Grass Is Greener

OK this one was a difficult one to write. Not because of concept or subject matter but because I just simply struggled with it. I had two false starts. First I got to about three thousand words, then I decided I didn’t like where it was going, deleted half of it, rewrote it back to a little over three thousand words, decided it was just as bad and scrapped it. Thankfully, after all that and a bit of rethinking I wrote what you’ll be reading below. The idea came to me as a cross between Transformers/Pacific Rim and Alien: Covenant. I’ll let you consider in what way and how it’s a cross between those. Though, I suspect it’s not in the way you might be thinking. Think I’ve said enough and so lets get into, Grass Is Greener.

Things don’t always go as planned. Nowhere is that more true than with humanity in the twenty third century.

Following a string of failed colonisation attempts within the Sol System including of Mars and the Moon; humanity found Earth was fast becoming uninhabitable. In a desperate move to save itself it sought new worlds further afield. One such world that came to its collective attention was the planet now known as Promise.

It had everything that humanity could want from a fresh start; atmosphere, comparable gravity, plenty of space, liquid water, untapped resources. And so humanity built a colony vessel, Horizon. It would be sent out across space on a fifteen year journey to Promise.

When Horizon reached the system of which Promise is a part the colonists were thawed out of cryo. No one had wanted to spend fifteen years staring at the inky black void of space and its myriad specs of pinprick light. It’s why the journey was handled by a dumb AI. That might sound offensive but it’s true.

Humanity gave up on the pursuit of actual AI due to concerns regarding the potential breaking of international laws and treaties relating to human rights. This is because it was discerned that to create an AI one would first have to be created using a human mind. Truthfully, the issue of laws being broken was only a part of the reason as to why such technology was abandoned. The larger issue was the decaying state of Earth itself.

Back to the story at hand; with the colonists of Horizon awake it was time for them to be deployed to their new home. The dropships used were fuelled only enough for a one way journey. Yes, it might sound odd or foolish but weight remained an issue for Horizon as a hundred thousand people plus the resources, equipment, food and fuel for them quickly adds up.

Anyway, down on Promise the colonists found it to be everything they had been hoping for and so much more. It looked like a paradise and for a few years it was. Alas, shortly before the time came for a transmission burst to be sent back to Earth to signal the rest of humanity to follow a dark secret was discovered. No, it wasn’t aliens or evidence of their existence. Humanity has never found such thing. Rather, it was the discovery of an airbourne spore. This spore it soon turned out resulted in a disease which swiftly became termed Rotcage due to the effects it has on the organs contained within a human’s ribcage. The disease causes the organs surrounded by the ribcage to rot until the afflicted dies. The disease killed thousands of colonists.

As you might imagine attempts were made to leave Promise. All of them failed, explosively, for the dropships were not capable.

Stranded the colonists did the only thing they could think to, build higher in hopes of living above the spores. It worked, for a time. Alas, again after a couple years the disease returned. More died horrible, painful, sickening deaths.

Horizon and the people of Earth were forgotten. In the panic and chaos the colonists thought only of themselves. The last ditch attempt at survival were the construction of massive mechs. Each settlement built their own for the colonists were spread out over hundreds of miles across a section of Promise’s equator. They groups, dwindled in number and skills used what resources remained at their disposal to fashion the behemoths.

Their hope was that in these mechs the colonists might find somewhere beyond the equator that was not afflicted by the spores. After all Promise is some six times the size of Earth so reasoning dictated there had to be someone safe.

It’s been fifty years roughly since the colonists set foot on Promise and more than thirty from when the first mechs begun to walk. As yet no one has found a safe haven. But this is not the story of all the mechs. This is the story of one. It’s known as Weaver. That was the name of the settlement the surviving colonists of which built their mech out of the resources meant to establish a colony base from and was named after the first person to step foot of the dropship once it landed on Promise, Montgomery Weaver. He’s long dead now. Life expectancy isn’t great on Promise. Well, in Weaver really.

