I searched for Mother and found what was left of her not far away from where I had been standing.
The smouldering drone had caught in between two overhanging branches and dangled by one motionless rotor.
‘Mother?’ I asked again through the dead radio despite knowing there was no point, everything was dead.
‘Fuck.’ I tried to radio Ellesk but, surprise surprise, nothing.
I looked at the trees that surrounded me and spotted one that looked like I would be capable of climbing it. I wasn’t, err I should say instead that I’m not, the most physically fit person in the world and despite the supreme elegance of the exo-suit compared to the clunky monstrosities that humanity first wore when they stepped out into the stars, it was an embarrassing and excruciatingly long climb to come within reach of the drone.
Fortunately, no one was there to see it and whilst I’m sure the footage from my helmet and suit cams makes for hilarious, if not slightly painful, viewing, all of that footage is stuck on the Syrinx.
Wherever that is.
I wedged my foot in the crook of two branches and leant out above the ground a few metres beneath me. One hand held tight to a branch above as the other brushed the drone with clumsy fingertips. The machine shifted and the most predictable thing, that I incidentally failed to predict, happened.
The drone slid, whatever delicate balance that was holding it where it was broke with my fumbling intervention.
‘Shit, shit shit.’ I said as I watched the drone slide out of reach. I flinched as it struck the ground, the sound loud enough that it came through the airtight system of the suit.
As fast as I could I clambered down the tree.
‘Ooh Mother, please be okay, please be in there somewhere.’ I said as I approached the wreckage, both hands out in front of me like I was praying.
The drone was huge up close, if I spread my arms out wide they were only just bigger than the machine. I gingerly touched one protruding rotor and gave it a shake. The propeller spun with the motion but otherwise there was nothing.
What was I meant to do? I couldn’t drag it back; it was too heavy to carry, and I had nothing with which to attach it to my suit. And even if I could the forest around me was way too thick, I barely got through the first time and I had to fight for every step I took.
And did I mention that I know nothing about drones? Or tech like this at all? There was no way for me to get it up and running again. The best I was capable of was downloading the drones data into my suit, but oh wait, no power to my suits main cpu.
After ten minutes of fussing over it, trying and failing to get it started again by pressing any button I could see and hitting it out of frustration a few times, I left.
I couldn’t do anything else. The only thing I could do was come back with Paran who might be able to do something about it.
The guilt still gnaws at me. I can feel the worm chew through the lining of my stomach, leaving a trail of blood in its wake.
Maybe she was there. Maybe somehow she watched me leave her, abandon her there on the floor of the forest.
Maybe Mother lay there, broken, alone, and wondered why I was walking away.
Did I look back? Was she waiting for that glance of reassurance, to know that everything would be okay, that I would return with help?
No. I didn’t.
And five minutes later I was lost.
On Trappy the days are long, and the planet is almost tidally locked with the star it orbits. But because of the stars extremely low output, Trappy is mild all year round.
Come visit with your family, friends.
What I’m getting at is that the planet is dark. Not pitch black when you’re outside of the forest but under the cavernous trees and plant-life that surrounded me on my way back to the lander, I couldn’t see a thing.
The lights on my suit were useful for seeing my hands held out in front of me, apart from that the extreme ability of the plants to absorb any light made it like I was staring down into a bottomless pit.
My pace was slow. There was no Mother guiding me like a star, or the comforting, illuminating haziness of the background magnetic radiation.
My sight was limited to vague shimmering outlines of leaves and plants. There was no depth, I might as well have been walking into a 2D screen.
Kind of like right now.
I have no reference points out in space.
Every star looks like it’s the same distance away from me. Both within my grasp and simultaneously out of it.
Schrodinger’s stars, if you will.
But instead of the calm repose you’re hearing now, it was ahh, a little different in the forest of Trappy.
‘Fuck, stay calm, gotta stay calm. Come on. Fuck, deep breaths.’
You get the idea, I was panicking and holding on to my sanity with my fingernails.
Nails that dug grooves into my mind, shredding the very thing they were trying to hold together.
As it does, time passed, and I had no way of knowing with my suit in the condition that it was, how much had gone by.
Until my suit beeped.
It stopped me in my tracks, not very impressive considering I was taking about one step every thirty seconds, hands out in front me, the steps huge in case of unseen obstacles that probably weren’t even there.
‘What does the beep mean?’ I asked myself. I couldn’t remember. I know that I had been told. It was one of those things that Ellesk covered in our first yearly stop on the way to the system. Some safety feature, among a bunch of other safety features that quickly made my eyes glaze over.
This is part of the reason why I wasn’t the first choice for this mission. I didn’t have the discipline for it.
I don’t have the discipline for it, I guess I should say. I don’t think my hours out here in the void have done anything to change that.
If I had, perhaps I would have remembered what the warning meant, perhaps I would have been able to talk myself into a calmer state.
To tell myself to stop using so much air with every panicky breath.
Instead, I started to breath harder, worried about what it might mean. Was the reserve power running out?
Was it air? Surely it couldn’t have been twelve hours, not yet.
Is it getting hotter in here? Is it harder to breath?
My throat constricted, I needed to get out. Fear dug its talons into my shoulders and lifted me out of rationality.
I lost it.
I thrashed around and then sprinted, uncaring, the incessant beep of the suit driving me forward. Was it getting faster? I didn’t know, I didn’t pause to count and find out. I bulled through the forest as fast as I could leaving a trail of destruction in my wake.
How many species of plants did I hurt? Was there life other than the oh-so-similar plant life that I killed in my rampage?
It didn’t matter. I ran until I couldn’t anymore, my body wore out before my panic did and I collapsed to my knees.
My suit beeped again.
And then again.
I was going to die.
Too exhausted to move to stubborn to take my helmet off and hasten my demise. I sat there, slumped forward, a picture of hopelessness.