Chapter 10:

Another survivor

Keio (9-K-O-512)

Time: Daytime, afternoon
Location: forest floor
Health: weakening, dehydrated
Additional effects - enhanced nature-vision, impaired movement

We stare at each other for a while, the stranger and I.

I did not imagine meeting other survivors like this.

The man's life-shape pulses more calmly, falling in step with the beat of the forest. He doesn't seem dangerous, but rather clueless. He slowly lowers his axe, held ready for a strike so far. “Sorry,” he says, and asks: “You must have been here a while?”

“A while?” I blink in confusion. I suddenly can't even tell. How much time may have passed since landing? The time spent in the treetop feels eternal as I think back on it, as if I had always lived in the forest. “I don't know,” I finally admit. “I've been conscious... five or six local days, I think.” Little-Friend is recovering and saves me from my predicament. It scrambles up the elk's flank and settles on the animal's neck. The elk shudders for a moment, but stays still. I throw him a handful of fir sprouts to calm him down. Little-Friend presses close to me and complains soundlessly. I scratch it, comforting. This human doesn't wish us ill, he didn't mean it...

The other survivor's life-shape glows peacefully in the forest gloom and it calms me as well. “Hey,” I dare to ask. “Do you have any water? I must drink.”

“I don't,” the stranger replies.

So I still need to find water, I think to myself. The elk strides on in the same direction, in answer to my request.

The stranger grabs his basket from the foot of a tree and hurries after us.

We walk for a while in silence. Only dry moss crunches under the elk's hooves. I realise I haven't even gotten to know the survivor.

“What's your designation?“ I ask without further ado. “I am nine-kilo-oscar-five hundred-and-twelve.“

“Eight-alpha-delta-four hundred-and-fifty-five, Badass to my friends,” the stranger answers.

I imagine the numbers in my mind and can't help but snort. “Indeed, why not. Badass then.”

“Don't you have a shorter name?” asks eight-alpha-delta... I mean Badass.

“A shorter one? Haven't needed it so far.” I think about it. “Nine... Kilo-oscar... K-O,” I mumble. “K-O, Kay-Oh…”


Nice and short. It even keeps a part of my designation. “Why not. All right, then, Keio!“

“But where are you going?” Badass asks.

“I must find water!”

Of course I don't know where it could be, but the elk must know, as it keeps striding confidently through the woods.

Badass nods, but something seems to worry him. He glances skyward, listening uneasily. I try to feel the pulse of nature, but don't sense any threats in the direction we are going. Then I feel the first signs of the cloud truffle's effect diminishing.

At last, Badass stops resolutely. “Hey, don't go there. The lake is that way, but the lake birds…” Waving his arms, he describes how the gulls attacked him during landing and how they might stalk the coast in defense of their nests. “But I just saw a spring. It's quite close, that way.” He points away from the lake.

I'm not sure if he really knows that a spring is there or just wants to avoid trouble with the birds. But thinking back on my clash with the two-headed ravens, I decide it's reasonable advice. “All right.” I point the elk in the direction he indicated.

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