Originally published in Dark Horizons: An Anthology of Dark Science Fiction (Elder Signs Press, 2016)
The end never comes fast.
It creeps up slowly, usually in full view of anyone who cares to take notice of it.
Sometimes nobody realizes the end is coming until it’s too late, until it’s impossible to ignore. That’s when the panic starts, when the words “sudden” and “unexpected” get bandied about in a maelstrom of hysteria and shock by people who should know better. But the signs were always there for anyone with the good sense to see them.
The world didn’t just go crazy all at once, then. It got there a little bit at a time, dragging an oblivious humanity along with it. Looking back, you could point to any number of tipping points where the madness became too much: contagious outbreaks of homicidal madness in Europe, boiling oceans in Indonesia, dimensional rifts swallowing entire cities across North America.
But designating that time would just plant an arbitrary signpost on the road to our collective demise. You don’t become a survivor by making signs after the fact. The survivors are the ones who remain more concerned with avoiding the dead-end roads ahead than with sorting out where humanity took a wrong turn somewhere behind.
Survivors find a way, even if it means becoming something you’d rather not be.
from “Surviving Extinction” in End of Days, Birth of Hope: Essays on the Breaking of the World, WHH Publishing: Redoubt Prime, 2348
Tarkin knew something was wrong when the sunlight hitting the northwest quadrant started to slither.
The light strangled a few rows’ worth of the protein bulbs he planted a few weeks back. They sprouted prematurely, loosing prismatic spores in a puff of pollenated dust that settled upon the rest of the crop. Within a day, the spores sapped the color from everything they touched, turning most of the quadrant into a mottled, grey and black waste. The infection was probably already in the root system, leeching further nutrition from the soil.
It would have to come up. All of it. Every bulb, every root, every trace of cultivation. The entire quadrant needed to be cordoned off from its neighbors and decontaminated. Weeks of tilling, planting, and irrigation would be lost, all on account of a blown fuse.
Tarkin managed to reroute the energy flow on the northwest generator to get the filtration shields back to full strength, but the workaround put a lot of strain on the primary fusion couplings. The power core would be running hot until he either replaced the damaged fuse or the microreactor melted down and vaporized everything in a two-mile radius.
He probably had little over a week. Two if he was lucky.
Tarkin kept the warpsuit on until he reached the house. Although he’d placed containment field stakes around the infected area, he worried that something else might have slipped through the perimeter along with the diseased light. Only the generator’s spectrometer shielding appeared to have failed, but he thought it best to not take any chances.
His wife wouldn’t take the news well. Nayla had been counting on a new crop of protein bulbs to pay for the parts she needed to fix the crawler’s warpfield generator. The setback would doom them to at least another year or two of isolation, limited to contact with only the few meager settlements within walking distance.
Another year without children.
He circled the house five times before he went inside, rehearsing and refining how he would explain the situation to Nayla on each pass. When he finally stepped through the airlock and stripped off the warpsuit, he found her waiting for him just inside the inner hatch.
“It’s gone, isn’t it?”
Tarkin tried to describe what happened, but the words caught in his throat when he saw Nayla’s shoulders droop. She seemed to age ten years in the span of a second. He couldn’t hold the tears back and would have collapsed had she not embraced him. Nayla guided him to their bedroom, where they wept and made love for the rest of the morning.
After the emotions ran their course, Tarkin brewed a pot of coffee while Nayla took stock of their supplies. He had a cup waiting for her on the kitchen table by the time she finished.
“That the last batch?”
“Must be bad, then.”
Tarkin told her about the generator malfunction. She listened closely, asking pointed, technical questions along the way. Nayla could tear a sub-orbital aircraft engine apart and reassemble it in a driving sandstorm at night, but she didn’t know shit about realspace shield generators. The basic principles of fusion microreactors and power circuits still applied, though, so Tarkin managed to convey most of the important details.
When he finished, Nayla leaned back in her chair and took a big gulp of coffee.
“How long till it blows?” she asked.
“At least a week.”
