Part three of my Starforged fiction! Catch up from the beginning here: Setup. Here’s the rest of it: Part 1, Part 2. This session is quite a lot more mechanically intricate than the previous two, which was interesting. Trying to balance good narrative against interesting gameplay. Let me know if you think I hit a good balance!
Echo slept in the xenobotanist’s cot while they tended the hydroponics. It was terrible sleep, noisy and over lit even when he buried his head under a pillow. Every beep and click came through. It was not the low buzz of crickets from his township.
He couldn’t help but gnaw on what information the brains had already gathered. He and Kimbra had looked it all over together. She made hmm and huh sounds. Echo just saw more nothing than something. Couldn’t bring a vehicle too close to the thing, just like the thing in space. Couldn’t fly drones remotely into the hole. They’d have to approach with a little utility truck they had under a tarp outside. Better chunky wheels and thick glass than a grim march across many kilometers of wind-blasted sand.
“See, this thing’s easy to drive!” He yelled over the wind to his sister. She held on for dear life to the farm truck’s roll cage as its six wheels burred over untilled hard pack. Valda, a couple years younger than Echo, trusted him much more than he thought she should. “We can get out to the watering hole and back before Third Ma gets back from town,” he told her, full of unearned confidence.
She tightened her grip. “I don’t know, Echo. Can you slow down?”
He laughed and twisted the throttle. The wheels grabbed tight and they leapt forward.
Echo remembers the precise moment the rear wheels locked up, a moment later, dust getting into the independent motors. Horrible sound. Impossible to control. And as he struggled to keep the articulated farm vehicle from squirming like an eel, he remembers Valda launching out her window.
Adrenaline gripped his gut and made him want to vomit. The whole vehicle started to tip over and —
A moment later: “I don’t know, Echo. Can you slow down?” There was Valda, still in her seat, white knuckling the roll cage above her. His hands were still shaking as he backed the throttle down to the green zone. They turned around then, he remembers, carving a gentle arc into the hard pack.
The Monument towers over him at that moment, standing squarely where he expects to see the township’s low skyline of habs and silos. He’s going faster and faster toward the gaping crack at its base and —
Echo woke up to the hiss of Kimbra releasing steam from the coffee machine.
“Found some milk in storage,” she says to him. “Turns out everyone here’s lactose intolerant! What were the odds? Anyway, I’m making coffee and we’re gonna steam some milk up.”
One of the brains waved at her, eyes getting wide. Kimbra shrugged, turned around and fired up the steam wand. The brain might have been yelling something like I was saving that but Echo couldn’t be sure.
Echo and Kimbra packed the little truck, later, topped off the tires, dusted off the solar panels. The Major had, well, a lot of guns. Long guns, short guns, boxes of ammo. Echo had grabbed his own from the Winder and felt a little inadequate.
The truck handled fairly well and the winds had calmed down a good bit. Dust still whirled around beneath the truck. The Weave connection was still iffy, comms back to Helia getting weaker by the kilometer. Eventually the wheels stopped buzzing under them and went silent. They had rolled onto the perfectly smooth circle that stretched for kilometers around the Monument.
“Huh,” Kimbra grunted.
“Handling’s better at least,” Echo said, looking at her. It was still a good drive before they even go to the breach, much less entered it. She pulled up the truck’s front camera and stared into it.
“It’s like we’re never gonna get closer,” she said. They continued. Echo increased the throttle a bit.
Right on cue, the wheels locked up and they went into a skid.
“Kidwatchwhatyouredoing —“ Kimbra yelled, grabbing the side of the truck as they went into a roll.
He’d been here before and knew exactly what to do. Echo reached for the adrenaline in his gut. Felt a moment of giddy weightlessness and indulged the thing that made him a Paragon of his township back home. The moment reset, the truck back upright and heading into a skid.
A moment later: Kimbra yelling, the vehicle going over anyway. “Fuck! I’m sorry! I thought —“
Crunch crunch skid slide. The truck finally stopped on its side. Echo and Kimbra hung from their harnesses groaning.
“It’s…okay,” Kimbra grunted. She pushed the release button on the harness and fell out of the webbing. “Damn! Get up, help me get her flipped back over. I’ll see what we can do with the drive that locked up.”
