16-Lalslan

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Lalslan prepared for his shuttle. He was beyond ready; he’d been waiting for days in the quarantine facility. Its tiny metal halls, racks of supplies, potted plants, robotic attendants, racks of cryogenic tanks holding surplus bodies- he knew every inch of it by now, and it was driving him absolutely out of his mind. He’d heard tales of the planet beyond, of wealth gained, adventures had, and he simply could not wait.

The planet was a relatively new colony, just his kind of place. His luck had been falling hard lately; so hard, in fact, that his entire previous body had been destroyed beyond repair and doctors had been forced to install his brain in a new one. At first it had felt, and looked, awkward. He’d always liked his old body, his old face. He thought himself dashing and handsome, like the heroes of old. Now he felt foolish, too thin, with a weak chin and dopey eyes. It was the best he could afford, and he was of course happy to be alive, but he felt…robbed…all the same.

The shuttle was quick; very quick for passengers that rode in his low-paying class. Here the passengers were knocked out with micro injections and packed like sardines in with the freight. It was a scary way to go in some ways, but once you got used to it it was almost comfortable.

The station was similar to the one he’d just left, obviously built by the same kind of people with access to similar technology. Doors slid to either side, smooth panels with vents and numbers and odd hidden panels and exposed wiring. The lights were recessed sockets, built into the structure; he stepped through one small room where jets of sterilizing vapor erupted from the floor, then he was cleared to go beyond.
He hadn’t really known what to expect from the low class entry system, but he knew this wasn’t it. Was he in the right place? The door opened onto a rough cut, almost natural looking tunnel lit with giant blue crystals. It was wonderful, to be sure, but in the dim, with no sign of civilization beyond, he was acutely aware of how unarmed he was. Lalslan was used to having at least a decent knife or small pistol; now he had nothing but a low-grade body suit of itchy synthetic polymer.

The floor of the cavern was soft with snow, and frost glinted on the rock walls. Tiny flakes drifted past; just then he noticed the cold, a sharp contrast from the heat of the shuttle entry as he stepped carefully down the hall-like cave.

The cave did indeed turn out to be part of the installation, and in it he was aided and instructed by a security droid, given a standard laser pistol, some ammo, and some target practice to get used to shooting with his new body. Then it was off to the next stage. He began to wonder how much bureaucracy he would face before being allowed out to roam the planet surface at will; would there be paperwork? Tests? He hadn’t really thought about that when he was locked up in the quarantine base. Maybe he should have been studying.

His worrying was for nothing. The next door he passed through opened out onto a wintry mountainside, snow-laden conifers studding the landscape under a gray blue sky from which torrents of snow fell. The cold bit through his body suit, and he almost wanted to go back into the cave when the door slid shut with a certain finality and he knew it was locked. He was out now, whether he liked it or not.

The light off the snow was blinding after all the time in the dimly lit shuttle stations. Also, Lalslan never had spent much time planetside and the open space threw him off at first. It was just too much of a contrast.

Since he had no money, no connections, and only a bit of ammo for what seemed to be a pretty sub-par firearm, he spoke to the first man he came to, a technician that was working in a fenced off area not far from the gate. He needed odd jobs done and was willing to pay for the trouble, and he had a heated shack made from old metal shipping crates that he was willing to share. It wasn’t exactly a friendship, and Lalslan noticed others like him getting jobs while he was busy too, and there were other technicians paying out and even a couple that looked like soldiers as his eyes and mind adjusted to his surroundings. He was so thrown off…something about the new body and the new place, he felt like a kid again and was sure that everyone else knew more about what was going than he did.

It didn’t take long before Lalslan was borrowing a base vehicle and taking short trips down through the snowy mountains on odd errands. On one of these he was helping a technician who’d been attacked by some sort of monstrous creatures. Lalslan was warned, but thought he could handle it as he was getting used to his new form. Instead, he found himself soon losing control of the bouncy military off-roader and crashing through bushes and then leaping off snow drifts as he tried to outrun a small pack of the strange beasts. They made horrible guttural hungry grunts and snorts as they attacked both him and the vehicle. He tried to get away, back to the base, but suddenly there in front of him was a gigantic skeleton half submerged in the snow. He couldn’t swerve in time on the slippery traction and hit it square on.
At first he couldn’t tell what happened, but sooned it dawned on him that the sky shouldn’t be upside down. He turned the small car over, and though he wasn’t pinned the beasts were gnawing hard on the vehicle and one of his arms. He must have passed out for a second…

He wriggled free, tried to run but they were too fast.