Nayla pushed her list of supplies across the table. “Can you rig up anything from this? Buy a few more days?”
Tarkin examined the inventory and shook his head.
“What about reconfiguring the perimeter? Can we cut back to a triangular plot just using the other three generators?”
“They’re calibrated to work in concert. Even if the capacitors could handle the increased power outlay, we’d have to physically move the generators to reset the perimeter for three units. And that would mean deactivating the realspace field, anyway.”
Tarkin didn’t have to explain what that would mean. A partial failure in the field had already wiped out a year of work in less than 24 hours.
“Can you fix it?” Nayla asked.
“If I had the right fuse, sure.”
Nayla drank the rest of her coffee. “I guess it’s time to pay the neighbors a visit, then.”
The warpsuits’ power cells had a life expectancy of at least five hundred years, but the actual suits themselves were as prone to wear and tear as any piece of equipment. Tarkin and Nayla inspected the suits carefully before and after each use, looking for the slightest signs of malfunction or deterioration. A single tear in the polymolecular fabric, a single short in the hundreds of feet of wiring laced through the suit would likely mean death outside the secure confines established by the realspace generators.
There was a slim chance of surviving such a malfunction.
If they were especially unlucky.
After donning their warpsuits, Tarkin and Nayla loaded everything they thought they could afford to spare into a sealed container and stepped through the airlock.
The four realspace generators stood at the corners of a one acre plot of land, connected to each other by a wall of translucent energy that resembled clouded glass. Sunlight filtered through the energy field one hundred feet above them, creating the optimal growing conditions around the living compartments they called a house.
They turned west and walked up to the plot’s boundary. Tarkin took a deep breath and grasped his wife’s hand tightly.
“Together,” she said, her voice transmitting over his helmet’s intercom.
They stepped through the energy field.
The helmet viewscreen went black for a split second while the warpsuit switched over to virtual display mode. When the screen came back up, everything seemed sharper and colder than before. The desolate, flat landscape sprawled out toward a digital horizon beneath an empty, sterile sky. No signs of movement broke the stillness.
“Quiet today,” Nayla said.
Tarkin heard nothing but the hum of the warpsuit’s circuitry. He closed his eyes and listened intently, thinking that he might at least be able to sense the impression of sound beyond the insulated helmet.
“Let’s get moving.”
The first few steps were always the hardest. Tarkin felt the warpsuit sending energy pulses through the polyfibers to redirect his movements ever so slightly. The natural inclination was to fight back, to resist the corrections, but doing so either made the suit react even more forcefully or caused a loss of balance. Countless hours of practice had conditioned him to surrender his instinctive sense of equilibrium to the warpsuit, which paradoxically granted him better control over his movements. The initial sensation never ceased to be unsettling, however, and it always took at least a dozen steps or so before the brain remembered what to do.
Tarkin activated the suit’s navigation system and called up their destination.
Sabrelle’s farm. Distance: 4.24 miles.
He didn’t remember it being so far.
Nayla grumbled. “Must have shifted since last time.”
The terrain held steady for most of the journey, only turning less even when they neared Sabrelle’s. Small hillocks jutted up from the flat ground about a mile away from the farm and slowly gave way to irregular, rocky hills. When Tarkin last visited the place a year ago, he’d encountered nothing more severe than gentle slopes.
Things could change a lot in twelve months.
Outside the realspace perimeter, radio transmissions scrambled all to pieces beyond a few yards. The only interaction they ever had with Sabrelle came during their face-to-face meetings once or twice a year. She had a cousin who occasionally ferried supplies to and from Redoubt Prime, which stood some seventy or eighty miles south. As far as anyone knew, it was the only major settlement within a thousand miles. Tarkin and Nayla had visited it a few times, but not since the crawler broke down a few years back. If only the crawler was functioning, it would be simple to make a run for extra generator fuses.
But they’d never survive the walk on foot. The terrain was too rough and much of the land between was crawling with weirdlings.
Not to mention the bigger, nastier things lingering in warpspace.
