((Hey all, this is an older story I’m just getting around to writing. First two chapters tonight, then I’ll finish more as I have time. Enjoy!))
Pain. The first thing that came to the aurin’s mind was pain. Pain from his back, pain from his tail… and underlying all that pain was a horrible sense of uneasiness. As his senses slowly came back to him, he could feel that he was on something… moist. The light stung his eyes as he tried to blink them open, settling on a painful squint. He rolled onto his side, pawing at the ground… leaves… rocks… dirt… “Ugh, where the hell am I…?” Rem closed his eyes again and took some deep breaths of the humid, heavy air. Wherever he was, it would have to wait, he had one hell of a hangover to sleep off.
Remarus awoke to the sound of incessant buzzing. His ear flicked a few times to shoo the insect, but it only became louder. Giving a half-hearted swat with his hand, he connected with a large, fleshy carapace, slightly batting it away.
This, of course, was a poor choice.
The buzzbing became furious, and darted towards the small aurin male. Realization immediately set in, and Rem’s lethargy was replaced with adrenaline and panic. His eyes tore open, and every muscle in his body became tight as he sprung up from the ground. His toes slid on the mossy rock as his ears honed in on the approaching insect. Glaring around through blurred eyes, he looked for his assailant. A large, yellow-ish blob was quickly approaching.
The aurin reeled back his arm, preparing to swing at the deadly insect, only to lose his footing on the slippery moss. He tumbled backwards off of the rock he had been resting on, and down into the undergrowth. Bramble bushes tore at his clothes and skin, as he rolled further and further down the slope. His descent was stopped, fortunately, by a small pond, submerging him momentarily. He emerged, gasping for breath, and pulled himself out of the water, laying at its edge.
And he laughed. He laughed like a madman. He laughed so hard he forgot to take breaths and choked, and then laughed so more. He was, of course, not happy in the slightest, and his own laughter was confusing even to himself, but he laughed nonetheless. As Remarus calmed from his idiotic stupor, he decided he was sick of this little adventure and reached into his pocket for his datachron, hoping to activate the emergency transmat back home. The chron had survived the fall, its protective case keeping it dry and smash free. A smile appeared on the aurin’s face, and he clicked the power button. The screen glowed to life, and in the center lit up with a red battery icon, a small frowny face in the middle. It blinked a few times before going black.
Rage filled the aurin. His knuckles burned white. His teeth clenched and grinded against themselves. He had half a mind to whip the useless thing into the jungle. Thinking better of it, he closed his eyes, took a long, drawn out breath and let out a single, exasperated word. “Fuck.”
Remarus gathered up the damp clothing he had slung over a branch and sat down next to the pond. It had been a few hours, and while it wasn’t dry, it was better than sitting around in his boxers as night began to fall. He had gathered some small sticks and twigs, making a pile. It would be hard to start a fire with how damp the wood was from the muggy air, but he had to try. Building a small ball of leaves and the smallest twigs, he placed it in the center of a small circle of rocks, and then layered larger sticks over and around in a square-shaped pattern.
While Rem was an explorer by trade, the night prior he was out at the Villa with some friends. As such, he didn’t have his survival pack, nor any clue why he was suddenly in a jungle. He did, however, have his multi-tool. He flipped out his fire steel and struck it against one of the small rocks. A shower of short sparks erupted, illuminating a smirk on the aurin’s face. Picking up the rock, he continued to strike the steel against it, angling the sparks towards the inner pile of sticks and twigs. With a little persistence, a small flame took hold, slowly drying and heating the larger sticks. Those too eventually caught, and a campfire was born.
Rem leaned back, propping himself up on his arms, as he gazed into the night sky. He hadn’t had much time to get his bearings until now. There was a dense mist that permeated the air, and so only the faint glow of the night sky pierced through. If he wanted to navigate with the stars as his guide, he was going to have to climb. “So, I’ve gotta be somewhere in Wilderrun, that’s the only jungle on Nexus,” he thought. “I haven’t run into any Torine, and you usually can’t throw a rock in any direction without hitting them, no Osun so I’m not on the east side of the jungle, nor any Pell… just where am I?”