At twelve hundred foot tall, three hundred and fifty foot wide the mech is the size of a building but hasn’t encountered another walking colony in many a year. It’s both surprising and not for each set out on their own path. All of them at first went searching for a home beyond the affects of the spores but is hope dwindled they sought resources to sustain themselves instead. Weaver is no different. Darius, the pilot captain, wishes it were. He’s tired. Not only because he’s been piloting the mech non-stop for the last four days on three hours of sleep but because he’s sick of seeing the people around him struggle.

At one time he would have been one of a small number of pilots in Weaver but times have changed and he’s the only compatible candidate left. The others, those who served this position before him, died. Not of Rotcage, but of other things. Some were lost in accidents, others not. Yet, he doesn’t remember any of the upheaval. You see he was born on Promise shortly before the colonists abandoned the surface for the finished mech. It’s why he’s spent his whole life in the walking tin can, as some refer to it.

Weaver has seen better days, undoubtedly. He remembers a time before wiring looms hung from bulkheads. Back then panels has been powered with a myriad of flickering and blinking lights. He can’t say those were the days. They weren’t all that different to those he lives through now. They just seemed different because he was a kid, an orphan.

It’s common to grow up an orphan in Weaver. Or is it on? He can’t be sure. He’s never been sure. He decides it matters little as he keeps his legs pumping. The tracker shows there isn’t far to go before he’ll be afforded a rest. He doesn’t like to rest. Well aware of it’s a necessity but continues to loath it. For the ‘captain’ of the mech he sure doesn’t get to have his say. It’s more an honorary position than a literal one. Not one he chose either. It was thrust upon him. Still, it could be worse. He could be an engineer in the bowels of Weaver, desperately fighting to keep the mech going. Darius doesn’t envy those men and women. It must be a ruthlessly painful job he thinks as he takes a quick glance around at the command centre he’s in.

The decking, a few centimetres below his suspended body, is a patchwork of metal sheets. Few are original or unblemished. Maintenance is a constant battle, especially when you are far outside of the equatorial zone of Promise in the desert sands. Nothing like the verdant colours found in fields, grasslands, woods and meadows; all of which he recalls seeing from one of the viewports in his youth.

As the pilot he can see far more of the world now than he ever had the capacity to as a child running the halls, playing, screaming, laughing. He does none of that anymore. Most of it, as you would hope, he grew out of. Though, he does miss laughing. His shoulders sink. He doesn’t notice and there is no one else in the bubble shaped room with its fried hanging wires, dead ajar panels, circuitry stripped nonessential systems and re-strengthened supports to judge him. Wouldn’t matter if there were for his reaction would be the same.

If it were not but a tad past sunrise Darius would have company. Said company would would be a marked difference. Not as marked as in years gone by when the command centre would have been crewed by more than a dozen, but four in addition to himself still remains a markedly higher number than one.

Darius looks up at the heads-up display which descends on a curved piece of clear Plexi that is bolted to a platform suspended above his head that is in turn riveted to the dome shaped ceiling of the command centre. Not an original component but one that was fabricated later for… The pilot cannot say he knows who it was installed upon the orders of other than to say it was not him, that is predates him and so must have been one of his predecessors. Regardless of who was responsible, it denotes that Weaver has arrived at its defined destination. Darius slumps, his legs stop. He looks down at the straps across his lower limbs which are threaded through steel rods which convert his leg motions to the strides of the colony mech.

He reaches round to behind his right ear. The skin there is dry, flaky. He resists the urge he has to claw and pick at it. Instead, he elects to stab his index finger into the link termination button so that his connection to Weaver is cycled closed. A soft beep informs him when it is done.

He slightly moves one foot to ascertain if the system has complied as it has duly informed. There is no reaction from the mech, mercifully, which means that it must have.

If he were a novice he’d probably make the effort to stretch in hopes of putting his heavy brown leather hand me down boots, which are cracked and scuffed, onto the mismatched deck. As Darius is not a novice he makes no such effort. It would be foolish. Likely to cause him more harm than Weaver or its interface. It might look delicate but it’s far sturdier than appearances might suggest. It would have to be to be used day in day out for the last thirty years. Sure, parts have been replaced, circuit reconfigured, sections re-thought but it’s still largely the same functionality at its core as the day it was completed.

