Cran Palto | Books | Raheem




Chapter 2

Without air human existence ceases immediately. It falls upon us as engineers to never allow that to happen.

—Magria Runh, founder of Gamma ShipSystem Corporation. Keynote speech at the first annual symposium.

Agra stopped dreaming and opened her eyes. Her mind was sharp, but her body felt battered. She had experienced this before during escape pod training. The interior glimmered in soft light and the voice returned. “You’ve been delivered safely to Raheem. There are no immediate threats in your vicinity. The air is breathable, and there is a full complement of supplies and equipment in the cargo hold. Please exit the pod within two minutes. Thank you for trusting Gamma ShipSystem Corporation with all your transportation needs.”

The blue and purple light turned red and pulsed irritatingly. She pulled the red lever, and the microhull parted open. Sunlight bathed the interior. She lifted her left arm to cover her eyes. She realized she was still holding the metallic data box with the sensor recordings of the anomaly.

Trees grew nearby and mountains rose in the distance. The smell of pine oils and bark lingered on a gentle breeze. Birds were singing. A cricket chirped. The air was warm, fresh in her nostrils.

Agra sat up in the pod. She was in a valley, in a plain of some sort, with grasses growing everywhere. She passed her hand over her eyes. There were two figures standing there, looking at her. She blinked, then looked more closely. Trion. Vaega. She breathed a sigh of relief.

Trion stepped forward and grabbed her hand. “Come on, Agra, let me help you.” He pulled her out of the pod.

“Where’s Terga?” Agra asked.

Vaega looked directly into her eyes. “No other pods came. The ship disintegrated and debris fell, glowing in the sky.” She had been crying. “No one else made it.”

Agra clutched her right hand to her heart, to the pain that threatened to topple her. “No! It can’t be!”

Trion and Vaega stepped to her and embraced her, wrapping her in their arms. The pain she had tried to suppress came from the deepest self-awareness. Tears burst out of her eyes and streamed down her face; a long wail of anguish escaped her mouth and filled their ears. She wanted to fall and beat her fists on the ground.

They held her in silence, letting her tears and cries out until they subsided after some time.

In the distance, somewhere from the mountain, a stag roared. Its cry echoed in the morning air, announcing they were trespassers in a wild country.

“We need shelter,” Trion said.

Vaega looked around. “And food.”

Agra knew this sense of security was only an illusion. Where there are deer, there would be wolves. “We also need weapons.”

The sun was still rising, and the air held that crispness typical of mornings where humidity from the dew was slowly evaporating yet lingered, a reminder the night had been cold.

Trion opened the cargo hold of the escape pods and laid their contents on the grass. Tools, mostly, and emergency rations, medical kits. He found a pistol with a box of bullets, a kinetic helmet and vest, some silver pieces, some field manuals, and in Vaega’s pod, a hunting rifle with a few bullets.

Meanwhile, Vaega walked around, looking at the plants that grew around them. For a while she kneeled and smelled the soil, touching it in places, feeling its texture between her fingers. After that, she set out looking for water. There were little creeks here and there, running down from the mountains.

Vaega came back to Trion and Agra and said, “we can grow food here. The water comes down from the snowcaps,” she pointed at the mountain tops, “and will keep the soil moist. It’s very rich with grasses, roots, and flowers. I am optimistic we can grow plenty of food.” She seemed very pleased.

Trion and Agra smiled at her reassurances.

“I will build a shelter here. I have all the tools I need for a stout cabin with a door and furniture,” he waved at the nearby trees, “and there is plenty of wood!”

They worked all day, pausing only for meals, which they ate together while seated on a pile of planks. Their uniforms had little nicks here and there, stains from dirt and wood bark, and sweat.

Just before nightfall, they had a campfire, a small wooden cabin with room for three makeshift beds, a little crafting spot, and storage for all the food, gear, and tools.

By the light of a resin torch on the stand in the middle of the cabin, they sat together after closing the door and sliding the stout latch that would keep creatures out. They had made a slanted roof from interlocking metal panels they had collected from ship debris that seemed to litter the entire country. They would not run out of spare parts.

“I wish we had beer,” Trion said.

“I wish we had extra clothes,” Agra said.

“I have cotton and hops seeds. Lots of other seeds,” Vaega said. “I’ll be able to make beer and we’ll have cotton for clothing someday.”

“You have seeds? Were they in the escape pod?” Trion asked.

Vaega lifted a small metallic cylinder out of her tunic. It hung on a chain around her neck. “This is a personal seed bank. It’s a thing among botanists.”

Agra looked at the metal cylinder. “Oh, that is amazing!”

“I will grow them soon. I have some flower seeds too. They attract pollinators.”

“What’s that?” Trion asked, puzzled.

“Flying insects that go from flower to flower and carry pollen to… sorry, I am over-explaining.” Vaega stopped speaking.

“It’s okay,” Trion said, smiling.

Agra looked at them, then at the water at the bottom of her camping cup—the only cup she now could call her own. She was exhausted from the day’s work, yet somehow felt she needed to say something, anything, to lift the pain, to ease the shock.

“Are you okay?” Trion asked.

Agra looked up. They were staring at her. “Yes, yes, I think so. I—”

Vaega patted her on the leg. “It’s okay. It’s a lot. You don’t have to say.”

Trion leaned back on his bed. “I am exhausted. We should sleep.”

Agra returned her gaze to her cup and said no more.

Vaega sighed. “I wish I had a proper blanket and mattress.”

Trion snuffed the torch. “Goodnight.”

Next chapter: Strangers

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