Last of the Lost
The sun burned down on Lian with a fierce intensity reflecting off the metal around her in harsh rays of sunlight; she struggled across the harsh terrain beneath her in a jittery start-and-stop fashion, feet burning on the hot sand. Scorching wind blew dirt and grit into her face and she pulled up the cloth wrapping she had left loose around her neck to cover her mouth and nose, squinting to keep out the debris. The tan jacket she wore was worn from heavy usage, a gift from her mother which had seemed somewhat useless before, but now had seen much service and was greatly appreciated. Her sharp grey eyes constantly scanned the sunlit horizon searching for movement or any sign of danger.
She skittered over to cover, bending over to sprint the final stretch towards the shade taking a moment to rest; her feet ached from the constant travelling, she had been doing so since the beginning of twilight, taking advantage of the setting of Urixia Prime's secondary and tertiary suns to move across the crash site that was all that remained of the great Ark Ship Iblis North which had brought her here with five thousand other settlers from Earth V.
Having cast off from Port Verium some seventeen years ago Lian had just been a child when she was put into cold sleep for the journey; she was meant to have remained that way until the ship landed on Urixia but an unexpected collision with an asteroid which strayed unseen into the Ark ships' flight path resulted in severe damage to the vessel's drive systems. For three years the vessel slowed to a crawl as engineering teams tried to repair the damage with little to no success; unable to fix the drives with just the resources available to them the skeleton crew had been forced to reawaken specialists who lay frozen in cryrostasis. Others had awoken as well with them, an unforeseen consequence of releasing the stimulator fluid into the system; those close by to their intended targets of awakening had woken as well. Lian had been one of these sleepers accidentally awoken; just a child she could do little to assist in the efforts, in fact she was more of a burden than anything else. But once awoken they couldn't put her back to sleep, the same collision which had wrecked the drives had damaged other storage areas including the bay which had held the solutions for inducing cryro sleep.
She had grown up in the empty greyness of the ship, knowing only the various shades of metal and cold white plastic as her home; one of the few children to have survived it in fact. Depression ran rampant amongst the crew members as Ibis Northdrifted through the abyss, the seeming hopelessness of the situation crushing the spirits of the men and women. Children in particular suffered; adults around the ship didn't have the time or resources to give them the attention they needed they were listless and without direction, many turned to self-destructive behaviours. Most did not survive, and were recycled by the Ark Ship to fuel the functional parts of the ship which remained. Lian was a lonely but undoubtedly tough kid, the sole Chinese child amongst all those sleepers who had been awoken she struggled to master the English and Russian spoken by most of the crew.
No one understood her, only able to guess at her wants or intentions when she cried out for help; alone with no one to assist her she learned to fend for herself. She spent much of her time in the great library in the belly of the ship, a vast abandoned archive it held a wealth of knowledge about the ship and the world she had come from. She learned many things there which she otherwise would not have; she became a useful asset, able to help out around the ship. More importantly she gave herself purpose and found the will to live that so many of her peers lacked. She became a skilled engineer; self-taught of course but still far more useful than most of the other sleepers who had been unintentionally awakened.
She was just one person though, others amongst the ship's inhabitants were less able to adapt; a mutiny occurred onboard the ship as people who were tired of the aimless drifting seized control of the Ark Ship in a coup. The former crew was executed and a new, untried leadership took over; without the necessary knowledge to run the ship as needed the sleepers brought the situation to even further ruin and the ship went from its stable state in orbit around a small asteroid to a collision course with the local system's sun.
The ship escaped its fate because of a complete accident; an explosion in the ship's aging and poorly maintained boiler room knocked it off of its doomed course. Urixia Prime, the system's third planet from its three central suns was the ship's new destination. Without power and crew the vessel plummeted through the planet's atmosphere; twenty three meters of its plate armour burned off before it penetrated the outer layers and smashed into the crimson earth below. 87% of the ship's complement of crew and passengers perished in the impact; Lian was amongst the survivors. For the first month they lingered around the impact site living off what few supplies remained from the ship; those sleepers who were still in their cryro tubes were awoken to try and help the survivors establish a colony before a way could be found to send a message to Earth V about the mission's failure.
Such did not occur; Urixia Prime's poor environment resulted in many deaths early on as dehydration and heat related conditions ran rampant amongst the helpless colonists. The situation continued to deteriorate until all that was left were a few stragglers who lived off the ruins of their brothers and sisters; Lian was one of these individuals. Now, six years after Iblis North crashed landed Lian was the only one left as far as she knew; everyone else who had once accompanied her on these supply runs to forage for food and water had died.
