Chapter 19:

On the Hunt

Badass (8-4D-455)

Location: Sprucetop village
Health: 100%
Energy reserves: -3%

Hanging between dreams and wakefulness, a strange stillness slowly took hold of Badass. The haze blended everything together: the angry birds circling above the lake, the giant frogs, the robots spraying laser beams…..and Leidi. Only the squeaking of Naiscy’s door stirred him from this slumber. Badass squinted and saw the first rays of the morning sun, glowing through cracks in the wall. He heard Naiscy take over for Tooler. Unable to fall asleep again, Badass rose and went outside.

“Go and rest, I kept the bed warm for you,” he told Tooler, who disappeared behind the badgerskins without a word, happy to be back in his beloved shack.

It appeared that Badass wasn’t the only early riser. All the newly rescued were gathered around the campfire, shaking with the cold, brewing tea and cooking spider-rat eggs. Leidi was among them. Badass avoided glancing toward her. “How strange that I didn’t even hear them,” he thought. “I must have been asleep, without realising it.” The mood around the fire was grim. People were whispering through gritted teeth and snapping at each other for no reason.

Naiscy stood apart from the others at the very edge of the trunk, in a fork between two branches, leaning on a spear tipped with bone from an unknown animal, and stared intently at something below. Badass wandered over and looked down. Three spider-rats were bustling about, near the lowest branches of the giant fir.

“What are they doing?” Badass asked.

“I don’t know,” Naiscy replied. “That’s new. We use them for their silk and gather their eggs for food, but we don’t know a great deal about their habits. It doesn’t seem like they’re trying to attack us. Let them be and we’ll see what comes of it.” Naiscy lowered her voice and glanced towards the fire. “In that sense, the whole village is like those spider-rats. We’re a bunch of people thrown from a high-tech, fully artificial starship environment onto a primitive world, just emerging from hibernation, with no preparation and no equipment. It’s clear that no help is coming, not any time soon. Here we are and here we must live. But we have no idea what that life’s supposed to be like.” A sudden squeal came from the campfire, followed by loud shouts from many mouths, accompanied by heated swearing. Someone had tipped over the dented tin pot of boiling tea water, burning several people. They clamored loudly and accused each other.

“What on earth are they doing?” wondered Badass. He noticed to his astonishment that even Leidi, normally so timid, was red with anger, cursing one of her companions. Naiscy clenched her spear, her expression stony.

“They’re good people, but in such a state as to be ready to slit another’s throat just for looking at them wrong. They lost their civilised manners somewhere along the way from the ship to planetside, turning all these good people into a primitive herd of wolverines. I wouldn’t have thought that our culture is only as thin as its technological shell.”

“Let’s go calm them down,” said Badass. “You’re the village leader, after all.”

Naiscy’s mouth was a hard line.

“I’m so tense myself, I’d gladly stick some of them through if that would shut them up.”

Suddenly a fight erupted around the fire. The four newcomers had split in two, writhing on the ground, tearing and biting and pulling at each other’s hair. The whole village was filled with screeching and howling. Everybody who had still been sleeping was soon out of their doors, a weapon in hand, ready to repel this invasion of wild beasts. Seeing not a horde of spider-rats, but four humans struggling on the ground, they froze in shared surprise.

“What the hell are you shouting for, you damn wolverines,” yelled Badger-Bart, his expression sleepy and startled. But when the four scrappers paid him no heed, he set his weapon aside and reached into his hut for a stick with the blade still unattached. He rushed into their midst, swinging it about and started dealing furious whacks. “Get, you animals, calm down!”

Tooler and Naiscy went to Bart’s aid, but instead of calming and withdrawing, the four turned towards the new threat. Each of them had taken a hit from another, and now they stormed a common enemy. Tooler and Naiscy were pushed down and only Badger-Bart could keep the attackers at bay, giving the first one to approach a decent knock on the head so he dropped, dazed. Other villagers were now rushing to their friends’ aid.

“Stop! Stop!” Badass jumped between the two, narrowly avoiding Leidi’s kick from one side and Badger Bart’s stick from the other.

“The spider-rats are coming!” he yelled, pointing toward the edge of the trunk. The squabbling ceased instantly and everyone turned to look. They stood there panting for a while, until Badger-Bart stepped up to the forking branches and looked down.

“There’s no spider rats here.”

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief and hostile looks turned toward Badass. He glared back at them.

“Yeah, there ain’t, but if they should return, do we want to be beaten bloody, to have killed each other?” Badass waved his hand around. “Yes, this is not the apex of thousands of years of technological evolution, not like our home, the starship. We’ve been thrown onto this world and we will die here. It can’t be helped, we can’t change the past. But we can change our future. This is a historic moment: do we fight amongst ourselves and die here today or build a new life and die of old age among our grandchildren, in a nice house, in a pretty town, in a friendly neighborhood that we’ve built from scratch?”