With the non-decision taken to not stretch and strain to put feet on deck, Darius goes about removing the straps fastened around his legs. They limit his movements beyond what is required to move the mech forward. It’s why again the pilot wishes some upgrades could be made so that Weaver could be made capable of reverse or lateral movements. Alas, the citizens do not have the resources for such things. That request would be a luxury and an unnecessary one at that seeing as it is difficult enough simply keeping the mech moving. An issue not limited to Weaver and which proved to be the death of some mechs discovered in the early years of their wandering across Promise.

No survivors were found according to the official logs from that time. Darius wasn’t surprised when he read that. What did surprise him was the lack of bodies. According to the report it is believed the colonists from the mech abandoned ship in favour of walking. They wouldn’t have gotten far. Rotcage would have been swift to take hold without any shelter, slowed them to a crawl and then killed them to a man. He can’t imagine how horrible it must’ve been to know you were going to die, and that your only safe place, the mech, had failed you. Its part of the reason he has thanked the universe every day since that Weaver continues to function and serve as a home for the few thousand who occupy it.

With the straps unfastened Darius is finally able to put his feet back on solid ground. The sensation is odd. It will remain so until he becomes re-acclimatised. Usually that’s a few hours. Enough time to get some shut eye. Not likely, he tells himself while fiddling with the harness around his waist and shoulders which keeps him in position, elevated.

“Captain, I see we’ve reached our destination, congratulations.” Are the words which come from Governor Samuel Jenrick once he’s sauntered between the gap created by the failed twin ‘automatic’ doors which link the command centre to the corridor and stairwell beyond.

“Yeah it wasn’t easy but we’re here and ahead of schedule to boot.” The pilot pauses to take a breath and then continues, “I know that’s not why you’re here Governor, so tell me what can I help you with?” The pilot finishes releases the clasps on the harness. Suddenly Darius finds that he feels very tired. Not because of the presence of the Governor but because he’s no longer focused on something, anything. He had hoped to partake in the resource gathering but doubts he’ll be capable in the state he’s in. No surprise when you’ve gone days with little to no sleep or rest.

“Yes, it’s about the vote. The one regarding expansion…” The Governor trails off allowing Darius to interject, “You know my position Governor. It isn’t about to change. It’s too dangerous and we lack the resources.”

“But we do not.” The grey haired elected representative of the people says from below his wide brimmed faded brown hat. Usually it does a decent job of obscuring his face but only when he has his head lowered even if only ever so slightly. Currently he doesn’t. He has his head held high instead, so when the pilot turns and looks at Samuel he gets a clear view of the older man’s face. In those blue eyes of Samuel’s the pilot sees pain. Looking past the pain Darius sees determination. For some reason the Governor really does believe expanding Weaver is the best option. Darius simply doesn’t agree. He’s laid out his case as to why but for whatever reason the Governor does not want to accept it. If re-election prospects were imminent it would be obvious as to why but they are not. They’re years away and Samuel has already forewarned that he has no intention of standing for another term.

Most by Samuel’s age are dead or dying but that doesn’t mean he’s forgotten the plight of the people. Hell, he’s suffered some himself having lost his wife Penny and only daughter Sara, in that order. It’s why Darius doesn’t judge the Governor for his persistence.

In fact, it’s difficult to find anyone in Weaver who hasn’t lost someone near and dear come to think of it.

“Samuel, please. I’m tired. I’ve spent four days getting us here. Can’t this wait?”

“I wish it could Darius but alas those resources we hope to find would give us the perfect opportunity. But only if a unanimous decision is made prior to their collection. You know full well what’ll happen if we attempt to make such a vote after stripping whatever might be useful, it’ll be gone. Squirreled away to repair this thing or that doohickey…”

“Without those things and doohickeys we’re as good as dead. So no, I can’t agree to the expansion, I’m sorry Samuel.” And Darius means that, he truly does. Not only because he can see the pain in the Governor’s face however.

