this was insane. From the snow cast ground protruded a gigantic range of mountains, brilliant caves carved into them from which Floyd could hear singing, chanting, laughter. Signs of life. The words were all in the incomprehensible babble that the Natives spoke, but their meaning could be derived. Happiness, joy, pride. Something had gone their way, but what?
"You've walked into their trap, Floyd." His brother Grene said, and Floyd shook his head rapidly, noticing that no longer his brother was in front, but actually behind him.
"How could you do this, Grene?" Floyd cried, but his voice was drowned out by a sudden war cry from within the caves. Floyd watched in terror as the shadows of a hundred charging people struck up on the white ice wall. He could hear their dizzying cry, see their weapons in hand, feel the shake of the ice as their feet carried them towards him. He knew those were the last seconds of his life, and so he turned to his brother and begged for mercy. A tear trickled down the inside of his transparent snow mask, feeling it freeze against the thermal gel.
"Do not plead, Floyd." Grene announced, walking over to his kneeling brother. "It's not over yet."
"You have betrayed the Federation, betrayed Solace and the Frontier. You've betrayed me!"
"I have good reason to do so!"
"What's that?" Floyd cried, launching to his feet.
Grene looked down at him, guilt ridden, ashamed.
"What reason do you have?"
"I have a daughter." Grene replied, and now it was his turn to cry.

Grene called off the Natives inside the cave, leading Floyd in. Despite the many times Grene had walked between the massive ice archway that they called, in their own tongue, "Birth to Home", he was still amazed. A stretching cavern of frosted glass, illuminated by the dawning suns of the planet's system, hosted hundreds of icy settlements, seemingly lasting forever. Floyd's eyes widened as he saw the ice tents, sheets of ice arranged in triangular compositions to form incredible structures far beyond the architecture of Solace. Between the ice places danced young children, scantily clad in the skins of the animals the settlers called Merehogs. The children dropped their icy hoops and their play things, as they saw the Mayweather brothers pass them.
No, Floyd thought. They didn't drop their things for the brother, they dropped them for him. They knew Grene well enough to trust him. They didn't trust this younger, stronger version who walked to his side.
Floyd's snow boots didn't work on the polished ice surface. Their metal prongs, diagonally spiking off from each side like a spider's leg, couldn't get a grip on the floor, so he found himself kneeling down to fold the prongs back into the soles.
"Take the shoes off." Grene told him.
"I can't." Floyd replied. "Don't you remember what happened to the Captain?"
Twenty years ago, when they'd first landed, the Captain of the landing ship had naively stepped out onto the surface of the planet. Most of the crew had looked away, but the Mayweather brothers had kept staring through the small perspex windows, watching as every inch of the Captain's body turned blue, solidifying until it began to prickle as the blood vessels burst. Then his body began to crack, solidifying until it was forcing itself inwards. Then he turned to a pile of dust, whipped away by the freezing winds.
"Trust me, Floyd. I'm not wearing shoes, and I'm just fine."
Floyd's eyes wandered down to Grene's feet. They were coated with thick socks, lined with thermal gel. Floyd was slightly reluctant to believe it as the truth, but he knew he must accept it. Tentatively, he sat down and pulled his shoes off, testing the iced ground with his toes. No freezing blood vessels or cracking flesh. Science had just surrendered it's hold on him, but he felt fine. Floyd looked his brother straight in the eyes, standing up. "Explain everything to me. Please."
"Would you like to meet her?"
"My daughter."
Floyd nodded. "Of course, but on the way, I want you to tell me how she came into existence."
"Really Floyd? I thought you'd be able to understand such things."
Floyd felt his face flush red, despite the cold. "You know what I mean."
Grene let out his hearty laugh, and for a few seconds Floyd felt safe again. Once more, he was with his brother in a strange new game where the rules were infinite, unknown, and eternally reproducing.