Sabrelle’s farm sat nestled in a shallow valley. Or it at least it used to. Even from a distance, Tarkin saw that the landscape had changed significantly since his last visit. Jagged rocks crowned the upper ridge surrounding the valley. By the time they climbed up to the top, Tarkin had a good idea of what they would find in the valley below.
The realspace generators weren’t running. Sabrelle’s squat, concrete house sat alone in the center of what used to be her fields. When Tarkin last visited, the surrounding land bloomed with half a dozen different crops. Now nothing but oily weeds and black thorn bushes grew from the brittle, packed dust. The valley floor sparkled with prismatic spores released by long dead contaminated plants.
Tarkin wasn’t so sure. The realspace generators and the house itself looked untouched.
“Maybe,” she said. “I’ll check the generators. See if you can find any bodies.”
Nayla scampered down the hill, her limbs jerking awkwardly as Tarkin’s helmet struggled to render her movements on his display.
He checked the western generator first. It looked to be in perfect condition, except that it was picked clean of fuses, circuit boards, and power supplies. Anything that wasn’t welded to the structural frame had been expertly removed.
The southern generator was similarly stripped. He almost didn’t bother checking the eastern and northern units, but he went through the optimistic motions all the same.
Nayla had emerged from the house by the time Tarkin circled back around to the entrance. He told her about the generators, but she didn’t seem to be listening.
“You should go inside,” she said.
“You find something?”
Tarkin walked into the house, and his blood turned to ice.
The rent furniture formed an irregular circle in the center of the living room. Sharp spikes, some no longer than a foot, others as tall as Tarkin, protruded from each broken piece. Closer inspection revealed that the spikes consisted of dozens of electrical wires wound together. A few of them had fused into a single piece of warped metal, leaving streams of melted wiring frozen in place like some hellish candle fashioned out of raw iron.
Every sharpened tip pointed inward at the center of the uneven circle. An explosion of symbols covered the floor there, thousands, maybe millions, of clustered characters that spiraled, lurched, and crawled in every direction without any discernable pattern. Etched nearly a quarter of an inch deep into the metal flooring, each sign appeared to be unique.
Studying any symbol for too long made Tarkin’s head hurt, but he had no trouble identifying the liquid filling every one of them.
Aside from the bizarre scene in the living room, the rest of the house looked untouched. Tarkin found no signs of struggle or distress, and whoever stripped the generators didn’t bother to ransack the house.
He also didn’t find any bodies.
Tarkin rejoined Nayla outside.
“Weirdlings?” she asked.
He inspected the outer airlock door. It looked functional. Nothing had forced its way into the house.
“Let’s get back to the house,” he said.
Neither of them spoke again for the rest of the day.
By the time they returned home, they were too tired to do much more than peel off their warpsuits and don their dream inhibitors before collapsing in bed.
The next day, they walked the six miles to Maddock’s farm. They found similarly stripped generators and the same scene inside the house. After a brief argument, they decided against making the ten-mile walk to Lanah’s homestead to the north. When they got home, Tarkin inspected the faulty generator and judged that they had nine days left if the heat buildup remained constant.
He considered suggesting suicide, but decided against it when he couldn’t think of a quick and painless way to carry it out. They’d exhausted the last of their ammunition years ago and none of the medication they had left was strong enough to do the job. He supposed they could cut their wrists if it came down to it, but the thought of all that blood gushing from his opened veins made him squeamish.
Nayla spent an afternoon tinkering with the crawler before kicking her toolbox across the garage. When she finished cursing, she slumped down in the cockpit and refused to speak for the rest of the day. Tarkin heard her crying at one point, but she threw a wrench at him when he tried to console her.
The next day, he donned his warpsuit and went out to inspect the generator again. He wondered if he could buy them extra time by swapping fuses between the units, giving each microreactor a chance to cool down, but the idea didn’t go very far. There was no way to keep the realspace field at full strength while he switched the fuses and rerouted each unit’s power. More of their crops would be contaminated and they would eventually starve.
