Chapter 1:

Boundless ice fields

Keio (9-K-O-512)

Time: Daytime, nearing sunset
Location: Continental ice shelf, unspecified
Suit functionality: Limited
Health: Somatic interface offline
Environmental factors: Somatic interface offline
Energy reserves: Somatic interface offline

My orbital pod is busted beyond repair.
I have no memories of the landing, no memories of the atmospheric entry. With my eyes shut, I can still see the magnetosphere’s green flickers dancing down there, atop the arching horizon. Then, with all alerts and warnings blaring at once, the order to initiate descent. After that? Nothing.

Now I see the same green, flickering dance in the sky above me - when it’s dark, after the local star slips behind the ice. When the air is bitingly cold.

All systems remain silent. No signals from our mothership either. My wrist terminal can barely manage a faint error display – faint, fluttering green like the electromagnetic dance up above. It only pops up for moments, then fades away.

The healing-bots in my blood have been utterly depleted, long before I even came to. Worse, their restorative charge has run out with the job half-done. My left leg cannot support full body weight and I don’t entirely control it; spasmic bursts shake both my arms at random. It appears that all neurocontrol aspects have been massively damaged: prolonged visual focus takes a lot of effort and attempts to move around upright make me dizzy.

Then again, the dizziness might be due to local gravity. Its pull feels so different to how it was on the ship; it also feels so profoundly different to the simulated sense that we’d experienced during the somno-trainings. I become more and more painfully aware of the difference the more I move around for real.

And I do have to move, all pains be damned! If I cannot force my body into motion, I shall soon perish at this very spot.

Escape pod: Crashed, irreversibly damaged
Hull integrity: Lost
Life support: Offline
Composite materials: Disintegrated
Energy sources: Depleted
Dire Emergency Protocol: Activated

Just yesterday I was still hoping that I’d get the orbital capsule’s active life support systems online. Today I’m grateful that its shell still somehow holds together and helps to preserve heat. By the looks of it, the systems have responded to a dire emergency - all energy and useful materials from the already fall-damaged capsule have been drained to load and boost the hungry health-bots, leaving only the cracking outer shell intact. As if that was not enough!

Fortunately, the vacuum suit’s simpler support systems still work. The inner layers keep me dry; the outer layers keep me warm and, when I awoke, I could quench my thirst with freshly recycled bodily fluids from the filtering pouch. In direct daylight the suit’s surface scales even provide some energy storage. But carbon synthesis, nanobot replenishment and other, more complex, operations…..all beyond my wildest dreams. I summon all my strength to hobble a whole ten paces away from my capsule and take care to examine each direction. The ice extends everywhere. Icy bumps, icy grooves, icy cavities, mixed with icy shards, flat ice fields, dents in the ice…

And the daylight pours reflections all over the place - dull and diffused here, sharp and piercing there, then refracting into a thousand hues. Eventually I am not even sure what is real and what is a mere illusion. I can only say for sure that the ice fields show no bounds.

I drag on a few more steps - now my trail almost connects into a circle around the capsule’s eggshell.

By now my suit should have stored up enough energy to keep me warm overnight. I might even have a little bit left over for tomorrow’s journey.

Soon I’ll need to retreat inside my capsule to keep warm, because the local star is already setting. Golden red is already pouring over the boundless ice and the ‘eggshell’s’ shadow stretches into a long line beside my own.

The winds that have awakened under the cooling skies bring me the sounds of flowing water. That’s how far I will need to make it tomorrow - all the way to that flowing water. If I follow the stream, I might have a chance of escaping these barren fields. Of course, first I’ll need to figure out how I could move that far. I won’t be walking, that’s for sure. Even those few dozen paces that I’ve managed so far have taken enormous effort. And effort takes energy input - the energy input that I do not have.

Tomorrow, once the big star has risen again, I shall activate. But now - now I’ll need to preserve my strength and rest up. I curl up inside the capsule’s shell, turn over to face the horizon, and bathe in the warm heavenly blaze.

Next chapter

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