LV-107 Eagle is on her deorbit coast. Carolus is contemplating the earliest memories he has after his arrival, remembering it well after three years; as one of the most stable wakers, Columba's name for crew members who have been awakened from cryogenic hibernation, he commands the lander. His awakening was a bit rocky.Out of Character Briefing wrote: The mod pack contains 136 mods from Stone Age to Space Extension and Advanced Rocket Payloads. Some in-character material has, and will be, contrived to explain bugs in the mod pack. In-character time is sixty times game time, i.e. a second of game time is a minute of character time, while a minute of game time is an hour of character time. If I die in game, one of the characters in the story dies, leaving open the possibility that I could run out of surface characters, lose the game, and give the story a tragic ending. Circumstances (i.e. whether the characters are together) determines whether I load from autosave (they are) or respawn (they aren't.)
The easiest way to use the mod pack is to download this save and then hit "Sync mods with save" on the Load Game window. I was about to attach mod-list.json, but it doesn't have the version numbers.
Unlike the previous version of this story, this one will not have images attached until requested.
"Carl?" the technician he didn't know at the time, "Carl, can you hear me?"
A voice he did, and still does, recognize asked from no further away, "Is he at Metabolism 2 yet?" It sounded like it had aged a few decades from his previous memory.
"Yeah, been there for fifteen minutes, everything except his EKG's in the pink, should we move him to MRI?"
"Chat-" he gasped, "What is-?" Carolus was astonished to hear the Captain at his bedside, then alarmed at the lack of gravity.
"Carl, take it easy," the technician says, "Do you remember your name?"
"Carolus," he croaked, "Do you? I can't see. What is Chattis doing here?"
"Chattis?" the technician asks.
"The Captain of Columba," Carolus says.
"That's astonishing," Chattis gasped, "He remembers me."
Carolus had later watched the recording of his thaw. The technician was so bad with names that she was holding an index card tied to her right hand with names and matching descriptions. She had to turn it over for the Captain's name. The memory portion of her brain was so badly damaged during the approach phase that she couldn't even remember her own name, and damage to the computer destroyed the crew manifest and many personnel files, so no one else knew what her name was either. Those were being named after birds, and she drew Puffin. She needed the cue card to remember that as well! She remembered how most of the equipment in the medical bay worked.
After sucking back a bit of water to wet his voice, Carolus asked, "Where's the gravity?"
"The habitat ring's rotational bearing has been destroyed," the Captain grimly explained.
"What?" the landing systems engineer gasped in astonished alarm, "What year is it?"
"We don't know exactly," Chattis answered quietly, "You're up at least 19 years behind schedule." The Captain went on to describe the Columba's insane adventure with a previously unknown dust cloud while approaching the Kismet system. They were orbiting their target planet, named Nauvis at some point; both star and planet originally had a huge TESS catalog number from the twenty-first century. It was, at the time Columba left Earth, the best candidate for colonization ever discovered, but at nearly a hundred light-years distance, nowhere near humanity's first interstellar colony.
For the first time ever, indigenous plant and animal life had been discovered on the surface of a planet other than Earth. Sure, they found some microbes on Mars, Ganymede, Enceladus, and Triton, but analysis determined that they had orginated from Earth, kicked out by asteroid impact splash and volcanic explosions during the Noachian Event, which was thought to have affected only the Solar system, it was soon discovered to have affected every star system that had been reached thus far. Nauvis was affected in a somewhat strange way: it experienced a global flood, but some kind of magnetic anomaly caused it to deposit more sediment on its valuable resources, so establishing a colony here would be harder than it looked. Despite the life on the planet, the air wasn't quite breathable, and partial pressure suits were required to operate on the surface.