They clambered out of the upended chassis, jumping gingerly down to the hard, smooth surface. Kimbra knelt down and patted the ground. “You know…I think I’m the first human to walk here,” she said.
Echo rummaged around the truck for whatever might help them flip the vehicle back onto its wheels. He found a jack and what looked like long metal poles, probably part of a canopy. After some grunting and scrabbling, their boots and poles unable to gain any sort of purchase on the surface, the truck flopped down on its chunky tires. Onward.
It felt like hours, Echo thought, the truck silently cruising on what must be ice or glass or polished metal. The dull red sun ducked behind the massive obelisk ahead of them, casting their drive into nightfall hours early. The Weave connection had gone dead hours before.
Then, out in the dust swirls: a glint of metal. Echo was sure of it. “How do you…I need more light over there!” He yelled excitedly, jerking the truck to the right. Kimbra had been dozing and awoke with her hands in fists.
“What the hell, Echo?!” Then as they looked: “What the hell, Echo.”
Plunged into the surface, that perfect mirror they had been driving on for hours, was what appeared to be a cargo crate. Dull metal, squared off, gigantic, the sort of container that would be strapped to the side of a hauler. Whatever livery had been painted on it was long scoured off by the ceaseless dust. It looked to be about halfway inserted into the surface they’d been driving on, assuming it was the same dimensions they were familiar with.
“Let’s go check it out,” Echo said, excited. He was already pulling his helmet over his head.
“Whoa, whoa, kid, this isn’t what we’re here for,” Kimbra said, putting her hand on top of his head so he couldn’t pull his helmet down. Let’s maybe look at this thing when we’re done with our chores.”
Echo could barely stay in his seat. “But…but…clues? What brought it down, you think?” He glanced out, glanced back at the Major, glanced back out. He was practically vibrating.
She sighed, nodded. “15 minutes, then we’re back on the road, yeah?”
They walked gingerly around the thing. Definitely a cargo container, rated for interstellar transport. The airlock seal light was dead, neither red nor green. Echo scrambled up on top of it. The door had been unlatched and thrown open, the interior completely empty.
“Nothing! This is weird,” he said over the radio.
“We done, then?”
“Yeah, but …this is weird, right? What is this doing down here? Who opened it?”
“Dust devils, most likely,” the Major said. She passed her hands along the lower surfaces of the container where it plunged into the smooth surface. Not even impact cracks, just a perfect transition from container to surface. “No, I don’t like this one bit. Let’s tell the brains about it and let them poke at it.”
They continued. The monument was fully backlit with the dull red glow of the setting sun as they drove toward it.
One of the sensors started pinging but Echo couldn’t identify which one. The truck controls themselves were pretty straightforward but it had been retrofitted with lots of science gear. Some of the gear decided it was time to science.
“Echo, pull over man,” the Major said, brow furrowed. She ran her finger along row after row of button and sensor and readout. Nothing was labeled. “Here. Here.” She poked at a triangular screen that had been jammed between two other pieces of equipment.
“I know that screen!” Echo said. “Radiation! Huh. We used these at the township to warn us about solar flares.”
Kimbra looked out the window. The red giant had nearly set. “Well I don’t think that thing’s gonna flare any time soon. Dunno. Maybe it’s malfunctioning.” She tapped the triangle a couple more times with her fingertip.
When Echo turned off the cabin light, a dull blue glow remained. They both looked straight up, following the black-on-black outline of the monolith against the night sky. Above the five points, what appeared to be above the cloud layer, a faint blue sphere glowed.
“What in the world?” He muttered. “We wouldn’t evacuate if our solar flare sensor gave us this reading. Guess we keep going?”
Kimbra shrugged. “Let the brains figure it out. We still have a job to do.”
They continued into the night.
The base of the Monument came up faster than they realized, funny given it was literally kilometers across. But they’d been driving toward it so long they lost any sense of scale. But here it was, finally. The power in the truck quietly clicked off around 5km from the base. The impossibly huge base looked close but they’d have to walk the rest of the way.
“So…we’re here?” Echo asked. He could feel Kimbra nod next to him. “We’re walking into this thing or…?”
“Yeah. Yeah. Let’s see what’s inside, yeah?” Kimbra rummaged around the rear seat and found a favorite small carbine. Echo tugged the various tabs around his pressure suit tight and locked his helmet into place.
They popped the seal on the truck doors and stepped out.