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  • Writer's pictureInwood Park Productions

John of Jovia | Part 1, Chapter 1: When Your World Comes Crashing Down (Year: 1.49.271)

Written by John McKinney

It took me a long time to get used to the night here. Maybe I’m still getting used to it. When I first looked out from the top of the mountain, when I saw all the pockets of light below, I had to remind myself that those weren’t cities or passing ships. It’s just the fauna and insects. With binoculars, I might even spot a predator or two. The majority of life on this planet is bioluminescent. There’s no night sky where I am. The closest thing I have to moonlight is the center of the Milky Way with two of its arms flying past me on either side. I am in a chunk of dead space; far from any shipping lane or outpost. Not that there will be any reader, but if there is, they’ll probably ask how I got here.

I guess, before I talk about what I've done, I'll talk about what I'm doing. In short, I am a recluse. I live on a planet with no official name, owner, or inhabitants. It hasn't even been discovered yet; known by none...except for those who sent me here. They never told a soul and it'll stay that way. My arrival on this mountainous jungle paradise was thousands of years ago. I can't tell you how old I am because I don't know anymore. My age is of no consequence. I'm not even sure of how old I look. Humans aren't a single species anymore and they don't all age the same. And, no. I don't know how old I feel either. Depends on what kind of mood I'm in. I guess, right now, I'm in a libation-sipping, story-telling mood. My mood might change as I recount my life experiences. Who knows?

For a few years, maybe even decades, I've toyed with the idea of making a journal of everything that's happened to me. On one hand, I should do it as soon as possible while I still remember everything. On the other hand, what's the point? There's nothing anyone can learn from me. Regardless of that, who would want to read my story? Sometimes, I don't want to read it. I suppose, at a glance, it's extraordinary. I've watched over 150 thousand years pass me by. Humans are so abundant now; their population is no longer counted and they live on hundreds of worlds. When I was born, however, they and I lived on just one. Earth. The birthplace of all humankind. I know. Grandstanding. Anyway, the world as I knew it is finished. Gone. Only a few pieces of it remain. My memories have helped some put a few of the pieces together, but it will never be reconstructed. I am the last living piece of that world and just like it, I will eventually be erased. Maybe making a journal doesn't sound so bad. Where should I start?

I suppose I’ll start when she comes in; back when I was on another mountain. It’s hard to forget regaining consciousness and the first thing you see is thunder and lightning. The rain sounded like gunfire when it hit the windshield. The rocking back and forth. The low visibility. The river. I’ll start there. Sure.



The rising steam scattered the orange light before condensing and trickling back down the glass. Lucy took no notice of it as she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. The streams of water and soap caressed her as she expelled the long day into the air causing the steam to curl as it ascended. The warm waterfall drowned her questions. Would her work be up to Dr. Phoenix’s par? How long has it been since she turned on the water? She would deal with the former later. The latter wouldn’t matter. Being on a space freighter, any and all water systems were recycled, distilled, centrifuged, irradiated, and filtered to the highest purity. After enough showers, the molecules from the very first would make their way through her room’s plumbing. It was just a matter of time; though whenever Lucy took her shower at the end of each day, time might as well have stood still.

While in the shower, there was a quaint place she would always picture. Despite its loose construction, she could still draw pleasure out of it. Small and remote. Light only from small pockets. Barely enough creature comforts to satisfy most others of her time. Fortunately, as she saw it, Lucy was not like most others. As an archivist, one of her professions aside from being a doctor, she believed there was a transcendental connection between her and the distant past she studied. If she closed her eyes, she could see it; a planet. Gaia. Blue with water. Green with vegetation. White with clouds. Teeming with life. Though it was over 30,000 light-years away, Lucy could envision it as if it were right outside her window. Gaia was nothing like where she was now. The planet of Europa was lifeless aside from the humans who migrated there millennia ago. As most would agree, Europa was only beautiful when viewed from orbit. Its frequent downpours and high winds could only be tolerated by the direct descendants of the First. The view of the storm-riddled planet helped set the mood for Lucy to listen to one of her favorite audiobooks on ancient Gaian history.

The biosphere of the planet was damaged on several levels. The most extensive destruction was seen in the fire blasts of the bombs. Few major cities and economic centers were spared from the wrath of the Gaian War. The nuclear fallout lingered for decades around the principal continents. Fires leveled many of the forests and nearly all infrastructure was lost. Pollution was exerted into the water bodies, ruining coastal ecosystems. Smoke and airborne residue clouded the planet from the sun, ruining most of the agricultural land. Bits of land that were spared from the fires would soon be taken by the floods from the melting ice caps. The population was reduced by roughly…

The volume lowered itself to inform Lucy that she had an incoming call. It was her supervisor. The icon flashed on the glass wall. She was annoyed even though she had listened to the audiobook many times.

“Oh, damn it…”

She pulled her hair back and rubbed her eyes. Before she could reach the controls to turn the water off, the call ended after only a few seconds.

