FOREWORD: What you are about to read is The Long Walk, a mini-series companion to my adaptation of Lego Rock Raiders. It features an original character and will basically be a way for me to get a feel for the universe from a writing perspective, and for you to get a feel for how I'm going to handle the universe, and my writing style and abilities, from a reading perspective. I hope you enjoy it!
THE LONG WALK
When the Explorer was hit by an asteroid storm and
thrown into a wormhole that hurled it to the far side
of the galaxy, miner Ian Harrison hoped it wouldn’t get
Of course, he should have known better. When a teleporter
malfunction strands him in an unexplored cavern on the
mysterious planet the Rock Raiders are mining for resources,
he must do whatever it takes to brave the unknown
and get back to base...
Ian ducked a pair of Raiders who were carrying a charred steel girder, or most of it anyway, on his way to Teleportation Bay Seventeen-B. He’d cut through Hangar Eight in hopes of it providing a shorter walk, but given the sheer amount of stuff that was happening, he was regretting his decision. Not that the corridors were any better. At least here he had room to maneuver. He took it all in as he made his way silently through the hectic, organized chaos that was the dozens of tech crews putting the Explorer back together.
High overhead, sparks bled from welding and cutting tools as men with greasy faces wearing big, black goggles and blue jumpsuits went to work on the inner hull. It had taken a hell of a beating during the asteroid storm, and the sudden stress of interstellar travel had only compounded the problem. The ground floor, on the other hand, was worse. As many as a hundred men and women moved through the madness, shifting crates, moving twisted metal debris, digging into the exposed guts of the ship through propped open wall panels and deckplates. A dozen engineers crawled across a Chrome Crusher that had, ironically, been partially crushed by falling debris.
They’d been in orbit around the planet for three days now and still they were putting the ship back together again.
Someone, he wasn’t sure who, had started calling the planet Upsilon.
The name had stuck.
He stopped short, narrowly avoiding a transport truck as it trundled by, its cargo compartment full up with more debris and broken equipment. Ian reached up and scratched behind his ear, fingernails tracing the edges of his tiny implant forest. That’s what they were calling it nowadays, the tech forest. He gently probed the two inch metal square that had been soldered to his skull. He could feel the bumps and ridges of the dozen vacant slots. He didn’t have any tech in his head just then, as the Training Accelerator Gadgets were currently in low supply. He’d never really gotten used to the TAGs. They scared him, though he loathed to admit it.
It was freaky, the way an entire body of knowledge could be slotted into your skull. Slip one of the little black and silver rectangles into a slot and suddenly, boom, you know how to pilot a Hover Scout. Slot another and suddenly you were a demolitions expert. Slot another and you were a repository of knowledge on the delicate inner workings of a Chrome Crusher’s engine block. He still preferred to learn things the old fashioned way.
Finally, Ian hit the edge of the hangar and slipped down the corridor. Finding the room he was looking for, he stepped inside and saw a tired-looking tech manning the controls. As he looked at the workstation on one side of light gray room, and the teleportation bay itself, done up in slick, reflective chrome and green glass, on the other side of the room, he thought about how Naomi mentioned that the setup looked like Star Trek.
He’d never watched the show, it was ancient history, but his fiancee was a throwback junkie.
“Where to?” the tech asked, rubbing at one bloodshot eye. None of them were getting all that much sleep lately, there was just too much to do.
“Site Twenty Four Alpha,” he replied, heading over to the pad.
The tech nodded and began working the controls. As he stepped onto one of the teleportation pads, Ian did a quick rundown of his supplies. He had his emergency medical kit, a canteen of distilled water, a meal ration that wasn’t so much a meal as it was an awful tasting, nutrients-packed bar of something. A combat knife they’d started issuing everyone, probably to make them feel better. And that was it. They didn’t like sending down Rock Raiders with anything more than absolutely necessary because the more stuff was on you, the more of a strain it put on the teleporters. He didn’t really understand it, didn’t pretend to, but he knew it was bad news.
Besides, all the stuff he needed would be waiting for him at the local HQ.
“Ready?” the technician asked, staring at him bleakly across the room.
