YC120 Pod and Planet fiction contest - The Box Star Colony

Stars filled Justins vision as his head smashed against a bulkhead. Dazed, it took him awhile to realize the ringing he was hearing was the ships alarm and not just his own head.

“Hey Collie, you okay? That was a hard hit you took.”

Justin looked confused at the stranger looking down at him.

“What about a dog?” Justin muttered.

“Dog?” The stranger asked “I didn’t say anything about a dog, just asked if you’re okay. You should probably go to medical bay and get checked out, once the emergency is over of course.”

The cobwebs began to clear from Justins mind and recollection returned. The ship he was on had been about to pass through the Adam gate to the New Eden galaxy. Like most of the other colonists, collies, he had gone up to the observation deck in order to take one last look at the Milky Way before leaving it behind forever. The transition through the Adam gate was supposed to be smooth but obviously something had gone wrong.

Looking around Justin didn’t see anything obviously wrong with the ship, at least not with this deck. Other people were picking themselves off the ground and no one seemed terribly hurt. Maybe something had gone wrong with the wormhole. The eggheads said that the wormhole was stable with the gate around it.

“Well look at that, isn’t that a sight.” the stranger said pointing out the window.

Justin looked at where the stranger was pointing and at first couldn’t figure out what the stranger was excited about. There was the Adam gate again, just like everyone had been looking at the past couple hours waiting to pass through. Looking closer though something seemed wrong, it didn’t look quite right. Justin’s breath caught as he looked behind it and saw the large red nebula dominating the sky behind it. That was when he realized that wasn’t the Adam gate he was looking at, it was the Eve gate. They were in New Eden.

The alarms ended and the intercom notice sounded.

“This is the captain speaking, as you’re all undoubtedly aware our trip through the Adam gate was a bit more exciting then usual” the calm voice of the captain was heard over the intercom. “We’re not certain what happened that caused that jolt we all felt but I want to assure everyone that we did arrive in the New Eden galaxy safely. We’ve also run preliminary checks and have not detected any major damage to the ship. However because of what happened, there is going to be a few hours delay as we’re checked out for minor damage that could cause problems before we continue on to New Tau Ceti.”

Justin stretched his arms and soaked in the sunlight. This would be his last chance to actually be outdoors like this for some time. Although he had enjoyed the past few days layover on New Tau Ceti while supplies were offloaded from the ship, he was eager to continue on to his new home and final destination. He signaled for a transport.

“Take me to the Charles De Gaulle and Marc Ente Spaceport please” Justin said as he entered the transport. He was shocked as a rough human voice replied from the front of the transport.

“Gaulle-and-Ente spaceport?” the driver said. “No problem, I’ll get you there in no time.”

“Oh, hello” Justin said warily. “I wasn’t expecting a human driver.”

The driver just laughed “You must be a milky babe! Let me guess, you’re one of the collies on their way to Box Star?”

“Yeah, Box Star 4, we’ve been held up while the ship offloads supplies here but will be leaving soon.”

“Enjoy frontier living while you can, this planet has grown so fast I might as well be back on Tau Ceti, or even Earth now. Your shipment was the last one and with it even jobs like mine will soon be automated. Progress I suppose but I miss the early days when everyone was busy building this place up and try to be self-sufficient.”

Justin gazed out the window at the city. It hadn’t occurred to him as to how fast a planet could grow. New Tau Ceti hadn’t been colonized more then 70 years ago and except for some minor things, like the transport driver, it was already almost fully automated with all the comforts one would expect back in the Milky Way. He had always figured when he arrived at Box Star that he’d build a cabin somewhere, start a farm, and live that way for the rest of his life. Chances are though that Box Star would end up just like New Tau Ceti within his lifetime.

“Here we are, Gaulle-and-Ente spaceport. That’ll 38 francs.”

“Keep the change.”