This would all be quite easily coped with if Columba were in perfect, or at least passable, condition, but she hit this dust cloud on the way in, of her crew of 144,000, only 60 were awake, and only 23 of those were still alive after the first hour. An approach that was supposed to be a fairly routine magnetic braking operation against the heliosphere followed by a low remass maneuver to gain the approach to Nauvis and a high remass maneuver to capture into orbit turned into a harrowing nightmare of emergency repairs, hundreds of gravitational flybies lasting about 19 Earth years. The main chronometer got reset in the dust collisions several times, then had an erroneous jump during a gas giant gravitational assist. All the backups, which were more vulnerable to the shock and radiation environments of the dust cloud encounter, were more badly affected than the main clock and computer. With the time to do so, the cryogenic systems were examined, and some 65,000 of Columba's crew of colonists are known to be dead, with a further unknown number where the extent of apparently minor cryogenic damage can't be understood until they are woken up. Chattis was unaffected because he woke up before the dust collision. Puffin was less lucky, having suffered serious brain damage affecting her memory, especially with names and other designations, along with anterograde amnesia: she remembers nothing from before she went into cryosleep. And neither did the computers, many of which were destroyed. There were many amputations, and many could not recover from cryosleep damage and were lost within hours or days of waking up. The ship was quite the mess.
Now, as Eagle approaches the atmosphere of Nauvis, Carolus is nervous that it may have been damaged as well, some undetectable flaw in its heat shield. Of Columba's twelve large landers, only Eagle passed its pre-flight inspections, and even she needed some work on her computers due to magnetic and radiation-induced voltage spikes during the first few stellar and gas giant passes after the dust collision.
Carolus' dour hunch turned into an absolute certainty as he saw several heatshield bondline sensors trend upward for a few seconds before the Master Alarm. The lander was a blunt biconic, so it wasn't going to take as long for things to develop as it did on the entry catastrophe he was most familiar with, that of STS-107 over a thousand years prior, Shuttle Columbia after which the starship was indirectly named after dozens of generations of Columba, Columbiad, Columbia, and Dove, none of which were to go through an entry accident like that again. "Everyone button up!" he ordered tersely just before the Master Alarm blared. He had already taken over manual control and was maneuvering to nose up while his co-pilot Kraddic and flight engineer Leonard started working to determine and isolate damaged systems and compartments, activating backup control surface actuators and hydraulic systems. Like the ancient and simple Shuttle, it took just under a minute from the first alarm before Eagle became uncontrollable; they were now trying to get it to last long enough for people to survive with personal parachutes. When the fire wind got into Carolus' compartment a few seconds after the lights went out, it severed the huge touch screen panel of Leonard from its mount and sent it flying into his face, shattering his helmet and killing him instantly. The thousand tonne lander was already gyrating wildly around a base first attitude, allowing the apparently undamaged backup heatshield to weather the brunt of the remaining entry heating until the G-forces overwhelmed Carolus and he passed out.
Magpie, a somewhat less amnesiac medical technician on the other side of the lander, was alone in her inner compartment, surrounded by the surface oxygen system. She passed out from the G-forces, but woke up while still in the air. She didn't know this was the case, but pulled the inner compartment parachute handle just as a signal to any other survivors that she had made it to the ground. The surprised squeaky grunt as the parachutes inflated above the still flying compartment was the last voice sound recorded on board Eagle, since her helmet recorder was the only one that hadn't already failed. It would be a very long time before it could be played back. Mere seconds later, the compartment hit the surface of Nauvis far too fast and shattered. The proper procedure for surviving this situation was for her to jump from the compartment and descend on her personal parachute, but she didn't have time for that. The impact caused some equipment to detach from the bulkhead and break her right leg just below the knee. Since that was the moment the audio recorder died, this, much louder, reaction to the circumstances was never heard again.
OC: Welcome to Factorio
Carolus was the first of the other three survivors of the twenty to wake up after landing unconscious under his personal parachute. Kraddic was nearby and Carolus woke him up a minute or two after reaching him. The fourth survivor was Hudson, who was a bit bewildered after rising to his feet, but he was in good enough shape to rouse on his own before Carolus and Kraddic reached him. They interrupted this desperate and hysterical blue streak including phrases like "game over" and "pretty shit," and got him calmed down enough to be useful. Fortunately, the one inner compartment they needed the most managed to get its parachute deployed somehow; unlike the main ship and individual suits of the twenty people on board (a couple of which descended dead under their canopies), the inner compartment parachutes did not have automatic deployers, nor were they big enough to reasonably expect people inside them to survive, only equipment. The only intact inner compartment was the one with the surface oxygen system.