“Huh?” She paused. “Misdialed?”

As she shrugged it off, the incoming call icon was replaced with a message icon. It was from the same person.

Anne Phoenix: Is everything okay?

Lucy smiled and pulled up the keyboard feature on the glass wall. She appreciated Dr. Phoenix switching to typing. After years of working together, Dr. Phoenix knew that it didn’t take much social interaction to make Lucy feel burned out. She exhaled against the glass. It fogged up as her fingers bounced off the clear rubber that made up the keyboard.

Lucille Park: Yeah. Everything’s fine, Anne. I’m just tired.

Anne Phoenix: Sorry if I’m interrupting a shower. I assume that’s what you’re doing.

Lucille Park: Well, you know me. But yeah. I’m okay.

Anne Phoenix: Good. I’ll probably get one myself soon. Anything to help me cope with this damn ship.

Lucille Park: Yeah, Europa’s amenities are…let’s just say a little below par.

Anne Phoenix: A little below par? You are far too nice. Anyway, I wanted to let you know now that they’re doing another search tomorrow and they want you to come down there this time.

Lucille Park: Okay. What area?

She sighed while typing. The one thing she hoped for was a trip that didn’t involve her presence on the surface. Europa’s climate wasn’t overly harsh, but it did rain constantly and hurricanes were commonplace. Lucy chuckled remembering Dr. Phoenix told her once that pretending it was a shower would make it better.

Anne Phoenix: A little ways south of the Abiectio Mountains. The southern half of the Saraswati River.

Lucille Park: At the peninsula? Isn’t there a storm heading that way?

Anne Phoenix: When isn’t there one? Don’t worry. We’ll be fine. These freighters aren’t exactly Crystalline Heights, but they’re strong.

Lucille Park: What are they searching for this time?

Anne Phoenix: The same as on the last search. It’s their latest guess on where the first ship landed. According to Ralph, they have a hunch that the peninsula is the correct location.

Lucy considered asking Dr. Phoenix what happened to cause her to be on a first-name basis with Dr. Quaid, but decided not to. Since they were cohorts longer than Lucy was alive, she supposed it had to happen sometime.

Lucille Park: A very vague one at that. That’s hundreds of square kilometers. On top of that, do you know how much a river can change shape in a thousand centuries?

Anne Phoenix: Yes. So do they. Once again, I’ll see you in eight hours.

Lucille Park: Alright, then.

Lucy knew better than to argue. Dr. Phoenix had nothing to do with the decision anyway. Thinking of the positives, Lucy smiled at the possibility of a win-win. If they didn’t find anything, Lucy would have the satisfaction of leaving the deluged world of Europa to return to her humble abode back in Jovia City. If they did find something, remote as it was, Lucy’s career would no doubt be influenced by it.

Finishing her shower, she strode through the air-dryer, downed a glass of an aqueous diphenhydramine solution, and switched off the lights in her cabin. She took in the vastness of space while waiting for her mattress to unwrap itself from the sanitary plastic that encased it.

“Clean.” She whispered. “Old as all hell, but at least it’s clean.”

She stepped over to the side of the bed to grab her sleeping attire; nightwear made of cloth with a health monitor woven into the fabric. After pulling the blanket black while gazing at the stars, she climbed onto the mattress, spoke commands to adjust the temperature, firmness, and shape, and drifted off to sleep.

“Hmm…oh, God.”

She stretched and moaned. Being in space, there was no morning sunrise to greet her. She had just missed it. With Europa’s days being only fifteen hours long and Lucy being hundreds of kilometers up, multiple sunrises and sunsets made their presence while she slept. It was only when she woke up that the windows became transparent. Europa’s cold sun had already touched the horizon as her blue eyes focused on it.

“Damn…”

She turned her head away from the sunset and reached for the touchpad on the nearby nightstand’s surface. The push of a button was all it took for the covers to retract. Lucy was exposed to the cold of the room in an instant causing her to shudder. After rolling her eyes at how she still hadn’t adjusted to waking up on the ship, she looked at herself in the full-length mirror. It seemed every time she saw her reflection, she looked less rested. No matter where she was or what she took, a good night’s rest never seemed to be in the cards. Were those wrinkles under her eyes? Why are the light fixtures like this? Is this a mirror or a slide for a microscope? She preferred the dim yellow lights back in her apartment to the blinding white LEDs that riddled the ship. She ran her right hand over a slit on the wall which opened to reveal a small closet large enough to hold her professional wardrobe; a one-piece suit. It only took a handful of seconds to slide her legs into the bottom, her arms into the sleeves, and speak a command to get the suit to zip up. She stared at her reflection. The light gray blended with everything in the room as it would in Europa’s drenched, windswept environment. The only thing in the room that had any color was her skin; a cocoa brown devoid of imperfections. Her blue eyes were partially hidden by her snow-white hair that curled at her shoulders.

