Posted here by demand of at least one person who wanted it all in one place.
I wake up above the regen block. It’s a weird feeling because I know I went to sleep many million lightyears and several years ago. And it was a moment. Eyes closed, blink, eyes open.
Orbiting a different star.
I look over at the other regen blocks. They’re barely the most interesting tech on the ship, but right now they’re pretty important. There’s Brine’s. Bea’s. And Snikts.
I better wake them up.
I walk across the too-white, circular room to the control panel. My regen-blocks status reads “Automatic regen on arrival/active/complete”. The other displays read “Manual regen/active/stand-by”
Brine first. Partly because now we’ve reached our destination, it’s his job to do some real work with the world-gen. Partly because he’d tear me a new one if I didn’t – brothers have that privilege.
But mainly because I don’t trust myself to wake the girls first. Bea scares the hell out of me. Scares is the wrong word... Intimidates?
That’s an odd thing to admit but she’s just so driven. The kind of biologist who seems more in love with animals than people. I’m lightyears from a home I won’t see again in for another decade even in perceived time, cruising around a foreign star. I’m not waking Bea first.
And Snikt is distracting. She’d convince me not to wake the others for days.
My hand hovers over her regen block activation key. A few days alone with Snikt. Tempting...
No. My hand flies to Brine’s key before I can give in to that too attractive option. There is no spark, or noise, just a puff of steam and Brine before me.
He smiles. Handsome devil – identical twins kind of have to think that about each other.
‘We’re here?’ he asks.
‘No, we’ve been hijacked by space-slugs who want our spleens.’
Brine smiles, but doesn’t bite back.
‘To work then!’ he nearly yells. One of the weird things about regen-blocks is the complete sense of health and determination they bring you. You don’t wake up: you feel reborn.
Brine pretty much runs for the bridge.
I slap the keys for the other crew-members and run after him.
Arrival plus 4 hours
‘Are we ready?’ Brine asks.
‘You promise you haven’t toyed with the adminium coding?’
Brine sighs at me. ‘I promise. I still think that a few deliberately weird elements give a world flavour...’
‘Brine,’ says Bea from her monitoring station behind us. ‘We are building a Dyson sphere around a star. A flat plane of creation with a surface area greater than a sun... This is not a time to mess around with coding.’
Brine pretends to frown. But he shrugs.
‘Fine. Launching adminium.’
All four of us stare at our screens. They show deceptively small images of our hold-bay opening. This is actually an enormous undertaking. This ship and its cargo had been built from the remains of a moon. There are four bay doors – triangular and each the size of the British Isles.
On my right Snikt is hunched over her terminal, punching keys with one hand to keep this deceptively simple action working without having the stresses tear the ship in two. Her other hand is useless for this – she’s a bodmodder and has been for a few years. Her bones are laced with adminium-chips, she has metallic tattoos over one side of her face that change with her mood and her left hand doesn’t exist – she had it replaced pre-mission with a metal socket. The socket currently had an attachment that allows her to connect her nervous system directly to the computer that runs the ship. She has other attachments, for other times. Some of them I could not talk about in public.
Brine is silent now. He is spreading the adminium remotely. They are an army of self-propelled blue cubes, flying from the hold like water. The idea is to spread these in a kind of giant grid around the star. Eventually the grid will fill out, enclosing the star entirely in a gigantic sphere and collecting every bit of energy the star throws out. For now, the adminuim skeleton of the structure would do. It would take a while for the droneships we’d also brought to mine the debris around the star and turn it into more adminium, filling in the gaps.
Brine is concenting hard. There are around a thousand tasks he had to perform, weeding out malfunctioning cubes, herding others, rewriting code on the fly. Snikt is helping with the dispersal, but the actual build was his job. A job literally bigger than a star.
I had the easy bit. I just had to keep the ship still while he did this.
Bea had nothing to do at all. She sits behind us, commenting on the wave of blue for a document-vid we’d broadcast back home. They’d get it in a few years. But we had to get her to do something. We’d only been regened a few hours ago and she’d already spent too much of that screwing around in the rudimentary Bio Lab with pig-genes.
