ESS Lore Volume 1: Eternal Winter

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The story so far:500 years after the civilisation on Pollux is destroyed, the Droo Alliance ship New Frontiers is on a mission to investigate the outer Juno system. After gaining a new crew member at Cylero, the ship has reached the outer system. The mission is complicated by several incidents connected by an hourglass symbol. Lethe reveals himself as En’kih, the last survivor of Pollux, and explains the symbol represents Tempus, a little-understood intelligent entity. After exploring Phoebe, New Frontiers attempts to enter Pollux orbit, but it is severely damaged when it strikes a debris ring. With critical systems failing, the ship makes a forced landing near a ruined city.

Previous Chapter

Chapter 10, Juno Date 063.2167:

As the sun rose over the red hills the next morning, Captain Hodiyah Xene met with Dr Ogmaz in the briefing room. She had ordered all crew to take a full night’s rest after the previous day’s emergency landing, but now the ship was buzzing with excitement. One of the first things the crew noticed was the short day—Juno rose once every 10 hours. How best to utilise this was the topic of her discussion with the doctor.

“Will you be able to perform an environmental analysis in the dark?” she asked him.

“Yes, it should be possible.” The doctor reassured her. “But I will need to complete several hours of experiments before allowing crew to exit the vehicle. On Phoebe, we ran most tests before launching ground expeditions, but this situation is very different. In addition, it appears we have undeniable proof of life on this planet, and that complicates our task even further.”

“That is true,” Hodiyah accepted. “I updated Fleet Command yesterday evening, and they require us to run the full decontamination protocol when exiting and entering the ship. Do you believe there is still life here?”

“I very much doubt that any life forms are currently active on the surface.” Dr Ogmaz observed. “But there is a good chance that micro-organisms are lying dormant in the frigid conditions. I would recommend sealing half of the rear bay to make a decontamination facility with enough space for equipment and suit resupply stations.”

Hodiyah realised the wisdom in Dr Ogmaz’s recommendation. “That is a very good idea.” she nodded. “If the main scientific apparatus and life support refills can be easily accessed without leaving de-con, more EVA time can be fitted into the short daylight hours. We have not yet had time to fully assess the dangers which may be present in the city, so I believe that we should avoid wandering around ruins at night.”

“Quite so,” the doctor said hastily. “I am planning to ensure that all crew return to the ship before local sunset time. There appear to be no threats in our immediate surroundings, but any unexpected situation is best dealt with in daylight conditions. That sets a cap on EVA times at around five hours, which is at the limit of safe endurance after all.”

“That is all sorted then,” Hodiyah said with relief. “Please report to me with the results of your environmental analysis when it is complete, I will be on the bridge with Deimos making a detailed damage assessment.”

Dr Ogmaz set off in the direction of the labs while Hodiyah walked to the bridge, where she found Deimos and Mitra absorbed in diagnostic logs and error reports. The DAC-29 was the first of the Tendarri Class of ships, which contained a centralised computer control system. All individual stations were connected to this mainframe, and maintenance personnel could access this central database and compile full reports on the condition of all parts of the ship. Due to the large number of systems affected by the ring impact, these output logs were seemingly endless. As the trained maintenance officer, it was Deimos’ job to determine which of these were most important, and what repairs could resolve the issues. Crew Hand Mitra was taking down notes of all locations which would need inspection, and the list was already concerningly long. She was remaining optimistic, however.

“These output logs are extensive, but as we expected, the damage is almost entirely concentrated in a few places.” she explained to the captain. “We have isolated five impact sites, three of which hit the nose area. The fourth glanced off the ship’s side plating and sent some debris into the port intake, and the final one hit the rear upper fin. Luckily, this impactor appears to have been the smallest of the five and only caused cosmetic scratching, otherwise we might have lost aerodynamic control authority.”

“I am glad to hear the damage is not too widespread,” the captain said with relief. “But what is the condition of the nose?”

“Damage in this region is extensive I am afraid,” Deimos replied. “Although, as far as we can see, there is nothing which we can’t fix. The main plating has been ruptured and some sections may be missing. The backup heat shielding is still in place, but the fore sensor bay and attitude control thrusters are out of action. I suspect that this was caused by the concussive force of the debris impacts, but we will only know for sure with an EVA. We carry spares for all these components, so these repairs should be relatively easy to complete.”

