“It’s a marble.”
Jen squinted at the near horizon. The sun was already coming down; the days here were just a little bit shorter than her body was insisting they should be.
“Yeah, a marble. A big, beautiful blue marble.”
Jen shook her head. “Man, you’ve got to get off that ship and see for yourself. I promise there’s more than blue down here. I swear, these mountains are PURPLE.”
“I’m looking at the big picture, you know. That’s my job.”
“You’re a cargo hauler, Davy, not a pilot.”
“Yeah, and who gets the big picture better than the guy who has to load it, pack it, shift it, and drop it? Trust me, I’ll be down before you know it.”
More lavender, she decided. The foothills, now, they were definitely purple in places. Not an unhealthy glow, though; they glistened with plant life. She breathed in deep and felt that strange, off-tilt taste that was air filled with hundreds of thousands of trees. So strange after the lifetime spent on board Requin. Would it have been stranger still to grandma and grandpa, fresh from the grey smogs and the dead seas?
“That’s old news, Davy. I’m looking at the new big picture right here. All we’ve got to do is assemble the pieces.”
The chainsaw fired up on the third rev, grumbling about it. Well-designed, but it HAD spent more than half a century in storage.
“Alright, alright. See you in a month, jigsaw.”
Jen smiled as the blade bit into the trunk of the tree. “See you in a month, Davy.”
The smell of sap drifted up around her, and the world seemed to grow a little bigger because of it.
A step beyond the cradle.
Item 00001: Chainsaw
Used for logging. The materials science behind this device is far less advanced than that required to reach the planet’s surface, and is similarly at odds with that of many unearthed structures. This, and design discrepancies within this and other retrieved timber-cutting equipment, indicates an overall improvised set of tools, often retrofitted from spare parts for more sophisticated devices.
Item 00001a: Preserved Sap
Removed from the cutting mechanisms of Item 001. The sap is that of the Netterli Allpine, which formed large dense forests over much of eastern Tendyssa at the time of landing. Shortly afterwards, it became extinct in the wild, presumably due to the sudden and enormous pressure placed upon it by land clearance for crops and settlements.
Roiann looked up.
Sparkling lights. Ten million diamonds floating above her head, close enough to see but far enough to sparkle. And hundreds of them belonged to her, floating just above the atmosphere. Beaming news, data, gossip and games and stocks and a thousand imaginary necessities.
Roiann looked down.
A hundred million people, all building, booming, growing, surging, improving, learning, prospering.
Hundreds of thousands of them belonged to her too, although they would’ve put it differently. They put in their hours for her, and that was enough.
And in the middle distance, between Roiann’s two planes of ownership, there was the horizon. Curving gently off beyond her sight.
Not her reach, though. Landing was still humanity’s heart, but she’d been making moves. Expeditions. Research, mining, mapping, whatever excuse could be used and budgeted.
There was profit out there somewhere. Enough for everyone, and why shouldn’t she get first pick?
She turned her gaze back to the object on her desk and smiled.
Item 00978: Office Desk.
A workstation. This specimen is highly decorative in design and likely belonged to a wealthy executive; the drawers and filing equipment are overly diminished and show little use, while the materials used in construction are not only high-quality but show the traces of individual craftsmanship rather than mass production. This was a commissioned sumptuary good, used to display status.
Item 00978a-q: Shards of Allglass.
These microscopic flecks were retrieved from a hairline crevice in the desk’s surface, and are possibly the earliest allglass traces in Landing. There is still no record of the precise date when expeditions from Tendyssa first travelled across the pole to Wender, but this may have been among the first curiosities brought back from those early ventures.
Taddle was a runner. And he was good at it. He’d practically raced out of the crib. He’d nearly become a professional sprinter in his school years. He could tap a friend on the shoulder and be round the block by the time they’d finished turning.
But he’d been a little foolish to hope to outrun bullets.
Now here he was, bleeding out all over his broken nearly-but-not-quite-bulletproof shirt. Lying on his side, watching the world spin and wondering why he’d decided to do it. Yes, his brother had needed the money; he had no legs thanks to their grandfather. Yes, his father had needed the operation; all those years down in the foundries did wonderful things to your body from the outside in. Yes, his daughter would need food; she was already barely eating enough to stay awake in classes.
But now they’d need all that and his funeral bill too.
His back was on fire. Not from the bullets, from something crushed and splintered and eating into his skin like bugs on butter. The package of allglass he’d been hiding down his back had smashed. It was a good thing he was already passing out; if he’d had the energy he would’ve screamed.
A boot came into his field of view, followed by the rest of the mine guard. And then – if not for very long – Taddle realized he could scream after all.