Sitting straight up, he swiveled his head around, listening for a familiar hum. “And where the hell is Nine? That bot doesn’t even leave me alone to sleep, and it almost let a buzzbing attack me!” His diatribe was rudely interrupted by another pressing matter… the grumbling of his stomach. “Ugh, first thing in the morning, food. Then, I gotta find out where I am.”
The aurin placed a few more sticks on his modest fire and lay down next to it, sighing. “Tomorrow is going to be a looooong day, I can feel it already.”
The sun was barely breaking above the treeline and Rem was already on the move. Basic survival training tells you to stay in one place when you’re lost, but survival on Nexus usually depended on anything but. Stay still for too long and you’re in the belly of a pumera, a stemdragon, or worse. The overgrowth seemed… different today. Out of place... wrong even. “Just what’s goin--” “Remmy, c’mon, we’re gonna be late!” a familiar voice interrupted his thoughts. “Is-Isaac?” Every instinct screamed at him that something wasn’t right, but he pressed on.
The trees became thicker, and thicker, the light began to fade from the sky, and but he followed where he had heard the voice. “Isaac! Where are you?” he called out. “C’mon, we don’t want to be the last ones in!” was the reply. “This is all wrong, everything about this is wrong.... Ise! Wait up!”
At last he broke through the tree line, and his environment had shifted. The forest gave way to an Eldan lab, dimly lit but eerie green lights, covered with hundreds of years of dust. A human silhouette stood across the room, light glinting off of a pair of goggles hanging around its neck. It spoke, “Remmy we’re here, we made it before the others!”
Remarus’ mind screamed at him. This was impossible, Isaac was dead. He had been dead for over a year. The silhouette stepped closer, its features now barely illuminated by the glow of the room. There stood Isaac Harrison, alive and well. “What are you doing just gaping at me? Let’s look around! Who knows what we’ll find down here?” Rem just continued to stare. The person standing before him was an impossibility. The place he was in was an impossibility. He offered the geist an out. “Ise, something’s not right. We need to go.” Isaac frowned, “But we just got here, c’mon, our first job for the Union and you wanna chicken out already?”
The aurin froze. “No…” Suddenly, the facility powered up around them. Lights and machinery hummed and whirred to life. He could clearly see his old friend standing across from him, blue Explorer’s Union uniform freshly issued. Rem looked to himself, he was wearing the same. “This can’t be happening.” Glancing back to his friend, he could see that stupid smile on his face. “So, what do ya’ say? Let’s have a look-around!” He waved to the aurin and turned to move deeper into the complex.
The machinery of the facility was still coming to life, much of it damaged by whatever catastrophe had befallen Nexus. Remarus went to follow, but found his feet stuck.”Uh, Isaac, I’ve got a problem here!” He called out. The human looked back, his eyes betrayed panic, and he broke into a sprint. He slammed the much smaller aurin with a shoulder tackle, throwing Rem across the room as a green forcefield came down around the human. He cried out in pain as needles filled with nanites stabbed him in a hundred places, filling him with omni-plasm. Smaller robotic arms grafted electronic modules into a growing cybernetic network, his screams became silent as his eyes glazed over, permeated by a green glow.
Remarus looked upon all of it with horror, as his friend was stripped of his free will and his humanity. The forcefield disengaged, and out stepped a monstrosity of Eldan technology, a victim of their twisted augmentation process. The being slowly walked towards the aruin… “Is--Isaac?” Rem called out. It gave no response, but reached out, and grabbed him by the throat, lifting him with superhuman strength and walking towards the augmentation chamber. Remarus struggled for air, clawing at the hand gripping his neck. Forcefully, augmented human threw the aurin into the chamber, the forcefield powering back up. Rem huddled against the side of the field, screaming out as he was pierced in the abdomen.
