by Christopher W Gamsby
I finished off my workday the same way I have since my parents brought that old junker to Homestead, I mined for gold to raise repair funds. In total the ship required 52,560.0 credits worth of repair and in two months I raised 23,000 credits. Most of that came from selling anything I owned that I could spare, so I raised credits quickly but then funds trickled in, and so I mined gold. Gold was a common mineral on Perfection, easily found in the local hills or the desert floor. Gold was slightly more valuable than most other common minerals because gold was used in fine grade conductors and circuitry.
Mining was simple. Point your multi-tool at a mineral rich deposit and the tool broke apart the dirt and rock. The multi-tool sucked in the fine vapor and separated out the minerals you wanted from all the junk. In my case, gold was sucked into a storage cube on my exosuit and dirt was released back into the air. As easy as that seemed, it was really mind numbing work. I spent most of the time thinking about future space travel. One day I'd be able to travel to the distant worlds I sought and that made doing all of this menial labor worthwhile.
According to my scanner the rocky outcrop I mined was completely drained of gold. I decided to move on to the desert floor to finish my daily collection. The outcrop I mined sat half-way up a steep hill and the task before me now was to safely descend the slope. My boots kicked up dust with every step as I gently descended the hillock. A few moments later I slid a meter, but caught myself before falling into a roll. I stopped but pebbles fell and rolled all the way to the valley's bottom. I breathed out and relaxed before continuing. Despite my anxiety, I reached the valley's gentle slope without incident. I pressed a button sequence into my multi-tool and a tracking beam spread in all directions. The tool rumbled in my hand as it accessed the survey results and symbols appeared on my visor.
Homestead appeared five kilometers to the south, an undiscovered settlement sat two kilometers east and a slew of biological entities swarmed the sky above. On Perfection, only the small crab-like scavengers ate meat, which meant the flying creatures weren't a threat but life like that always fascinated a curious mind. I zoomed my visor in on the air born creatures and scanned the life form. Their faces were scrunched into their heads. Up-turned noses sought out airborne minerals that their mouths filtered. They favored molecules of carbon floating in the atmosphere. Light mossy fur covered a long slender legless trunk and the creature's wings spread from its arms, which at night grasped stalactites protruding from cave roofs white it slept.
I cleared my visor of every symbol except the location of nearby gold deposits and moved to the closest one on the valley floor, approximately 1/4 kilometer from my location. Soon enough I was at the gold deposit mining with my multi-tool. After five minutes the small deposit area of the valley floor was a 1/2 meter deep crater. The crater grew to two meters after 15 minutes, five meters after 30 minutes and within an hour it was six meters deep. I wondered if I had much longer to go when gold fell at my feet and my visor flashed inventory full. Finally I had a respite from my labors and I decided to head for the undiscovered settlement.
I was tired and looked forward to talking to my friend X using the communication center at Homestead, but I wanted to meet our neighbors since the settlement was so close. An hour later I arrived at the building, but it wasn't a comms relay like Homestead or a scientific drop pod like I've stumbled across before. The building was some sort of sealed up manufacturing plant. A red glowing bar adorned the giant round sliding door which blocked the entrance. When I approached, the light pulsated a lighter and then deeper shade of red. I didn't completely know the meaning of that warning, but I easily guessed it meant I wasn't allowed entrance.
The mysterious watchers of Perfection, and most of the known universe in fact, the sentinels, hovered around the manufacturing plant. The sentinels turned their attention to me, watching to discover my intent in their domain. I stepped away from the door and the sentinels scanned my exosuit with confused blinks. I quickly walked away as the distracted robots processed their findings. Some of the sentinels followed for a bit and eventually returned to the manufacturing plant. I hid in overgrown grass to watch the sentinels leave and ensure they stopped following me. I didn't start to move until I was satisfied I was safe. The grass swayed as I pushed through the plants, revealing an onyx chest-high pillar. I brushed away the grass and inspected the unusual object.
A rounded eye etched into the jet black pillar's face caught my gaze with its unblinking stare. Even though the pillar appeared solid stone, I couldn't help but feel a complexity more extravagant than I could imagine or comprehend. My exosuit reacted to the pillar and I felt a kinship between the two technologies. My hand buzzed and tingled as I reached out. Whatever long forgot civilization shaped and built the modern exosuit built the pillar. By now my attraction was inescapable and I touched the stone. My hand locked in place, followed by my arm and then the rest of my body held fast. A warmth spread from my finger tips, up my forearms, through my shoulder and when it hit my head, my mind left my physical body.
My disembodied consciousness shot through my hand, into the stone pillar and through a network of rainbow lights and flashing plasma pulses. I traversed a series of interconnected worlds and races, all of whom mulled about their lives as slaves to some unseen cosmic force. My mind arrived at an empty cathedral dedicated to that unknown power, which predated me, my parents, and maybe even my species. The cathedral lacked any type of adornment or iconography and instead appeared as a gothic palace of jagged black lines and crooked pillars. An entity appeared before me as a hollow ring of white plasma hanging in the air near the cold stone room's roof. The entity's greater consciousness stared down upon me gauging my worth. The lesser consciousnesses sparked within the plasma ring speaking a language I couldn't understand. I tried talking but nothing came from my lips. The sparks changed colors between red and orange and the cloud took on the color of the sky during a cosmic wind.
The voices of unknown languages scattered around the entity's chamber and rose in volume and speed and I felt my own being bend and writhe under its weight. Within all the confusing and unknowable languages I finally made out the phrase “you do not belong here”. My consciousness shot through the tunnels, rainbows, and plasma rings, and back out of the onyx network. I fell away from the stone pillar and rolled along the ground. My mind returned to my body and through the fear and uncomfortable confusion, I bound to my feet and sprinted straight for Homestead. I calmed by the time I reached my family's living pod. I didn't know if I dreamed the sequence or if something really happened. I opened the pod door to see if my parents were home to ask them, but the pod was empty.
A small green light blinked on our message center. I moved over to the two foot long light gray machine hanging on the wall. I pressed my exosuit gloved hand onto the message center's elongated bottom and the round upper section came to life. Diodes that ringed the circle came alive and projected a holographic screen into the air in front of my face. A message stated that I sold several units of gold and they attached credits which were my take of the charges. I placed my muli-tool into the projected light and the message “+500 credits” appeared on my visor screen. At that rate I was selling, I might never fly from Perfection.
I decided to inform X about the strange pillar, so I left the living pod, crossed Homestead and entered the communication station. The station itself was empty and the automatic controller hadn't received any transmissions, so I didn't worry about solving someone else's problems first. I entered in the access number for X's trade post but a different Krovax answered the line. I asked for X and even though the recipient didn't understand my words and possibly seemed a little disgusted at my language, they gave him the communicator. I explained the stone pillar and the consciousness transfer and the strange manufacturing plant. X just silently listened to the whole story and after an empty pause he replied.
“Don't touch one of those again P. They are relays for the sentinel systems. They are made to control the life that they need. You were lucky because they didn't need you, but you might not be next time.”
I didn't understand his reticence, since they seemed very friendly. Working with them wouldn't be bad, would it?