I’d like to describe this whole enteprise as epic and wonderful. But after the first shock, that mind-boggling torrent of hardware flowing from our holds... it became just another job. One that took a few hours more.
Bea gets bored and wanders off.
The rest of us work for about two days straight.
Arrival plus one week.
Brine has managed to get the adminium filling in some of the bigger grid sections. The drones have found more material than expected, the adminium is working at peak efficiency soaking up energy and turning it into matter which is then, at this stage, turned into more adminium cubes.
We haven’t seen Bea in three days.
Snikt and I have been sneaking off wherever possible while they work. She is managing to keep the drones in excellent repair despite their heavy workload, and my work getting the ship up and running for the dispersal of material is going perfectly... once I shut Bea up by making sure we commissioned the Bio Lab to full functionality ASAP. Technically we won’t even need the Bio Lab for another week and Bea’s work can’t even start until AFTER Phase Two, but it keeps her happy and out of the way. She’s apparently screwing around with spider DNA... or something. Or pig. Or giraffe.
As long as it keeps her out of our way.
Brine calls us to the bridge. Snikt and I dress first – I felt it best.
We get there and find Brine alone. Bea’s still busy, apparently, with whatever the hell she’s doing.
‘What’s up, Brine?’
‘I’ve filled in an entire grid square!’
‘Well first, dear brother, that’s the mission deadline for you to send back the near light-speed drone announcing Phase-One completion and getting some other lazy bums up here to help out –‘
‘In ten to twelve years,’ adds Snikt. The others will come in faster ships to direct the terraforming of the sphere – it’s too big a job for one team – but head base feel there’s no point sending everyone if the initial sphere-construct runs into problems. Snikt doesn’t seem to mind the idea of being stuck on this ship with just us for the next decade. I knew this already, but it’s always nice to know. Especially since I plan on proposing at the end of Phase Two. Being the first person to propose on a new world would be a nice gesture, I feel.
‘Yes, but It also means I can test the world gen. Wanna see?’
Brine flicks a few buttons. A bright blue square section of the sphere shows up on the screen. Brine presses one more button and the adminium glows. Energy bursts from it, forming energy fields, which in turn form matter.
‘It’s weirdly cubed,’ I say, watching square mountains appear around square ore deposits, square beaches hold water in square shapes.
‘Dammit!’ Brine punches a screen.
It breaks. Electricity flows.
What a stupid, stupid way to die.
A few minutes later
Adminium is part of our bodies now. It keeps us running with very little food and we never need sleep. It was one of the necessities of undertaking the mission. We all accepted it. The surgeries to enhance our bodies in ways that were impossible to believe even a few years ago. Snikt jumped at the chance and went a bit further with all sorts of gadgets built in under – and over – her skin. We all went through it, the entire time Snikt trying to get everyone to try at least some cosmetic mods. She even convinced Bea to get some decorative feathers behind her ear. Brine found himself talked into a small comp-port on his wrist. Only I’d gone unenhanced except for the adminium-chip wire through my bones, nerves and brain.
Adminium enhancement does wonders for energy levels and computer-integration.
It does not prevent our bodies from being damaged. It does not confer indestrucatbility.
But what it does allow is the regen-cubes.
It means that interstellar travel becomes possible.
It means if you do die... You can be reborn.
Brine walks into the room and watches his own corpse dissolve. It takes his jumpsuit with it, but leaves a few trinkets that he had kept in his pocket.
Brine bends over and picks up his stuff.
“That was weird,” he says.
“It was pretty stupid,” says Snikt.
‘Yeah. Sorry, Snikt. I’ll help you fix that monitor.’
‘Damn right you will.’
I shook my head at them.
“Brine. The world-gen? You can’t leave it running like that in case it stabilises.’
Brine looks at me blankly. He seems a bit... haggard. I suppose dying will do that to you.
“Can I take your console?” he asks eventually.
‘Have fun. Don’t break it,’ I say.
Brine sits and immediately starts muttering to himself as he patches into the gen code.
“The physics is strange but that’s expected for the next few years while the matter-creation fields set the world. The cubes are an expected possibility. Hexes would have been better, but you work with what you get... but I need to add some randomisation. Biomes are screwed up... I’ll stop it and rerun. Maybe get some live elements from Bea to set up some false-feedback randomisation.”