Crying out in pain, Rem sat up. It was quiet, the littlest of embers still glowing in the pile of ash that was once his fire. He gripped his side, no pierce marks, no augmentation. Looking around, he saw the mist beginning to glow with the light of day break. “That damn nightmare again…” He fist tightly clutched at the stained Union emblem hanging from his neck. “Isaac, when will you stop haunting me?”
Remarus walked, tired and grouchy, through the undergrowth. He was hungry, the bugs he had finally resorted to eating for breakfast were not nearly filling… or pleasant. He could still hear a mechanical whine permeating the area, radiating louder and softer. As its volume increased, it rained for a few minutes, before the rain and sound faded. It was a curious circumstance, one worth exploring once he was in a better situation. As he explored, he did so carefully, carrying a bundle of sticks and planting them every so often as he went. While his search hadn’t expanded very far from his campsite, it had so far yielded no more clues to his predicament.
He sighed, “This is hopeless. This damn mist doesn’t let up, how am I supposed to get my bearings?” Looking up towards the shrouded sky, “Unless… maybe I can climb above it.” This was probably a fantastic idea, but it was interrupted by a sudden falling sensation, followed by a sudden smashing into the ground sensation. “Damnit! Can I just have one day. Just one? What did I even trip over?” he asked angrily to no one in particular. Rem rolled over and turned to look at whatever had tripped him. “Oh, great. A corpse.” He scowled. “Oh! Great! A corpse!” the realization hit him like a brick. “That means someone else was out here, did he have supplies?!”
The aurin scrambled over and looked for a backpack or a satchel, or even pockets. The unfortunate soul was little more than bone and tattered clothing, but laying a few feet away was a worn leather rucksack. It was already torn open, likely by the wildlife, but Remarus dug through anyway, desperate for food, water… anything useful. He dumped the contents on the ground. Books with bindings and pages destroyed by the moisture lazily plopped out, a rusted multi-tool landed on top of the pile of soggy pages, and a flashlight clanged out against a rock, busting the glass enclosure. Rem was devastated. Nothing, absolutely nothing worthwhile. He slumped in place and stared at the ground dejectedly. As he sat, he continued fumbling through the pockets of the sack, until he came across a cord of some sort. Pulling it out, he started to laugh. “Great. A power transfer cable. Lemme just plug my chron into the ground here! It’s not like I have a battery!” He was about to whip the cord off into the jungle in anger when an idea sparked in his mind.
Desperately, he unscrewed the broken light end of the flashlight. Shaking the canister, two medium sized universal powercells fell into his hands. He clipped the cable into the end of one, and the other into his silent chron. “C’mon… c’mon… live damn you.” The screen brightened up, a small battery logo appeared in the center with a red frowning face. It blinked a few times… and his frown matched its cartoonish visage. Through shaking eyes, he stared at it intently, hoping to the stars to finally catch a break. It continued blinking for a minute, before the speaker emitted a cheerful ‘bing’ and the face flipped to a lightning bolt. “Yes!” he exclaimed, tears of joy streamed down his face. He laid on his back, and for once, felt relief.
Daylight was starting to fade, and the aurin had just about given up trying to find a way home for the day. The power cells weren’t charging as fast as he had hoped, and it didn’t look like they’d give all that much energy to the datachron afterall. Still, a live chron meant he could at least send a message, and a message was far better than nothing. He propped himself back on a rock and looked upward. The mist was still far too thick to see much other than the glimmer of some approaching starlight. He could make out a larger, spherical body, likely Halon or Pyra hanging in the heavens, though he couldn’t discern which. A small sad buzz drew his attention back downward, “Looks like the battery’s given up the ghost. Guess we’ll see how much juice I got.”
