To See The Stars
The first thing Naavalah heard was the sound of birds chirping.
She’d never heard that before, so, that was pretty alarming.
Being alarmed switched her mind into problem-solving mode. First, assess the current situation, beginning with her body. She quickly checked to see if she could move her extremities, wiggling her fingers, then her toes, and working her way up through her limbs until she was satisfied that nothing was immediately broken. That was good. It didn’t rule out the possibility of internal bleeding or other organ damage, but she’d have to assess that dial when she got to it.
Not that she would have any idea how. She knew how to fix things, not people.
She quickly chased that idea out of her mind and returned to her assessment. She was still strapped into the command chair of her Remorah, a one person service craft used to make in-warp repairs to frigates and supercapital ships. Impact opposing cushions had deployed, obscuring most of the instrumentation, though they were slowly deflating. That they hadn’t finished yet was a sign that she had only recently crashed, and hadn’t been unconscious for long. That was good, too.
Except, she’d crashed. On a planet. That...that was bad. Too bad to deal with right now.
Again, she forced herself to return to assessing her status.
The seal on her cockpit was cracked open, and hot, moist air was pouring in through it, along with a thin line of sunlight. If she were lucky, none of that would be fatal on this planet; obviously, it hadn’t killed her yet, but there was no telling how long it might take. She reached through the wilting cushions on her right, straining her arm in search of an oxygen mask. It wasn’t the sort of thing an intersystem freight mechanic was ever likely to need - if vacuum got in, you’d need a whole suit, and her routes never took her planetside. Nevertheless, she did find the thing, and she slipped it over her face, attaching the strap around her bob of black curls. A green indicator light on the bridge of the mask told her that not only was oxygen flowing, but that her Remorah still had power.
That was very good.
Naavalah reached for the comms panel on her left, set into the arm of her control chair, but she hesitated before activating it. Problem-solving protocol dictated that she finish assessing her situation before reporting in. She was alive, with no obvious injuries, and her ship was still functional, but she was on a planet, and that did not connect with anything she expected. It was possible that something terrible had happened; some sort of pirate attack, forcing an emergency refuge warp? If that were the case, sending out an ansible call might bring the attackers down on her. She needed to retrace her steps and see what, if anything, she could remember.
She remembered preparing for impact with the planet’s surface. Before that, she had tried to achieve orbit, but her Remorah wasn’t designed for that kind of gravity well. Before that…
She’d been in warp, en route to Taranelian space. Repairing the Reynolds, the freighter she worked on. In the warp.
Alarm crept towards panic. Unless the Reynold’s entire warp drive had spontaneously collapsed, there was no explanation Naavalah could think of for how she’d fallen out of the warp - and as a mechanic, she knew exactly how catastrophic such a collapse would be for the Reynolds. Images of the exotic particle reactions cascading into a feedback overload with the tokamak reactor whipped through her mind, along with stock footage she’d watched in trade school detailing the types of ruinous explosions and radiation surges that could create.
The Reynolds and its crew were her family. Risks of communication aside, she had to know if they were alive. Besides, there was no way pirates could have caused this, right?
She didn’t think so, but then again, nothing should have been able to cause this. But if all bets were off anyway, then she might as well try to get a hold of the ship.
She punched in the commands to open the ansible link back to the Reynold’s flight control center, but nothing responded. At first, she thought that was confirmation of her fears, but her training demanded she investigate more thoroughly. She tried several other channels, including the one to the bridge, which she was only supposed to use in emergencies - but what else was this? - and got the same response from all of them. Nothing. Not even the dead static she would expect from a damaged or disabled ansible, but true silence. Like the ansible link didn’t even exist anymore.
Ansible links worked through the warp. Combined with how her ship had apparently just fallen out of warp, the current silence of her ansible suggested that the warp had simply stopped working. Like someone had just turned it off.
That was very, very, very bad. Impossibly bad. World-shatteringly bad.
It was too much. Maybe she’d sustained a head injury after all. There was no way something that bad could actually be happening.