Justin guided his moo-el into town. The beast kept wanting to stop and check everything out of course, but keeping it on task was still easier then trying to carry it’s load himself. It had been almost 8 years since the colony ship had arrived and the planet settled. While most of the colonists had elected to build a city around the primary landing site, Justin had joined a group that wanted to build a smaller settlement without a lot of high technology. Moo-els instead of hovercars, candles instead of lights, lots of physical labor. There were some advanced devices for emergencies and to stay in contact with The City on the other side of the continent, but most of those living in this settlement were content to ignore the wider world. Justin knew it wouldn’t last, The City and other settlements that didn’t eschew technology would expand and eventually overwhelm this one, but for now things were good. The moo-el began to bellow and kick.

“Hey girl, whats wrong?” Justin asked. “Whoah, hey there!”

The moo-el was going wild as it bucked and kicked at everything, destroying the cart it had been hauling. Justin wasn’t fast enough and one of the kicks hit him, knocking him into the side of a nearby building. It was then that he noticed how bright it was, too bright, carefully shading his eyes there was what looked like another star in the sky but it was visible in the middle of the day and starting to put out more light then the sun. Concern for his moo-el was lost as the light in the sky continued to grow even brighter. Covering his eyes as best he could, Justin stumbled into the entrance of the nearest building.

“What’s going on out there?” he heard someone ask.

“Blinding light in the sky” he stammered. “Must be a supernova or something.”

“Impossible, any supernova would have been noticed by a ship light years away giving us plenty of warning” a womans voice said.

“Maybe The City forgot to tell us about it?” A man asked.

“Enough of us have friends and family in The City we would have at least heard about preparations for a supernova from them, even if there was no official notice” he said.

A loud popping noise startled everyone.

“The medscanner exploded!” the woman yelled.

“Put it out!” a different man yelled. “Grab those blankets and help me smother the fire.”

Blinking his eyes, Justin was relieved to find that his vision was starting to come back. Looking around he found that he had stumbled into the settlements clinic. He saw the town doctor and what appeared to be a young pregnant couple trying to put out a small fire in one corner of the room. Listening carefully he heard similar popping noises from elsewhere in the town. Soon another loud pop was heard right behind him and he heard something fly past his head. Turning around he saw that the doctors emergency comm-unit had exploded. Smaller then the medscanner the comm-unit hadn’t burst into flames though. The fire suppressed, everyone looked at each other questioningly.

“What’s going on?” the young man asked. “What are we going to do?”

No one had any answers.

It was days before the light in the sky faded enough that it was safe to go out without eye protection. Contact with The City was severed as every device more advanced then a pendulum clock had mysteriously exploded during what became known as The Incident. When the light faded enough that the stars could be seen in that part of the sky again, it was obvious from the constellations that it had come from the direction of New Eden. Rumors and theories floated around the settlement of what had happened, attack by aliens, war with the Milky Way, divine intervention to force humans to live a simpler life. Regardless, something cataclysmic had happened out in space. As time passed though and no news about what happened arrived, people began to worry about it less and more about survival.

Antel crept quietly through the brush, he had been stalking the charrybeast for over an hour now, carefully he readied his spear. Thunder startled Antel and the charrybeast. He cursed as the charrybeast leapt away. Antel knew it was fast enough he’d never catch it now. He looked up at the sky through the trees in confusion at the thunder. The sky was clear, no sign of a storm or lightning, and the thunder wasn’t fading away like normal, it just kept going. Concerned Antel started running through the trees towards the edge of the forest so he could get a better look at the sky. As he ran, he heard the source of the thunder apparently moving across the sky. The thunder god Shoret must be doing something unusual.

On reaching the edge of the forest, Antel looked up for the source of the sound. He saw something that he had never seen before. It looked kind of like a bird, but wasn’t. It flew in the sky, and he could see it had wings, but the wings didn’t flap like a birds and a line of cloud came out from behind it. It didn’t even come close to looking like Choret or any of the gods he could remember learning about from Shaman. Worried, he began running back to his village.

When Antel reached the village, everyone was talking about what most people were calling the Thunderbird. There was a large crowd outside the Shamans hut demanding an explanation.

