Saturday, 29 October 2016

Baby Writing Challenge SUPER//OVERTIME//MODE Story Seventeen: "Wherever We Go"

So...having a baby uses up a lot of your free time. Having two uses up nearly all of it. Would I swap them both for extra writing time? remains to be seen whether either of them is a match with me for possible future organ donation.

I kid, obviously. Lyn...if you read this...I am definitely kidding. Unless I need something in the future, in which case this is all forward planning.

I'm entering the final run of stories now. After this, there're only two more to go and 'it's all over save the crying' (read: editing). The master plan is to edit all the stories thoroughly once they're all finished and stick them up as a free book on Smashwords or Kindle. Given the work rate I can currently sustain, that might be after my children leave home.

This story's word was suggested by an old university friend of mine - "swazmacking". Don't look it up in the dictionary - it's entirely fictional! The random genre picker gave me "science fiction robinsonade" - so riffing off Robinson Crusoe. A fictional word and a genre thoroughly mined out in '60s and '70s sci-fi.


Ladies and gentlemen, I give you "Wherever We Go".

Wherever We Go

Flick,” said Enzo, my son, under his breath. “Just totally flick.”

I paused and looked down the ladder at him.

And what exactly does 'flick' mean, young man?” I asked, more irritably than I'd intended.

He just shook his head, shifted his weight on the ladder's bottom rung and stared miserably ahead. I ignored him. It was just a phase he was going through. There were more important things to worry about anyway.

How's it going, Angelo?” Amy called to me as she walked up from the bottom of the hill.

My wife always worried about me and now she always would, I suspected. I'd hurt my back a few years ago – almost to the point where it disqualified me from the colonisation programme – and she was forever fretting that I'd injure myself again.

Great,” I called down as she reached us, though I felt that familiar hot sensation in the small of my back that was my own warning that I was definitely overdoing it. I'd need more painkillers soon.

What about you, Enzo?” she said, turning to our son whose face was a caricature of misery. She always pandered too much to the boy. He just needed to grow up and stop being a teenager.

He muttered something to her; she nodded and reached out a hand to his shoulder in comfort. They talked quietly some more.

I ignored it all and tried to find the hole I'd drilled in the metal strut again. This little construction project of mine was an irony in itself. Back in the rocket's cargo bay, there were atomic generators and solar panels galore – everything you'd need to start a high technology civilisation – but without power to the cargo bay doors, there was no way to get at any of it.

I squinted at the makeshift wind turbine I'd been working on. Maybe it could jump start the doors. Maybe not. I had trained as the new colony's irrigation specialist – a glorified farm manager really, not as an engineer. How hard could it be, though?

Time for a break, Angelo,” Amy called up. I agreed: it felt like someone was pushing a hot coal onto my back.

I climbed back down the ladder and the three of us walked back to the rocket. It was always easy to find. The groove it gouged when it crash-landed was deep and very long and flanked by burnt trees. You couldn't miss it. The rocket was painted bright red too.

Rosella, my youngest, was waiting for us with lunch already prepared. She'd laid it out nicely as a picnic on the grass near the breach in the rocket's hull, where the metal peeled back like orange rind. She knew that I was a bit obsessed with always keeping someone near the sleeper pods in the ship and this was the easiest way to placate me.

I settled down onto the blanket and started stretching out my legs and back. Amy eyed me suspiciously. If she thought I was heading for an injury, that'd be it for the turbine for the short term. I'd have to get my painkillers later, once she wasn't paying attention. I smiled sweetly at her and picked up a rations pack. It would've been nice to have real food, but everything was in the cargo bay. Until we got it open, it was emergency rations from one of the ship's disaster lockers.

I opened my packet.

Brown flavour,” I said, wrinkling my nose. “Does anyone have grey-with-lumps and want to swap?”

The boy did, but he didn't want to exchange. He wouldn't meet my eye.

Fine,” I scowled. In truth, the brown flavour wasn't awful. It was a hearty meaty-oniony slop, but it had a nasty metallic aftertaste. It would do in the short term.

I looked at one of the unburnt trees nearby as I chewed. It had a pale mustard coloured trunk and fountained giant fronds out of the top of the trunk, each weighed down by a black sphere as big as my fist. Maybe that was food.

Amy followed my gaze.

Not until you've tested them for biological compatibility,” she said.

