Location: Sprucetop village
Energy reserves: -3%
The robot didn’t come. For a while, they listened to the machine’s growling drone in the woods, but then the sound grew distant and
“Well that was both intriguing and scary,” mumbled Tooler.
“If there are machines, there must be people or at least some form of intelligent life,” said one of the newcomers hopefully. That voice! Badass turned, trying to figure out which of the dark shapes across the campfire had spoken. He noticed the slight silhouette of a woman, but it was too dark to make out her face - he couldn’t be certain it was really 7-LD-456, or Leidi.
“There is certainly intelligent life, the badgers for example,” said Badass slowly. “They aren’t dangerous to us. But the creators or owners of this machine, or the machine itself, if it has an artificial mind… I can’t really say, not yet. The only signs I saw - the field of craters, the burning city and the battle robot - don’t point to a friendly intelligence.”
He got up and went around the fire, acting casually, to stir the coals and peek at the familiar-looking woman. The flames rose and at the same moment,
the woman looked at Badass. He turned away quickly, pretending to concentrate on adjusting the fire. Yes, he wasn’t mistaken - it was Leidi.
He stood up and retreated back across the campfire, stepping out of the circle of light, hiding in the gloom.
Back on the ship, he and Leidi didn’t get along so well. Badly enough that even on this abandoned world, he didn’t have the slightest wish to acknowledge her. Wasn’t it the same with Leidi? She must have recognised me, thought Badass. He suddenly lost all interest in sitting by the fire.
“Looks like there’s no danger, let’s get back to sleep,” he said. “We’ll discuss it tomorrow, when the others are awake.”
“If only we could sleep while these damned insects drain us of blood and nanomachines,” one of the newcomers complained and the others mumbled in agreement. Yes, sleep. He had brought the materials from the concrete ruins but, because he’d visited the badgers, it was too late to consider building his hut. There was no point messing around in the dark. Tooler was the only one to enjoy the situation.
“I’ve got a great fix for that,” he said.
“Yeah?” asked Leidi hopefully. Tooler chuckled.
“Those who can’t sleep can take my watch.”
“Black hole take you,” Leidi grumbled, and all the surly newcomers backed away from the fire, to where each had found room to make a nest. Badass’s eyes followed the small, slight shadow. He saw Leidi settle into a small space between Naiscy’s and Badger Bart’s huts, covering herself with a piece of the parachute’s smart fabric.
“I have another idea,” he said to Tooler, who still smirking over his own joke. “I’ll sleep in your hut, you’re standing watch anyway.” Tooler’s smile vanished immediately, without the slightest trace.
“Now hold on! No-no! That won’t do, someone will relieve me soon and I’ll want to sleep then,” he protested.
“No problem, you can sleep in the next shift’s hut,” Badass said. He made a show of yawning and set off toward Tooler’s rusty shack. He heard the man’s frustrated mumbling behind him, but was too tired to care. “Finally, a stunt worthy of my name”, he thought.
Tooler’s bed was squeezed between the generator and the wall at the back of the hut. Feeling his way there, Badass must have stumbled on every last object Tooler had dragged into his abode. The man was like some kind of janitorial robot, dragging all the trash he found into a heap in his room, he thought. Why did he need all this garbage? Just to throw it out again. After several painful bumps, Badass’s hand finally touched the bed’s furry cover. And he froze. He remembered exactly that they were badger skins. The skins of living creatures. Intelligent creatures. Would he really curl up beneath them? Badass withdrew and kneeled in the darkness next to the bed. What if these skins were Oilskin and Noisome?
While Badass lingered, the chill night air crept closer. Far away from the fire, he was soon shaking with cold. “I think I can do it,” he thought.
“Anyway, those could have been some kind of unintelligent badgers.” He climbed hesitantly between the furs. They were warm and soft. Like I’m cuddling up to friends,
Badass mused, shuddering at the thought. But he pushed all these concerns behind a wall of fatigue. The warmth spread slowly over his whole body and he stretched,
But before he could fall asleep, the door opened a crack and a small dark shadow slipped in.
“Hey, Tooler, your watch isn’t over yet,” Badass mumbled. He wasn’t about to be driven out of this warm nest.
“It’s me, Leidi,” whispered a quiet voice, and Badass startled, opening his eyes. Gone were the drowsiness and the tiredness.
“I wanted to say hi,” Leidi continued.
“Well, hi there,” grunted Badass.
“I recognised you before, but…” She fell silent. “I wanted to say, I’m glad you made it down alive.”
Badass didn’t speak. He was also happy Leidi was alive, but he had some more to say. Too much for one conversation, so he settled for the minimum.
“Everything that happened on the ship...” Leidi ventured, “I think we can leave it up there. It doesn’t matter down here anyway.”
Anger sparked in Badass. He started to say something very bitter, but closed his mouth instead. He was really glad that Leidi survived the calamity. That happiness was bigger than anything that had happened between them in the genetics lab. But that stuff was still between them, so Badass settled for the minimum again.
“So are we friends again?”
The silence felt heavy and oppressive in the small shack. But Badass couldn’t break nor relieve it, even though he wanted to. Yes, we’re friends, but leave me alone right now, he thought.
“I guess that will have to do, for now,” Leidi said and slipped back out.
“Wait!” Badass wanted to shout after her. He wanted to give Leidi a badger skin, tell her there was enough room for a wisp like her on the other side of the generator, that she didn’t have to sleep outside with the insects… But the door slid shut and Badass balled up his fists.
He was mad at himself for staying silent, mad at Leidi for coming to make peace, mad because he wanted to make peace, but was an idiot who couldn’t speak his mind. He knew he was being unfair to Leidi and that angered him even more. Sleep had fled. Badass stared into darkness for a long time, cursing himself, Leidi and the fate that had thrown them both down onto this pointless planet.