Snikt gets to work on the busted monitor. Brine will not surface for hours. She is going to have to fix it herself.
“Sorry,’ I say. I suck at most things technical. Hell, I sucked at craft in school. I fly ships and order people about - that’s all I do. I would be no help to her.
“Not your problem...’ she says. ‘But we’ll have to postpone that intimate dinner. Brine will need this station working to keep us on schedule.”
“It’s fine. I have a drone-home to send, anyway. I’ll meet you for breakfast”
“Send Earth my love,” Snikt says with a distracted smile.
“Will do,” I say. She means it. Sincerely.
And so when I program the drone, I earnestly report all our progress, upload stats and measurements... and sign off with a video-message “Oh... And Mipshipperson Snikt says “Hi” and sends everyone her love.”
Arrival plus four weeks.
We are so screwed.
Brine and Bea have sent live things down in a drone to a new world generation test. This is against all the rules.
Brine has been getting a bit strange since he died. Working non-stop, eating only when I force him. We have years to fix the world gen code, but he’s become obsessed.
He and Bea are in constant discussions about bio-loops and other jargon I don’t understand. Snikt refuses to talk to either of them. Says they’ve both become a bit wild in the melon which is Snikt-speak for borderline crazy.
I’d thought they were just focused.
But living things in a world gen is crazy. It can mess up the animals. It can mess up the gen code AND the genetic code. The influence of the working matter generation fields makes muscle and bone growth do weird things to try and match the energy fields.
I know they sent chickens and ducks. I know they sent pigs and cows. They sent a few grasses and some other stuff. Some tree species.
I don’t want to talk about the poor duck-ckens. I know they sent more stuff, but I don’t want to ask.
The adminium ‘material generation field’ is making all of it grow too quickly, spread too fast. There’s extinctions and cross-species breeding. It’s really, really bad. Definitely not safe for humans yet.
Brine seems pleased with the results. The water is flowing better and the ore-types are more prevalent on this new world-test. There are caves and the mountains look like mountains. The beaches aren’t simple straight lines. The presence of the animals and plants is messing up the fields in useful ways.
I worry that Brine has sneaked other stuff in to either the code or the world that I don’t know about. He’d always threatened to add more ‘human’ style world-generation. I hope he hasn’t.
We are all in SO MUCH trouble.
Brine and Bea are just lucky that it seems to be working. We won’t know for sure for some time – the fields need to stay on for at least fifty years in order to make sure the admiunium-created matter stays stable - but even in its blocky, physics-screwed way, this gen is looking very much like a real world. Brine says he thinks we’ll hit Phase Two – a gen section fit for theoretical human habitation - a year early. This may win us some brownie-points with the bosses.
I hope so.
I fly the ship a little closer to the sphere. The code-proliferation delays are apparently too great at our current orbit distance. Or so Brine tells me. He has wiped all the current gens except the almost-working one full of wildlife. He wants to try from scratch, using what he’s learned. The ship needs to be closer so he can change code on the fly.
I decide to hit sun pattern.
One problem with Dyson Spheres is seasons and days. The sun’s on the inside. There is no moon. So the eventual plan is to set up the massive, massive ship we all came in on as a proto-sun. Energy will be beamed to it from special repeaters on the sphere... and the base of the ship will light up with the intensity of a sun... While it orbits the sphere. The sun will go around the world instead of the other way around. It will be a bit more square-shaped than a usual sun, and much closer, but it’ll work for light and some heat. That’s supposed to happen later, but may as well do it now. It means I can get in close enough for Brine, and still feel like I’m doing something more useful than following the whims of an obsessed eccentric.
Snikt leans over the back off my chair as I pilot towards sun-pattern orbit. She kisses me on the neck.
“I have a surprise,’ she whispers.
I smile. ‘I like surprises.’
She reaches past me to my console and plugs in her arm. Menus flash. On the monitor, I watch the bay doors open... A fleet of four drones flies out, between them a large square sheet of reflective material.
‘A square-moon to go with the square sun,’ she says. ‘Eventually you could even programme it to show different images, but for now it’s a moon the same shape as the sun. It’s a lot smaller, and flies a bit lower to pick up energy directly from the gen-field.’
