Silver light washed the mountains, paled them so they gleamed with cosmic metal. Stars beyond twinkled across the blue-to-black night sky while the white sands of the mountain where he stood were lit garish white-blue-purple. Songs flowed through his head, half-remembered and almost heard. Old nostalgic dance music from a youth spent in clubs and warehouse parties. Far away now.
His ship had been attacked somewhere between Fesiun and Dremuc, and his navigation systems were among the first units down. When he tried to warp everything went wrong, and he had found himself suddenly on this planet. He had no idea where he could be, what might be out there, anything.
All he knew was the silver light washing from the immense planet that dominated the night sky. He realized that he must be on a moon of that much larger orb. It looked devastated, moon-like, in the sky, all grays and browns. The planet he stood on was for the most part lush with green plants. The mountain where he now stood had drawn him because of its color; on its slopes of odd white sand grew lavender fronded palms with multi-chromatic trunks. Other alien plants grew as well; small blue plants that grew in clusters- their leaves glittered, reflecting the infinite night sky above. There was a kind of plant that at first he thought was stone; it grew with no leaves, only a single trunk that twisted like a young fern. The bark was scrawled with what looked like runes, but were surely the furrows of some bark beetle. As he gazed at the size of the grooves and pondered this solution, he thought that he’d rather avoid encountering any beetle large enough to chew those holes.
Streams of clouds drifted over the ridges, pink-silver in the alien light.
Lasil Lalslan Ebben had no idea where to turn to next.
He’d been here weeks. He survived because the planet was, amazingly, inhabited by humanoid creatures that he was able to converse with, yet none had any idea of his home-world or peoples. His mind strained to consider any rational explanation, but came up with nothing.
The society he found was as alien as the planet. It was familiar in its way, but had a peculiar oddity to it. It was just incredibly chaotic. As near as he could tell, there were no nations or states, just a patchwork of privately run lands all competing with each other. The main competition was economic, and there was a lively trade in each of the four places he had spent time at. Two outposts, a port, and a merchant colony had been his home since arriving on the planet, and he had met with all sorts of people. The Coast Guard rescued him once, a woman in civilian clothing driving the small boat and a man wearing a green robotic mask and carrying a dangerous looking assault rifle in his hands. A twitchy, mysterious man in blue body armor and a holiday hat that called himself Jimmy had offered him a job, then retracted the offer, then given Lalslan two rifles and a few hundred rounds of ammunition. The guns and the ammo were cheap, he said, but they’d get him through for awhile. A woman with wings and a yellow and black atmospheric suit had given him rides in an antique gas powered ground car and a twenty minute helicopter ride, and had taken himself and another ragged looking vagrant on a hunting trip, tried to teach both of them basic skills.
The lowest ranking people in the society were, naturally, those with the least money. He had come to understand that this lowest class made its way by harvesting dung, fruit, and rocks where they could. Some got lucky and progressed into a broad middle class composed of hunters, crafters, miners, merchants, brokers, and transit and freight runners. Some even offered rides into space, to orbital space stations and even other planets. So he had some hope of getting to home, getting to somewhere he knew.
The highest class people were mysterious, wealthy individuals that owned large tracts of land, banks and malls, homes, or even space stations or even gargantuan space ships. These people, and their level of money, were so far beyond the reach of the lowest class that the most you could hope for was a glimpse of one of them. He couldn’t even afford a flight across a river, let alone to space.
Lalslan, though, was a survivor. Though he had no money, he had managed to acquire, through sheer guile, effort, and luck, several useful items. He had a laser pistol, an assault rifle, a rocket launcher, a set of mining equipment, and a small car that teleported to his location via some incredible technology, a bit of rock he’d mined, and some animal parts he’d taken from the dinosaur-like creatures that roamed the forests here.
One day he had decided to leave the settlement, on a whim, hoping to find some rare rock or valuable fruit. Even some dung.
He’d been walking all night, reaching the top of the white mountain after leaving the merchant colony.
Lalslan had passed through a small herd of bipedal alien dinosaur cows (at least that would be his description of them) but dared not approach for fear of a stampede. Instead he had come here, to the very top of the ridge he would call White Mountain. As far as he knew, it had no other name.
Morning came on, pale blue over the huge sky, purple shaded ridges slashing against the distant horizon.
He walked on; he found no treasures. He did find glorious vistas, the sorts of inspiring scenes you desperately want a camera for and invariably don’t have one. A great mountain rose blue and purple and brown in the distant haze, slopes streaming down like slabs of chocolate. A herd of huge furry creatures that reminded him of bison created a ridgetop backlit against the now crystal blue sky.
As the day wore on he followed the white sands, realizing that what he had thought was a mountain was in fact the edge of a highland system. He went as far as he could while avoiding a menacing herds of alien creatures and came to an incredible sight. The white sand shelf dropped off steeply to a sweeping view of a blue green lake. Mountains receeded into blue oblivion in the stretching horizon, while massive trees twisted up from the lakeshore in the foreground. Lalslan was filled with a desire to see the plants up close, and began to look for a way down.
The drop wasn’t as sharp as he’d first thought, but it was loose footing with the pale sand over crumbling pale rock. Whenever he paused to look out at the view and catch his breath he saw the water twinkling. During the day the silvery planet still dominated the sky, but with the mountains now behind him the view of the orb was almost blocked and the scene reminded him achingly of his home-world.
Wary as he neared the lake, he soon spied herds of things that he feared more than creatures he’d seen yet. These were furry creatures, very similar to massive gorillas, that sported giant tusks like a mammoth. If you got too close, they would stamp and shuffle about, and he’d always backed away before provoking one to charge. He had no doubt of the outcome of such a battle.
As he neared the very edge of the water and the shade of the strange plants he noticed a strange colored dot on the tiny compass and life-form tracker he’d been given when rescue teams first found him. He followed it, but as he got close it disappeared. Curious, but with no clue, he made his way along the beach and came to one of the most awe-inspiring vistas he’d ever beheld. The plants were twisting dark spires of damp wood with clusters of leaves broader than a good sized house. Beyond the ridges were stark white faded to a magical glow in the atmospheric mist across the lake surface. The water was beautiful, rolling out in slow ripples of blue and green and tan and gold and silver. He tried to climb one but the bark was too damp and slippery and the first leaves began about a hundred and fifty feet above him.
As he was taking in the view, he was shocked to see a red dot just behind him; a very big ape-thing had quietly crept up behind and him and was clearly inspecting Lalslan, sniffing the air and glancing at him uneasily. Lalslan bolted up the sandy hill, sure that escape was impossible. Instead the thing stayed by the lake shore and simply watched him go.
At the top he glanced at this reader again and saw this time a green dot, moving fast a short ways off. He tried to get a better view of what it could be, but the folds of the landscape obscured his view and in less than a minute the green blip was gone. It had likely been an airship of some sort, and would likely have not stopped for Lalslan even if he had stepped out in front of it.
He went back to the lakeshore, more alert this time, to see what else he could find.
At one point he waded out across the water to reach a sort of small island. Here he was surrounded by the incessant sound of the waves rolling against the shore. He decided it was as good a spot as any to camp and set down for a watchful night with no fire.