Short Story 5
"What do you mean I missed it?" Asked a panicked voice.
"You have missed the planetary rail system's most recent pass." The mechanical voice responded.
"Damn machine!" The suit-clad man shouted, "I can't be late, not for this!" Lowering his head and bracing his temples with one of his hands, he pondered on his situation. Looking up, he asked in a more level voice, "when will the next train be here?"
"As per the automated schedule, the next transit unit will arrive in two-hundred and seventy-five planetary days."
"A whole year?! I'll be a desiccated corpse by then!"
Bracing his temples once again, he muttered quietly, "Fuck, I'll be a desiccated corpse within the week."
Racking his brain, he eventually came up with an idea, "I'd like to submit a maintenance claim."
The red glow from the holographic transit AI reappeared, "what is your submission?"
"The rail's damaged."
The AI paused for a few seconds, "Sensors indicate the transit rail is functional. In anticipation, an investigatory team will be dispatched. Estimated time of arrival: sixteen planetary days."
"Shit," the man said to himself, "AI, there's a person stranded here in need of retrieval."
The AI responded quickly, "'person stranded here in need of retrieval' is not on-file. Would you like to put in a call to maintenance?"
"That'll do, yes" he enunciated clearly.
The AI icon turned into that of a phone and a quiet ringing sounded from the projection pillar.
The man stood hopefully, counting the rings. Soon, tens turned to dozens, minutes turned to hours, and the phone kept ringing with each ring draining his hope of rescue. Falling back onto the waiting bench, the man stared at the now setting sun.
"Let's see," he started, "if I sleep under the bench in the day, I might last two days at most."
Looking back at the AI, the phone icon was still there, and the rings kept adding up.
Sitting up-right and holding his head in his hands, he started to mutter to himself, "shit man, shit shit shit…"
One terrestrial year later
Dmitri looked out across the crowd who had formed around the train stop. They had stretched out along the single rail in at least a dozen meters in each direction, staying close to but not on top of the rail.
Dmitri was amazed, this crowd was composed of people from at least one-hundred neighboring towns and villages, some of which were even at war. Suddenly, the AI icon appeared above the crowd, "The train is now five minutes away, please stay clear of the rail."
The crowd began to slowly back away from the track as Dmitri walked away from the crowd entirely.
"I might as well take a piss before the line forms" he thought.
Making sure he was far enough away and also facing away from the crowd, he urinated straight into the sand, making sure to watch for sandworms. Finishing, he turned around to begin his return but tripped as he took his first step.
Rising from the sand he knew he had found something rare. The desert of E-371 was remarkably pure, "so pure in its composition that one could swim through it if they tried" Dmitri recited.
Reaching into the sand he withdrew a book of all things.
"Hmm, outdated and with no reason to be here" Dmitri said to himself, "Might as well have something to read on the train".
A few meters away, the train pulled up silently, made efficient and quiet by its magnetic rail. The crowd started to fit in as Dmitri hurried to board.
Finding his assigned seat, Dmitri sat down and watched the line accumulate in front of the bathroom. Feeling smart in his decision to relieve himself beforehand; he took out the book and looked at the cover. It was a synthetic polymer composition, and judging by the layout of the pages it was some sort of planner or schedule.
Feeling underwhelmed by his discovery, he looked at the name, "Tim Avery" he sounded. Flipping through the pages, he noticed about halfway through that it became much less organized. Flipping back, he found the first page of disorganization, with a crude title written across the top of the page: "Day 1".
Dmitri hummed to himself in curiosity and anticipation as he read, "I've nothing better to do, so I've started a Journal in my planner. Chances are nothing will come of this, but I need something to do. If anyone finds this, report my death to the department of transportation. That of E-371, specifically."
Dmitri thought back, he hadn't seen a corpse near the book. It was always possible either the corpse or the book had been moved, as the sandworms were wont to do. He looked back down as the train jostled forward.