The extent of Magpie's injuries surprised Carolus and Kraddic, in that she was not dead and had broken only one limb - in the crash, anyway. She was missing her right scapula from cryogenic damage when she woke up, so she had little motion in her right shoulder. Carolus and Kraddic gently extracted her from the broken wreckage and began taking inventory of the surviving oxygen, while Hudson made off with the piece of wreckage that broke her leg and started taking it out on the jagged sediment deposits. Magpie was the only survivor who had a hardware DSKY (separate keyboard from display; touch screens were the normal fare), and it was the only recording device which survived the crash. And its clock had reset, which is why Magpie's earliest memory after being raised upright on her good leg long enough for the pain to abate was Carolus holding his hand palm against his helmet faceplate.
The day is 56 hours, and they attempted in an equatorial region; the axial tilt
"Eagle, this is Columba, please respond if you read," Pewryn has given up hope, but still nervously squeezes his handheld homemade Jigglypuff doll. He's only slightly amnesiac from cryogenic damage so he didn't remember the story from his parents, however, Kraddic, his best friend, did remember it from before they went under, and retold it: his parents had made the Jigglypuff doll on the basis of a character from a nearly forgotten videogame franchise, and also named him after it.
"Pewryn," the Captain whispers from two consoles to his left, "You've got floaters."
The communications technician put the transmitter microphone back in its holder, grabbed a cloth and soaked up his wet face. He had been crying so much at the loss of his best friend that huge tears started floating around the starship's cramped bridge.
Day 1, 7hr10m, Hudson reporting: I took the piece that broke Magpie's leg and started chipping at the sediment with it. It had worn rather unevenly in the rain - some point in centuries past because we hadn't seen any precipitation since we arrived in the system. Kraddic figured that the three essentials we needed exposed right away, and we were briefed prior to landing and expected to have drilling equipment, were iron, copper, and silcate, basically normal stone. The piece did an incredible job, but broke two hours after the clock reset mid-swing against the first stag I went after for wood. So, I took off my spacesuit gloves, grabbed some normal grippers from my pack, and started ripping deadfall like it was survival camp back on Earth. I'm not sure what's going on yet, but the rest of the stag just disintegrates once I have the first branch loose, and I feel like I'm getting maybe 6% of the actual wood. Good thing there are a lot of them. I have ten so far. Most of this terrain is too soft to build anything substantial on, so the other three gathered the surviving oxygen tanks (too bad we lost all the scrubbers for the ambient air) to a "platform" rock plateau southwest of the lake. This was on our maps, but we lost those to our Columba luck entry, and we're otherwise pretty much completely lost. Nauvis has like 10% global surface water coverage, maybe. I doubt Columba had the resolution even though she was behind us and near periapsis, that's still like 800km up and I think 40cm was the best telescope we had left after that dust collision. If they didn't see this piddly little personal parachutes open, they probably think there are no survivors.
"Okay," the Captain moans, "We currently have no signs of survivors on the surface of Nauvis at all."
"That's correct," Pewryn's mouth sighs from under a nose between little deep red rashes, "There are no radio signals at all beyond loss of the one-way oscillator at altitude. Visual's not very good either, I found a few craters," he sniffles, "fresh ones that could only have been made by Eagle hardware..." And he's basically paralyzed by grief again.
Turning to his trajectories and navigation expert Hundmeister, the Captain asks, "How is our orbit looking?"
"I've clocked the period at 108 hours, which I think we should keep for the time being, Captain," he explains. He's also mourning the loss of friends on the Eagle, but he's handling much better than Pewryn and slightly better than Chattis. "It synchronizes with the landing site on a 27 day synodic period-"
"Nauvis days?" the Captain asks.