“Focus, Naavalah,” she said, forcibly maneuvering her consciousness back into the present.
“Continue assessing the damage.”
She thanked herself for that reminder, then punched in commands on the ship control panel adjacent to the comms, bringing up a holographic HUD. It was interrupted in spaces by the protruding impact cushions, but she could still make sense of the general state of things. The HUD showed her the ship’s current status: all but totaled. It still had power, but its flight control systems were damaged beyond any hope of repair. For that matter, so were most of its repair modules. Not that it made a difference, really; this ship never could have left the surface of a planet. It didn’t have anywhere close to the delta-v necessary.
Naavalah swiped through several other screens of information. The ship still had an ample supply of backup oxygen for her to breathe, though that would only be useful for a few days. Without ansible contact, there was no telling how long it might take for a rescue party to find her, and in the meantime, she’d have to find a way to survive on this planet. She turned instead to screens of data about her surroundings. The Remorah had already done a lot of scanning on their way down, and it now informed her that the planet had a Human-safe atmosphere. Naavalah lowered her mask and breathed in the air, grateful at least one concern could be checked off her list.
The data also showed signs of Human occupation, which, for a brief instant, was an all-too-welcome relief. However, as Naavalah consulted the data more closely, her relief turned to abject horror. There were only scant signs of artificial EM activity on the planet, and the snapshot of the stars her Remorah had taken on the way down didn’t match the charts for any colony on record. Those two facts together suggested that this human settlement was both off the record and frighteningly low-tech, which could only mean one thing.
Naavalah had crashed on a Lost Colony.
A low, nervous whine came from her throat as she frantically tried to remember the protocol for this situation. But with a sense of stark inevitability, she realized that there was no protocol for this. Captain Rilasi had never written one, preferring to avoid the issue of Federal integration efforts, as did most Parsipans.
Of course, as dutiful citizens of the Interstellar Federation of Species, Humans like Naavalah were supposed to support Federal efforts to reclaim and recuperate those colonies, but it was just as commonly understood that those efforts were dangerously militaristic. Officially, she was supposed to activate her emergency transponder, which would relay her position to the central shipping bureau of the Terran Governing Authority, which would in turn send a rescue party to find her - and, on realizing that they’d found a Lost Colony, be obligated to inform the Federal authorities. Then the IFS Navy would descend on this place and compel it to comply to their cultural standards.
Unofficially, most Humans, including Naavalah, thought that was a load of garbage. But what choice did she have, if she ever wanted to get home? Her fingers worked through the sequence to activate the emergency signal, but again, she hesitated.
Ansible comms were down across the board. The transponder would also send a radio signal, but unlike the effectively instantaneous ansible, radios were limited by the speed of light. A radio message might not be intercepted for decades, centuries even. Eventually, someone would come, but would she even still be alive for them to rescue by the time they returned?
Could she justify throwing an entire colony to the Federation’s wolves on the off chance that they might be able to rescue her, someday?
The whine in her throat came back, and she pulled the oxygen mask from her head, burying her face in her hands instead. She drew another shaky breath, sucking air through her fingers. This was not the kind of problem she knew how to solve.
So, she decided, she would have to solve it later. For the moment, there were still practical things she could do. She had tasks to complete that would help keep her alive long enough to unravel the moral quandary now laid in front of her, starting with getting a feel for the lay of the land she’d crashed into.
She punched in the command to lift the hatch of her cockpit and struggled to adapt to the sudden rush of sensory input. Bright viridian light poured into her eyes, and the smell of moist earth mingled with something sharp, like basil leaves. The chirping of birds turned to startled flapping as the hissing hydraulics of her Remorah finished moving the hatch aside.
By the time Naavalah’s eyes had adjusted she had an unobstructed view of the landscape in front of her. Trees – real trees – towered in every direction, the evident source of the basil-y smell. It was pine, she realized, silently marveling at the magnitude of that. But then she looked down, and her focus collapsed back onto a single point.
Someone was standing on the nose of her ship.