The drones fly off, pre-programmed to orbit the sphere at the exact opposite point to the ship.
‘Very nice,’ I say.
That’s when the ship broadcasts a scream.
Snikt and I run for the Bio-lab. That was Bea’s scream – unmistakably intense.
Brine, who has been sitting next to me this entire time without saying a word, looks up, annoyed at the distraction, and then goes back to work as Snikt and I dash past him.
He has gotten very bad. I should think about what to do about this – halting the mission, if that’s what it takes.
But I haven’t the time for internal debates. Snikt and I reach the Bio-Lab.
Snikt detaches her comp-port hand and reattaches a bolt-launcher. Who knows what animal Bea has let loose on herself? Snikt fires a test bolt at a door. It flies with a hurried grace and embeds itself into the steel. Yep. That’ll take out whatever is running free in the lab.
We crash through the multiple airlocks to find Bea completely calm.
‘What the hell happened?’ I ask, more than a little annoyed that she wasn’t being attacked by something after a scream like that.
‘I just had an accidental spider-release. Had to squash one of my specimens before I could live-clone it.’
‘Couldn’t you just catch it again?’ Snikt asks.
‘Catch a spider? Diusgusting hairy thing. The only bad thing in nature,’ Bea replies.
‘You should have called me,’ says Snikt. ‘I like spiders. I would have caught it for you.’
‘Bloody hell, Bea. We thought you were dying.’
Bea looks at me. ‘Well I am not. And now I have work to do. First of all, I have to attempt to regen that spider. Perhaps I can set up a posthumous regen-box...’
And already we are forgotten by the second obsessive on the ship. I take Snikt’s hand and lead her out of the lab.
‘Can you do that?’ I ask Snikt as we leave. ‘Set up posthumous regen?’
‘Not without issues,’ replies my tech-goddess.
Great. More issues.
I want to talk to Snikt about Brine. But I know what her response will be and I don’t want to have to shut down my brother while he’s so obviously in his element. So I take her to my room and we distract each other for a while.
But even hours later, I need to talk about Brine.
So I talk about Bea, instead.
‘What the hell is she doing in there? We’re only in Post-One... Bea knows I’m not letting them release anything else into the world gens until Phase Two. They’ve caused enough trouble. What could she be modifying?’
Snikt gives me a conspiratorial grin.
‘I hacked her files. She’s doing medical research.’
‘Pigs. She’s doing some weird stuff with naturally derived sulphur-drugs. I think she’s hoping to introduce animal variations that are naturally resistant to a range of differing diseases. In a sphere this big, habitats can be huge and an extinction is a hardcore potential. Different and extreme resistances will help avoid that. But she’s perfecting pigs first.’
‘Oh. Will that work?’
‘I don’t know. I’m an engineer, not a biologist. But her sloth/pig/giraffe hybrids do seem to make high concentrations of weird antibacterial substances in their bodies. Apparently she’s having issues with imprinting, though. All the genetic tampering’s done weird stuff to their brains and they kind of fall in love with any moving object. So breeding them has become a problem unless it’s perfectly dark. They love everything, get stressed over not being able to choose who to follow or mate with or just cuddle-up with for comfort. And then they...’
‘What the hell was that?’ I yell. It was coming from the Bio-Lab again. No way was that a spider.
‘The creepy sad pigs,’ says Snikt. ‘They’re full of sulphur and weird chemicals. They explode when they’re in love.’
I smell smoke as we dash from my apartment. Snikt reattaches her bolt-launcher arm. The Bio-Lab is just before us. The doors blow up and throw Bea’s lifeless body across the corridor in front of us.
A pair of green giraffe pigs skitter on too-short piggie legs out of the ruined doorway. One bumps into the corpse, gives a hiss that is part satisfaction, part sadness and explodes.
A sulphurous dust rains down out of the shortlived flame. A hole in the wall and floor shows us working parts of the ship’s computer... A pig-giraffe falls into the hole and explodes.
The working parts of the computer are no longer working. The lights flicker on and off.
More creatures spill from the lab.
They see us.