"My chances aren't good; if I don't luck out, then the nearest person is about sixteen days away. Also, I was to start my job as the shipping recruiter at the township of Thousand-Grains. Should you find this book please inform them of my death so my family members aren't 'charged' to make up for my travelling expenses."
Dmitri cringed, "As of my first day, I have nothing else to say. With any luck the effort of writing this will be wasted."
Dmitri turned the page, "Day 2: I have now spent my first night under the bench, and as I watch the sun rise this morning I know I won't make it. Hunger has set in, my skin is starting to develop sunburnt red patches, yet the thirst is the worst of my problems. My legs cramped as I woke and my throat feels as if it has closed around coarse sand. I remind myself that chances were against me from the start, any hope was a sort of vanity as there was absolutely no reason for anyone to be out here."
Dmitri looked up at a passing attendant, "As I look up at the sky I can't tell if I am seeing high-altitude traffic or if sunstroke is setting in. The sky is speckled. However, if I had to name something good, the gentle breeze blowing sand over the dunes provides a nice ambience, it makes sleeping in the daylight easier."
"Day 3: I didn't expect to wake up this morning, but I have. Chances are I won't last the day as dehydration lethargy has set in and the effort to write is much greater than before. Yesterday I wandered out into the dunes, keeping the bench in sight at all times in hopes that the sandworms will find me. Being dragged below the grains would be preferable to this; my tongue is so dry I can't feel it any more.
Dmitri turned the page expecting the journal to end, "Day 4: I don't know how I'm still alive. I shouldn't be. Unless the saying about however many days without water is wrong. Maybe I had extra water weight or maybe it's more humid than I thought. Neither are distinctly plausible, I shouldn't be writing this. Maybe this is one of those old Terran miracles, but I'm not on Terra. Why is this colony even here? On such an inhospitable planet, what did we hope to do?
"My red patches are turning black. If I don't die from dehydration first then the three-dimensional sunburns will get me. Not that I'd live that long anyway. I may just crawl out to the dunes tomorrow, and not stop until I pass out or I draw the attention of the sandworms. Honestly, anything to get me out of here will do."
"Day 5: I can't still be here, I can't still be alive. If I'm still alive, then that means I'm still here, under the bench, but that's impossible. I must be close, the winds over the dunes have started whispering to me. Nothing coherent, but I can hear them, they had to wait to make sure I wouldn't take their secrets with me, or so they say. I'm not sure I can trust in the credibility of whispers on the wind."
"The winds have spoken louder; they've told me that the transit bastards did this on purpose! I don't remember how I became stranded here, but after this long under Myriad, I wouldn't trust my memory anyway. The winds say they have more to tell me."
Dmitri turned the page, surprised to see that the ink had now turned to blood.
"The winds have told me their secret, I am to live to seek my revenge. I am to survive in Myriads glow so I may kill those who left me here. Also my pen's ink has evaporated through its case!"
Dmitri noticed a sudden change in hand-writing on the next page.
"My name is Godzimir. The winds have whispered to me through the grains of eternity's past that I am Godzimir. I am chosen to live with the gift of my true name. Conspired by fate, given to the sand and then whispered to me, it is a gift I will not take lightly. I will write my name across the galaxy. A gift from fate should not be squandered; and will only be fully appreciated once it is known by all as the word of fate translated through the sands of time into it's impossible witness."
Dmitri flipped ahead in the book, finding the other pages blank, "That would explain why I didn't find a corpse" he concluded.
Thinking about the book more, it just didn't seem possible. Out in the planetary desert, no one could last more than two days, even with shelter. Chances were that it was some kind of bored writing, or maybe someone had added the entries to a planner they found and left it as a joke. It simply wasn't possible.
Leaning back into his seat, he continued his train of thought. They say inexplicable things happen in the desert, and also that Myriad advocates hallucinations; maybe someone was stuck out there and just lost their mind on the second day. This made the most sense, chances were the sandworms took the corpse too.
Dmitri relaxed back into his seat as the train picked up speed, "I guess I'll be seeing more of this once I start on that caravan."