“People, please” Shaman shouted trying to settle the crowd down. “I know you’re all worried about what the Thunderbird means. Whether the gods have chosen now to return to us, or if it’s a portent of another calamity about to befall us I don’t yet know. Please, let us pray to Ray-Deo that he may carry our message to the other gods in their palaces of milk in the sky and tell us.”

As the Shaman bowed down and began chanting, Antel was lost in his own thoughts. The prophecy of the gods returning from the sky was one every tribe on Boxter had passed down for as long as anyone could remember. Even the heretical Sitters, who blasphemously used metal, had their variation of it. Was it possible that Mans punishment was over? The sound of the Thunderbird began to be heard from the distance. Even the Shaman stopped his chant to look up in the sky. Everyone could hear it coming from the west but it took awhile for people to see it. It didn’t look like the Thunderbird, it looked a little bit like a meteor but it was visible during the day and didn’t streak through and vanish. As it grew larger and louder it became obvious it was a large fireball.

“The Calamity is back!” Someone shrieked. “A bright light in the sky that punishes those who use metal just like the sacred tales say. The gods have come to punish, not save us!”

People began to panic but somehow over the roar from the sky and the shouting of the village, Shaman made himself heard.

“No! The gods must have sent the calamity to punish the Sitters!” he shouted. “Unlike them, we have kept true and shunned all use of metal.”

As the noise grew louder many went into their tents to hide. A few, like Antel, stayed outside to watch. Whether the gods had come to save or punish them he didn’t know, but he knew that if he survived this, it would be a story to one day tell his grandchildren. The fireball continued to grow larger but then the fire around it started to go out. It was hard to tell but he thought that some how it might actually be slowing down. Soon it was obvious that the, whatever it was, was falling much slower then it had been and the fire around it was going. As the fire faded the noise lessened and became deeper. Soon the fire was gone entirely and what was left appeared to be a mountain made out of metal floating down from the sky. The noise it made became so low no one could hear it anymore, but they could still feel it in the ground and in their bones. It blotted out the sun as it passed over them and then moved down behind the trees of the forest.

“Landing sequence complete, no damage detected to command center” the AI intoned.

“Good” Erik replied. “Send me the planned setup and warm up the fabricator. @#$% Capsuleers expect these buildings up in seconds.”

“Understood, here is a printout of the requested buildings and coordinates.”

“Looks like we’re going to be exporting polytextiles” Erik mused skimming over the plans. “Explains why we landed so close to a forest.”

He activated the intercom. “Okay everybody, we’re here. The boss expects fast results and you all know what happens if we don’t provide them. Get the storage container up ASAP, those not needed for that should be getting the extractors prepped.”

“Incoming message from scout 3” the AI reported.

“Why does he want to talk to me directly?” Erik asked himself.

“Scout 3 did not say though did indicate it was important.”

“That was a rhetorical question, you stupid machine! Just… just put him through.”

“This the foreman?” a voice asked over the speaker.

“Yes, and I don’t have time for stupid @#$% so this had better be important.”

“I just finished my initial reconnaissance of the area…”

“Then why are bothering me? Just file your @#$% report and get back here so you can help us with the setup.”

“It’s just that, the planets inhabited!”

“What? Impossible! We’re well outside the major empires and would have detected another capsuleers production facility from orbit!”

“I think they’re native to the planet. Been seeing a lot of villages all over, one in the forest right next to you even.”

“Villages… any cities?”

“No cities, just leather tents and wood shacks. Looks practically stone age down there.”

“You idiot, that just means this is an old colony that collapsed and hasn’t been able to drag itself out of barbarism. There’s lots of them across the galaxy. Get back here and don’t worry about them.”

“But, isn’t that going to be a problem?”

“Why would that be a problem? This is actually great news. It means we’ll have an inexpensive source of cheap labor while we’re here increasing our profit margins. We might even get a bonus! Now hurry up and get back to the landing site, you’ve wasted enough time scouting the area. We need everyone to get these extractors up and harvesting this forest ASAP.”

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