He abandoned the idea and instead busied himself digging up the blackened remains of the infected quadrant and dumping it well outside the plot’s perimeter. On two occasions, the warpsuit’s motion proximity sensors went off, but a more intensive scan turned up nothing.
Nayla was still awake when he finally trudged back inside the house. She’d spent most of the day finishing off their last bottle of vodka.
“No luck with swapping fuses,” he said.
She didn’t look up from her computer tablet.
“I was thinking about stripping the crawler down for parts. I know it’s your baby, but it won’t do us much good if we can’t keep the generator from melting down.”
Tarkin left her to her bottle and her reading. After scrubbing his skin clean, he settled into bed and strapped the dream inhibitor tight across his skull.
Six days left.
He worried that Nayla might have less than that if he didn’t find some hope quickly.
Tarkin overslept the next morning. Nayla looked like she hadn’t slept at all. She’d finished off the vodka, but didn’t seem any less absorbed in her reading. He peered over her shoulder to see what she found so interesting, but the letters on the screen looked strange.
“What language is that?”
“I…I don’t know.”
“You don’t know? How can you read it if you don’t even know what it is?”
“I’m going to get started on the crawler.”
It took about six hours to tear the crawler’s engine apart. Nayla probably could have done the same job in two hours had she been willing to help, but Tarkin didn’t know how to pry her away from her misery. After picking through the pile of parts he’d dumped on the floor, he came up with a few pieces that might prove helpful. He shoved them into a sack and went out to the airlock.
Nayla’s warpsuit was gone.
Puzzled, he pulled on his suit and stepped outside.
A quick sensor scan of the area located her one mile northeast of the realspace perimeter.
“What the hell?”
Tarkin set out after her, moving as quickly as he could manage with the warpsuit adjusting his every stride. Her signal remained stationary, and he closed the distance between them rapidly. When his helmet’s long-range scanners acquired a visual of her lying on the ground, he ran so fast that the suit could scarcely compensate quickly enough to keep him from stumbling.
Her vitals were lower than normal, but she seemed unharmed and her suit remained in working order. When he knelt beside her, however, he saw that she’d deactivated her helmet’s visual display, which allowed her to view her surroundings unfiltered by the warpsuit’s sensors.
Tarkin’s display rendered her still expression in exacting detail, casting her wide-eyed stare and gaping mouth with a glossy, artificial sheen.
She moved slightly, but her gaze remained fixated on something in the distance. Her lips moved, but Tarkin couldn’t hear her through her muted intercom.
The warpsuit’s proximity sensors tripped, indicating movement coming from several directions. Tarkin looked up to find half a dozen figures lurking behind the nearby rock formations. His display portrayed them crudely, like vaguely humanoid blobs of blurred static.
“Get up, damn it!”
He dragged Nayla to her feet. She staggered halfheartedly alongside him, too slow to escape if the things decided to give chase. Luckily, they merely stood and watched while Tarkin hauled his delirious wife back to the realspace perimeter.
Nayla remained unresponsive for the rest of the day, staring blankly into space without appearing to actually see anything. Only when Tarkin tried to strap her dream inhibitor to her forehead did she give him a reaction, moaning that the device gave her a splitting headache. After she ripped the contraption off for the fourth time, Tarkin gave up.
One night of unfiltered dreams couldn’t cause too much damage.
She slept fitfully, tossing, turning, and occasionally muttering something Tarkin couldn’t quite understand. He wondered if it was related to the stuff she’d been reading over the last few days.
When morning came, Tarkin felt like he hadn’t slept for more than a few minutes.
Five days left.
Nayla finally seemed to be sleeping, so he left her undisturbed as he dressed. He went to the airlock, retrieving the bag of crawler parts along the way. If he didn’t make some sort of progress on the generator today…
Eight hours of work left Tarkin exactly where he started.
The warpsuit’s proximity sensors tripped so many times for no apparent reason that he stopped paying attention to the alerts altogether.