“Ready,” Ian confirmed, standing rigidly still in the center of the pad. The tech scrutinized his screen for a moment, glanced once up at Ian, then back down at his screen and punched in a command. Around him, he could hear the teleporter hum to life. A faint vibration, mixed with a sensation not unlike electrostatic shock, ran across his body. He swallowed, trying to push down his apprehension, or at least not show it.
Teleporters didn’t have a one hundred percent success rate.
The pad began to glow a bright green beneath his feet and he felt a brief wave of heat pass over him. And then, suddenly, he was thrown into a blue void.
* * * * *
He was falling, tumbling, or that’s what it felt like.
They said that teleportation lasted no more than five seconds at most, from start to finish, but Ian was never sure. He was surrounded by a pulsing, writhing blue light. It was everywhere he looked, rushing by him.
And then, suddenly, he was falling for real.
That was the first indication he had that something had gone wrong. He grunted as he dropped a few feet, landed hard and toppled forward. Something had definitely gone wrong. He felt sick and disoriented, his head twisting madly, stomach churning, his whole body alive with some strange electrical activity.
He landed on his hands and knees and found himself staring down at a black, rocky surface. Ian fought bitterly to keep his breakfast in his stomach. And it was made all the more difficult as he shivered violently, his body going from extreme hot to extreme cold as quickly as if he’d been thrown into an ice bath.
Shuddering, groaning, he raised his head, looking around.
He didn’t see the familiar shapes of other Rock Raiders moving about, nor the larger shapes of vehicles trundling here and there, nor even the familiar, comforting outlines of structures. In fact, he saw nothing at all but rock and more rock. Squinting in pure confusion, trying to sort out his thoughts, he noticed that everything had a slightly green tinge to it. After a few seconds it finally hit him: he must be in pitch black and his vision implants were compensating. Well, that was good, at least. Groaning again as his head pulsed with a dull ache, he slowly picked himself up off the rocky cavern floor. It took a bit, but finally he stood on his own two feet again.
Where the hell was he, and what had happened?
These were the first two questions that slithered unhappily into his mind. Ian moved in a slow circle, trying to scope the situation out, his brain still buzzing with the teleporter malfunction. They could have all kinds of nasty side effects if they did occur, everything from vomiting to psychosis to your liver missing.
Everything still felt about where it should be, at least.
So he was in a cavern. He’d obviously made it to the planet, but where? How far away from the nearest outpost? For a moment, Ian felt panic began to slide over him, charged and dangerous. No, he couldn’t let himself panic. He closed his eyes, despite how nervous that made him, (there’d been reports of things alive down here in the caverns, and not all of them were too friendly), but he forced himself to calm down, to focus his thoughts.
What was the first logical thing to do?
His eyes popped open as he realized that the answer was very obvious. Call for help. He blinked three times in rapid succession, a technique you had to learn when they gave the comms implant, and then felt ice fill him when that familiar soft hum of an open channel didn’t come. Swallowing nervously, pushing against the raw panic, looking around him rapidly, Ian blinked again, doing it as precisely as he could.
He cursed, his voice echoing away in the darkness. His radio must have been damaged in the teleportation process. They were supposed to be very hard to break, given that they were implanted inside of people’s skulls, but it wasn’t impossible. It also meant he had no way of fixing it, since he wasn’t capable of performing surgery on himself.
So what now?
Distantly, though not quite distantly enough, a rock dropped and hit the ground. He jerked in response, spinning around, searching the green-lit gloom for something. Anything. But the cavern he was in remained void of life. Walls of dark blackish rock surrounded him. There were several tunnels snaking away from the central chamber, disappearing from sight due either to distance or natural curves in their structure.
There had to be something he wasn’t thinking of.
“Okay, okay, go basic,” he whispered to himself. “What’s my goal here?” It felt stupid, talking to himself like this, but in times of great duress, it was how Ian worked through things. Just stop all thoughts, examine what you had before you, and what you were trying to do. He had to know what he was working with and what needed to be done.
Right now, he simply needed to get to a mining camp, or find another Raider. Or a radio. All of those would probably be in the same direction. But he had no idea where he was. He could be a hundred miles from the nearest outpost. That thought sent a ripple of fear through him. No, couldn’t think like that, it was a waste of time. He had to operate under the assumption that there was a way out of this and he could achieve it.
To think otherwise would be tantamount to suicide.