I looked back at my brown gloop. The biological compatibility kits were in the cargo bay too. I would've cut right through the armour around the cargo bay right now for the chance of some fresh fruit but the fusion cutters were in there too.

I'm going for a walk around the pods,” I said, setting down the gloop packet and standing stiffly.

Rosella rolled her eyes at the boy.

What?” I said. “I trust you to have looked after them. I just want to check too.”

See?” said Enzo. “Choi. Really choi. Like I said.”

Rosella nodded.

I wasn't going to validate him by asking what that slang meant. In fact, whatever I did seemed to annoy my kids, but Rosella was taking the lead from her big brother. God alone knew what I'd done to make the boy so hostile.

I walked off silently to the hole in the spaceship's side. It seemed like the dignified thing to do.

The rocket's interior was cool and dark, a universe away from the sunny day outside. The smell perceptibly changed too: outside was floral and alive, inside smelled of burnt metal. The main chamber stretched away into the darkness, populated by dozens of tiny blinking lights. The sleepers. Could we ever get them to wake?

Our four empty pods were at the front of the sleeper bay, as they should be with our family name of Abano. The main computer, starved of power since the accident, been able to wake just one family group before it died.

Next along the bay was the Adams family, still sleeping. A grandparent, a father and three daughters. I'd been wondering what happened to the other parent, but there was no way to ask, not until we'd woken them up. They all looked so peaceful in the pod, like they really were sleeping rather than held in stasis. It almost seemed like we just needed to force the lids up and pull them out, but the shock would be immediately fatal. No...this had to be done properly. The computer had to be repowered and their reintegration had to be carefully managed.

I walked all the way down to the defunct computer room at the prow, tapping each pod once, until I found Ms Zywiec and her twin boys at the far end. I'd never met all these hundreds of people, but my family were responsible for all of them now. How long did we have to wake them? How long would the battery backups on the pods last now that main power was never coming back? Who knew?

Probably someone in one of them, I thought sourly.

Still, there was no sense delaying any longer. I would have to eat that brown slop and try to make conversation with my son.

Enzo studiously ignored me as I left the rocket and walked back over to them. Amy ignored the tension between us. Rosella was happily chewing on her orange-coloured ration and was oblivious to everything.

Sleeping safe and sound,” I said lightly as I sat: the same joke I always made.

I'm going for a walk,” Enzo said immediately, dusting himself down and walking away.

Me too,” Rosella said and scampered after him.

Amy and I watched them go.

Remember to take a rifle with you!” I shouted after them. “We've got no idea what animals live on this planet!”

They ignored me. I watched them round the end of the rocket and start wading into the waist-deep fragrant grass that seemed to grow everywhere like a weed. The wind carried the scent released by their passing: a strange, yet enticing smell of something floral combined with melted butter.

I think you need to talk to him,” Amy said, following my gaze.

So the turbine's coming along well,” I interjected before she could continue. “I reckon another few days and it should be ready. Perhaps another day of charging up the batteries after that and then we can get into the cargo bay.”

Amy didn't reply. I kept talking into the silence.

It's nice here,” I said. “Very lush; very verdant. I think everyone will be very happy with this planet once they wake up. I know they were expecting the Tau Ceti star system and this is...wherever it is, but...”

I trailed off and took a bite of my ration, chewed thoughtfully and continued.

I wonder where we are. I mean, who can tell how long the rocket drifted after the collision? Actually...if the FTL drive was still firing after the accident, we might have gone a very, very long way off course.”

Amy was still watching me.

We're just lucky that the computer picked this planet to crash...”

Amy was giving me 'the look'.

Fine!” I snapped irritably. “Rather than finish building the vitally important turbine, I'll go and deal with our stroppy son!”

I threw the half-eaten ration on to the pristine grass on this pristine planet. Amy gave me another look. Even more annoyed now, I rammed the ration into my jacket pocket and stomped off to find the boy.

I remembered to grab a rifle from the rocket's disaster locker as I went. I wasn't a petulant, stroppy and ungrateful adolescent: I knew that this is an unsurveyed planet and, although we'd not actually seen any animals yet, there could be anything over the horizon.

Thankfully, Enzo and Rosella hadn't gone far: about half a mile to a stream that trickled out of a forest and past a small hill, colonised by that same grass. I wondered if I'd ever get tired of its smell.

They were both dangling their bare feet in the water, kicking gently. When I got closer, I saw that they were teasing small gold coloured fish that darted back and forth in the shallow, clean water.

