Under the Bridge – Part 4 of 4

The Bridge: Seven Days After Landing

There’s nothing like exploring the fringes of the galaxy to figure out what you want to do with your life.

Such an act back on Selsteil would have warranted Redemption. And no one wants to be Redeemed. Memories and emotions completely erased, and then the System builds you back up from scratch, but updated, perfect in the eyes of the System. You can only be a criminal once, and once you have been Redeemed, you’ll never commit a criminal act ever again. Just thinking about it sends shivers down my spine. Zaria has stripped me of my exochemist role, and has instead sent me to search for nearby Automated Artificial Explorer bots that are building these bridges, and to disable them. Rodhir is tagging along; it’s helpful to ride on a rover for this. I wonder if I will return to harsher measures from Zaria after this obviously temporary exile.

On Selsteil, the topic of death is not of great concern. People come and go, and mourning is non-existent. But I’m not from Selsteil. I was born on planet Boltorra, and things are different there. Death isn’t something that is easily brushed away from your mind. I can’t stop thinking about it. I killed Norak. In an instant, his existence is revoked. A future timeline that could have been, aborted. Although the act of killing someone is punished by Redemption on all Tessian planets, the Boltorrans feel the emotional strain on their minds that the act produces over time, before being Redeemed that is. Damn this mission to all of the three hells.

“You know,” spoke Rodhir as we rode over a rocky bridge, one of many that surrounded us, weaving and interlocking like long serpents back in the jungles of Selsteil, “I haven’t told you this, but I was raised by Boltorrans. Both my parents were from Boltorra, but they passed away long before we first met. I was only nine when that happened, and I’ve been a wanderer ever since. Thanks for helping me get into the Explorers, Danbir. They said I wasn’t fit to join.”

Bless Rodhir for taking my mind off the grim subject of death. “I guess that makes you my planetary half-brother! Thanks for joining me when all others cast me aside after the incident,” I reply. Perhaps I joined the Explorers because a part of me has never really been able to find a home either. I’ve moved from planet to planet, but I guess I’ve never really been able to find what I want. There’s nothing like exploring the fringes of the galaxy to figure out what you want to do with your life.

As we continued our trek, I could see some of the surrounding bridges have collapsed inwards, and I warn Rodhir to be careful. They are built on a daetrite foundation, so they must be unstable as there is little more than fine sand and dust supporting these heavy structures.

Suddenly, a very sharp but brief burst of static erupts from our short-range radios, and then silence. Rodhir and I look at each other without words for a moment, in a haze of confusion. I look back, and see a colossal plume of dust expanding in the distance, with small chunks of lunar material flying high over the horizon.

“Zaria? Are you seeing that plume of dust? Don’t tell me you don’t, you can’t miss it, it’s billowing over the horizon,” Rodhir shouts over the radio. “Zaria?” he repeats after a moment.

“Zaria? Steiya? That’s odd, we should be in range for radio contact,” I say.

At the end of the bridge that Rodhir and I were standing on, I see a small black streak crack across the edges. Immediately, everything starts to shake, and standing on the transporter rover becomes impossible. The shaking ground throws us off the rover, and we both land onto the rocky bridge. I kneel, and sway from side to side as the hard but brittle bridge starts to crack. I could feel the intense vibration of the bridge, but everything being soundless makes it even more terrifying. The middle of the rocky bridge is sliding down with little resistance, down to the bottom of the lunar fissure. Instincts take over, and we both start hopping to the start of the bridge, with Rodhir significantly ahead of me. I could not focus on where to look, and my foot snags on a rough patch of rock, sending me to land on my face shield. I could see Rodhir was able to use his liftpack once he got to the edge of the bridge, landing safely onto the stable surface. Of course, the liftpack! Before I could activate the liftpack using the controls on the underside of my wrist, the bridge starts to break apart completely, like glass under pressure. I could not hold on to the surface of the bridge, and tumble down to the depths below.

***

The fall itself wasn’t so bad; it was all the debris that came falling on top that could have killed me. I landed on my liftpack, and I hope it still works. A block of the bridge rolled onto me after impact with the ground, and pinned me down. I can move my arms, but I cannot get anywhere with this boulder crushing my left leg, even in this gravity. After some much needed cursing, I realized Rodhir was able to survive unscathed. His personal transport rover was in pieces a few meters away from me.