He struggled to find his pistol in a zippered pocked in his body suit, fired, he could tell it was no use.

Tried to run again, uphill through the snow, the things light and savage in their home habitat.

Soon they were on him, tore him down, just as he heard his automatic distress signal go off. Now what? Was he going to be rescued in time?

Then he was face first in the snow.

 

After what seemed an eternity, he was alive again in an identical body back at the base near the gate where he had began. Apparently they kept a running stock of bodies in this dangerous place and actually expected this sort of thing. It was a bit hard to get used to, but at least this body was identical in every way to the one he’d just left. They’d even been nice enough to return his meager belongings.

He wasn’t entirely whole, he soon found out; actually, he wasn’t in a new body at all, as he found out after being laughed at by one of the technicians. He was so green, so simple! Soon several of them were laughing. No, he’d merely been surgically restored by the advanced droid surgeon on base, who was indeed practiced and did indeed expect this sort of thing. More chilling was the fact that he had indeed been for all intents and purposes dead. He wondered how many times that could happen to him before it started to get wierd. Or, wierder.

Now that he was a bit more well known around the base he was allowed access to the tiny building that they all shared. It was severely utilitarian, and not much warmer than outside, but it got him out of the wind and gave him a place to sit so he too advantage of the hospitality and rested. As he did so he realized that one thing that hadn’t been returned was his vehicle. Was it still overturned down there in the valleys below? If so, he guessed that it was his responsibility to go back for it, which wasn’t a thought that appealed to him very much. Well, at least this time he would be a bit more cautious and less reckless.

Soon he was rested enough to go out again. This time, on foot, he was discouraged to see that the wind had picked up and the snow, which had been letting up, was falling again in full force. If he was to earn his keep he’d have to get back down there, recover the vehicle and the core sample he’d been down there for in the first place, and get back without getting lost or killed again. He took a deep breath of biting air, readied his pistol, and set out into the darkening forest.

On a whim, he turned back and headed into the only other building on base. It turned out to be a storage facility, and in it he found his vehicle! He was practically on his knees with thanks. One down, one to go. Still those beasts to deal with…but this was a stroke of luck, just the sort of luck Lalslan had built his life on.

It took a few wrong turns a bit more of getting used to the odd responsiveness of the all terrain vehicle, but soon he was back at the sample site. He eased down slowly, alert for the beasts, but saw no sign of them. Wary, he leapt out and approached the giant shaft of the core drill and began to operate the control panel. No sooner did the lights and blips begin than he heard a snarl behind him.

This time he didn’t wait but leapt back into the open driver’s seat and drove off up the hill. Also this time he was more cautious; he knew he was much safer in the car then outside and also that he was much faster, so he carefully drove up the hill and back to the base. Here he parked and got out and took refuge in the secure installation and thought of a plan.

He didn’t have one.

If he approached slowly, on foot, gun drawn, he ran the risk of being hunted down by the pack even if he got one or two down. If he drove down, then clearly heard the engine and then were intelligent enough to wait for him to be exposed. He decided the only plan was to speed down there, focus on getting that sample, and leap back in at the last second. After all…even if they got him, he would probably be revived…probably…and this way the important sample would be retrieved. There didn’t seem to be anyone else around brave enough to do it. If only there was someone who could help…but there wasn’t.

Dawn had come bringing pink shafts of light to the rugged peaks; at least now he could see better, and the beasts wouldn’t have that advantage on him.
He started the engine again, took a deep breath, and headed down.

This time, there was no sign of the savage creatures. Nerves on edge, he guided the vehicle to a stop close to the drill and stepped quietly out, quickly interfaced with the machine, and retrieved the sample. Amazed there was no snarling response, he nervously leapt into his seat and sped off.

His foot nearly slipped off the gas pedal when suddenly he heard bark like roars from the forest all around. He sped off as quick as was prudent and when he finally stopped to look behind, there was nothing there.

He did it!

 

Days later, he was back to dd jobs. He tried to find ones that were a bit safer, more menial, till he could get his bearings better and build up his funds. He needed to get somewhere warm…this place was just too damned constantly frigid. And desolate. And dangerous. With each passing day he was feeling more and more trapped, like an open sky version of the shuttle base.

