2947-01-23 - Tales From the Inbox: Reckoning of the Reckless

Apologies for the lateness of this feed item. Perhaps you have already heard of the wide-scale datasphere collapse we experienced here on Planet at Centauri in the last 36 hours - this alone would not have interrupted the ingestion of Tales from the Inbox (though it may have affected distribution), but I was not at our headquarters yesterday to manually send off the final text. Things are returning to normal now, and Cosmic Background property is largely unaffected, though there was some minor unrest and property damage in Yaxkin City.

In this Tales from the Inbox, we have a story sent in not from a spacer, but from a Frontier colonist who has dealt with many spacers visiting his home, and who wishes to demonstrate the price which carelessness exacts. Javor O. lives on Margaux, a picturesque but often dangerous world which attracts a steady stream of visitors from the interstellar community, and which claims the lives of too many of these visitors.

Javor's story comes with a simple message - when on a strange world, do not conflate beauty of your surroundings with safety.

As Javor entered the motor pool, the mechanic was just bolting the access panels back on his quadclimber. The dodgy machine was generally too delicate for use on a remote outpost, but Margaux’s habitable regions were so craggy and trackless that all the mechanical trouble in the world still couldn’t negate the advantage its ease scaling sheer cliffs gave him.

“How is she?”

“Good for at least fifty klicks. If that forward right gripper gives you any trouble, put it in diagnostic mode and give the actuator another ten percent.” The mechanic flicked off his goggles as soon as he had finished bolting on the final plate. “I think I’ve got the gyro problem sorted.”

“Good work.” Javor clapped the man on the shoulder. The colony’s mechanics were not formally trained, but they did work which would seem a miracle in the motor pool of any military base, with far less access to fabricated spare parts. “They’re sending me out after a visitor named Arbore. Did he take a vehicle out?” 

The mechanic frowned. “Arbore. Hmm.” There had been nothing in the computer access records, but the colonial outpost’s computer systems were not perfect, and fidelity to vehicle access procedure among the harried colonists was even more flawed. “I don’t think so. When did he take off?” 

“Last night, second watch. His shipmate said they need to dust off in six hours.”

“When I got here, the dodgy Whitting lighter was the only thing not in its dock, but I thought they hauled it off for maintenance.”

Grumbling, Javor pulled up the position tracking system to look up the Whitting. It was an old machine, its battered airframe a hand-me-down from a colonial outpost which could afford better. Even at slow speeds and at low altitude, it was a handful. Sure enough, its blip was several klicks away from the outpost, parked on the ground – or more likely, half-buried in a crater of its own making. “Of course it was the Whitting.”

“Sorry, boss. I’ll ask around and see who gave it to him.”

Javor climbed up onto the quadclimber and got its reactor purring. As soon as everything was reasonably warmed up, he keyed in the destination, and the machine lurched into motion, automatically calculating a reasonable route through the crags and canyons. Rather than use the motor pool courtyard’s gate, the machine, as usual, clambered over the wall and down the other side – Javor had long since stopped bothering to correct this glitch.

The dry, windswept hilltop surrounding the compound soon gave way to thick, lush undergrowth in the first valley bottom. The region’s verdant lowlands and dry uplands were picturesque, but they were far from safe, despite the assumptions of every damn-fool offworlder who came hoping for a relaxing hike – sixteen species of local plants excreted deadly toxins, and all of the apex predators were large enough and stupid enough to tangle with human vehicles, if they got the chance.

Fortunately, the quadwalker’s speed over uneven ground and ability to climb the sheer cliff walls made it an unlikely victim for such beasts, and Javor encountered no trouble on the journey to the Whitting lighter’s beacon. He was surprised to find the battered aircraft parked securely in a clearing in one of the valley bottoms, not far from a clear, quaint little stream. Its cockpit was empty, however; the spacer who’d borrowed it was nowhere in sight.

After radioing back his finding so a follow-up crew could recover the lighter, Javor circled the area, hoping to find the missing man. The scene was quiet, even deceptively peaceful – it was easy to guess that the hapless offworlder had got out for a walk and perhaps to take a few still-shots for his crewmates.

It wasn’t long before Javor found the inevitable outcome of such foolishness. Sprawled as if for a nap in a tangle of greenery, the spacer Arbore still clutched a battered paper notebook and a pen, as if he had come merely to poetically immortalize a savage alien landscape. Of course, he had chosen to take his ease on a stand of Sheenleaf, a plant which covered itself in an oily arsenic compound for protection.

“Ops, it’s Javor. I found him.” The grave tone in his voice was enough to tell the person in the compound command center what the missing person’s condition was.