He took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and ran again through his inventory, wondering if any of it could help him. Nothing on his person could, but his head…
Ian gasped. This was why he needed to think slowly and deliberately.
Although he’d kept his head largely clear of technology beyond the very basic implants, like the comms unit, the health monitor and the beacon, (they could find him by his beacon, but it made more sense to be proactive instead of sitting around waiting for that, and it might be just as damaged as his comms unit, anyway,) but he had one other thing installed. Something he found very useful. A navigational suite.
It had basic sensors embedded in it and he could send out a pulse. Any technology, other beacons, structures, anything man-made would bounce back to him and he’d get an idea of how screwed he was. He moved his eye in a specific way, holding his gaze to the upper right for three consecutive seconds, and a neon green pulse appeared in his vision, radiating out from himself in every direction. He waited, waited, waited.
His heart was hammering in his chest and he was sweating badly now.
This was a bad sign.
Suddenly, something pinged back. He felt hope blossom within him like a white-hot flame. He studied the results and felt the hope flicker, though not die. Data scrolled across his vision. His navigational suite had picked up a low-level power signature about a mile north of his current position. It matched a Rock Raider signature, but beyond that, he could pull no other discernible data from it. It was too weak. It could be anything from a full-fledged outpost to a wrecked and abandoned Hover Scout. Ian thought about it for a moment, considering the situation.
Ultimately, he determined that he had no choice.
He had to go north.
So he went.
–Into the Void–
Ian had been walking for about fifteen minutes now, and the good cheer he’d managed to gather from his sudden sense of purpose was beginning to fade. All around him, no matter where he looked, there was nothing but bleak black rock, tinged with green. It was kind of intimidating. He’d spent a lot of time underground, a lot, and he’d never really been intimidated by it, at least not since his early days. But now he was remembering those fears he’d had as rookie, a decade ago. The notion that he was deep underground, that the ceiling or the walls could cave in on him at any moment, that the floor could open up beneath him.
That there could be anything down there with them.
They’d encountered some strange creatures in their time mining distant worlds for their natural resources to fuel humanity’s ever-expanding empire.
That got him thinking on other aspects of his life, namely the fact that he was now engaged. It felt weird, he was still getting used to it, even though he was the one who had popped the question. He’d been dating Naomi now for two years. Ian had signed on with the Rock Raid ten years ago. He’d heard a lot about them, and they were pretty elite: a savvy, stubborn, rough group of privately owned miners who tended to take on pretty serious and dangerous jobs on the far rim of the galaxy. They had a ninety nine percent success rate.
And they weren’t beholden to any corporate investors.
That had always gotten to Ian. The Explorer was a massive vessel with nearly fifteen hundred personnel onboard. The sheer amount of credits it must take to pay everyone, and to keep that ship running, which they did with a startling efficiency, was insane. Being a technician aboard, he had an idea of what it took to keep that ship sailing smoothly.
The interesting thing about the Raiders was that you didn’t apply, you didn’t ask to join them. They asked you. They handpicked every single person on that ship. The whole thing was managed by Nolan Brix, aka ‘Chief’, as everyone liked to call him. They’d approached him a decade ago after he’d decided to walk from a lucrative tech job because they had no respect for him and he wouldn’t put up with that.
Respect was paramount in his life, he gave it and expected it in return. Obviously, he knew he had to earn it first, but if these corporate assholes were going to treat him like their technical pack mule and give him utter crap in return, then he was going to give them the finger. And he had. Ian wasn’t arrogant, but he knew he was smart enough and flexible enough to find a good job elsewhere. That was when the message had come through.
Chief had apparently tagged him a year ago as a potential employee and him walking from that job had clenched it. He’d had a vidphone interview with the man himself that had lasted half an hour. Chief didn’t even want to hear about where he’d gone to school, his credentials, his technical knowledge, because he already knew that.
Information was currency, and easy to come by nowadays.
He wanted to know the man behind the diploma, the work, the jobs.
And apparently he’d liked him enough to make the hire.
Ian stopped suddenly as he heard a rock fall somewhere off to his right. He looked over. The cavern continued for quite a ways, off into the darkness. Another rock fell. Anything could be in that darkness, anything at all. He returned his attention to the direction he’d been walking in and picked up the pace.
So far, his path had been unobstructed.