Lian wasn't concerned with communicating with Earth V, not at the moment anyways; she had no idea how to work the equipment which would be required and no means to do so anyways. Instead she was focusing on staying alive, a task which was becoming increasingly difficult with each day. The local atmosphere was hot and dry, but breathable so it was easy enough for her to move around, she would persist as long as she still had the will to live but leaving the planet was probably out of the question. It was improbable that rescue would ever come and by now she had accepted that she was likely doomed to spend the rest of her life here, mission unfulfilled.
The ship's impact with the planet had scattered its supplies in a large area around the crash site and over the years the survivors had slowly combed the perimeter until it was empty of resources, now some four years after the crash Lian was beginning to find it difficult to find anything of use in the wreckage; it was time to move on. The harsh planet supported little else in the way of organic life; water alone was a rarity, the one river system that Lian had found during the past three years of exploring the planet's surface was a tiny thing that had barely been able to support the dozen or so survivors that had been left by the time they'd ventured out that far from Iblis North, now Lian alone drew water from its reservoirs.
It was hard for her, working alone to stay alive in this harsh environment; she carried a metal detector under her left arm to search for salvageable material and her eyes flitted between the horizon and the red earth scanning for any sign of something that might be of use. Today would be the last day that Lian covered familiar ground in her search, she had swept a five kilometer circle around the crash site three times now over the course of the past years and tomorrow Lian would have to venture further out before returning.
She circled back around after she did her rounds, again she had come back empty handed; if this kept up she would be dead before the week was through. She wasn't that disappointed about it, not having ever known anything but life on the ship she had long grown used to the threat of death hanging over her like a cloud, she needed an excuse to move on anyways. She had realized from the beginning that she could never stay here, it was impossible for the damaged ship to continue functioning. As it decayed more and more the few remaining supplies and facilities would have been consumed or broken down and there would have been no other choice, this was merely an acceleration of that process.
Before she left though there were some proceedings she needed to take care of; there were still things within the Ark Ship which she intended to take with her. She would need supplies of course, but what few functional electronics remained would be coming with here, there was no telling what awaited her out beneath the blistering sun. Various chronometers had been taken apart, their clockwork gears and silicon panels salvaged as baseboards and generator parts for the makeshift solar panels that had been assembled to power the wrecked ship. She sifted through the makeshift arrays assembled before the cavernous opening in the sand that was the carcass of Iblis North for several minutes before selecting a portable array meant to be carried on her back; setting it aside she ventured further into the stomach of the ship to grab what little else she could before she set out for the last time.
The majority of the cyrotubes had been lost on impact, crushed against the sand in the belly of the ship they had cracked and shattered killing the occupants and staining the red earth beneath an ugly purple as the blue stasis fluid leaked into the earth. The floors above had crumpled into a folded mass of sheet metal making it difficult to access what lay beyond in the ship's nose, Lian's intended destination. She crawled slowly keenly aware of the burning earth beneath her but unable to go any faster; she risked stumbling and landing on some of the particularly sharp folds if she made a mistake and injury would most likely mean death at this point. Eventually she emerged beyond in the abandoned cockpit; a sea of shattered metal and glass greeted her below the destroyed instrument panels and dried blood was smeared all over the floor and walls, there had been chaos in this room when the ship landed.
When the ship first crashed others had come here to help remove the bodies of the crew, but besides that no one else ventured here but Lian; no one else wanted to revisit this graveyard of traitors after the mutiny and subsequent crash. Most of the equipment here had there been left alone and over the past four years Lian had periodically returned here to tinker with the parts; the skills she had learned growing up on the ship had been put to good use setting up a short range radar and a water purification system amongst other things.
She was here for the water, she intended on stripping down the water purifier so she could attach it to the backframe she was setting up; with a little tinkering she was confident that she could hook it up to the solar panels she had set aside. The toolkit she had brought up when she was last here some three months ago sat in the corner where she had left it, pulling out a plasma torch she took a moment to check the fuel meter before she flicked it on and proceeded to begin cutting away at the purifier carefully dissecting the complex box, forty five sweltering minutes later it gave and she flicked the torch off plunging the room back into darkness.
Lian hauled the wrecked contraption onto her back before taking the toolbox in her hand and crawling back out the way she had come; she had power and water figured out, now all she needed was food and shelter. Food she might have to journey a little for, but shelter she would likely find amongst the remains of old beds and rooms which had been commandeered by other survivors over the years. Her jacket would do for just travelling but she'd need real shelter from the sunlight if she was going to make it through a day cycle without burning up.