Item 02931: Improvised Bulletproof Jacket
An illegal and improvised item, produced by melting ‘Red Silica’ over heavy cold-weather clothing. This particular specimen possessed two fatal flaws in its manufacture: it was adulterated with low-quality ‘Blue Silica’ to save costs and the base substrate was a smaller, lighter shirt that did not protect the wearer’s extremities. The latter may have been a necessary compromise; the shirt appears to be employee wear from Hibber Air & Earth, one of the larger allglass exploration companies in Wender during the era, and was likely intended to be a disguise first and last-ditch protection later. Bullet damage on the specimen’s exterior, along with massive allglass scarring along its interior, suggest that this plan failed.
The sky was red again today.
Pline had breakfast with what was left in the cupboard that had been her fridge before the last power surge, then dialed her old company.
She hadn’t expected one; three weeks with no offices since the downtown floods had crippled the branch; the mills had been completely unsalvageable and every technician with any useful skills had long-ago left the city behind for work in the privateland holdouts. The owners had probably just walked off and vanished rather than deal with the paperwork, and the difficult of finding anyone to manage the paperwork. .
She dialed her best friend, next-closest friend, and then a few more.
They’d probably just walked off and vanished. A lot of people did that.
The alarm in the ceiling hissed, and she slipped her mask on before peeking out the window. The air was a thick clot of bloody sand.
Allglass storm, again. The third one this week. Hard to believe in grandmother’s day they’d never seen one dip into the lower atmosphere before.
Her stomach gurgled, and she opened the fridge and realized there was nothing left. It was the end of the day and she was back at last night again. Again.
Pline’s face hurt. It had hurt since she was a little girl and she was used to it, but it was enough.
She took off the mask, put it in the fridge, and walked out the door.
Item 07003: Storm Mask
A mass-produced item of low quality, the many imperfections in this specimen’s design can be traced to many wider disruptions in global supply chains leading to the use of low-cost and inferior local materials. The sealing of the mask’s jaw in particular is badly malformed from use and likely caused extensive discomfort when prolonged use occurred, which was likely frequent at the time. Allglass storms not only increased in frequency as more and more of the substance was destroyed and released into the atmosphere, but were aggravated by even the most minute particle pollutants, which they would aggregate into and subsume. A heavy smog could become a killing clot of sharpened particles, but deadlier still were the long-term physiological and psychological ills brought on by constant low-level exposure to the wear and tear of allglass-laced dust and pollen.
It was too dark.
Hobb held his breath and held still and his nose tickled but he did not sneeze not even a little because it was too dark.
The other people were out there arguing, yelling in their strange voices, brandishing their rust and plastic and shouting and trying their hard to be the scariest possible because if they did they wouldn’t have to kill each other the way they’d killed Hobb’s family and nothing made them more worried than that.
Hobb was trying not to think about what they’d done, but there it was again, fresh and red in his mind as it hadn’t been in reality. All the blood was red and bright and clear and shining and the wounds showed great gouts of colour inside, oozing and glistening.
Not like this. Not like it had been, with dark liquid and grunts and screams in the black. Because it was too dark.
The other people were still shouting. Didn’t they know it was too dark? They’d stood on the fire, they’d thrown Hobb’s uncle into it. Why? Were they crazy? They’d been outside, in the storms. Only crazy people did that. And they dressed crazy, with all those heavy coats and clasps and the masks. And they’d come from the privlands, on foot, in the day.
They didn’t know anything.
One of them shouted, loud enough to hurt ears, and they all stopped talking at once.
Hobb sneezed, even though it was too dark, and that was that.
He never had a chance to tell them about the Deepmakers. They never gave him one. And so, when they were sleeping, it came as a very large surprise.
Item 07991: Security Helmet
Although for a time complex international society persisted in the form of communication passed between fortified compounds in the heavily-guarded holdouts and refuges of what the common folk called the ‘privatelands,’ several centuries without maintenance destroyed the satellite communications networks necessary for any real cooperation, along with mutual distrust and competition. Lacking trade networks for resupply and repair, each individual stronghold lived and eventually died on its own. Many were abandoned when vital survival systems broke down, their inhabitants dispersing into the new wildernesses, but few of these voyagers integrated successfully into new communities. This particular specimen is an example of a typical though well-illustrated story: an aging but almost pristine security helmet that suffered several months of intense weathering from brutal allglass storms before being abandoned in a secluded cave. The culprit behind this last event is particularly evident: the bite marks lining the inside of the skull are undeniably those of the Tendyssan King Walleater. The eusocial burrowers ate the privateland exile from the inside out.
Item 08200: Patella
This skeletal fragment is the youngest evidence of Lander civilization on the planet. It belonged to a subadult in poor health, who likely received little care from family members shortly after weaning, which she did early. It is possible, although not confirmable, that she was the very last Lander alive; certainly the nearest archaeological site to her grave is notably older. If she was not the last in fact, her existence was nonetheless very similar to that hypothetical other, unknown Lander. Each would have never known the difference, and if they had met would possibly have not even as recognized the other as kin. Landers were socially intelligent animals, and without any prior contact with their own kind, their existences must have been intensely uncomfortable. Even without malnutrition and the hardship of the changing environment, it is unlikely this nameless child would have lived long alone.