Don't do that,” I said as neutrally as I could. “What if those things are carnivorous or carry diseases or something? Get your feet out of the water.”

Neither of them turned to look at me; neither of them moved.

Dad, you're haptch,” Rosella said angrily. “Dre haptch.”

Enzo hid his smile badly. I lost my temper.

It's bad enough that I have to put up with Enzo, but don't you start with that stupid slang too! This is an unknown world! We have no idea...” I shouted, but Enzo exploded in turn.

I don't want to be on this dre fren world! I want to back on Earth, in our apartment, with my friends!”

I opened my mouth, but there came a terrifying, bellowing roar from the horizon. My blood chilled and I lost my words.

What the hell was that?” I said, the argument forgotten.

The roar came again, louder. Whatever it was was big and getting closer.

Back to the ship!” I shouted.

Enzo opened his mouth to argue.

Run!” I shouted again, barely audible to even myself over the snarling bellow. Whatever it was, it was charging down from the mountain range beyond the forest!

The children ran barefoot as fast as they could. I raised my rifle, covered their retreat for a few seconds and ran too.

It was crashing through the forest now. I heard trees groan and splinter. I glanced over my shoulder, but couldn't see anything.

Ahead, Rosella tripped and fell.

I dropped my rifle, grabbed her under her arms and heaved her upright. A muscle wailed in my back; she was a lot heavier than I'd remembered, now that she'd grown.

We ran on, the pair of us; Enzo was already at the ship, shouting at Amy to get inside. The wind rose. Long grass whipped at our legs.

What's going on?” said Amy, just as another howl ripped across the sky.

Her eyes widened at the sound.

What the hell's that?” she yelled over the wind.

I grabbed her arm and pulled her inside the rocket, following after Rosella and Enzo. We were still in danger inside: the gash in the ship's hull was long and wide. Whatever this thing was could probably get in.

You three get inside the disaster locker!” I shouted. “I'll stay here and if anything looks in, I'll shoot its eye out! Someone has to protect the sleepers!”

That was gross optimism. Outside of the colony training program, I'd never fired a gun. Even after, I'd been a middling shot.

There was another howl and I remembered I'd dropped the rifle outside.

Everyone inside the locker!” I shouted again. “Now!”

What about the sleepers?” Amy asked.

If we all die, they're never waking up at all!” I replied.

We bundled into the small locker. It was lucky we'd mostly emptied it of supplies, otherwise we'd never all have all fitted. I pulled the door shut, but it was only held closed by a thin latch. It was pitch black inside. Everyone held their breath, statue-still, listening.

There was a scream outside, but it was the sound of tearing metal. There was a crash.

It went silent again.

Dad...” Enzo said nervously before he was interrupted by the hideous sound of claws scraping down the hull.

The sound echoed deafeningly. Rosella screamed and pushed herself into Enzo's arms. Whatever it was clawed from the top of the rocket's hull to the bottom in one smooth motion like it was trying to open a tin of beans. Amy wrapped her arms around our children; I braced myself against the thin metal door. The wind howled around the hull.

I shut my eyes and tried to keep breathing.

As abruptly as the attack started, it was over. The wind fell away to nothing and there were no more howls, but It took another hour of dead silence before we felt safe enough to leave the locker.

When we stepped outside, my wind turbine had been smashed to splinters and strewn for hundreds of metres in every direction. Great twisted shards had been thrown against the hull, which had been scored with dozens of claw marks.


We spread out over the wreckage, stepping through the twisted metal and snapped electronics. I'd built the tower quickly so it wasn't sturdy, but a bomb would've done less damage to it. Something had rammed it hard.

Seen it yet?” I yelled, turning over a chunk of sheet metal with the tip of my shoe.

Haptch!” Enzo yelled, swearing I assumed. “No...wait! It's here!”

We all ran, converging on him. By his feet was a mangled metal cylinder: the turbine's generator.

I guess I'm not fixing that...” I said as he stooped and held it up.

The wind ruffled the grass, stirring flakes of what looked like snake scale shed all over the hill. No-one spoke.

Sweetheart, can we talk? Enzo and Rosella...start piling up everything that's not broken please.”

The two children moved away over the hill top. They didn't speak to each other.

What is it, Angelo?” she said quietly.