But he’d been thinking about Naomi. The only woman he’d ever loved. When he was younger, he’d thought he’d been in love twice, but upon further reflection, he’d come to realized that he had been in love with the idea of being in love. Both relationships had crumbled in his hands like sand because he couldn’t sit still.
He had wanderlust syndrome. He had to keep moving and that wasn’t an easy thing to live with. But that’s what was so great about his current job, and his current relationship. When he’d met Naomi, he’d been immediately infatuated with her. The first time he’d seen her, she was sitting down in a maintenance bay with bits and pieces of a jackhammer spread out all over the deckplates. She’d looked up at him, sensing his presence.
“What are you doing?” he’d asked.
“Trying to fix this damned thing,” she’d replied.
“Can I help?”
“I don’t need it, but I’d welcome it.”
It was their first conversation. Turned out the jackhammer had a short buried pretty deep in it. A simple repair, but he would’ve had a b**** of a time finding it, too. Naomi was a miner. She was a tall, muscular brunette who had intimidated the hell out of him. After that first session in the maintenance bay, (they’d spent an hour getting to know each other while they investigated the mystery of the broken jackhammer), he’d started asking her to dinner, because frankly, he was very enamored with her. He’d always been drawn to badass women.
She was two years older than him and had a really nice collection of tattoos and scars, and she never really let anything stop her, not even herself or her own fear. They’d shacked up together after two months, with him moving into her living quarters. The relationship had been fairly steady, with some occasional rocky times when they got into an argument over something stupid because one or both of them was stressed and overworked, but he’d proposed to her last month and she had said yes. And that was good.
The way ahead narrowed suddenly, the broad cavern he’d been walking through at a steady pace became a tunnel maybe a dozen feet across.
“Crap,” he muttered.
Tunnels were dangerous.
He should know, given how much of his life he’d spent in them recently. Ian hurried down the tunnel, practically running. This place had him paranoid. As he came out the other side, he found himself in a smaller cavern. Free of the tunnel, Ian took a moment to send out another scan. He’d made some good progress and, checking his chronometer, he saw that he’d been walking for a little over twenty minutes by now.
This time, the ping came back a little stronger, giving him a clearer idea of where the main power source was, but it was still very faint. And although he had picked up a few other even lighter power sources, probably smaller vehicles, they were too faint to be normal. Either the rock or minerals of this place, (they’d found some strange new minerals here on Upsilon), were masking the signals or...something had gone wrong at base camp.
Not exactly the most pleasant of thoughts.
As he crossed about half the distance in this new cavern, Ian stopped as he heard a faint chirping sound. He waited, listened, heard it again, closer this time. With a sigh, he kept walking. Bats. Okay, not exactly bats, but this world’s equivalent of bats. They flew, they hung upside down, and they hunted via echo location, so, in his book, bats. And everyone else’s too, apparently, as that was the current slang for the things.
He hated bats.
Scans had indicated that they were harmless, like most of the smaller animal life on the planet, (not the damned larger life, though), so he did his best to ignore the things. They weren’t even close at the moment. He kept going, trying to think happy thoughts to keep himself going at a brisk pace, like how Naomi liked taking showers with him.
That was always nice.
As he came to the rough dividing line where this cavern ended and another began, something moved along the ground up ahead. Ian froze again, focusing, trying to determine what it was he was seeing. Slowly, he kept walking, his senses amped up now as paranoia slithered coldly around in the depths of his guts. He made it another dozen steps or so when he saw the movement again. Definitely on the ground, definitely something there. It had scurried behind a rock. Had to be a spider. They called them Slippers.
He thought it was a funny name, and that was probably the point, but they were named as such because they were coated in some strange, clear slippery substance. He’d seen a lot of people fall on their asses since the things tended to get underfoot. And it killed the spider, of course, when they slipped. Technically they were non-lethal, they didn’t have any venom, or at least any venom that could harm humans, but if you were carrying something heavy, it could be pretty damaging for either you or someone around you.
So far, he’d managed to avoid them.
Ian wanted to keep that going.
He kept moving, picking up the pace, his work boots sending out dull, hollow echoes as he plodded along. He began to see more of the Slippers scurrying about off to the right. Well, that was fine, so long as they stayed over there. Up ahead, he could see another tunnel. Great. As he approached it, he felt a soft tremor run through the whole area. Ian froze again. He almost passed it off as his imagination, or his hyper awareness, he even wanted to, but he couldn’t. He knew what he’d felt, and it was a bad sign.