The community of Sprucetop stood in silence, listening to Badass speak. For a moment, all squabbles were forgotten and Badass felt he had to carry on, to instill in them some hope for the future, or it would all fall apart.

“Nothing is broken beyond repair,” he continued. “Our starship was sent to find Earth, ejected from the orbit of its star by an ancient catastrophe and to settle it again. We were supposed to build the first settlement, assemble the stargate we brought along and establish a swift connection with our homeworld. Together we would render the Earth habitable again, uncover ancient history and rebuild our civilisation. Okay, so this sadly isn’t Earth, but we were created, grown and trained in the ship’s genetics labs for exactly this mission, the resettlement of a planet. Let’s do it then, we won’t get any other chance for a normal life. Yes, the ship was destroyed and all our equipment along with it, but we survived. We were actually lucky, believe it or not. The world around us isn’t a rocky desert with no atmosphere, as Earth was predicted to be. On the contrary, this world is full of life and mystery. So let us settle here, solve these mysteries and build a life worth living!”

“Badass is right,” agreed Naiscy. “Stop fighting among each other.”

“But she poured boiling water all over me,” a newcomer with a bloody face complained. Badass closed his eyes for a moment and slowly counted to three. When his eyes opened, he smiled and asked:

“What’s your name, friend?”


“Listen, Balance…”

Badass chose his words carefully. “I understand that the landing was hard, the night was cold and now you’re hungry. But we can only overcome this together. Knocking Leidi on the head isn’t going to warm you tomorrow night or feed you today.”

“And what will warm me at night?”

Badass noticed that they were all looking at him. The question came from Balance, but they were all thinking about it. These people were at a crossroads. They would either fight each other or work together and his next words would tip them toward one side or the other.

“Badger hunt,” Badass said.

“What?” asked Balance, and Badass repeated, even though the words hurt: “A badger hunt will warm us at night and fill our bellies. The badgers, not Leidi, will give you a warm skin to sleep under and their hunting grounds will give us game to feed ourselves.”

“Hear-hear!” thundered Badger-Bart. “Listen to Badass, the man knows what he’s talking about!”

“Sure he knows,” added Tooler. “He spent the whole night under my skins.”

Someone snorted and suddenly the tension that had hung between them was swept away.

“To work! From now on, we’re settlers, not castaways in space. Don’t think small, our goal isn’t to survive another night. Our goal is to build a civilization!” Badass turned to Naiscy. “Let everyone bring out their food supplies. Let’s eat our fill. Badger-Bart, find everyone a weapon and show them how to use it, quickly. Tooler, let the newcomers wind up your generator, let’s charge all the nanobots to at least three percent. That will heal our cuts and scrapes, and new injuries won’t be life-threatening.”

The village burst into activity. Everyone suddenly had a goal and petty arguments were forgotten. They all wanted warmth and food and were ready to work for it. People were already laughing about their previous squabbles and Tooler’s hut came alive with shouts and the owner’s calm explanation. Badger-Bart stood at his door distributing tips and hunting weapons: half of his hut seemed to be full of the latter. Badass stepped aside and considered this hustle thoughtfully. He didn’t even notice when Naiscy appeared beside him, having handed the village’s food supplies to those milling about the campfire.

“That was well done,” she said.

Badass smiled, but the smile slowly sank into a bitter grin. The cost of the village’s unity was a hunting expedition to the badger settlement, against creatures who had trusted him and who had taken Keio hostage. “Let’s hope they will hide as agreed,” Badass thought.

“Seeing how the dispute developed and how the warring sides always joined in the face of a new threat, I realised, the only thing that can save this village is an external enemy. The badger hunt doesn’t really excite me, I think we would gain much more from friendly interactions, but it was the only thing I could think of.”

“Don’t worry,” Naiscy replied. “You did the right thing. We need common activities to learn to work together, we need skins and we need meat. The badgers are the perfect solution, three-in-one to start a human society. Just one thing, we need to give this world a name.”

“Mortalis,” said Badass. “It means mortality and I’m afraid that putting mortality, our own and that of all the living things on Mortalis, to the test will be our main activity.”

“Mortalis,” repeated Naiscy slowly, tasting every letter in that word. “Hm, well, let it be so. Once we return from the hunt, we’ll christen this name properly.”

“I’m afraid we’ll christen it during the hunt,” remarked Badass. Naiscy laughed, but Badass didn’t. They joined the preparations and, after a few hours, the Sprucetop hunting party set off toward the badger den with full stomachs, well-armed and determined.

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