I don't know enough about machinery to repair the generator, so we need a replacement. Problem is that we cannibalised it from one of the loading crane's motors and there's only one more left,” I replied.

So just make sure you don't break it,” she said, glancing back at Enzo and Rosella to see if they'd overheard. “If there's no power, there's no supplies and no more people.”

What if I rebuild the turbine and that thing comes down from the mountains and smashes it all again?” I muttered.

What's your solution?” she replied.

Dad! I've found your choi rifle!” Enzo called up to us. He was holding it up, standing in a large area of flattened grass covered in that snake scale stuff.

I have a plan,” I said quietly and bit my lip.


There had been an argument, a bad one. Amy and I didn't argue much at all but when we did, it felt like the world was blasting apart under our feet. We'd sent the children outside, but I knew they'd hidden just out of sight so they could hear every word.

I thought she was being irrational, but she disagreed. My plan made complete sense, but she disagreed.

I was going to have to go to that mountain range – to that gap where I thought the howling had come from - and kill that thing in its lair, as far away from the ship as I could manage. What if it broke the last generator? What if it worked out how to get into the ship next time? The sleeper pods were strong, but not that strong. What if it sniffed us out in that flimsy locker?

Amy would need to stay with the ship: we couldn't leave the pods or either of the children alone without an adult and she understood the workings of the pods much better than I did.

I would need help, though – someone to watch my back - and that was the problem. Rosella was only ten, so she couldn't come.

That left the boy to watch my back. The thought didn't fill me with confidence.

When all the shouting had finished, Enzo had meekly agreed to come up into the mountains with me. Amy speared me with a look that said what she’d do to me if I came back without him. Rosella started crying and hugged her brother around the waist, as distraught as if he was heading to the gallows. Once Amy had finished glaring at me, she hugged Enzo too.

I stood alone, like I wasn’t the man who was going to trek out into the wilderness in search of a giant beast, like I wasn’t deserving of an accolade or my own hug.

When the boy and I left the next morning, no-one had really spoken to me since the argument. The beast hadn’t come again that night, so it’d been quiet, but the row hung heavily in the air like thick vapour. When we tried to get out of the rocket, we found that a gentle breeze had blown drifts of snake scale up against the hull. Getting outside was like stepping through ankle deep snow. When I picked up a scale, it was nearly weightless and brittle. That was a relief – at least this thing wasn’t armoured, whatever it was.

I’d taken two rifles and two boxes of ammunition from the disaster locker; I gave one of each to the boy. He held them awkwardly before stuffing the box into his backpack and slinging the gun over his shoulder.

Amy and Rosella just watched us go, walking away into the long grass, alongside the stream. Everything that needed to be said had been. I waved, but no-one waved back.

The distance fell away quickly. Minutes melted into hours and the mountain range crept closer still. I reckoned we’d be there by early afternoon. We’d need to walk back in the dark, but once the monster was dead, what else was there to fear?

A little, terrified piece of brain kept pointing out that we'd not seen any animals since we landed. We were walking across an impossibly verdant landscape, but the largest things we'd seen were a few fish and a handful of insects. Where were the mammals? The reptiles? Where was everything that should've been roaming this beautiful land?

The grasslands eventually gave way to a thick carpet of purple moss that glowed faintly when we stood on it. I’d never seen anything like it before. I turned to the boy to remark on it, but realised I hadn't spoken to him once in the hours since we'd left the rocket.

I slowed and sat on a rock by the river, motioning the boy to sit with me. Enzo didn't follow suit; he just looked down at me with a combination of pity and contempt.

Backache?” he said in a tone so devoid of emotion that it hurt all by itself.

I ignored it. If Enzo wasn't going to be man enough to fix our relationship, I'd have to do it for him.

Grandad Abano would've liked this place,” I said conversationally.

The boy didn't reply, instead shifting his weight from one foot to the other.

He was always fond of plants,” I continued. “He always used to take me to the gardens in our arcology when I was a little boy, but he always hated having to pay the entry fee.”

Enzo said nothing. As an adult, it'd always annoyed me too: the arcology we'd lived in – Arcology 7127 - was a gigantic structure, home to nearly a million people, and you would've thought that might've warranted a few free amenities but you'd be wrong. Just as we were preparing to leave on the rocket, there'd been protests about raising the entry fee to the gardens again, for the third time that year. My father always used to talk about his childhood, when the climate permitted walks outside the arcologies. He might've been talking about the Trojan War for all it meant to me when I was young but now that I was out in nature myself I could appreciate his frustration.