"Yes," Hundmeister blows his nose, "27 Nauvis days to 14 of our orbits. Right now, we have our periapsis above the landing site, but it moves further east each time, and the landing site is also under us when we are near apoapsis."
"That won't do us much good," Pewryn points out, "With both main telescopes on the fritz, we can't see much from a hundred eighty megametres."
Captain Chattis adds, "We haven't got enough to make out wreckage until next time the landing site is actually under periapsis, which is what? Half that synodic period? Will 13 orbits post-landing do?"
"That's about two hundred metres resolution, not close enough," Hundmeister shakes his head.
"14 orbits?" Chattis asks nervously.
"Past dusk down there," Hundmeister sighs, "That's even worse, but I'll get an infrared FPU as cold as I can to look for fires."
Pewryn slaps his knees, "The oxygen concentration's too low to sustain open fires, you know that."
"That's the point," Hundmeister explains, "Any sustained fires would need to be man-made, and they wouldn't be visible, hence infrared."
"Good idea," Chattis nods in unsmiling approval, "Do you need any more computer power for reducing Nauvis' gravity field?"
Hundmeister shakes his head, "Computers don't reduce equations, Captain. I could use someone who knows calculus."
"Necessary for the ship to survive two months?" the Captain asks.
"I don't think so," Hundmeister answers.
"Then you're on your own," Chattis turns to Pewryn, "We're going to be building our next lander completely from scratch, ripping apart the remains of the other eleven to get it done. Work with Puffin and the rest to figure out who to wake up to do that. We're in no rush as anyone else we wake up is going to gobble up supplies. Do keep an ESM recorder going when the landing site is in view and check it just in case someone made it."
"I'll see to it personally," Pewryn squeaks.
Chattis grabs his hand with both of his own, "They're gone, okay?"
The comm tech nods slowly.
"So don't spend too much of your own listening," it's hard to tell whether it's an order or just strong advice, "I need you here, and signal analyzers are pretty decent at flagging stuff that might be artificial, right? We have to figure out what our next move is."
Day 1, 14hr02m, 73% evening, Carolus reporting: With the help of some thruster catalyst from Magpie's wreckage, we managed to get a fire going somewhat more easily than expected. There's concern about stack effect pulling it out, but the sand baffle design helps keep the heat where it belongs and the air moving at just the right speed. I used it to harden up some sticks to get to the igneous rock Hudson exposed with the now broken wreckage piece. I've already broken off a dozen of them, and Magpie is working with them to try to make a better tool while Hudson sleeps. Fortunately, we landed in an area with quite a few trees; not exactly a forest, but it looks like we'll have enough wood for roughing it until our oxygen runs out.
Day 1, 22h19m, 14% night, Kraddic reporting: Hudson got up and he went with Carolus up north to get some clay with the new shovel I crafted from the stone they brought back. Magpie went to sleep after banging them into shape. I made an axe, then they went west to grab some wood, and this time, they were able to properly fell trees and we now have some proper fuel drying over the smoldering fire. With what little battery power we have left, while trying to save some for typing logs, I'm making a windlass water pump with some deep pilings to get into the muck at the edge of the lake, a pool for storing what we pump out of the lake, and an aqueduct to connect the two. We need some water to form the clay into stuff we need. The first of the 40 oxygen bottles we recovered from the wreck of Magpie's pod has run out.
Kraddic, with his spacesuit gloves off, but his helmet still on, life support regulator in the back of his helmet clicking, was chipping away at a log with a crude chunk of stone, hollowing it out. It clearly matched another half he had already finished, and he had indigenous vines laid out beside him to tie them together. A smaller stick to serve as a pump handle, it seemed obvious he was building a water pump of some sort. It was the middle of the night, he had only one helmet lamp on to work by. Suddenly he turns to his left and whispers loudly, "Pewryn?"
"What?" Magpie reacts.
"Oh, I hope I didn't wake you," Kraddic says softly, knowing Carolus and Hudson are further away, sleeping by the campfire. Magpie is a bit warmer in her suit and extra bandages with the swelling of her leg.
