For the two requests for more Colony X, here’s the full text so far.
There is a certain practice known among the stars by many names. It goes something like this: you make contact with a less advanced civilization, and start gifting them with technology. You give them medical equipment and food based on their nutritional requirements. You give them defenses they couldn’t have built themselves, strung out along their solar system like a cattle fence made of pinpoints of metal. You encourage them to be at peace with each other, and strive to do better than their ancestors. The race commonly known as the Tydrin were well known for this. When you knew this race a little better, you arranged to collect shiploads of these newly healthy and well fed people, to assist with their new population pressures. You take those ships to newly discovered worlds of the correct atmospheric content to suit both your races (a race with a very similar physiology is the keystone of this method) and you leave them there. If they build a civilization, you may use it to found your own colony and as a source of workers. If they die, you have learned something important about the native biota.
Most often, the colonists die.
The Tydrin’s previous farmed race was over-managed a few generations back, population stripped of the young and hardy, by a rather expansionist Tydrin faction that hadn’t studied their agriculture. The current Tydrin ruling government is a far more mellow moderate coalition, prone to thinking themselves the most reasonable people in the room. They even allow humanity a certain choice in their sacrifices for the greater good. The Tydrin take those who are seldom missed – from the foster care system, from the streets, from countries with surplus populations they would prefer to discriminate against anyway. Runaways. Outcasts. Rebels. Dissedents. Prisoners.
That the Tydrin have offered to take people away is an open secret. They even get some volunteers, eager to see the stars. Some governments volunteer people they find inconvinient. The Tydrin have offices in most major cities and in every country, where they oversee the distribution and maintainance of their farming androids and medical facilities. They’re very easy to find, though very hard to kill.
No one really knows where the Tydrin take people. The Tydrin prefer it that way.
This is the story of a yet unnamed planet, in a sector of the arm of the galaxy near Earth. The Tydrin just opened it for pre-colonization, having recently liberated from the dedicated terraforming of an aquatic race of their acquaintance. The Tydrin and this race do not get along, despite a lack of overlapping habitat needs. Something about a star exploding some centuries ago.
Next time: meet the cast.
Waking up in a metal coffin, shaking and twisting its way through the atmosphere. Arguments, loud and buzzing in the ears. Trying to get a word in edgewise, until the shaking turned into a horrible spiralling descent that plastered you to the walls and slammed someone into you hard enough to make your mouth taste like sucking on pennies.
“I don’t think that’s edible,” the mud-smeared girl said.
Noah looked blearily at her. The root in his hand, dug out of the swamp, was an unobjectionable brown color, and seemed a better bet than the sharp-edged spiky grass things he’d cut his other hand on. The cut was helpfully covered in the ever-present mud, keeping out one set of alien bugs by putting another set of alien bugs in close proximity to his precious blood, but he wasn’t thinking about that. At least it had stopped bleeding.
“Why wouldn’t it be edible?” Noah asked the girl.
She spread muddy hands.
“Why would it be edible?” She echoed back at him. “I’m not sure there’s a first rule of wilderness survival, or, like, whatever, but if there were I’m pretty sure it’d be don’t stick stuff in your mouth without testing it first.”
“Testing?” Noah asked blankly.
“You know, seeing if it causes your skin to break out in big red blotches? Testing.”
“Hey, are you tracking?”
She waved a hand in front of his eyes. Noah reared back, headache worsening. He batted at her hand and missed.
“Did… you… hit… your head?” She finished, doing him the favor of not leaving embarrassingly long pauses between every single word she was saying. Noah considered this question. His memory of the crash was paltry. Mediocre, even, mediocre was a good word.
“I guess. There more of you guys?” He asked her.
“There’s some more girls arguing over down that way,” she gestured with a broad arm motion. “They were giving me a headache, so I decided to scout around for survivors.”
“Why aren’t we dead?”
The girl shrugged. Her hair was brown, he noticed, but a sunny brown. There were pale streaks under the green-brown mud.