Eventually he was able to connive his way to jobs using his borrowed off-roader to take supplies lower down into the valleys. Here were some of the widest open spaces he’d ever seen, green forest and brown earth and broad rolling grassy hillsides. Strange, large creatures browsed here, brown and gray with long swaying necks, and they paid him no mind. Fungi grew large as trees, and came in vibrant colors. It was almost peaceful, but whenever he stopped he heard the oddest most disturbing noises from the slopes above him so he never paused for the views for long.

It was still cold, but the bite was gone, and he was getting used to it anyway. He’d actually noticed that his synthetic body, though it felt the bitterness of cold, didn’t seem to be suffering the adverse health effects his normal body would have. So it was more a matter of attitude than survival.

Things were going fine until he got wrapped up into a skirmish with some Geshente invaders. He only found one, but being sent into a shadowy cul-de-sac where pounding waterfalls blocked his ears and darkness and mist clouded his vision made for a nerve-racking encounter. He had been given a light rocket launcher for this outing, and it took three shots to blow the attacking droid apart, the last while it was clawing its way across a small stream just feet from his own position. He had felt the heat on his face, warm, almost comforting after weeks of chill.

After this, he had enough saved up to take a shuttle into the nearest real city, and he did so at the earliest opportunity. It was a long drive at night through a series of wooded valleys, the occasional unseen rock making his wheels bounce. Once he got out for a second to relive himself and heard the most bloodcurdling howl from a copse of trees a few hundred yards up-slope; he finished as quick as he could and sped off again before he could see more. Out here he didn’t think it likely that a rescue team was going to be on its way; it didn’t seem like a good time to be taking chances.

 

A few days later, he was planetside. It was beautiful. Warm beaches, pale blue skies, palm trees. He took a dip in the inviting waters, then realized it was a bit scary as he had no idea where he was or what might be swimming there.

Exploring inland, he tried to climb higher to see some sign of a larger settlement that he had heard about, but all he could see was sand studded with broad swathes of grass and small groves of conifers. There were beasts here that he wondered if he should hunt, so he shot one, and found it relatively easy to kill though hard to get anything useful from. While roaming along looking for higher ground he came upon a man in an orange jumpsuit that was just standing there while one of the creatures was gnawing at him. Lalslan paused a moment, to be sure of what was going on, but couldn’t figure out why the man was just standing there. He wondered if he was medicated or something, so he called out if he needed help.

The man didn’t respond, but Lalslan just didn’t like the look of things so he opened fire on the beast and quickly cut it down. This seemed to snap the man to his senses.
“Thank you! Yes I DO need help! Where did you get that gun? Did you buy it somewhere?”
Lalslan explained that he had gotten it as a reward for working on the mountain base he’d just flown in from, and the mean looked jealous, so he tried to give him the small pistol that was now his extra. He found though that it was somehow bonded to him and would not function more than a foot or so away from his body. Another man came up from the shoreline base to see what was going on, and then all of a sudden everything went black.

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When Lalslan awoke he was on an incredibly beautiful beach, pale white sands with brilliant blue waters. He knew at once that it was a different place. How had he gotten here? What happened?

A man in an armored atmospheric suit was standing at the shore holding a large rifle. Lalslan approached cautiously and asked for help, for what was going on, for some indication of where he was.

It turned out that a freak teleport had brought him far north of his previous location, but that it was easy to get back. The other man led the way to a large pyramidal machine with a glowing chamber in its center and various parts moving around its outside. It looked vaguely sinister and he wasn’t sure if he should really be going in there, but a moment later a screen deployed from the wall and let him pick a location from ones he’d been previously registered at. He quickly found the shoreline base and ported back, a slight gut-wrenching vision twist and then he was back on the shore. This time he decided to use his car to explore as there was no sign of the man he’d previously saved.

His car was easy to transport because all he had to carry was a special device that locked to the car’s storage area. All he had to do was enter a code and the vehicle was teleported to the location; as long as he wasn’t standing too close it worked great. It couldn’t teleport organic matter, so he couldn’t go back with it, but it made for a very convenient situation.

Off he sped down a dirt road leading inland. Soon he came to a forested area where bear sized lumbering beasts roamed foraging on the tall grasses that grew there. Then the road curved back to another shoreline, but now he got a view of spiraling glass and metal towers just across the water, so he got out and swam across, porting his car back in once over. A short drive later and he was gliding down a gentle slope under trees with pink and white blossoms to come to a stop at a gleaming plaza. It wasn’t exactly a city but more of a highly developed complex of some sort, roughly the size of an urban neighborhood. It seemed deserted, so he was on edge as he walked slowly, admiring the soaring architecture and lush landscaping. It was like some kind of resort.

 

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