1885SC. Outwards Scout, Grene Mayweather, rode a speedster through the eternal night of Inhospitable. A blaster hung limp on his side, a propellant knife was strapped to his ankle and on his back was a long distance pulser gun. Showers of white snow sprayed from either side of his speedster as he bent over it's hull, attempting to beat his opponent in the furious race. 
He and Niven raced each other on every expedition, it was a way to relieve the boredom of the grand white expanses. One of the watchers, housed in a tower protruding from the top of the Frontier, had seen a mysterious shape in the distance, and so they'd been dispensed to deal with it. 
Grene Mayweather was expecting for it to be another explosion of geothermal power, from deep within Inhospitable's core, but it seemed not. As they approached, they saw that it was something much more dangerous than a rupture in the planet's surface.
A woman.
She was one of the Natives, humanoid and young. She was bathing in a long crack in the ice, nitrogen pools forming a natural resort. Niven laughed as he disengaged the engine of his speedster, the thrusters moaning as they shrank, the heat cutting out. He climbed out, swirling his axe, a thermal blade forming luminescent twirls through the air. "Niven, what're you doing?" Grene asked, well aware of the protocol when it came to finding Natives. "I've got the cuffs to take her back to the Frontier."
Niven turned and laughed. "She's bathing in nitrogen, Grene. Let me warm her up."
There was something sly and ultimately dangerous, animalistic almost, in the way he said it that put Grene on the edge. He felt a hand wrap around the propellant knife on his ankle. "I think we should just follow the procedure, Niven. This woman hasn't hurt us."
"But how many of her scum brothers have, Grene?" Niven asked. "And if you're worried I'm going to keep her all to myself..."
"Stop now, Niven. That's an order." Grene said, climbing down from his speedster.
"An order?" Niven laughed. "Don't you remember, I'm your senior! Now, let me be."
Grene didn't know what happened. One second he was standing there, feeling his anger boil within him like the water in the kettles back at the Frontier. The next second, Niven was on the floor, the propellant knife in his throat as the man began to shake and die, whilst the clash of the propellant knife's charge thundered across the empty plain. 
Grene pulled Niven's jacket off his shaking dead body, wrapping it around the native woman as she climbed from the Nitrogen river. There were translation matrixes built into the speedsters, and he remotely activated them. "I'm sorry for my friend's crude behaviour. It was disgusting."
He heard his words repeated in the Native tongue.
The woman replied several words in the tongue, and then her words were repeated in the Eden Tones. 
"You're species have committed fowler crimes to mine." She reached down to her bare leg and took the knife tightened to it. "He would have met a worse fate than me."
"Can you help me dispose of the body?" Grene asked.
"Yes." The woman replied, and with one powerful kick she knocked it into the nitrogen river. 
"Thank you." Grene said. "I am in your debt."
"You are respectful for an invader."
"You are polite for a savage."
The woman displayed a slight emotion, maybe embarrassment or pride. "I am Myra of the Costello line."
"I am Grene Mayweather." Grene said, presenting his hand. When she looked at him bemusedly, he explained she was meant to shake it. She did so in that fashion of which strangers to society generally perform social norms, with great care, delicacy and awkwardness. 
"It is a pleasure to meet you, Grene of Mayweather. I hope you will accompany me back to my family?"

"And you became a family friend?" Floyd asked, unconvinced.
"You could say that." Grene replied. "It was more a deal of them allowing me to live on the count that I assisted them. They'd ask me for the location of Merehog tribes, and in return they'd tell other parties of Natives not to hurt me. And then, after a year, they told me that they wished to imbue with a grand honour. A woman to marry."
"And you chose?"
"I chose no one. I told them I would not accept a woman as a gift, they told me that wasn't how it worked, and that I was to be given as a gift to a woman."
"And the woman?"
"Who other than Myra Costello?" Grene replied. "We were married by the statures of the Natives, and we were given a house in these caves. I took the role of Long Term Outwards Scout, living on the ice and sending reports to the Frontier, when they were needed. And so I became the only settler allowed inside the tribe."
"And your child?"
"Born merely three months after our wedding. The Native pregnancy is shorter, so that no child need be grown during the twelfth months, with a tad of careful planning."
"What did you call her?"
"I named her after our mother." Grene said. "Grace Costello. I thought it worked."
They followed a set of icy steps through a selection of tunnels, up into the walls of the ice cavern, into the heart of Home. And there it was, the Mayweather-Costello residence, an ice labyrinth of intricate rooms and valiant structures, but Floyd didn't care about any of those. He was much more interested in the child who awaited within.
Grene used his own key to open the door, trailing within and leading a strange route into the heart of the household. They stopped in front of the final door, or at least it was the final door in the respect that it was the final one they stopped at. Grene stopped before he pushed it open. "The girl inside is the most important thing in the world to me, but she doesn't belong on Inhospitable. She belongs on the Fourth Eden."
"The Fourth Eden? Why would you want me to take her there?"
"Because, of tomorrow morning, Inhospitable will become a war zone. The cracks in the planet's crust are driving the Natives insane, and they've vowed to kill the settlers. I have vowed to help them."
"You would betray your species for your adopted race?"
"I would betray them for my family, yes."
"Why are you telling me?" Floyd asked. "I could quite easily go back to Solace and tell them what's going on. We could evacuate before dawn. It is my duty, I am Benvolio after all."
"Because I trust you. I need you to take Grace to her home planet, to keep her safe."
"I presume from the tone you've adopted that you're not coming."
"I'll try, of course." Grene said, but Floyd knew what was coming. "I don't think I'll be able to."
Floyd nodded. "As your brother, I swear, I will do the best I can to return Grace to the Fourth Eden."
"Thank you, Floyd. Now you can meet her."

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