He knelt down and disconnected the cord, stuffing it into his pack. Picking up the chron, he held in the power button and allowed it to boot up. Small warnings flashed, it had just enough juice to boot into a power saver mode. “Yep, guess GPS was too much t’ ask for. Le’see if I can get some sorta signal to get a text out.” He held the chron upwards, as if that would increase the signal strength. The display showed zero bars. He sighed and shoved it into a pocket. “Looks like I’ll have to climb a bit higher, maybe that’ll get me somethin.”
Scouting his surroundings, he spotted an incredibly large, gnarled tree that wound itself up around the Eldan machinery in the middle of the complex. It’s trunk extended up through the mist, seemingly without end. Scampering up to one of its many massive roots, he silently cursed his lack of climbing equipment. “Time to do it the ole’ fashioned way...” he muttered to himself. Digging his claws into the root, he started to climb up. Being aurin did happen to come with some perks afterall. The tree was wrapped in thick, verdant vines, providing good footholds for the light aurin. As he approached a small ‘landing,’ if one could call it that, little more than a spot where the tree was more horizontal than vertical, his pocket began to buzz incessantly.
With a quick pull, he hefted himself up and settled himself in the middle of the massive trunk, finding a solid spot to sit. His datachron had gotten a signal, albeit a weak one, and was in the process of pulling all the cached messages. It wasn’t a surprise that he had several missed text messages. It was, however, a surprise that there were about thirty of ‘em from his friend, Sevena. Beginning from the oldest and reading downward, he could tell that she knew something had gone awry. Starting from the night they were out drinking at The Villa, it had gone from simple questions of where he went, to why she suddenly had his bot, to why he wasn’t responding, to just hoping he was alright. Rem smiled and blushed a little at her concern, at least someone out there missed him. He went to type out a reply, but just as quickly as the signal had appeared, it was gone. Sighing, he put the chron away again and carefully steadied himself on the trunk, making his way towards a large rock face the tree had inexplicably grown through.
He rubbed his hands together and tried to get a grasp on a crack in the rock, while he attempted to dig his toes into a foothold of their own. He wasn’t a huge fan of free climbing, but desperate times and all that. Carefully, the aurin felt for each crack and slowly scaled the rock, rotating around it as the angle of it shifted and precariously carried him over a drop straight to the jungle floor. Calmly and slowly he continued until he could pull himself onto a small plateau for a rest. Hanging his legs loosely over the edge, he pulled out the datachron again, checking for a signal. Two bars! Success! Hopefully it would be enough to send out a reply that he was...mostly okay.
“Hey Sev, I’m alive,” he sent off and began to lay flat against the rock. Little had he hit the send button when the chron buzzed with a reply. She had replied with a flurry of texts, expressing both relief and confusion, culminating in, “Where are you, anyway?” “No clue. Some weird exo-lab in Wilderrun, I think. Not gonna lie, I’m pretty miserable right now, =/” he quickly tapped out in reply. “Well, what’s your GPS say?” she responded. Sitting back up, he typed out, “Not enough battery to check, though I think if I climb a bit higher I might be able to get a read on the stars. It’s so damn misty in here, hard to see through this weird dome at the top.” The reply came quickly, “Climb a bit higher? What are you doing?” He pulled his legs up as he got ready to move again, “Couldn’t get a signal, I’m about 100 meters or so up a giant tree.” There more than a brief pause before the chron buzzed with a new message. “Rem. Be careful. Lemme know what you see.” He sent her a “ ” and pocketed his chron.
He hopped down onto the tree where it emerged on the other side of the rock. By now, the ascent required an exceptional amount of caution. Not only would a fall most certainly be fatal, the trunk itself was beginning to narrow. “Gotta be gettin’ close to the top,” he thought to himself. To his right, he could finally see the workings of the Eldan machinery grinding and whirring away. Multiple arms extended from a large central core, each carrying what appeared to be a monstrous irrigation device, drizzling water in intervals on the jungle below. Looking upward, he could finally see the stars with some clarity, and the force field above the exolab was clearly evident. He could not, however, see either of the planet’s twin moons, making it hard to place the other celestial bodies. “Weird,” he thought, “maybe if I go a little further, I’ll get a peek of ‘em. The tree wraps around just a bit more.”