Perhaps reminding Enzo of home was the wrong tack.

I could teach you to shoot, if you like,” I tried. That was something fathers did with sons, wasn't it?

Enzo shook his head.

Already know. Tre stunging shot already,” he muttered.

What? When?”

Denny,” he said.

Denny! I'd forbidden him from seeing Denny! Denny was that chunk of human-shaped slime who was always hanging around the arcology's abandoned lower levels. He and his little gang of miscreants were always vandalising something. I'd tried to get the arcology's security services to sort him out, but they always claimed they were too busy. They hadn't realised that the arcology was already worn-out and stunts like that time Denny shorted out one of the elevators were just hastening its terminal decline.

I looked at him with bitter disappointment. I'd expected better from him. I stood up from my rock without speaking and started walking towards the mountains again. After a minute, he followed.

The grasslands began to give way to forest and purple scrub plants that crackled dryly underfoot. Before I lost sight of the mountain tops through the trees, they still looked a long way off. I'd been trying to avoid thinking about whatever lived up there, but whenever I wasn't thinking about the creature, I was angrily brooding on Enzo consorting with one of the arcology's gangs. I didn't know which was worse. I thought back to the wrecked turbine. The monster, definitely.

It was difficult to control my imagination. Something that could get down from the mountains to the rocket ship in just a few minutes was fast. Something that could smash apart my turbine in seconds – rickety though it may have been – was strong. Presumably, the bullets in the rifle could penetrate the creature's carapace. Maybe if we couldn't kill it outright, we could just...

The ground popped beneath my feet and vanished.

For a brief second, I hung in the air, wondering what that damping bursting sound was.

I fell.

The strap of my rifle snagged on something beneath me and I snapped to a stop before I went too far. A band of fire scorched across my chest and something in my back crunched with its own inferno of pain.

I didn't cry out. I probably just hung there for a moment, stoically taking stock.

The pit I'd fallen into was easily twenty metres deep and rocky at the bottom; if I'd fallen, the impact might've killed me. As it was, I was still dangling too high up and if I fell now, I'd break my legs and there was no way Enzo would get me out of a pit that deep by himself.

I went as still as I could manage.

Dad!” Enzo shouted from above. “You're snagged on a tree root: don't move!”

Oh? Good idea!” I said, unable to halt the sarcastic reply slipping out of my lips.

It wasn't ground you walked over,” he called down. “It was just thick algae or maybe fungus that grew over...”

If we could save the science of this for later, I'd appreciate it,” I said, trying to move my head and jaw as little as possible.

There was clicking and movement from above.

Dad?” he called down.

Still here...” I replied.

I'm lowering down my rifle strap. Wrap it around your backpack's chest straps a few times and clip it onto something. I'll pull you up.”

Don't be ridiculous. I'm a grown man and you're just a boy: you're not going to be strong enough to pull me up by yourself. Let me think of a plan.”

The end of the rifle strap lowered past my face. I could only have been a few metres down if it could reach me.

Look,” I called up as I started tying the line to my pack. “Just secure your end to something and go and get your mother, I'll...”

I jerked upward a few inches. My back might've been agony just then, but I stayed stoically quiet again.

What are you doing?” I cried.

I slid up an inch and then another. Again and again, I slowly slid upwards, every motion stabbing white hot glass into my spine. When, an eternity later, Enzo pulled me onto the grass, I collapsed and so did he.

Did it!” he said proudly between gasps.

I couldn't move. I couldn't breathe. Everything was pain.

Dad...what's wrong?” he said from a million miles away.

Backpack,” I managed to moan.

Enzo rolled me over clumsily to get at it and I blacked out as pain washed every other colour from the universe.

When I woke up, the pain was gone. I could even sit up. I was still in the forest, but it was later in the day. Enzo sat nearby, slowly eating a ration pack. When he heard me waking, he'd turned to face me with a blank expression.

How long have I been out?” I said groggily, rubbing my back.

Enzo tossed something to me. It was a small white tube, capped with a needle. “QUASIMORPHINE 10mg” was stamped in accusatory red letters along the side.

There were lots of those in your pack,” he said.

Look...” I started.

You told Mum it wasn't bad,” he said, rising and walking towards me. “You told Mum your back was fine. You told Mum you were healthy enough to help found a colony.”