“Why do we keep doing this?” The Governor asks suddenly. He sounds lost, his words having broken the silence which hung for but a few seconds between them. His tone is nothing like it would normally be. In fact, Darius doesn’t think he’s ever heard the Governor speak like this. Anyone else would be worried but not the Weaver’s pilot, exhaustion is too severe for worry to creep in and he’s thankful for that. He might not be later but he is right now standing here.

“Do what Samuel?” The pilot replies with a shrug.

“Keep this mech going; why do we do it? We’ve found nothing out here. No signs that we ever will. But still we’re walking; you on behalf of all of us. Isn’t it time we stopped?”

“Something else is bothering you, what is it?” The pilot Captain has been around and had enough dealings with Governor Jenrick to know when he’s hiding something.

“I…” Samuel’s eyes are pointed down toward a section of the mismatched decking. He feels trapped. It’s been a long time since he’s felt like this. Not since the passing of his Sara. That was the hardest of times. And he never thought it could get worse after Penny. He’d been wrong, naïve, stupid. Regrets, to this day, whirl around in his head. Yet, for years he’d managed to ignore them. Move past the pain, the thoughts, the feelings, always trying to help the people of Weaver. He doesn’t feel he’s able to anymore because he’s tired. Everyone is but this is a different tired he thinks. Not one born out of lack of sleep but age. He hates it like he thinks he hates Weaver. Does that mean it’s my time? Is this how those before me and Darius ended up? Is that why they…? Samuel doesn’t finish his thought. Too many painful memories would be unleashed if he did.

Throughout his considering the pilot remains silent, watching Samuel. The Governor finally looks at the younger man with his green eyes and closely cropped black stubble for hair as he stands there before Samuel in tattered overalls which cover a jumpsuit. All of the items are hand-me-downs. The sight further illustrates to the Governor the pointlessness of continuing this… Should he call it a charade? He isn’t sure. To do so seems cruel and yet somehow appropriate too, but for reasons he cannot give.

Suddenly the Governor realises he hasn’t answered the pilot. He is a man without a surname, Darius that is. It strikes Samuel that so few have surnames now for so few have parents. Sara, his little girl, had been one of the lucky ones. She’d still had her dad. It hadn’t been enough. Maybe it would have been had Penny survived in his place. He’ll never know.

Answer the man! The exclamation returns him to the present for a second time. This time in a tizzy he quickly forms some thoughts and blurts, “I think it might be time to try something different.”

The pilot, to his credit, does not answer immediately. Rather, he considers the Governor’s words and then explains, “Samuel, if we could we would have. But there are no other options or choices. You, like my parents, tried everything. Everyone knows that. This isn’t your fault. But if we hope to survive Weaver is our only hope.”

“But for how long?” The Governor asks pointedly.

He does his best, and thinks he succeeds, in keeping the hatred he has for the brainiac scientists back on Earth who made these conclusions too fast about this place which is their ruin from his voice.

But did they make them too soon? Of course they did! We went from potential prospect to jetting off across space in a matter of years. They must have known. I don’t think they did. Well I do. No you don’t. Yes I do, the Governor assures bringing an end to the internal argument he’s been having with himself.

“For as long as we need to. To…” The pilot cannot bring himself to say: until we find paradise. He doesn’t believe in it, that it exists. If it did they would have found it by now, surely. Maybe someone has but hasn’t got word out yet. Huh, nice dream but not likely.

“We both know you don’t believe in paradise Darius. I’ve seen it in your eyes when others bring it up.”

“And when did you give up hope?” The younger man counters without confirming or denying the accusation made against him. It’s true. They both know it. He doesn’t need to confirm it.

“I don’t rightly know. Recent I think. But I could be wrong.” Samuel pauses to take a breath and then continues, “What I do know is that you’re a practical man with a few thousand weights on your shoulders. That’s enough to cripple any man. It’s why I see our choices as expansion or…”

“The spores will kill us if we expand. By all accounts there was enough trouble getting Weaver sealed when it was built. I read the reports and we had better tools then. So no, my decision remains. It’s not going to change.”