"I'm trying to ration this," she shakes a little bubble pack of painkiller pills, "I only found the one shot of morphine." She turns to him and wonders, "I thought you said Pewryn? Isn't that your friend who's named after the pocket monster?"
"Yeah," he confirms, for just a moment, I thought I could hear him snoring.
"I hope they know we're alive," she sighs, "Intuitively at least, hope they're listening for our signal whenever we're ready to send it."
A minute or so earlier, Pewryn had woken from his dream of observing his friend in a spacesuit hacking at a piece of wood just before he turned and asked if he was there. He came too with such a start that he knocked his sleep restraint loose from the wall and is now floating about in the equipment closet that passes for a bedroom. He got himself loose and stabilized, then pressed a comm panel. Oh, they don't work in this room. He got out and crossed over and reached the bridge in a few seconds, "Hundmeister? Hundmeister, they're alive."
"Don't be absurd, go back to sleep," the science officer mutters while using some robot manipulators for the cooling unit of his infrared telescope.
"I can't sleep if I'm going down there and watching them work in my dreams," he says.
"Dreams?" Hundmeister turns, tapping a touchscreen button to start an automatic alignment program before letting go of his robotic controls. The working thermal imager went grey from its mostly deep blue; the unit was already cool enough that it wasn't seeing much detail in the chilling telescope system.
"Carolus made it, Kraddic is with him," Pewryn recounts, "I can't see who the other two are, but one is female," he then bows his head, "Kanto is dead." His brother was named after the area his jigglypuff lived in in that fictional world. "He came to, I'm guessing much further downrange, paralyzed legs," Pewryn pats his eyes down one at a time with the palm of his right hand, "He transmitted on his helmet radio for two hours until his suit oxygen ran out. The others didn't hear him."
"But that might be on ESM," Hundmeister perks up, "We could have picked it up before we went over the horizon, do you remember that frequency?"
"Band's 2.4GHz, I think," he tries to remember, "Channel 12, yeah, that was the reconnoiter channel."
Hundmeister calls up the directional radio log aimed at the landing site, narrows the frequency in the spectrum analyzer to that frequency, and a barely distinguishable bunch of hills and plateaus appears.
"No shit!" Pewryn gasps, "What's he saying?"
Hundmeister runs a program on the signal, which produces some lettering, and ...it's jibberish.
"What's that?" Pewryn asks.
"I don't know," Hundmeister says, then points at the screen, "but the isolated bursts tend to be 'I', 'HM', and 'IHM' though, see?"
"That's a speech-to-text?" Pewryn asks, "Can't we just listen to it?"
"No," Hundmeister explains, "It's Morse Code, I set it up just after we lost contact because I know Carolus played around with it a lot as a kid; he's still got it memorized."
"What?" Pewryn's confused.
"I ran the signal through a thousand year old program, a Stephen C. Phillips web page we had on an archive disk."
"Kanto doesn't know Morse Code," Pewryn explains, "Just play back the audio for one of those," he points, "real time."
"It isn't demodulating," Hundmeister explains as he tries, "The signal's far too weak. I could run it through just a strength filter."
"Yeah, do that," Pewryn demands, "wiping his eyes again."
The playback timer goes over the two dots of an "I", then an "HM", then an "IHM". There is only a very low static sound coming out of the speaker.
"It's him," Pewryn sobs, "Oh shit, it's him!"
"How do you know?" Hundmeister asks, quite perplexed.
"It's the way he times his syllables," he cries, "He was my brother, you know!" Pewryn gets a hold of himself and points at the bumps below the "I" and says, "Hello?" Then he points at the "HM" and says, doing a half-decent impression that Hundmeister's eyes widen in recognition, "Can anyone hear me?" Further to the "IHM", Pewryn translates, "Hello, can anyone hear me?"
The wide-eyed Hundmeister, grabs Pewryn and croaks, "I think you're right, go wake the Captain!"