'Healthy as an ox', you said!”

This is private!” I snapped. “I don't have to explain myself to you! And you're not to tell your mother about this either! She's got enough to worry about as it is.”

But you lied to her! You lied to all of us!”

Don't be so childish!” I said, feeling a hot flush rising up my neck.

What are you going to do when you run of morphine? It's not like we can make any more!”

I'm not having this conversation with you!” I said, picking up my pack and getting ready to go.

If you'd told the truth to Mum, she never would've let us go! You lied and got us trapped on this dre choi haptch planet! You made the decision for all of us and I'll never see my friends again! I hate you!”

I froze and turned slowly.

Now you listen to me...” I growled through gritted teeth. “You listen to me about your 'friends'.”

There was a howl, deafeningly loud, from the mountains.

All the blood drained from my face at once. It had come and we weren't ready.

The undergrowth began to shake.

Quick! Up a tree!” I shouted, guessing that might be safer than staying on the ground.

We scrambled up one of the amber coloured trees nearby, found a few branches to sit on close to the top and grabbed the trunk, pulling ourselves as close as we could to it. The bark was rough and flaky: I couldn't get a proper purchase. I dug my fingers in and tried to hold the branch between my legs. Enzo was a little higher than me on the opposite side of the tree. When the wind picked up, his branch began to sway.

Just hold on,” I shouted over the growing noise. “When it comes, I'll kill it. You stay there.”

The whole tree began to shake now. I should've been looking for the creature, but I couldn't stop looking at Enzo, worrying. It was a stupid idea to bring him. He could die here and it'd be my fault. This wasn't supposed to happen. Parents protect children, not throw them in harm's way.

His eyes were wide with fear. I remembered when the power failed across the arcology and seeing his terrified eyes glowing whitely in the torch light through all the hours we waited for it to be restored. For a second, like an optical illusion, I saw both the man he was becoming and the boy he no longer was superimposed over the top of each other. Frightened boy; resolute adult.

Wind punched through the forest, tearing the breath from my lungs. It roared through the forest and the trees shivered under the impact. Leaves and dust whipped up into the sky; I pushed my face close to the tree's bark and screwed up my eyes as much as I could without closing them. I needed to see Enzo.

The tree trunk started to disintegrate under my grip, flaking away. My fingertips sank into it like it was air. Enzo was the same: plumes of amber coloured flakes were whipping away from him in the gale like smoke.

Hold on!” I screamed into the hurricane, but there was no way for him to hear me.

Above, whole branches were vanishing into the wind. The tree was shortening rapidly. A few others in the forest were too, but most were whipping around madly, thrashing and creaking.

I looked back at Enzo just in time to see him lose his grip. It wasn't his fault. It wasn't. There was barely any tree left to grip: his hands just passed straight through the slender stalk of the remaining trunk as it evaporated in front of him. There was nothing left and the full force of the wind caught him squarely in the chest.

If he screamed, I couldn't hear it over the wind, but I felt something like a scream echo in my bones.

He fell to the ground somewhere below, lost in the madness of amber smoke.

Then, as soon as it had started, the wind stopped with a shocking suddenness. There was a gentle rustle as everything borne by the wind pattered back to the ground. Everywhere were giant drifts of amber, but no signs of Enzo. I unclenched my hands from the narrowed trunk and slid back down to the ground, dislodging great gold flakes as I did.

When I touched the ground, I sank immediately to my knees in the softness.

Enzo?” I shouted, rising panic clutching my chest. “Enzo?”

There was silence. There wasn't even a breeze now.

Random thoughts began flashing through my mind. Was he hurt? Was he dead? How far had he fallen? Was that enough? Was the last conversation we'd ever have: a stupid argument? Had I gotten my son killed?

I waded through the glittering drifts, scooping up great handfuls as I randomly dug. He must've sunken into it somewhere. Could he breathe? Was he being smothered right now while I tried to find him? Was I going the wrong way and I'd only find him when it was too late?

The heel of a shoe stuck out a dozen metres away. It wasn't moving.

Enzo!” I shouted, forcing my way through the drifts as quickly as I could. My legs ached from the effort and my back pulsed with the return of pain: I paid none of it any attention. I half-fell, half-slithering onto my front by him and started to dig.

I uncovered his calves, then his knees. He didn't move. Had he landed on his head? There were no doctors on the planet. What if he'd fallen on his head?