Snikt fires a few bolts backwards. It hurts them, but not enough.
After many twisting corridors, Bea runs into us from the opposite direction. She is covered in spiders – all of them far too big. She’s hacked her own regen-cube to bring her spider back to life! The revulsion on her face is terrible, but she seems to be too worried to even brush the freeloaders off.
‘We’ve got to get to the escape drone! If they’re in dark spaces where they can’t get distracted, they breed fast!’
‘Okay. You guys run for the med-bay,’ I tell the girls. ‘I’ll get Brine!’
They follow orders – for once – and run to the regen bay. The whole thing worked as an escape drone. It made sense to use the medical section part of the emergency design.
I sprint for the bridge.
Brine, surprisingly, is up out of his chair. His eyes are dead-looking. Days without rest in front of a computer will burn out even the adminum-enhanced.
‘I saw the security-vid feed. There’s a lot of them.’
‘We need to run, Brine.’
‘Okay,’ he says slowly. He didn’t sound worried. ‘Except... The drone’s programmed to launch for the nearest world gen. The world gen isn’t ready yet. I’ve got repairs to do to even the biologically-seeded section before it’ll be safe to land.’
‘Fine. Do that from the drone.’
‘No can do. The drone doesn’t have the capability. I’m staying.’
‘Brine, this ship is going to be punched full of holes sometime soon. You can’t stay.’
‘Is my gen-cube on the escape drone?’
Brine smiles. ‘I’ll die up here. But I’ll join you again, shortly.’
I frown. ‘Brine... I think your regen cube’s screwy, though. You... You...’
‘I know. Since the last regen I’ve felt very... odd. But it’s this or we all die, permanently. Can’t regen without air or power. Can’t live in a screwy worldgen. I’ll risk a bad regen rather than no regen.’
I look at my brother. Sure he’d regen... but this was still very brave. He’d still undergo a death by air-loss or explosion. Brother Brine. Hero Brine.
‘Go!’ he yells at me, already getting into his position and starting to fix code.
I run straight into a sad-faced green thing. I have enough time to lock the reinforced bridge-door behind me before I die with a bang. It hurts. A lot.
I wake up, standing on my regen-cube and feeling fantastic.
‘Launch!’ I yell. It’s the only authorisation code the emergency drone needs. Airlocks lock, engines start.
We feel a jolt and we’re on our way to the surface, hoping Brine can fix the code before we land. The drone will keep us alive for a while, but it’s too small a space to be cooped up in for ten years. There’s the med-bay. A small bridge. Some emergency accommodation. Tiny compared to the cavernous spaces we’re used to. We’re going to need a usable worldgen. Maybe not a perfect one, but a livable one would be nice.
‘Where’s Brine?’ Bea asks.
She’s still covered in spiders. A glance at her gen cube shows a proliferation of non-standard bio-machines patched into it. I shake my head and start to explain. And that’s when I spot them creeping in the darkness behind the med-supplies
Two green shapes, attracted to the darkness. I think I see... eggs!?
And one of the runs at me. I leap clear. Its sad face looks particularly hurt and human as I beat it back. It frowns at me and goes for Bea. It explodes to my right and I am injured. Bea dies again. So does Snikt.
I know she’ll regen but it hurts like hell to watch the flesh melt from her adminium-laced bones.
I look at her regen cube and wait for her to come back, firing. There’s still at least one of these bastards behind the supplies. Snikt’s the only one with a weapon.
The regen cube.
The explosion has taken out two of the cubes. The girls’ regen cubes. There are holes through them. I can see the things working, trying to regen. They seem to spawn more cubes. Damaged cubes, reproducing but not regening either Snikt or Bea.
They seem to be trying to regen the girls but failing. I see human outlines form and fade.
I will the things to work.
And then the second thing creeps up on me from behind and explodes.
I regen on a beach. I can’t see my cube, but I assume it’s buried somewhere nearby.
I regened in mid-air after the explosion. The last explosion scattered ship parts across the face of the world – though I think there was a delay and there may have been more explosions after I died. Spiders and creeping pigs flew past me. I saw the girls’ cubes – hundreds of iterations of them - fall like rain on the world and become embedded in the soil. I saw the raw materials of the ship broken up and incorporated into the worldgen. I ‘landed’. Died again.