“And what about the engines,” Hodiyah queried. “They were showing signs of power loss after the impact?”

“That is already resolved!” Mitra responded enthusiastically. “Some of the debris which hit the port side entered the intake, and sensors recorded contamination in that tank. In response, the engines switched mid-burn to the other tank, temporarily overloading the starboard fuel lines. It appears that the concussive force interrupted fuel flow and combined with the increased demand to cause a pump stall. All engine systems were recovered within a few minutes of the impact, but for added safety I have run a full diagnostic on both pumps and purged the port tank to remove the contaminants.”

The captain smiled at this good news. “Great work Mitra, knowing that the main engines are fully functional takes some weight off my shoulders. We will be able to refuel the port tank in the upper atmosphere on departure.”

For several hours, the trio worked through the rest of the output logs together, then Deimos went with Mitra to get permission from Dr Ogmaz for their inspection EVA. They found him in the labs completing his environmental analysis. Deimos explained his plan to examine the damage to the nose plating, and the doctor agreed that it was safe for them to leave the ship.

“Your EVA is approved on one condition,” he told them sternly. “Neither of you are to step off the ship. If anything unexpected happens, you must return immediately to the shuttle bay decontamination unit.”

Juno had already set again when Deimos and Mitra climbed out of the shuttle bay. They ran through a careful decontamination routine before opening the huge door, to ensure that any Droovian microbes were not spread on the surface of Pollux. The pair were wearing magnetic boots which allowed them to slowly scale the sloping sides of the New Frontiers all the way up to the ship’s nose. The stars shone clear through the crisp night sky, and a crescent Phoebe hung low on the horizon. This faint light gleamed on the hull plating and softly illuminated streaks of white ice on the slopes of the nearby hills. As they reached the top of the ship, a tangled mess of metal appeared, silhouetted against the stars. Deimos turned on his helmet lights and grimaced at the condition of the nose. Where the plating had been struck by rocks and ice, it had buckled outwards and bent away from the structure. Several large sections were missing entirely.

“It looks like several square metres have been lost.” Deimos reported to the bridge on his radio link. “And most of the remaining nose plates are so damaged that we will have to remove and then re-cast them in the maintenance bay.”

While Deimos decided what should be done with the broken plating, Mitra opened the nose bays and inspected the sensor arrays and guidance thrusters. As they had suspected, there was no serious damage. It appeared that the shock of impact had worked some fasteners loose, which she tightened and then re-sealed the bay doors. Finally, she returned to the shuttle bay and brought a winch for lowering the broken plates. One by one the twisted metal sheets were sent down and stowed next to the shuttle bay furnace. By the time they were all removed, and Deimos had climbed down to the bay, Juno was rising over the hilltops. The two crew members paused to take in the incredible view. For the first time Mitra realised that the surface of the plain was not quite flat. The low angle of the sun in the sky showed every undulation in the terrain, and it seemed to be crossed by low, narrow ridges in geometric patterns.

“I believe this land was once farmed” she suggested to Deimos. “These ridges could be the remains of stone walls marking field boundaries.”

“That sounds plausible,” the maintenance officer agreed. “We will soon find out for certain; I doubt that the doctor will waste the next period of daylight!”

In this Deimos was correct, for as he spoke Dr Ogmaz was preparing to present detailed plans for the first EVA. The maintenance officer found him with the captain, Xanadu and En’kih in the briefing room. The old man had Kalfr’s telescope set up at the observation window and was studying the ruined city intently, taking notes. When Hodiyah saw him enter, she paused her conversation with the doctor and asked Deimos about the repairs.

“I assume that you don’t have enough material for the replacement plating in supplies?” she enquired when he had explained the true extent of the missing parts.

“That is correct” Deimos said gravely. “While I can melt down and reproduce the damaged plates, we are currently unable to complete the entire repair due to lack of material. I can try to strip the steel off non-essential parts of the ship, but even so I doubt we will have enough.”