When I found his backpack, I grabbed it and pulled as hard as I could. Inch by inch, as every muscle in my back cried out, I pulled him back to the surface and rolled him over. Flakes of bright amber were stuck all over his face like a death mask.

I brushed them off. His face was pale; his eyes were closed.

He was still breathing.

I felt my shoulders relax slightly and shook him. He didn't wake. I cradled his head.

I'm sorry,” I said, trying again. “This is all my fault. Please wake up.”

His eyes fluttered beneath his eyelids. I felt a strange desire to confess.

I'm sorry I took you away from all of your friends back on Earth. I'm sorry that you're never going to see them again. I'm sorry that I never really asked you if you wanted to leave and live on another world.”

The muscles in his cheeks twitched.

I didn't hate Denny. Honestly, I didn't. I hated everything he and his gang stood for. You haven't lived long enough to see it but the arcology was dying. All of them are, all over the Earth. It started with small things: bulbs burned out, the power failed and it would take days to fix it. Maintenance crews always seemed overstretched. When you were five, the ventilation system on some of the lower floors broke completely and they just never got repaired. There was never even any talk of them getting fixed either: everyone just grumbled and relocated. Gangs began mugging people in the corridors...attacking each other in the corridors and damaging the arcology because they were bored or because they wanted to steal something. No-one knew where the security services were.”

Enzo took a long breath in. It whistled evenly out. His hands moved slightly,

When that newsletter got published – the one that said the other arcologies were hoarding vital supplies and that we needed to take them, by force if negotiation didn't work – I knew that we had to go. I couldn't have my children raised in a place like that, a place with no future. You two deserve the best of everything. Maybe I didn't do this right. I'm not perfect. I tried.”

His eyelids fluttered.

I just wish we could've taken my dad with us. He was so distant and cold, but I miss him too already...”

Enzo opened his eyes.

What happened?” he said groggily. “Were you saying something?”

I shook my head.

No,” I said. “Now...get up on your feet.”


With all the drama of the sudden storm in the forest, we didn't reach the mountains until evening. The silence between Enzo and I was starting to thaw: we'd even chatted briefly about what specialisation he'd choose once the colony was up and running. It felt that the sort of conversation that a normal father and son might have.

There were times that I forgot what we were walking towards. The monster hadn't made an appearance during the storm, but we'd both heard it. It'd been very close. The swirling chaos of the amber flakes must've hidden us somehow, but it didn't seem to be a trick we could exploit again, once we found wherever that thing lived in the mountains.

You don't think it got past us and back to the rocket?” Enzo asked anxiously.

No,” I said firmly, but with no evidence to support that.

We climbed and climbed, staggering up loose scree, higher and higher up into the mountain pass. There was no sign of the monster yet. I gripped my rifle more tightly.

We walked on, the sun slowly setting behind us. I started to worry that we wouldn't find this thing before darkness fell. The thought of fighting it in the dark chilled my blood. Here, there were deep claw marks into the rock.

Were they claw marks, though?

They looked a lot like wind erosion instead, on closer inspection. I told Enzo.

Where does the hurricane come from then?” he asked.

I shrugged.

I think it's the mountain range itself,” I said as we passed another deeply etched grey rock. “I think there's some sort of quirk of geography here that funnels the air in the evening through the gap in the mountains. Maybe there's an ocean beyond the mountain range and the air surges through as the land cools.”

I knew it was my nerves talking. The shadows were lengthening rapidly now.

Where is the drietch thing?” Enzo whispered. He was doing so well: at least his nerve seemed to be holding fine.

There!” I hissed, pointing.

I'd seen another drift of those snake scales, the gold coloured ones we'd seen around the ship after the attack. It must have been closed.

I walked over slowly; Enzo followed, rifle raised, covering my back.

The pile was loose and the scales had lost their lustre. I noticed that dozens of green shoots were pushing their way up through it all, roots scrabbling desperately at the thin soil for a purchase.

Enzo bit his lip; I recognised the mannerism.

The snake scales...they look like those flakes from the trees, don't they?”

I nodded. They looked exactly like the amber tree flakes.

It came to me in a flash. They were seeds!

They were seeds, clearly adapted to disperse on the wind currents. That in itself was damn strange. Wind pollination for seeds that big is very inefficient because they were so heavy: it's much simpler to just grow some seed-studded fruit for animals to eat and deposit somewhere. However, if enough time passed, some plants might adapt to exploit regular blasts of hurricane-strength wind.