Tarkin trudged back to the house feeling defeated. He decided that he would have to chance a trip to Lanah’s place. It was a ten-mile walk to the north over rough country. Risky, but he didn’t have much cause for hope if he didn’t try.
He found the inner airlock door locked.
Maybe he’d flipped the lock by accident when he left.
He pressed the intercom button.
“Nayla, open the airlock.”
Tarkin pried off the nearby control panel cover to expose the circuitry and hydraulics that operated the door. He severed a cluster of wires to cut power the locking mechanism and the forced the piston down to pull the door ajar enough for him to squeeze his fingers into the gap and pry it open.
It was dark inside the house. He fumbled along the wall until he found the light switch.
When the lights came up, he felt like he’d been dunked into freezing water.
Nayla sat naked in the center of the living room. She’d stripped every piece of wire from the crawler and had already twisted several lengths together to form long spikes.
Tarkin jerked the half-finished piece from her hands and scattered the small pile she’d stacked beside her.
He hoisted her off the floor and held her tightly.
“Don’t you do this to me,” he said. “Don’t you dare.”
Nayla didn’t struggle to get away from him.
She just stared at the floor and shivered.
Four days left.
Tarkin set out for Lanah’s homestead just after dawn.
He’d tied Nayla up and locked her in the bedroom before he left. He should have forced her to wear the dream inhibitor, but even the sight of the damned thing seemed to cause her pain.
The terrain shifted frequently as he pressed northward. Although the helmet’s display rendered a rippling, uneven terrain, Tarkin felt the warpsuit compensating drastically with every step as if he were traversing the surface of a choppy sea.
A proximity alert sounded just before midday. He thought he caught a glimpse of a weirdling to the west, but a more intensive scan turned up nothing. The sensors later warned him of a large warp anomaly somewhere to the east, but the display refused to render it as anything more than a radar blip.
That was roughly where Nayla had been heading two days ago.
The signature vanished after a few minutes, leaving Tarkin alone in the center of his virtual world.
He tried not to think about Nayla anymore.
By late afternoon, he spotted the telltale shimmer of the realspace field surrounding Lanah’s place.
The helmet display switched off when he stepped inside the perimeter, allowing him to view the farm through the clear viewplate. Most of the plot looked overgrown and poorly tended. Only a small quadrant of gardens near the house appeared to be maintained.
Tarkin made his way toward the house.
He got about halfway there before the threat sensors tripped.
“That’s far enough, stranger.”
Lanah stepped through the airlock door training a coil rifle at his chest. Tarkin raised his hands.
“Put the gun down, Lanah. It’s Tarkin.”
“Prove it. Lose the bucket.”
Tarkin pulled his helmet off.
Lanah nodded and lowered her rifle.
“Haven’t seen you for a while,” she said. “Where’s the wife?”
“Minding the farm.”
Tarkin started toward the house, but stopped when Lanah raised the rifle slightly.
“What do you want here?” she asked.
“One of my generators blew a fuse. Was hoping you had a spare I could borrow.”
Lanah shook her head. “Can’t help you.”
Tarkin glanced around the farm. The overgrown quadrants looked like they hadn’t been touched in months.
“Looking a bit messy around here,” he said. “Where are the kids?”
Lanah shrugged. “Scavs knifed Uwe a few months back. There’s been a pack of them about. Sniffing around the generators, mostly.”
Tarkin recalled the condition of the generator units at Sabrelle and Maddock’s farms. “What about the twins?”
“I sent Marta to warn Sabrelle about the scavs, but her suit gave out somewhere between here and there. Ellik took it hard when she didn’t come back.”
“Something like that.”
Tarkin thought of how he’d found Nayla the day before, thought about the scenes inside the other houses. Then his mind seized on a more important detail.
Lanah was all alone now.
“Listen,” he said, “why don’t you come back with me? We could use an extra set of hands.”
She shook her head. “All my suits are shot. I wouldn’t last a mile before my brain turned to mush out there. Besides, this place is still home, even if there ain’t nobody left here but me.”
