Monday, October 2, 2017

Sunday Excerpt for 1 October, 2017

Eight years ago today, I posted the final part of one of the strangest stories I’d ever written, “Hogs of the Heavens.” The background of that story became the basis for my 2010 NaNoWriMo story, “The Ericson Exigency.” Two years ago, I decided to write a sequel to that novel, expanding on the short story that started it all. Since Friday Fiction wasn’t happening at that time, I never posted any excerpts from “The Foray Legacy,” and while the story remains as strange as the original short story it was derived from, I enjoyed writing it and found the concepts interesting to play with. In this first chapter, one of the main characters, Cranston Berryman, has arrived at Iota Leonis B, where the fourth planet is a binary, hence the dubbing of the planet as “Foray” by the original colonists.

Friday Fiction resumes this week, hosted right here on Pod Tales and Ponderings. I hope you’ll join us in enjoying some short stories and excerpts, posted for your weekend reading pleasure.

“Hogs of the Heavens” can be found beginning with this post:

The Foray Legacy

By Rick Higginson

Chapter 1


            The trail was faint, barely more than a thinning of the unkempt alfalfa growing between the hard-packed clearing and the settlement in the distance. Pelleted scat dotted a rocky area with few plants, near a dried mud cloven hoof print. Looks like the Erikson released some of their domestic livestock.

            A covey of quail broke from one side of the path, making a short flight into the cover of thicker alfalfa. Cranston continued on with little concern. A vessel like Erikson would not have been carrying any wild apex predators, and while some of the beasts could be dangerous once feral, Voidrunner would have detected anything large enough to pose a danger to him.

            The first structure he reached did little to suggest the settlement was still inhabited. It appeared to have been built as a church of sorts, set into the side of a hill and constructed from a mix of local rock and salvaged drop-module parts. The level of deterioration and dust indicated it had not been used in a very long time. Cranston stepped to one side of the doorway to allow more of the daylight to enter, and gave it more scrutiny. Several planks that seemed to have once served as benches were stacked to one side, with a much thinner layer of dust atop them. Well, someone has been in here more recently looking for something. This isn’t the work of some animal rooting for bugs under the junk or trying to make a nest. Maybe someone survived after all. Are they nearby, or did they come back here for something they needed?

            He left the dilapidated structure and continued towards the main part of the settlement. Drop modules were loosely spaced on either side of what would have been considered a street in a conventional settlement. All were dark inside and quiet, and save for additional evidence of someone having investigated them possibly within the last few years, seemed to have been abandoned long ago.

            Standing outside of one, Cranston examined the remnants of the door. The material appeared to have once been badly damaged and then crudely repaired. Other modules showed similar evidence of damage and patching, though the module at the far end of the settlement had burned with no indication any attempt had been made to restore it to functionality.

            What happened here? All these modules would have needed to be in serviceable condition to make the descent from the Voidship. Anything this damaged would have been torn apart and incinerated by the passage through the upper atmosphere. This looks more like riot damage.

            They had to have known this colony was not ideal for a permanent settlement, so this world could only serve as a lifeboat for the survivors. Did conditions get so bad that some of the colonists turned on the others? He shook his head. Where did they go from here?

            He went to the middle of the street and stood with his fists planted on his hips, trying to take it all in. Deep-space distress messages were rare to begin with, and most of the experts predicted that any survivors would be found in SusAn, not living on a poorly terraformed colony world. I’m not trained for this. I’m supposed to come to systems like this and evaluate them for development and colonization, not try to figure out if a bunch of stranded colonists went all ‘Lord of the Flies’ while waiting for rescue.

            Another path led off towards where he had seen the old lander. With an exasperated huff, he started down it. Partway there, he came upon a large collection of ramshackle shelters. He gave them only a brief examination. Livestock barns, most likely – not really suited for human habitation. Leaving the barns behind, he continued to the now overgrown plateau where the derelict lander rested.