The Governor nods. He understands, though can’t say whether he disagrees as wholeheartedly as it might appear he does. Still, his face drops and he gulps remembering that young mother and her two kids living out of one of the compartments. Not in a room but out of a space unfit for human habitation. Hell, Samuel wouldn’t let a dog sleep in such conditions let alone a human being or three.

“Captain, are we good too…” Enrique appears in the gap between the knackered doors to the command centre. He stops when he sees the Governor. Enrique is one of the engineers. A young guy in his early twenties; you wouldn’t believe him to be of that age if you got a look at him because of  the scars all over him from doing his job and most of all the burn across his left cheek. He suffered it as a child through no fault of his own. He was unfortunately in the wrong place at the wrong time. A pipe burst, connected with a wire which in turn resulted in a fire that scorched his face.

The engineer is smart. He knows he’s interrupted something serious but doesn’t know what to do. If he were fixing something he’d carry on. Keep his head down and plough through. Alas, he isn’t. What he is doing is standing on the top deck requesting confirmation that the salvage crews, of which he is a part, can get to work.

“The crews can begin whenever they’re ready Enrique.” Darius can feel the unease, it’s palpable. Thankfully, with the order given Enrique quickly withdraws. The pilot imagines walking in on him and the Governor can’t have been easy. The look on his face made that clear enough.

Once Enrique is back from his salvage run he’ll check in. Thank the young engineer. He did good, but knows the kid has a tendency to overthink things. That is especially the case when they seem uncomfortable.

With the young engineer having retreated, Samuel feels it’s time he too takes his leave. Darius looks exhausted. The decent thing would be to let him rest. He begins to turn but the pilot Captain queries, “What’s made you so insistent Samuel? You’re not usually like this. What happened?”

The Governor pauses, considers and relents. “I saw a mother and her two kids. They’re living out of a compartment Darius. I… I…”

The pilot nods. He understands. Its part of the reason he’s taken up residence in what used to be a storage hold in the command centre. Its big enough only for his mattress and a lamp but it does him. It’s all he needs. His old room isn’t taken yet and so he offers, “They can have my place.” The offer catches the Governor off-guard. He blinks, wide eyed, shocked and unable to find his words.

“It’s not much I know and it won’t solve all Weaver’s issues but… Well, I hope it’ll help. And before you go saying anything I don’t need it. I vacated a few weeks ago. Taken up a place back there…” The pilot jabs his extended thumb back over his shoulder to indicate as to where he is sleeping, when he does.

Samuel continues to be at a loss for words. The Weaver’s pilot, in the Governor’s eyes, is doing a kind deed but clearly fails to see how living in a storage compartment is no better than what the woman and her two offspring have been doing.

It’s different because it’s his choice, it isn’t the mothers and her children’s you dolt. Means we’re failing all the same. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, take it. When are you going to get another offer as good as this? You’re not and so help who you can when you are able to. That is why you became Governor, wasn’t it? I… No it isn’t but…

“Are you sure?” The Governor asks having reclaimed his ability to speak and no longer wishing to pursue the conversation he was having with himself.

In response Darius does no more than nod his confirmation.

“Thank you Darius.” Is the sincere reply provided by Samuel.

Again he is met with nothing more than a shrug, as if to say the pilots sacrifice is no big deal. If only the pilot could understand the gravitas of his offer, alas it seems he cannot.

If circumstances were different the Governor would find a way of properly thank Darius, but they aren’t and so he can offer no more than he has. One day he hopes that won’t be the case. One day he hopes he’ll be able to offer something more than a simple thank you.

Your hope is back. Yes, it is. Not going to lay down and accept death or defeat then? No, I don’t think I will; the governor replies to the voice in his head without feeling a need to elaborate further.

“I ask only one thing.” The pilot says with a wry smile across his face. Before Samuel can ask what it is he is nodding giving Darius the ability to demand, “Let me get some sleep because I can barely stand.”

The Governor smiles, nods, gestures that Darius is free to go and without delay does an about leaving the command centre of Weaver so its pilot might be afforded some time to rest.

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