Chapter 16:

The Other Side

Badass (8-4D-455)

Location: Wild woods
Health: 100%
Energy reserves: -3%

A whole other world seemed to lay on the other side of the trees, with another kind of light and another kind of landscape. On the ‘other’ side it wasn’t night, but rather midday, yet under such thick clouds that everything was blue-grey. The surroundings were also different - instead of the forest, there was a wasteland full of fresh-looking craters, big and small and, in the distance, where Badass had come from, a half-destroyed, ruined city stood in place of the concrete field, smoking with fires. Badass felt like he was looking back through time at the planet’s ancient past. It must have been an illusion, it couldn’t have been real. Doors to the past simply do not open in the middle of the forest.

What could have caused such a cataclysm? Badass’s knowledge and imagination could provide no answer.

At last he noticed the missing cloud of insects. It was buzzing in a small crater about ten steps away. Something seemed to have caught the swarm’s interest, as it wasn’t humming around aimlessly, but had gathered around something lying in the bottom of the crater. Badass quietly approached the edge of the crater, still thinking about the planet’s mysterious past. What he saw made him start. The bugs were swarming around a rotting corpse in a spacesuit, the helmet’s visor open. Badass felt his stomach churn and immediately turned away, fled out of the time door and into the dark woods, where the intense aroma of the plants masked the smell of decay.“Skinny, check the air for suspicious gases that could induce hallucinations, or maybe the bite of these glowing insects carried a hallucinogenic poison?” he ordered.

Skinny awoke quickly, but started complaining right away.

“Charge internal systems! Systems in power saving mode. Implant energy level 3%, complete scan unavailable.” Badass thought that was it, but Skinny added, almost as an afterthought: “Engaging partial health check to identify dangerous environmental effects.”

While Skinny’s nanobots scanned his blood and tissue, Badass carefully reached between the trees. The illusion didn’t disappear and the hand was unaffected, except for the light hitting it from the other side of the ‘door’.

“No dangerous chemicals identified in system,” Skinny announced. Interesting, thought Badass, so it isn’t a hallucination. Maybe a hologram? He carefully stuck his foot through the ‘door’. The illusion remained and now his foot was glowing unnaturally too. Badass carefully slipped through the trees to the ‘other’ side.

Looking back out the ‘door’, everything seemed as surreal as looking ‘in’ earlier. In the middle of the wasteland, two bare and dried trees stood behind Badass and a dark forest, surreal and unfit for the cratered landscape, could be seen beyond. Badass went back into the woods and stepped into the wasteland again. Now he could smell the scent hanging in the air. It was unpleasant, at once acrid and sweet. He was more and more convinced that what he saw was real and there must be some strange time door between the trees - a field or a portal leading to a time different from the rest of the planet. He stood there thinking and started biting his lips without noticing it. The planet was getting weirder and weirder. Something had happened here, something extremely catastrophic. It had destroyed a flourishing civilisation, turned the planet into a chunk of ice and left behind a lot of unexplainable weirdness, such as the giant giant frog and its ilk in the lake and this ‘door’ here.

Another unlucky shipmate. Badass was shaking all over. He felt his legs buckling and leaned against the nearest tree. The dark forest, the exhaustion, the stress, the disgusting stench everywhere, the bloodsuckers devouring the body, laying their eggs! It was too much for him. Badass sank onto the ground and hid his face in his hands. When he emerged from his birth tank on the ship, he could never have imagined being in such a place. All these amazing educational vids about the beautiful Earth had prepared him for a paradise, but instead he found himself on an unfamiliar planet resembling purgatory. A purgatory melting out of the ice.

Then he heard it again, that high-pitched, keening wail of a predator from the depths of the forest that had kept him awake and he sighed heavily. He had to make it back to Sprucetop and the others, to marginal safety. He suddenly recalled the rolls of fiber and was startled to realise they were gone. When and where had he set them down? He didn’t leave them there, next to the corpse crater, did he? Badass glanced at the time door. He wasn’t going to return without the fiber. Pulling himself together, he went back towards the door, scanning the forest floor. The rolls were big enough that he would have noticed them for sure if they had been on this side of the door. But there was nothing other than dried branches and trampled plants. He stepped back through the time door and immediately noticed his lost treasure. The sheets or rolls of fiber were lying on the edge of the crater. But he also noticed something else. Something huge, metallic and very deadly-looking sped toward him from the ruins of the city. It must have been a vehicle or a giant robot, it was hard to tell from a distance, but it was definitely military in nature, as all the protruding parts of the machine resembled gun barrels and seeking and aiming sensors. The machine wasn’t new, it was dented and grimy, but no less dangerous for it. It may have been the one to claim this unfortunate soul lying here in the crater, under the swarm of bugs. Without sparing a glance for the crater, Badass grabbed his rolls of fiber and immediately rushed back through the time door.

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