Most of the reflective surfaces had already been commandeered to coat the vessel's upper surface so as to keep the ship's internal temperature from skyrocketing; knowing that she was leaving Lian had no qualms with peeling a couple of the mirrors off for herself. She hunted through the rooms for some all-weather tarps; the flexible sheets had been abundant in the past because they had been intended to shore up any deficiency in the ship's ability to produce settlement structures upon arrival but as the ship's production facilities had simply never gone online they had been repurposed as the primary material with which to construct living quarters. She walked through the abandoned halls, marvelling at how they were still so perfectly preserved after decades of use, pristinely white and unmarred by the untold suffering that had occurred within them.
The largest antechambers had been repurposed as public space because crew quarters had been few and far between; the ship's population had been meant to remain asleep so when the ship crashed there had been nowhere for people to stay. Any space wider than a hallway had been commandeered to stuff a makeshift room into; Lian saw evidence of them in every boiler room, every junction, every lobby. But nowhere could she find any of the tarps she was looking for, it was as though they had all vanished. She scoured the ship pacing patiently down the halls, careful not to miss an inch letting her eyes lazily drift across the entirety of what lay before her.
A clink echoed through the empty halls, the sound metal on metal that bounced through the entire ship ringing in Lian's ears, the sound movement where there should have been none. She froze, then picked her feet up off the ground and pounded off after the direction of the sound. She was going to find whatever had made that sound, and she was going to…well, she didn't know what she would do yet, but this was the first sign of life that she had been exposed to in several years, she wasn't going to let this opportunity slip away. If anyone else had survived, if anyone else was still here then there was a chance that they might have a way to get off this blasted rock and Lian was going with them.
Blood pounded in her ears, and her footsteps vibrated through the hull around her, she struggled to hold the position of the sound's source in her mind.
"Hello?" her voice sounded empty and foreign, strange in the hallway where no voice had been heard for years on end.
There was no answer, and as she drew closer to the source, and closer to the heart of the ship she found herself alone in the core chamber, Iblis North's massive fusion chamber silent in its cradle. The huge sphere blocked out the other side of the circular room and from the ring-like girders Lian could see the howling storm of sand and light that shone in from the massive transparent roof. Sand was pouring in through a crack to accumulate in a pile on the concave floor of the fusion chamber, Lian could see it trickling in through some tiny hole which must have opened up after six years of erosion from wind and sand. Perhaps this was the source of the noise, but Lian couldn't confirm that; regardless she had little time to spare for the matter at the moment, she would have to assume that it had been nothing and proceed on as she had planned. Once she secured a tarp she would be one her way, away from the ship for good.
She circled the fusion core twice more before she decided it was time to move along, she wasn't one to waste time with things that weren't guaranteed to help her succeed. She stopped by the engineering room intending to replace the worn out tools in her toolkit and was surprised to find that when she entered, her view of everything was blocked out by massive piles of folded tarps stacked one atop another. She hadn't been the one to do this, but…it had been a long time since she had visited engineering, perhaps before everyone else had died someone had done this, collecting all the tarps of those who had died and placing them here in storage. Regardless it was strange, she moved cautiously through the room peeking around the corners of the stacks before carefully moving forwards. Pulling out her toolkit she poured them out onto a table and flicked her torchlight over her assembly to examine them for wear; she scanned the walls for the replacements she needed and placed her old tools back onto the shelves. She snagged two tarps from the piles, folding them up before throwing them across her backframe.
Closer and closer she crept to the edge of the ship, harsh, hot air biting at her lips, Lian trudged through the kilometers of the ship, floor after empty floor she walked and on for what seemed an eternity until she stood before the gaping hole that exposed the ship's stomach to the burning sands. One more step would take her up and away from this wreck that she had called her home these past six years, away from everything she'd known and what perhaps might be her last hope of contacting home again. If she took this step forwards she would be on her own, alone against this harsh world.
She bit her lip, chewing on it for a moment more out of habit than anything else, wrestling with her options; there weren't any when she thought about it really, she'd already determined that she couldn't stay here. She already was alone, everyone else was gone; from the beginning she had been alone, it was just that all this time she had tricked herself into believing that the people around her had somehow changed that. She had never really had anyone to call a friend, not even a close companion; an outsider from the start she kept mostly to herself and it had stayed that way even after the crash. Nothing had changed, it was just that the circumstances of the environment around her dictated that she leave this place.
Lian's whole life had always been about moving forwards, this was no different; she looked within herself to find the courage she required to take this leap of faith. If she didn't find shelter before the end of nightfall she would roast when the planet's three suns rose at dawn; she had sixteen hours, after which the daylight half of Urixia Prime's day cycle would begin, and the intensity of the light shining above her would fry her to a crisp before her desiccated corpse withered away with the sand. She forced herself forwards, one step leading into the next as she stepped forwards towards destiny.