Captain Hodiyah sat silently for a moment, then turned to En’kih. “What materials are available on Pollux?” she asked him.

En’kih’s face showed understanding and he nodded. “There is ample steel bar and sheet available in the city buildings,” he explained. “My people mastered reinforced concrete structures several centuries before the disaster. I am sure sufficient quantity can be removed from one of the ruined towers, although we must be careful because the structures look very unstable.”

“This is brilliant news!” the captain exclaimed. “Doctor, how do you suggest the materials should be loaded onto the ship?”

Ogmaz looked thoughtful. “I would caution against directly bringing objects from the surface into the shuttle bay without first exposing them to our atmosphere in controlled conditions.” He warned. “My analysis has shown that many of the compounds covering the surface are highly reactive in oxygen-rich environments, so there may be a risk of toxins or fire during pressurisation of the bay. I would recommend taking a set of vacuum pods to the city for storing the materials, this way we can make sure that reactions have occurred before opening them inside the ship.”

“I agree,” Deimos concurred. “A fire or reaction emitting toxic gas could be disastrous within the shuttle bay but would be a minor inconvenience in one of the mobile vacuum pods.”

“Then it is decided,” the captain stated. “To summarize Dr Ogmaz, in addition to your initial set of experiments, you will be collecting sufficient metal to repair the nose plating. You will expose it to ship atmosphere conditions in the mobile pods before entering the shuttle bay. Which crew members will you be requiring for the expedition?”

“I should like En’kih to accompany us on this first exploration of his home world, in addition to Xanadu and Columba.” Ogmaz replied.

“I am happy with that choice.” Hodiyah said. “I’d recommend you brief the other members of your team now.”

Dr Ogmaz nodded and left the room. En’kih, who had returned to studying the buildings through the observation window, cleared his throat and the captain realised that he wanted to speak privately about something. She closed the door, pulled another chair up to the table, and sat down facing him. The old man’s face looked troubled, and his hands shook slightly when he placed them on the table.

“Captain, there is something I need to discuss with you.” En’kih began. “When I departed Pollux five centuries ago, I left not only my home world and people, but my beloved partner Yanat. They were working with me the day I left the planet, and I was unable to say goodbye to them. As I explained several days ago, I was a member of the Wa’keth organization. We were both employed at its central headquarters building, the Aulas Wa’keth in the capital city of Sharmall. From studying these ruins, I believe that they are the remains of that city, and the tallest building we can see is the Aulas. Our ship is currently stood on farmland near the city walls.”

Hodiyah nodded slowly, compassion showing on her face. “So, you believe your partner may be…resting here?” she enquired quietly.

En’kih nodded. “Yes, I do. I wish permission to seek for my partner Yanat’s body and bury them.”

“I cannot refuse you this request.” The captain agreed. “But it is important that we coordinate with the other expedition members to ensure no lives are put at risk.”

“Of course, and as a member of this ship’s crew my first priority is to ensure the New Frontiers is repaired and our scientific goals are achieved.” The old man said calmly. “I appreciate your kindness in allowing me this wish.”

“It is the least I can do for one of my crew.” Hodiyah replied, clasping his hands in hers. “On this ship, we are family.”

The shuttle bay door opened, and four figures stepped down a short ladder onto the frosty ground. Behind them the hills reflected the light of the sun, which was already overhead. The crew members carefully lowered several bulky, wheeled objects from the bay, then set off towards the ruined city of Sharmall. Dr Ogmaz took the lead, his eager stride kicking up ice dust and bringing sweat to the brows of his companions. For ten minutes they kept up this pace, then as they entered the shadowy outlines of the nearest buildings they stood still, gazing in unison at a scene of unthinkable desolation.

The story will continue in Chapter 11, releasing next week...

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    Awesome chapter. What happens in Real life should always comes first.

    +1 2.9 years ago
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    NP. Real life always comes first

    +3 2.9 years ago
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    11.1k JastroOne1

    Hey guys, sorry this chapter is rather late, had some personal issues and also have been quite busy with gliding recently. There is only one chapter left for this volume, but more news of the lore will follow!

    2.9 years ago


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