2951-07-05 – Tales from the Service: The Meraud Ghost

Hadley McGuiness pushed the fresh-fallen snow to one side as she emerged from her shelter bubble and blinked half-blind in a brilliant Meraud dawn. Though the world was far from its weak stellar primary, but in the wake of the night’s storm, every surface was coated in glittering ice crystals that reflected that pale light. 

Hadley had situated her camp far enough from the nearest stand of heat-chasing crawl-vine to prevent the plant from detecting her or her equipment while she slept, but still she spent a few minutes digging out the snow around the shelter and the site of the buried generator to make sure that no tendrils had found their way under the snow. Crawl-vine moved faster during the day than it did at night, and she didn’t want to return to the camp after another twelve-hour vigil only to spend another hour cutting away a few hundred pounds of enterprising biomass before she could get inside and warm up.  

When she was satisfied, she activated the camo-canopy that would make the camp look like just another half-frozen thicket and hefted her day pack. “Log day seventeen.” 

Though the glittering hillside swallowed up her words as if no other human had ever lived on Meraud, Hadley’s mission-log cartridge beeped twice, and a red light appeared at the bottom of her helmet’s faceplate. Everything she saw, heard, and said would be recorded faithfully. The device could save nearly two T-years worth of logs, but Hadley hoped that she wouldn’t need to stick around more than another two weeks. If the reports she was investigating were true, she’d have found some indication by then; if she hadn’t, her minders would be satisfied to conclude that those horror stories had been embellishments or outright forgeries. 

Hadley personally hoped they were forgeries. She had only seen two of the many recorded prisoner debriefings Naval Intelligence had conducted, and both of them had made her skin crawl. True, neither of the liberated former inmates of the camps on Meraud had personally witnessed the things they’d testified to, but they certainly believed those things they’d heard secondhand. Perhaps the banal brutality of their guards and the prison scheme itself had made them easy prey for bunk-house charlatans telling stories of worse fates, but Intelligence was taking the tales seriously enough to send Hadley to freeze her posterior looking for more conclusive information. 

As soon as the campsite was reasonably well camouflaged, Hadley set off through the snow toward the best of her vantage points over the prison-camp in the valley. She kept close to the still-sluggish stands of crawl-vine so she didn’t have to worry about her footprints being discovered. The plants would sense her passage and send out questing tendrils to cover her tracks; by the time the first wave of monitor drones left the facility, there would be no trace she’d been there.  

The monitor drones weren’t looking for Hadley, of course. They were looking for escapees, whose tracks would originate from the facility’s perimiter and radiate out into the hills. Even if they found part of Hadley’s trail, they would dismiss it as the spoor of one of Meraud’s many small and midsized native animals, since she was moving neither directly toward nor directly away from the prison. 

The vantage point was just as Hadley had left it the previous day: a cluster of conically-trunked trees clinging to a narrow ledge of flat ground jutting from the side of an otherwise steep hill. She could approach it behind a stand of thorny shrubs, and be out of direct site of the many cameras below while having a nearly perfect view into the compound itself. 

Most of the cameras weren’t pointed up and out, of course; in all probability only a few were. Still, it paid to be careful. Hadley settled into the comfortable crook between two of the frost-rimmed boles and pulled out her meta-lens magnifier to watch another day of confusingly meaningless drudgery.  

As we have seen before in this space, Meraud is a harsh place not well suited to human habitation; its colonists were a hardy sort. That it is being used to house civilian prisoners from warmer climates, usually without the advanced cold-weather gear available to Hadley, is a sign of how little thought The Incarnation gives to the welfare of the Confederated citizens it has conquered.  

Extermination would have been simpler, more economical, and possibly kinder, and that’s assuming the stories are not true. Why they keep our people alive to hope for possible liberation, I cannot determine.