Tarkin took a deep breath. How long would Lanah last out here on her own? A year? Maybe two? What kind of life would that be anyway?
It would be dark soon. He thought about asking her if he could stay the night, but he already knew what the answer would be.
“Well, good luck to you, then,” he said.
Lanah nodded. “You too, Tarkin. Give the wife my regards.”
Tarkin put his helmet back on and walked away.
When he was clear of the realspace perimeter, he followed the energy field to the generator on the opposite side of Lanah’s house. He slipped back through the field, pried open the generator’s control panel, and yanked out the fuses.
The field flickered as the generator lost power and then blinked out of existence.
Tarkin muted the helmet’s audio sensors so he wouldn’t hear Lanah’s screams.
He should have waited until morning to make the trip back to his farm.
The helmet sensors could compensate for darkness, of course, but the warpsuit’s motion adjustments were more severe and came far more frequently. Grainy and pixilated images drifted across the display at strange intervals, sometimes moving faster than seemed possible for their size. The proximity alert sounded so many times that Tarkin finally shut the motion scanners off.
A pack of weirdlings picked up his trail about a mile from Lanah’s place. He spotted five, maybe six, of them scampering over the uneven terrain behind him. They seemed content to keep their distance, never coming closer than a few dozen yards. Most of them scattered whenever another of the big, indistinct shapes showed up on the helmet’s display. Tarkin didn’t try to think about what those poorly rendered blobs might represent. If the warpsuit’s sensors couldn’t make sense of them, he wasn’t about to put his brain at risk trying to sort them out.
Instead, he kept his attention focused on the navigation system. He set the distance to display out to the smallest decimal so he could see the numbers counting down with every step. The terrain became more difficult to traverse, even with the warpsuit’s considerable assistance, and his legs were still sore from all the walking he’d done over the last few days.
He knew he should stop to rest, but he pressed onward. The weirdlings kept pace with him, always reappearing shortly after they dispersed. There was no telling what they would do with him if they decided to catch up with him. Maybe they would just kill him, or maybe they would pry off his helmet and watch him squirm while his brain turned to jelly.
Just like Lanah’s.
Tarkin ignored everything but the tiny distance readout in the corner of his display.
When he finally reached the farm, he thought he’d punched in the wrong coordinates.
The realspace field was down.
His rubbery legs found strength enough to carry him to the closest generator. There was no need to remove the control panel cover or inspect the power levels.
The unit had been stripped clean, just like the ones at the other farms.
Just like he’d done to the ones at Lanah’s farm.
He threw the bag of fuses and spare parts against the generator’s bare frame.
Slowly, Tarkin looked back to the house.
The outer airlock door stood open.
He found no signs of damage when he reached the airlock, and as far as he could tell, the door hadn’t been forced open.
The lights were still on, and everything seemed much as he’d left it. The scavs hadn’t looted anything from the house itself. In fact, aside from the open door, it didn’t even seem like anyone had gone inside.
He glanced over at the bedroom.
The door was ajar, the handle broken.
Tarkin pushed the door open, almost expecting the scene waiting for him inside.
The broken furniture had been pushed back against the walls, the wire from the bedsprings wound together tightly to crown the wreckage with a row of spikes. Blood filled the symbols etched into the floor.
Aside from the frayed ends of the cable he’d used to tie her down, there was no sign of Nayla.
He staggered outside, fighting the urge to vomit inside his helmet.
The weirdlings had gathered in what used to be the fiber root garden. They stood motionless, indistinct blurs on the helmet’s digitized display.
Tarkin looked over the ruined remains of his small plot of land. For ten years it had been a haven from the horrors of a planet gone mad, one of the last remnants of the world that was.
For ten years, it had been his home.
He turned back to the weirdlings.
“Why, damn you? What do you want from us?”
They didn’t answer.
They never answered.
Slowly, almost without thinking about it, Tarkin’s hand drifted to the helmet’s display controls.
“What did you see out there?”
He switched the display off.