“I was asleep most of the time, after-” she folded her arms. “One of the other girls said she thought the ship hit turbulence coming down, and that’s why half the bodies around are dead. Lots of broken bones. You hurt?”
Noah started to take an absent bite of his fist-sized root. The girl snatched it from his hand.
“Weren’t you listening to me?”
Noah blinked at her.
“Damn it. Okay, c’mon, let’s find you someplace dry to sit down.”
She approached him like a wild animal. Eyeing his root, now in her hands, Noah let himself be taken in hand and led through the knee-deep water towards a cluster of tall plant things resembling trees.
“We’re just going to the trees,” she commented.
“They look like trees. We don’t know that they are trees. Why?”
“There’s some higher ground there, built up around their roots. More solid.”
The trek was miserable, the air thick and viscous with fog. Noah noticed, variously, that the razor reeds were just as painful to walk through as they were to grab hold of, that he didn’t know the girl’s name, and that she was taller than him. He couldn’t muster the energy to do anything about any of these things, however, so he followed his new savior-captor-busybody up out of the water atop muck to a patch of muck atop water. One of the trunks had fallen into the swamp, and she sat him down on that, and sat next to him.
“I wish I had a knife,” she said, staring out over the foggy hillocks of grey-green spikes.
It at least looked like wilderness from home. Not that Noah was much for wilderness. He ignored this obvious plea, and sat.
She shook herself, and moved away down the slope to the nearest stand of razor reeds. Noah rather liked the name. She made them rustle, moving them, and trotted back up the slope. She was briefly delayed by getting a sneaker sunk in a sinkhole, and tugged her foot loose with a huffy breath.
There was a streak of red on her forearm. Noah swore.
“What happened? Are you okay?” He asked, voice high.
“Oh, yeah, I just cut myself. You know – well, obviously you don’t-“ She sat down next to him on the rotting log thing, before continuing. “For the scratch test. You put a bit of something you might be allergic to on a scratch, and if it gets red or weird or itchy or hurts, then you’re probably allergic or it’s poisonous.”
“You didn’t have to cut yourself! I have a cut on my hand right here,” he waved his mud-covered hand, ignoring that she couldn’t possibly see the cut under all that mud. “Do you have any idea how many bacteria there are we aren’t immune to in normal Earth environments, not to mention wherever we are? Chr- f- don’t do that,” he finished weakly.
Her lips pursed for a long half-minute.
“You’re a germophobe,” she said, testing it out.
“No, my dad’s a doctor.” He scowled, rubbing at his temples. “I mean, I guess.”
“You guess your dad’s a doctor?”
“I guess he’s my dad. Look, what’s this about a scratch test?”
“You don’t have a concussion.”
“No, I’m just distracted being pissed about being stuck on an alien planet, and what’s your name?”
“Just – don’t do that. Don’t act like I’m not here.” There was an edge, an intensity, to her voice that he couldn’t place.
“Sorry.” He met her eyes. They were green, bright against her darker skin. “Show me that scratch test thing, please.”
Ceremoniously, Michelle chipped a raw spot on his root, until it started gleaming pale sap-stuff. She rubbed it against the thin red line condensing on her arm, smearing the blood around.
“Going to go back to looking for more people?” He asked.
“Nah. I might keel over and die from alien toxins,” she said, looking at him sideways.
“You’re a true humanitarian.”
“I am. Nice to meet you, Noah.”
“You, too. How long do we wait?”
“I dunno. Half an hour, an hour? I’ve never done one before, I’ve just heard of them.”
“We’re all gonna die,” Noah observed mildly.
“I don’t know. I’m used to living rough, your dad was a doctor- we might have a better chance than the clutch I was talking to. They weren’t-“
“Think it’s a test? Like, character building?”
“I have enough character to last two lifetimes.”
“Cool. Can I have some?”
That startled a laugh from her, a mellow, deep sound. He smiled, watching her carefully. She sobered, studying the cut on her arm.
“It’s going to get cold after dark, isn’t it.”
Her gaze shifted and she stared off into the greyness, still brightly lit by whatever color of distant star they were orbiting.