Another tremor this time, and suddenly, he saw a lot of movement up ahead, in the tunnel that he had to pass through. The outpost he was heading towards was about a hundred meters away now, he realized suddenly. In fact, this tunnel should lead to the cavern it was in. So why didn’t he hear anything? Why couldn’t make out the faint sounds of running engines, of pick-axes or jackhammers or shovels?
Why didn’t he hear anything at all, except for the soft rumbling?
The movement he saw coalesced into something he did not want to see. There were a couple of dozen Slippers and, with them, snakes (no fancy name for them, not yet at least), coming straight at him in a hurry. For a second he was frozen with fear, then he made himself hurry a few paces off to the right. Ian watched the horde of creatures pass by. He realized with a cold fear that they were running from something.
Once they had passed, he returned his gaze to the dark maw of the tunnel dead ahead. Well, he was about to find out. He walked up to the tunnel and stopped at its entrance as he felt another faint tremor rumble through the area. He didn’t like the looks of the right wall, it seemed like it might be in danger of a rock slide, especially when another tremor, this one more powerful, came through and dislodged several rocks that made dusty trails as they bounced down the side of the tunnel wall. Well, this certainly wasn’t good.
As far as he knew, it was the only way in, and he suddenly didn’t feel like spending anymore time down here, alone, going and searching for some alternative route that might not even exist or might be just as dangerous, or more so, than the one that was right here, in front of him, right now. He walked right up to the entrance of the tunnel and waited. His vision enhancement only went about forty feet ahead, so he couldn’t even see the end of the tunnel, but he knew it had to be close. After waiting for close to five minutes with no more tremors, Ian set off.
He moved at a brisk pace, not actually running, but certainly not dragging his feet. So close now, close to that encampment. And then he could get some answers, report in, take a little break before getting to work, (hopefully). He was really looking forward to it. He might even get a chance to grab a bite to eat.
Ian had made it halfway down the tunnel when the tremors started up again, only this time, they didn’t subside, at least not right away. They lasted long enough that the wall to the right began to lose its face. A great deal of loose rocks and dirt began to fall from the tunnel’s wall. Ian let out a startled shout and began sprinting.
A rock slide was occurring.
He focused on nothing but running, pushing himself as hard as he could as he felt the whole wall begin to come down around him. He hissed in pain as several smaller rocks pelted him, nicking his skin in several places. Then a bigger rock hit him right in the back and drove the breath from his lungs. He gasped in pain, his back nothing but agony just then, and nearly tripped. But he managed to stay upright and kept on running.
In the end, it was a near thing. He dove out of the tunnel, tucked and rolled. Behind him, a column of dust burst out and settled over him. He laid on the ground, wondering if he’d made it, if the rock slide would continue around him, but he could tell that it was subsiding. He was now in the cavern with the power signatures.
Slowly, Ian began to pick himself up.
It was time to see what he could see.
The first inclination Ian had that something was wrong was when he spied a strange, flickering light up ahead. It sprang uncertainly into existence at seemingly random intervals and appeared unnatural...then again, he had no idea what kind of things naturally occurred on this planet. He knew it set him on edge though. It was familiar and its origin danced just beyond his mental grasp as he drew closer to it, slowly eroding the distance between them. It lit again, a blue-white flash in the green-tinted gloom.
As he came within ten feet of it, Ian suddenly had it.
He knew what he was seeing.
Sparks. Electrical sparks. From a broken thing. Jogging over, he crouched down and realized that he was looking at a jackhammer. It was badly bent out of shape, one handle torn completely off. The central control unit, buried in the main body of the device, had been exposed, and it was producing the flashes of light. Even as he loomed over it, the thing bled a spray of blue-white sparks that fizzled and died on the dark rock beneath it.
“Crap,” he muttered, preparing to get back to his feet.
But something caught his eye. There was some kind of stain on the jackhammer, on the main body. He couldn’t tell its color because of the light-amp filter, but he had an unhappy idea of what it was. Slowly, he reached down and touched it. It was cold and sticky and the sensation of it on his skin was very unpleasant. Slowly, he raised his fingers to his nose and smelled. The groaned and quickly wiped his fingertips off on his uniform.
