Settlers of the Void


Everybody had a hangover today. Sometimes I like to hit up Oversight’s tavern sim with Hiroshi, but last night was the first time in over a year that I’ve had real alcohol and it hit me hard.

The celebration started at 2100 in the cafeteria. All 253 members of the crew attended, even Harris (bandaged but happy, sitting near the last of the cryo whisky). It was the biggest party I can remember. According to Terence and the rest of the old timers, it was the biggest since our sensors confirmed that PIB-1176 had been successfully terraformed and liquid water awaited us on the planet’s surface.

We spent most of the night watching footage from the drones. Derek and his intern unrolled a viewscreen and the signal was clear enough for a real-time stream in high definition.

The surface of PIB-1176 looks like the surface of hell. To the west of the ship is a flat field of black rock streaked by patches of gray and to the east there’s a distant series of craggy mountains. Geysers and odd stacks of igneous rock lie to the north and there’s a large crater filled with deep blue water to the south. The sky is a sickly orange.

When the drone got down to half power, it stopped circling the crash site and turned to the west. The flat field of black and gray seemed to stretch on forever, revealing a featureless void empty of life.

“It’s a soil grinder,” someone behind me murmured.

I looked more closely and in the corner of the screen a distant black cube drove across the empty plain. In front of the grinder was a field of rocks and behind it was a field of sand.

We watched as the drone flew closer, marveling at the size of the thing until the battery finally ran out of power and the drone returned to the ship.

I went back to the bar for a refill on my drink. Harris sat by himself watching the feed from the back of the room. Despite his injury he seemed to be in good spirits.

“There are thousands of them here,” he said. “All churning unceasingly for the past hundred years getting things ready for us.”

“They’re kind of beautiful,” I said. “In a way.”

“They’re perfect,” he said. “The very best kind of machine. This whole planet used to be a cold rock without any oxygen. Now all we have to do is thrive.”

“I think the hard part’s still to come,” I said. “We have to figure out what to do with a blank canvas.”

“We build paradise,” he said, filling up my glass. “That’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

The rest of the night was a blur. The food was good, for once: grilled fish from the tanks instead of the usual nutrient stew and thawed soy. Oversight launched a second drone and gave us turns controlling it for fifteen minutes at a time. When my turn came, I piloted it north, above the geysers and towards the rim of a nameless volcano. Someone threw up on the central console. Captain Martinez actually smiled for once, something I’ve never seen her do before. Dawn and I danced until morning.


When I finally woke up, alone in my dorm with no memory of how I got there, I was already fifteen minutes late to my shift. Oversight didn’t care. Now that we’ve landed and my previous position as an interstellar navigator is pretty much useless, I’m on “other duties as assigned” until I start retraining.

Today Oversight wanted paper to start printing books for us in case our electronics fail. To be honest, I never knew we even had any paper onboard the Hierophant, but Hiroshi found loads of the stuff down in Storage Bay 6. Dawn and I went with him to bring it up to the makeshift printing press that’s been set up in the control room.

Nobody’s been down there for decades and a rat scurried away when we turned on the lights. Somehow it must have survived – I guess they aren’t extinct after all. I’m going to take a look tomorrow and see if I can find the nest.

Dawn pointed out that the maximum life span of a rat is only three years long. That means there’s been over a hundred generations of them living down here in the forgotten parts of the hull. Like us, the ship is all they’ve ever known.

The storage bay had a faint musty smell (probably the rats). We walked through piles of old junk and heaps of replacement parts to get to the paper. There’s so much of it! Reams and reams of blank pages standing beside mammoth cartons of ink.

While we were down there, Hiroshi found a rack of guns and some crates of ammunition hidden under a tarp. They were old cartridge based weapons, not energy blasters, the kind of thing that will still work if you drop them in the mud and stomp on them a few times.

“The fact that we have more paper than weapons onboard gives me some hope that we’ll make it,” Dawn said.

There isn’t anything to shoot at on PIB-1176 other than ourselves. We left the guns behind and loaded as much of the paper and ink onto our carts as we could fit before taking the lift back up to the control deck. I spent the rest of my shift reloading the printer.