“Rodhir,” I groan through my radio. “I think my leg is broken. A piece of the bridge has me pinned down, and I cannot get out. Can you get me out of this mess?”

“I hear you clearly. What the hell just happened? I’m looking down below, it’s a deep fissure man. If I use my liftpack to descend, I don’t think I’ll have enough to get back up. Fuck. After my stunt there, I’m at 61% fuel,” his voice has definite traces of panic.

“Yeah, it is a long way down; I can tell you that from experience. Listen, I might be able to get out of this using a burst from my liftpack, but I will need to be extracted from this place. Go back to the landing, get some machinery or additional liftpack fuel, and get me the hell out of here!”

“Understood, on my way back now.”

I’m trying to radio Zaria, or anyone else for that matter. No luck. Rodhir had no such luck either. I still have access to the liftpack controls, so let’s see if a small thrust can… Oh bloody dirdun, curse the three hells! If there was any doubt whether my leg was broken, it is gone now. The small thrust wasn’t enough to get me out, but it did send jolts of pain tearing through my leg. I am going to need a large burst. All of my fuel, all in one go…

***

After a long bout of screaming, I realize I am a few meters out, and my leg isn’t trapped by the bridge piece anymore. Oh gods, now this is truly an abyss. There is some light peeking in at the top, but in less than an hour, I bet it will recede and turn this fissure into a pitch-dark nothingness. I activate the auto-injection for painkillers, and slip into a small light daze.

After some time, I finally receive a radio signal from Rodhir, but the darkness is already starting to envelop everything around me.

“Hey Danbir, I plowed through the dust, and I’m at our Pod now using the MPCS. It’s truly a disaster here, man. They’re all gone. All the other Pods were wiped out, seems like a large comet or asteroid struck near the main landing site. Our Pod, well it’s far enough that it was spared, with some minor damage on the outer hull. I don’t think anyone made it. I’ve tried using the MPCS to reach out to everyone else. No one has responded. This mission’s over, we need to get out of here.”

I can feel my soul shatter. It was starting to get truly dark in the fissure, and this news just made everything around me many shades darker.

“They took all the Sero from our landing Pod away, after your incident. We have no Sero to be able to get back home. The reserves are gone. There are no other surviving Pods. We can’t refine any more, there’s no refinery in this Pod and all the others are gone. It’s all gone man. It’s all fucking gone.” Through the radio, I can hear small bursts of sound. Rodhir is weeping.

“Listen, Rodhir,” I started to remember the incident, “there is a half-vial of Sero behind a removable panel, and it’s behind your photo. I didn’t want anyone to know. I knew they wouldn’t let me touch any Sero reserves after that, and so I needed to be certain I had some, just in case, just for me. If you could get me out of here, we could share it. We only need it for the empty cryoarcane preserver. We could land on any planet in roughly a twenty-five light-year radius with the few hundreds of years of lifespan extension that we will get with dreaming. Of course, we wouldn’t be able to go to Selsteil, there’s just not enough Sero.” I held my tongue, but in truth, there would be enough for only one of us.

“Behind it?” replied Rodhir, “I’m looking at my photo now.”

“Do you see it, Rodhir? Did you find it?” I ask, a short moment later. “Rodhir, are you there?” I keep asking. Perhaps a problem with the MPCS?

Another silent hour had gone by. My personal heater would be running out soon, and with how things are going, I would only have a few more hours in here. Overhead, through the slice of the open top of the fissure, I see a large moving star, moving slowly across the darkness. Hold on. What am I saying? It cannot be a moving star… It’s the Pod.

Rodhir was leaving this moon without me.

There is nothing left. Not a single Pod left. No backup Construct. No Sero. Slowly, I start to jump with my good leg, hopping through the darkness. I could see almost nothing; my right hand traced the wall of the wide crevasse for support. I look up at the celestial array of stars overhead, and whisper to myself:

“And so my journey ends; may the gods guide my path.”


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Under the Bridge - Part 3 of 4

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