It was blood.
He could tell immediately from the awful metallic-copper smell.
“Double crap,” he growled, straightening up quickly. He was close to the power sources now. He should be able to see them…
Ian scanned the area more intently this time and saw a rise in the land ahead of him. Well, he should be able to get a good view of the area from there. Ian jogged over, hurrying now. He really didn’t like where this was going. He should have been able to hear something by now: the soft hum of a generator, the jagged metallic hammering of a jackhammer, the whine of an engine, the voices of other Raiders as they called out orders.
But there was nothing.
Only a faint dripping sound and the few noises he was producing. His heart hammered in his chest as he began to make his way up the rise in the land and his whole body felt tense and rigid. Ian finally crested the rise.
And everything clicked into place.
“Holy God...” he whispered.
He had no idea what had happened, but it was obvious that the results had been disastrous. Perhaps fifty feet away, he saw what had once been a thriving Rock Raiders mining operation, and outpost in the darkness of the subterranean alien world. Now it was a dark shell of its former self. He could see the basic outline of a few structures. Some of them had survived mostly intact, it seemed. He knew enough about Rock Raider architecture that he could pick out a few of them: a storage structure was mostly intact, same for the dormitories building. The teleport pad and local headquarters seemed to have sustained serious damage.
But by what?
Had there been an earthquake? A cave-in?
He needed to get closer to figure this out, and there might be survivors, people who needed help. Ian began running. He knew some basic first aid, they all did, it was part of the training. One thing that worried him was that there was no power to anything. He could see the power paths connecting the buildings and they weren’t lit, they were missing that faint blue glow they constantly emitted. Although they were technically hooked up to the power plant and that’s where they drew some of their energy from, they were actually given kinetic energy, designed in such a way that they translated simple footsteps on them into power.
If they were as dead and dark as they were right now, it meant that the base had been without power and no one had been walking around for quite some time, at least an hour. Ian’s industrial strength work boots echoed as he ran down the rise of land and quickly crossed the distance. He passed metal debris, random pieces of architecture and equipment. He stopped briefly as he saw a smashed transport truck, its engine ripped open.
That was not the result of some kind of cave-in or natural disaster.
What was going on here?
He picked back up the pace and didn’t stop until he came to the edge of the encampment. Moving between a pair of smaller storage sheds where they typically stored equipment, tools and spare parts, he felt a fresh wave of fear roll icily over him. He’d seen bad things before, every Raider had if they’d been there for more than a year. The job was dangerous, and you had to accept that. They all looked out for each other and every Raider would and often had risked their lives for another. Natural disasters happened, accidents happened.
Sometimes, they ran into some weird alien life out there on the fringe of civilization.
Stepping into the central area of the outpost, he saw that headquarters had taken what appeared to be a battering ram to one of its walls. Ian moved closer, staring in sheer wonder at the gaping hole that had been apparently punched through solid metal. What could have done this? Moving deeper in, Ian studied the power station, seeing that it seemed to have taken the most damage out of any of the structures in the camp.
It was little more than twisted, sparking metal.
An arm, still wrapped in a torn, bloodied sleeve, stuck out from beneath the wreckage. Ian moved forward almost without thinking about it, crouching, grabbing the edge of a large slab of metal and grunting with effort as he lifted it. It was a near thing, and he was almost forced to give up due to the sheer weight of the debris, but with a last, explosive half-grunt, half-shout of effort, he threw to piece of metal off of the body.
It was a wasted effort, though, he saw as he looked down at the dead Raider. It was not someone he recognized, a pale man with short dark hair and empty, blood-clouded eyes. His skull had been partially caved in.
Ian stood up suddenly, stumbling away from the corpse, and looked around. He stared in bewildered horror as, suddenly, it became obvious to him just how many corpses there were around him. Somehow, he had missed them coming in, as if his brain had edited reality itself to help him cope with this awful situation.
“What happened?” he whispered.
Ian felt a sort of mute numbness slipping over him then, another self-defense mechanism of the mind, shielding him from the worst of the trauma for the moment in much the same manner the body flooded with adrenaline and endorphins when you broke a bone, to keep you from the worst of it. In a way, it did help.