The progressed further, nearing the end. The vegetation that had grown on the tree began to thin and he was forced to dig into the bark with his claws. “Just a little more…” As he reached the end, he swung his legs under him and straddled the trunk beneath them, looking upward. Remarus sat and stared in silence for a long while, finally muttering under his breath, “Shit.”
Pulling out his chron, he tapped away a new message, “Hey Sev?”
The two aurin sat next to the fire at Camp Woodview, a small XAS camp situated at the base of what was known as Bio-Dome 3. Remarus hastily gobbled up the food Sevena had brought for him, far too concerned with his empty stomach than with self-reflection. Sev just seemed happy that he was safe. “What would I ‘ave done without ya’, Sev?” he asked, mouth full of a sandwich. Her ability to decipher the sounds of whatever he was saying through mushed bread was admirable, and after a moment she replied flatly, “Probably die.” They both laughed, him nearly choking on his first real lunch in what seemed like days. “Hey, I was worried about you, what even happened? I looked away for two seconds and you were gone.” she asked. He finished off a swig of water before giving her the best reply he could muster, “Hell if I know! One moment I’m at the Villa, whatever the hell the bartender gave me was hittin’ me real hard, and the next thing I know I’m in the middle of a damn jungle with the worst hangover imaginable!” The both sat and sighed, the quiet between them only pierced by the constant grinding of the terraformer as it made it’s perpetual pass around the dome. Above Sevena’s right shoulder, a small, somewhat weather worn Eldan probe bot floated in silence, occasionally twitching one way or another to survey the local area.
Much like the tide rolls in, slowly at first but quickly building, both aurin began giggling like school children. The stress of the last few days was finally gone, replaced with an overwhelming sense of relief. She gave him a light punch in the shoulder, “I was worried about you! So was Nine!” While her concern was evident, the probe bot did not seem to have an opinion on the matter. Rem laughed and playfully rubbed his shoulder, “I’m glad someone was lookin’ out for me!” He smiled at her warmly and pushed himself up off the bench, “Whelp, guess we better get headin’ planetside. Can’t imagine these scientist folk want us meddlin’ any more in their work up here.” She gave him a confident nod as they headed towards the teleporter to the central drop site.
Once inside, they helped fasten each other’s space helmets, thoughtfully provided by the FCON regiment stationed on Halon, and stepped out onto the dusty surface. Nexus was cresting just above the horizon, and both stood in awe at the marbled cosmic gem as it rose to fill the sky. Sevena, her voice low and filled with quiet admiration, spoke simply. “Promise me we’re going to come back here again.” His reply was similarly filled with adoration, “You can bet the stars on it, Sev.”
“Well space me, did I get into one hell of a mess! I am never, ever, goin’ ta’ ask a bartender to ‘surprise me’ ever again! Think it’s also time ta’ invest in a new chron that isn’t gonna accidently set my emergency transmat point ta’ the goddamn moon. I was too busy tryin’ to survive to take real notes, but it seems like our boys in the XAS an’ FCON already got it covered.
Damn, who’da thought the Eldan had Exo-Labs on the moon? Whole damn jungle up there an’ I didn’t even know about it. Ah well, guess I’ll have to go back an’ check it out for real next time. I did promise Sev we’d go. Man, she sure did save my ass. Dunno how I’m gonna pay her back for it, cuz’ don’t think another trip to Halon’s gonna cut it.
Sorry for the lack ‘a pictures this time, didn’t have Nine with me, so I couldn’t grab any shots. Look, another excuse ta’ go back an’ I’ve barely gotten home!"
((This is the last bit folks, sorry to anyone who's been waiting forever for this to finish up. Thanks to everyone who has read this far, I hope I have kept you entertained!))