The light hit him first, a miasmic cloud of purple and orange with glittering tentacles that spilled onto the ground to drench everything in the moist glow of a newly hatched star. Beneath his feet, the earth heaved, pulsating and bubbling with life while vast mountains broke like waves against the horizon.
Tarkin fell to his knees as his meager sensory organs struggled to absorb the raw force of unbridled creation flowing into them. The weirdlings stepped forward, their bodies taking on a thousand forms with every movement. Faint wisps of alabaster and onyx dust swirled around them, keeping their infinite forms contained. Like the world convulsing beneath their multitudinous feet, they occupied spaces and times beyond Tarkin’s frail perception.
Pushing to his feet, he tried to scramble back to the airlock. The warpsuit fought to compensate for the shifting ground, but it couldn’t overpower Tarkin’s distorted equilibrium. His attempt to get up sent him sprawling onto his back, forcing his gaze toward the churning immensity above.
And then he saw everything.
Its bloated, fertile vastness loomed over the Earth with all the malignant idiocy of a stormcloud. The winds carried its tuneless, unthinking song down to the seething core of the universe to rip down the flimsy walls between dimensions.
Tarkin laughed, cried, and screamed all at once.
One of the weirdlings pressed its face against the helmet’s view plate. Even through the glass, he could feel the warmth of its skin.
A familiar warmth.
It said something, but Tarkin couldn’t understand the words. His brain felt ready to burst and his lungs tightened with every breath.
The weirdling dragged him back inside, away from the cruel, unceasing expanse of the flooded sky.
Back to the bedroom.
It stripped off Tarkin’s warpsuit and his skin boiled at the touch of the open air. The pain drove him to blindness and he tried to scream, but his overloaded brain no longer responded. He didn’t feel the blood pouring from his veins to mix with the symbols carved into floor, each drop flowing across countless dimensions to ultimately coalesce somewhere else, into something else. He didn’t feel the energy sucked through his pores and channeled through the ring of metal antennae transmitting into the sprawling multitude of the cosmos.
Then the pain stopped.
The four generators marked out a small plot of land about one acre in size. One of the generators had been running hot and needed a bit of work, but it was easy enough to get them up and running once Belloch installed all of the parts he’d brought along.
He and Felene didn’t spend much time talking about what they found inside the house. It was nasty business, just like the scav party said. Too long out in the warp, they’d claimed. Years of intense isolation could put a lot of strain on the mind, after all.
Some of the longtime scavs told a different story. They said it had something to do with the weirdlings, that when folks got tired of holding the madness at bay, they just gave up and left the door open for it. But the older scavs had some strange ideas about a lot of things. They probably weren’t very far from cracking themselves.
Could be they already had.
There was no sense in trying to salvage anything from the bedroom. They dragged everything outside and burned it before grinding the floor down smooth again. By the time they picked up a new bed and mattress from Redoubt Prime, they might feel comfortable sleeping in the bedroom.
The crawler was in bad shape, but they could cannibalize it for parts to help maintain the one they’d brought with them. If they were lucky, they could keep it running for years.
None of the crops survived the realspace field going down. Belloch was glad they brought enough food to last them until they could scrape the land clean and start replanting.
After a few days, the proximity sensors went off, so he grabbed his coil rifle and went to investigate. When he didn’t find anything inside the perimeter, he decided to take a look beyond the plot. He was still getting used to wearing a warpsuit, and he needed a bit of help getting it on. Once he was ready, he walked to the boundary of the plot and stepped outside the realspace field.
He spotted a pair of weirdlings standing a short distance from the northeast generator. A standoff ensued for about a minute before the blurry figures turned and skittered away.
When he returned to the house, he didn’t bother telling his wife about the visitors. The weirdlings couldn’t pass through the realspace field, so as long as they stayed inside the perimeter, there wasn’t much to fear.
Belloch kissed Felene and told her that once they got the right set of crops in place, they would be able to feed not just themselves, but up to two children as well.
They were going to be very happy there.