Ian could think more clearly.
Slowly, carefully, he moved through the camp. The seconds bled into minutes as he walked among the sparking ruins, checking the dead. He wasn’t sure how long he was there, making his way silently through debris and ruins, finding bodies, checking pulses, and coming away disappointed and melancholy each time.
There were eight buildings in total.
The power station was a wash, and the teleport pad and storage structures didn’t yield any interesting results. Only bodies and wreckage. The dormitories building had held up a lot better, but it was abandoned. He passed several small bunk rooms, a pair of bathrooms, a mess hall and kitchen, a silent, unlit rec room.
Finally, he moved to the last building: Headquarters.
The heart of any outpost, the first structure to be teleported down.
Ian walked in through the main entrance to the HQ. It felt unreal, moving into that initial ingress. How many times had he been in a room like this? The Rock Raiders custom-made their own prefabricated structures, and they’d gotten the design of aesthetic, efficiency and quality down well enough that all of the structures were carbon copies of each other. If you’d been in one teleport pad, you’d been in them all.
The same could be said for the headquarters.
The place was dark and derelict. Ian investigated the each room in passing. A headquarters building was practically like a mini-base all its own. Its compact design held some sleeping quarters, a tiny galley, a bathroom that doubled as a shower area, a simple infirmary, an armory, some storage space and a command room that held communications, radar, data processing, and some security features. It also served as an emergency shelter in extreme conditions and could house four people up to a week, with the ability to seal itself atmospherically.
Theoretically, it could survive a flood, among other disasters.
Although the building was mainly intact, it didn’t hold what he had hoped for: survivors. But it might hold something else: intel on what the hell had happened. He searched all the rooms one by one, finding them empty, and finally came to the control room. Whatever had happened hadn’t gotten into here. The room was dark and dead, though there was a faint glow coming from one of the workstations. Ian approached it.
The primary workstation that technically had the ability to control the entire building, at least the broad strokes of it, had its own emergency backup power source, independent of any other. Judging by the dimness of the glow, Ian guessed that it was running pretty low, and he didn’t have a lot of time left to use it.
So he sat down quickly and set to work.
The first thing he did was to set the radar to work, hunting for life signs and active pieces of technology. He refused to believe that everyone here was dead. The next thing he did was to attempt to establish communications with the Explorer. That would pretty much solve all of his problems. As he sat there, waiting for the uplink to establish and the scan to come back, he felt a dozen different aches and pains of varying levels, begin to come back into his awareness. He’d been putting off his own problems until just now.
While the computer did its job, he grabbed his emergency medical kit and opened it up. Rooting around, he located the painkillers and then grabbed his canteen. He rattled out and swallowed a pair of extra-strength pills. While the only real problem he’d run into was the landslide, the transporter malfunction had definitely left him hurting. He’d really need to get himself checked out at some point to make sure nothing was seriously damaged. He ended up draining about half his canteen, suddenly aware of how thirsty he was.
He wanted to finish it off, but knew he shouldn’t, so he capped it and reattached it to his belt. The console before him chimed and he frowned as he studied the information it had to give him. The communications uplink did not have enough power. That was the bad news, though if he could find some energy crystals, he should be able to restore power. The good news, however, and the news that took precedent, were the life signs.
He saw three of them to the west, about half a mile away.
Ian managed to tie the data into his own navigational suite, giving him a fixed marker, before the last of the power in the workstation ran out and the screen flickered and died. Ian sighed. He’d gotten the pertinent data, at least.
There were survivors, and he needed to get them.
Getting up, he left the control room and began to head for the exit, but then stopped as he passed the armory.
“It’d be stupid not to,” he muttered, looking into the darkened doorway. Stepping in, he saw that the place had been ransacked. So whatever had happened had obviously required guns to defend against...and it obviously hadn’t worked. Well, better than nothing. Ian grabbed what was most often referred to as the laser pistol, although it had some more technical name. Basically, it shot lasers, bright red ones. He grabbed a few spare power cells for it, then checked over the settings. After a moment’s thought, he set it to its most powerful charge. It would take a bit longer to charge up, but it would shoot a single, powerful bolt of energy out.
As he stepped out of the HQ and began to head once more into the dark abyss, Ian doubted that it was going to be enough.