When I told Enzo, he stared at the mountains for a while, lost in thought. He was a good boy and he had a good brain on his shoulders, use of slang excepted of course.

Doesn't explain the dre haptch howling though, does it?” he replied eventually.

No. It doesn't,” I said. “Something's still up here.”

I was right. Eventually, we saw it.

Stretched across the pass was something like a spider web, except that understated the sophistication of it. Metal cables stretched from one side to the other, knitting round each other and supporting dozens of shapes from tiny to huge, all forming a giant asymmetrical mesh, dozens of metres tall.

What the geshing haptch is that?” Enzo said and whistled through his teeth.

It was clearly artificial and had been built by someone with a much more sophisticated understanding of structural engineering than me.

Whatever it is, it's been here a while,” he pointed out.

Scrubby black creepers had colonised the lower cables, wrapping round and round like ivy. They were clearly trying to colonise the entire structure. The whole thing gave off a threatening sound, like a disappointed moan that'd almost dropped out of audibility.

Aliens maybe?” I suggested. Enzo shrugged and he was right to be sceptical. Aliens were a fantasy, but this didn't look like anything I'd seen a human build.

We walked closer and every step revealed a fresh intricacy: an invisibly fine mesh between some of the thicker strands, a crystalline lump at the nexus point of six cables and the glittering roots that grew into the rocks and anchored it all in place across the pass.

It looks like a harp,” I said, mostly to myself. “Take away all the gubbins and it looks like a giant stringed instrument.”

Enzo gently placed his hand against one of the cables.

Humming,” he said. “Very quiet, very low, but humming.”

I tried it with the one nearest me, but there was nothing. It had been completely smothered with the black vines but even their choking embrace hadn't damaged the cable, whatever it was made from.

I think this thing is broken,” I ventured. “I think it's out of tune because of the vines. It must be what made the howling sound whenever the wind blew.”

Was there a beast at all then? Enzo had jumped to the same conclusion.

So the geshing wind turbine...?” he started.

It wasn't well-built,” I interjected. “A blast of wind that strong would've ripped it to pieces.”

We both looked at the overgrown alien instrument, sadly playing its discordant music.

With no more than a shared glance, Enzo and I started ripping the vines from the cables. It was easier than I'd expected: once the roots were pulled up from the thin soil, the whole plant seemed to just give up and detach, falling down from even the highest reaches as great coils of black. Perhaps it was part of its own strategy for dealing with the wind. As the cables were released, the web started to thrum with a pleasing yet nearly inaudible sound as it caught the breeze; the disturbing moaning sound diminished and then was gone.

Enzo and I stood back, panting, and looked at our handiwork. The web now sounded like the woodwind section of an orchestra playing very softly.

It was while we were resting for the journey back that Enzo spotted it. Cut into the rock nearby, scratched and scuffed by the wind but still visible, were a series of shapes that could be, in the right light, be thought of as letters.

A signature, perhaps.

Someone was tre happy at what they'd made,” Enzo said, slinging his pack over his shoulders and heading back down the slope.

I smiled at him.


The wind didn't return for another week, more than enough time to better secure everything back at the rocket. With Enzo's assistance, I'd rebuilt the turbine, anchoring it to the ground much more firmly and bracing the whole thing against the blast. In fact, Enzo had had the idea of linking the turbine up to the ship's capacitors: the power we could generate from the storm would probably provide enough power to open the cargo bay doors and wake up the first few families as well.

Everything was going to change.

Amy and I had set a blanket outside the rocket to sit on; Enzo and Rosella joined us soon after. There would be a few minutes of music from the mountain harp before the wind would reach us and we'd need to retire inside. There was a sweet-scented breeze in the air and the night was warm. The sun was setting and a few clouds gently clipped the peaks of the mountain range, tinged red and purple by the sunset. We all spoke in hushed whispers.

It began: sweet, lilting and strange, but pleasant. More and more tones were added, giving a richness that made everyone smile. In it, you could hear harps and violas and a chorus singing, but none of them sounded exactly as they should. It was lovely...enchanting even, but it was a bit disconcerting too. Perhaps I was looking for things that weren't there. Perhaps I needed to judge it on its own merits.

This is a swazmacking home, Dad,” Enzo said and, for once, I knew exactly what he meant.

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