And then woke up on this beach.
I feel VERY strong. The adminium blocks at the base of the world are working on my implants and doing strange things to my physiology. I have become... blockier in shape and much, much stronger. I can punch trees to spinters and carry tonnes of rock. But the gen fields are shaping everything to fit their grid. After this regen, I don’t look fully human. I hope Brine has stabilised the gen fields enough that they don’t mutate me entirely.
I wander around, testing the weird physics.
Tree punching. The wood shatters... and the remaining chunks are strangely pliable. I can flatten it into planks or stretch it into sturdy sticks with my bare hands.
I can decomp the world in chunks with my fists. The world gen turns the stressed matter into a kind of meta-cube that I can carry a replace anywhere I like.
It’s very weird to punch dirt and have it implode. The adminium keeps the block in a pseudo-material state until I touch the pseudo-material to another block, where it locks back into the gen-field and pops back into solidity, mostly unharmed. Solid rock doesn’t seem to survive this process well – it comes back full of cracks - but cubic chunks of dirt and sand do just fine. Gravel and what I think might be coal-ore seem to be more ‘finished’ by the fields. They sometimes explode but generate raw materials like coal or flint instead of decomposing.
Gravity is simply screwy. It works on small things, but entire mountains can have their base removed and remain floating in the gen-field.
I rub a piece of coal on the end of one of my sticks, hoping to make a tool to write some sort of message on the rocks pointing my way back to the beach. The friction ignites the coal without burning my hand. It glows with steady light that I don’t seem to be able to put out.
I see a pig-thing and smack it repeatedly with one of my torch-sticks. It turns out to be a regular pig. It has been badly affected by the cubic gen field and looks very strange. Or did until I accidently smacked it to death. Its death is rejected by the gen-field and most of its mass evaporates. I’m left with a very small handful of pork, nicely sliced by the cubic grid of invisible energy.
I am yet to find any ship-parts. I have looked for my gen-cube but think it has been buried too deep. I need to find Bea and Snikt’s cubes. I need to know if they made it.
I need to find Brine’s cube. He managed to make this strange world vaguely livable before we crashed. I can see the square sun above. It is setting.
It is dark.
I have found the girls.
The regen-cubes landed. They landed everywhere. They landed broken.
Bea has regened as her own burnt, bloody corpse. I run towards her and her mad eyes do not see me. She is covered in gore and spider blood. There is something immaterial about her, as though the regen had made her from sub-standard matter.
She groans in horror at herself as she tries to pull me to pieces.
There are hundreds of her. The cubes are regenning her constantly.
Poor Snikt does not see me. She has no eyes. She is everywhere, too. There are too many of her. I try to talk to her several times but all I get is a terrible, terrible moan of pain. She is an Adminium-laced skeleton. The explosion burnt all flesh from her bones just as her cube was damaged. Now she is just bone. Bones and a self-targeting body-mod bolt launcher.
She is the first to kill me. But I die inside, long before her arrows take my life.
I regen on the beach.
This is pretty close to hell, I think.
Then I notice the spiders – grown giant in the gen field.
And the green pig-creepers. Breeding in the darkness.
And then I watch hundreds of my beloved burn in the sunlight at dawn as the immaterial regen-bodies react badly to the day.
No. This IS hell.
And I must survive here, alone, for the next ten years. Until the next wave of terraformers arrive. Or unless I find Herobrine’s regen-cube.
I think I see him on the second day – a wild man in the distance. But I could be wrong. I find a small, almost man-made cave near the sighting, but despite leaving signs around the area, I have managed nothing but sightings in the distance.
Until then I must find ways to survive the harshness of this world’s night without going mad. I know Zombie-Bea and the skeletons I will not let myself name will return. I know I have not seen the last of the exploding creepers.
I think I will build a tower of stone 10000 feet tall. I will light the top on fire and explore everything within sight of the beacon. That will do for starters.
Yes, I know Minecraft is fantasy - but a sci-fi origin story was too much fun not to try. So I stayed up to 3am one night writing all 5000 words in one sitting. Even when I'm not playing, this game ruins my sleep.