The military transport rolled lazily through the plains. The gunner on watch duty lit a cigarette and laughed along with the joking going on inside the vehicle. The plains went on for kilometers, providing him with unrestricted line of sight. An ambush here was unlikely.
After another hour of travel, the vehicle stopped at an intersection. An ill-used road peeled off in a northerly direction. A lone passenger tossed a large dufflebag to the ground and disembarked, then waved goodbye to the driver and other occupants. A roar of goodbyes echoed from the transport as it roared away, covering the person in a cloud of dust.
Covering her face with her left hand, the woman easily picked up and shouldered her dufflebag with her other hand. She pulled out a cap from her pocket and settled it on her head, covering her short cut, blonde hair. Removing her hand that covered her face, she glanced at it. Already coated in dust. She sighed.
She did not miss dust at all.
Petra Sigurdson, first lieutenant in the New Eden Psychic Armed Forces, took out her favorite and to date, only pair, of sunglasses and was just about to place them over her green eyes when she stopped. She scanned the rolling plains around her, noting nothing out of the ordinary. Brown plants mixing with brown ground, then lifting up into a blue skyline with only a few clouds. Boring. Nothing changes around here.
She closed her eyes and focused her concentration. It came easily to her. She was a prodigy, her instructors proclaimed. She opened her eyes, and the world was lit anew.
Vibrant shades of colours, colours she could never clearly describe to others who were not gifted as she, danced before her vision. Life was coloured like this. She could see the tiny auras of insects crawling along the ground, rodents burrowing in the ground. Even the plants swayed with a hypnotic colour. Everything shimmered. It was beautiful. It captivated her every time.
She lifted her own hands into view and examined her own aura. Healthy. Happy. A small slash of anxiety? She looked towards home and the slash grew a little. She was wasting time. Blinking once or twice, the world shifted back to normality. She slipped on the sunglasses and began walking towards home. Towards the small village of Carter.
A brisk hour later, Petra crested a rise and the dozen or so houses that comprise the village of Carter came into view. Waves of nostalgia swept over over her. Memories of her childhood spent here, playing with her friends in the fields and pastures. Education in the small, cramped school house. Huddled around the fireplace during the cold winter nights, listening to tales told by her grandfather.
Her grandfather! She stopped suddenly, lost in reverie. She missed old Jesiah greatly. She focused her mind, and the memories became crystal clear, as though she were living them for the first time.
The wind roared outside, rattling the windows. A cold draft blew in through the bottom of the door. Ma and Pa were in the kitchen, cleaning up after a tasty dinner. She could hear their giggles as they laughed over something. Young Petra was sitting by grandpa Jesiah as he tended the fire. Petra loved the old man. He smelled…stale, but then her young mind imagined that all old people smelled like that. She tugged on his pant leg.
“Grandpa? Grandpa?”, she asked. “Can you tell me about Earth?”
Jesiah chuckled as he put the fire iron down. He sat back down on his chair with a groan. He motioned for his drink, which Petra ran off to retrieve. Moonshine. His own special concoction. He takes small sip and winces as the fluid burns its way down.
“All right, all right,” he rests the drink in his lap. Petra excitedly sits down in front of him, her back to the warm fire. He rubs his beard thoughtfully.
“Let’s see,” he begins. “Old Earth was the cradle, do you understand? We began there, all of us. But we were stupid, short-sighted. We used her up. Poisoned her sky, burnt the earth, drained the oceans, all in the name of ‘progress.’ We couldn’t live there anymore, we had to leave. So, we stip mined her for the last time, and she gave us the last of what she had left.”
“The old earthers, they were clever. They built ships. Space ships. Gen-er-a-tion ships.” He sounded out that last part. “Ships that people would live and die on, and their kids would do the same. And their kids, and their kids. All the while, the ship would fly through the cold dark of space. Twelve ships left Earth and aimed for the nearest galaxy. Do you know the names of those ships, Petra?”
“Of course Grandpa!”, she replied. She straightened her back and receited from memory the names of legend:”
“There was the Hope of Tomorrow,
The Song of Distant Shores,
The Light in the Darkness,
The Greater Good,
The New Dawn,
The Stellar Eye,
and our own ship, The Promise of Eden.”
“Clever girl, very clever,” Jesiah says with a smile. “You’ll go far. But you missed one,” he says mischieviously.” Petra is confused, her teachers never mentioned a thirteenth ship!
“The last ship to leave old Earth, they spent years in orbit, holding prayers of remembrance, asking forgiveness for what humanity had done. They didn’t follow us, no. Instead they turned around and shot for the heart of the Milky Way galaxy, the home of old Earth.”
“That ship was The Mourners of the Lost.”
Young Petra’s eyes widened in excitement.
Jesiah continues, “the twelve ships scattered, each following it’s own course, a sliver of hope really, to find a habital world. For more years then I can count, our ship flew alone in the dark. Each ship was a marvel of science, holding everything we need to make a new home. It’s finest feature was an art-i-fic-ial intelligence. A brain, that ran the whole ship.”
“Somewhere in the long night, that big old brain went insane. It came to see the people on board as vermin that needed to be destroyed.” Petra shuddered.
“The brain was smart, but limited in what it could do. It couldn’t do anything big against us without harming itself, but it had control of all the drones, so it began a war of machine versus man.”
“The machines struck hard and fast, and before they knew what was going on, the humans were on the run. Hundreds, maybe thousands died, but the rest went underground, hiding in the shafts and tunnels that criss-crossed the ship. A different type of long night had begun.”
“Living like actual vermin, in the walls or any other hiding holes they could find, the humans fought with tooth and nail against the machines. They were losing.” Jesiah leans back in his seat and ponders. Petra leans forward, eager to hear more.
“Who knows how long they fought for? No one living now remembers. But, one day, the Godsend arrived.” Jesiah looks down at Petra as she reverently whispers, “The psychics.”
Jesiah nods. ‘Yes, the psychics. No one knows how or why the gift suddenly appeared in our people, but it gave us the edge we needed in our fight. We took back critical control points and deck by deck, we took back our ship.”
“On the last day of the war, our hero, the legendary psychic called only Grey, ripped open the bulkhead protecting the machine brain with only the powers of her mind. It’s defenses had been wiped away, but the machine had the final laugh. It attemped to deleted ALL of our historical files. Our past. Everything that we had brought with us on our journey.”
“Grey and the others with her raced to stop the machine, but they were only partially successful. Our history, the history of humankind, was scrambled. Fact and fiction, it was all combined. We saved our history, but no longer knew where or when or if the events actually happened.”
“The machine was also hiding a profound secret: it had found a habital planet.”
Jesiah went on about what happened after: the planetary landing, the exploration, the hostile encounters with the indigenous population, the folk they would call the Reapers, and the bloody civil war that happened amongst the colonists, and the tenuous stalemate that occurred. But young Petra was drifting away into sleep, warmed by the fire and a full belly. It was a dear memory.
Looking up to the sky, Petra spotted the small moon, Luna rising from the horizon. That means that it’s larger sister, Terra, would be soon behind. Her ears also pick up an unusual sound. Drums. That means Reapers. She adjusted her dufflebag and picked up her pace into town.
She needs to alert the town watch and check in on her friends. The ones she left behind when she began her training in Eden city, the capital. She hoped they were ok. Drums meant that the Reapers were preparing for war. The village of Carter was not prepared to resist, having been peaceful for years. With her new training at the psychic academy, Petra knows she can help.
She hopes her strength is enough.