nmssolitude1

I told her I’d call.

No, I know, I always tell them I’ll call. I just never do. It’s not me; it’s them. Sometimes I need other people. Mostly, I don’t. Can’t tolerate company. When I can stomach a companion, it’s always short-term. A one-night stand is usually too big a commitment.

So as I left Kika’s at daybreak after Loke Mendehlson’s second-retirement party, I gave her a kiss and said, like I always do: “I’ll call.” But this time I meant it.

She just gave me a smirk, shrugged, and replied, “What makes you think I’ll answer?”

That’s not the moment I became a deep believer in destiny and fate. Still, it’s a close second. No, that moment arrived about an hour later after I’d broken Earth orbit in my little Sol-hopper, bound for Luna to report for a month-long contract job setting up network nodes in the new Grissom colony dome.

The jumper was on autopilot as I mused about the warm smell of Kika’s skin, the bristly fuzz on the left side of her scalp where she shaved her hair for a tattoo of a black dragon, the curve of her shoulder. I listened to instant classical orchestral procgen. Pondered the intricate details of the contract text streaming through the ocular interface. The wormhole, maybe the size of a pinprick, totally escaped my attention.

That little speck on sensors opened my eyes to the truth: we all get what we want in the end, whether we know it or not. Sometimes, we even get what we deserve.

The proximity klaxon didn’t even finish its first warning whoop before the somber gray moon vanished, the HUD blurred to static, and the stars changed. Sparks exploded from the control console, scorching my fingertips and blinding me for a few moments. The little jumper spun like a bullet. As my vision cleared, I dared to nudge the yoke to bring the craft straight once more.

“Armstrong Port Authority, please respond,” I said into the transmitter. No answer. I craned my head to look through the cockpit canopy, back toward where Earth should be. No big blue marble. No Seven Seas. No Kika.

Instead, I saw a brownish-green orb of a world covered with lush jungles. Above it, beams of violet energy lanced between dueling warships of a design I didn’t recognize. They didn’t seem to be from the Stellar Consortium Vanguard or the Parallax Clawed Fist Fleet. It wouldn’t be unheard of for the Consortium and Parallax to slug it out somewhere out on the frontier, of course. Still, open hostilities ceased decades ago.

I couldn’t make sense of my coordinates on the star charts. Nothing about the local astronomy correlated with the onboard data.

No idea where I am. Stuck somewhere with warring factions. No faster-than-light drive. Enough fuel to reach a nearby planet. Basic emergency rations and water in the storage vestibule, enough to keep me alive for a couple of weeks. An exosuit to deal with hazardous conditions – at least for a little while.

I wanted solitude. Guess I got it.

It’s been a long time since I manually landed this boat. I’ll continue this journal if I make it planetside alive.

***

Landed just fine. That’s when the trouble started.

The planet, which I’m calling Requitement, is pleasant enough. Rolling hills of green, trees that seem to have autumn-hued leaves all year round, and the occasional gravity-defying, floating mineral motherlodes. No hostile fauna, but some of the plants want to poison me when I get too close.

As the first night fell over this strange alien landscape, I saw a crimson glow coming from a hillside cave. I checked it out, of course, despite the little voice inside my head screaming that it was a horrible, horrible idea. Or the whispered muttering from my mouth: “This is a horrible, horrible idea.”

I didn’t find a Hellmouth, though. Instead, I found oxide mounds and chemical pools that could prove useful. I readied the multitool from my pack, switching to the mining laser setting. Fired at one of the iron nodes.

nmscavern

And that’s when the sentinel went apeshit.

I’d seen these little floating robots earlier. One had scanned me, paying no mind to social contracts or personal space. I brushed it off as an annoyance. Eventually, it whirred away. But now it was back and it really didn’t like the fact that I’d chipped off some metal from that particular boulder.

Turns out, the sentinels have guns and they’ll use them without any warning.

Also, they can call for back up.

I ran, screaming, deeper into the cave – all too aware that I wasn’t sure I’d find another way out.