            The ramp was still extended, and Cranston cautiously proceeded up until he stood at the closed hatch. After wiping away some of the accumulated dirt on the window, he shone his light inside and tried to determine the condition of the interior. Like the modules, he could see what appeared to be malicious damage. Someone ripped into those panels with no intention of removing something useful. This wasn’t cannibalizing needed parts. This was just wanton destruction.

            He did a quick walk around the lander, shaking his head at the extent of the damage and deterioration. When he’d completed the circuit, he turned away and rubbed his eyes. “Com-link, Voidrunner.”

            The response sounded from the wrist-mounted device. “Awaiting instructions, Cranston.”

            “Dispatch a micro-drone to SRV Eusebio Kino. Message: Crew of CV Erikson established colony settlement on Iota Leonis B-4A. Evidence of surviving generation of colonists, though original settlement indicates some form of violent conflict. Planet not considered suitable for sustained long-term development. Recommend additional personnel for further evaluation and probable rescue effort. End message.”

            “Confirmed. Programming micro-drone and dispatching.”

            A minute later, a high-pitched whistling sound reached the clearing as the micro-drone accelerated away from Voidrunner and climbed on an escape vector. It would take the drone a long while to reach the Kino, and longer still for the Kino to arrive at Iota Leonis B, but if his estimation of the system were correct, they would be up against a deadline for removing any surviving colonists.

            “Voidrunner, any indications of larger lifeforms nearby, and more specifically, any sign of possible human presence in the vicinity?”

            “Sensors indicate no large lifeforms within range, though visual scan shows a column of smoke rising approximately ten kilometers from your current location, on a polar reference heading of two-hundred, twenty-one degrees. Analysis of smoke suggests small, controlled fire maintained at a consistent burn rate.”

            “A campfire or cooking fire?”

            “Affirmative. Analysis matches parameters of such fires.”

            “Confirmed. I’m going to investigate. If I get too tired on the hike, I’ll contact for extraction.”

            “Protocol dictates that you should be armed on such excursions, Cranston. The weapons are currently stowed in their locker.”

            “Understood. I do not anticipate any trouble.” He checked his com-link for the indicated heading, and followed a trail that led approximately that direction. The old trail eventually climbed a nearby hill, switching back several times on the ascent, before reaching an old monitoring station at the summit. From there, Cranston looked around until he spotted the wispy smoke rising perhaps another four kilometers away.

Well, at least Deitrich won’t be able to complain that I’m not getting the weight-bearing exercise required for all Voidship crews.

            Sitting in the shade of the monitoring station, he took a wafer from his pouch and ate it, washing it down with several swallows of water. Iota Leonis A was just rising above the horizon, and the much brighter component of the binary system soon diminished the available shade.

            There was no apparent trail heading from the summit in the direction of the distant fire, but the slope appeared gradual enough that Cranston felt confident without a previously traversed path. Before long, he was walking amongst trees alongside a small stream, From time to time, the trees would thin enough that he could see the smoke, and was thus able to keep on course towards the suspected camp.

            He finally drew close enough that he thought he could smell something being cooked over the fire, though by then the stream had grown enough in size that its sound kept him from hearing anything else.

            Approaching the camp cautiously, he started to make his way across the stream, stepping on rocks jutting up from the rushing water. Midway across, he placed his foot on one stone, and when he brought his other foot forward, the stone rolled from under him. With a yelp of surprise, he splashed into the stream and was tossed about by the current. Every time he tried to get his feet back under him, or to grab ahold of a rock, the force of the water knocked him down again.

            Suddenly, he was being dragged from the water by the back of his jumpsuit. Coughing and gasping, he tried to catch his breath as he was dropped on his back on the streambank.

            “What do you suppose this is?” a voice above him asked.

            “Who knows?” A second voice behind him responded. “But you know our orders. Anything unusual from the wastelands is to be taken to the Wilbur immediately.”

            He wiped the water from his eyes and looked. A crude spear was aimed at his chest. Moving slowly enough that he hoped it would not seem threatening, he felt for his com-link, but found that it had been lost in the stream.

            Pulling his eyes away from the spear-tip to the person – correction – the pig holding it, he clamped his mouth shut. Oh, scat. Just what the hell happened here?

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