What’s happened to you? Years ago, you looked forward to this. What was it that one Pre-Gaian figure said? “The harder you work for something, the more you appreciate it.” And it takes no effort for me to get ready…I never thought of that. You know, it’s not really hard for me to do anything. But it’s not easy, either. Or is it too easy?

She raised her arms to brush the sleeves, but lowered them upon remembering that her suit was near skintight. Few people worry about wrinkles anymore. It didn’t feel right to her; to wear something that gave pleasurable constriction but also showed everyone what she looked like. It was one of many things that tested her. Like dealing with people, she could only do it in small doses even with those she knew well. Dr. Phoenix was the only one who didn’t test her; at work or anywhere else. She knew her better than her own parents. The same went for how much she liked her.

Lucy, an archivist and medical doctor, was Dr. Phoenix’s protege. Several days before she found herself reflecting, literally and figuratively, Lucy had celebrated her thirteenth year working for and with her friend and mentor. She was assigned to Dr. Phoenix shortly after her eighteenth birthday when she graduated from the Science Institute at the Jovian Academy; a town-sized campus in Jovia City. Like most Jovians, Lucy was an exceptional student whose biggest urge was to leave the world of academia and begin building her life. With Dr. Phoenix taking the same programs forty years earlier, the two women had much in common and made a great pair. The difference between them was that it took Dr. Phoenix forty years to grow tired of her routines. For Lucy, it was seven.

While Lucy still cared for her career, she hoped that there would be nothing on Europa so she could get home faster. Inhaling and closing her eyes, she pictured her home 250 light-years away. She couldn’t wait to get back to her cozy apartment and to put on some of the thick, loose articles of clothing in her wardrobe. Being a Pre-Gaian history buff, she had no trouble bringing to life her favorite styles along with pulling up the appropriate aural and visual aids. She had a longing to be engulfed by the outdated, though she would never call it that. Through her extensive research, she learned a term that not only sounded better, but also had a definition that spoke to her. A problem she often ignored was that it spoke only to her. The term she heard was “old-school”. She learned that the difference between “old-school” and “outdated” was that the former was something that you wanted to go back to. While Lucy was glad the world of academia was behind her, she wished for the old-school to be in session. Lucy jumped when her glass-slide vibrated on her left sleeve. She touched the blinking red button on her forearm causing a small screen to appear.

“Hey, Anne. I’m ready to go.” Lucy said passively while staring at the stars.

“Good. The shuttle is docking now and – hey, Lucy, come on.” Dr. Phoenix snapped her fingers.

“Oh…” Lucy sighed and pulled her hair back. “Yeah. I’m ready. Are you already on…”

“Yes. Your seat is next to mine. By the window, just like always. Now, come on. You’ll be out of this before you know it.”

“Yeah. You’re right. Shouldn’t be long at all.”

Lucy smiled before ending the call. Trotting down the empty, sterile corridor, she reflected on the few times the two of them had a personal conversation. She stared at the white lights that lined where the walls met the ceiling. In the beginning, she used to count the number of times she walked down this path out of sheer boredom. Soon, it happened enough that she lost track. One and two are so different from each other, but a million and a million-and-one are practically the same.

A white three-meter-high by one-meter-wide ellipse lined with chrome stood before her. An image of a hand pixelated into existence where a handle would be. She gingerly placed her right hand over the outline; taking a brief second to pretend that she was opening the door to her apartment. To her lack of surprise, the door zipped sideways to reveal a network of temporary jetways leading to the shuttle. The text on her left forearm told her to take door 3L. The door was far enough away to let Lucy hum an ancient tune to herself. She let out a deep sigh knowing she couldn’t sing the melody in its entirety.

The shuttle door shrank and crumpled like a curtain letting Lucy enter the craft. On either side of her were rows of two seats. The pattern repeated several dozen times until ending at another elliptical door behind which was the main control room housing the autopilot computer terminal. At a glance, the room would be dismissed as a light show, but under close scrutiny, an observer like Lucy would note each crystal memory core, every flashing light, and every line of dialogue that flashed on the screens. She felt a faint shudder as the craft had already started drifting away from the space station. She sighed as she walked down the aisle but smiled as she saw Dr. Phoenix turning around in her seat to face her.

“It’s nice and warm.”

The doctor’s voice was the most youthful thing about her; soft and strong at the same time. She was 73, but looked and acted about 25 years younger; not quite out of her prime. Her hair had a salt and pepper color, though it was white like Lucy’s at one time. While she still had a youthful appearance, she dressed more conservatively than Lucy. She wore a black one-piece suit that resembled a trench coat with silver stripes running down the arms and legs. The only parts of her body that were uncovered were her face and hands. Her eyes were hazel and distorted through a pair of octagonal glasses rimmed with brass. Dr. Phoenix gestured to the seat across from her. Lucy glanced at her bracelet. In the center of a silver chain resembling a map of Jovia City was a sphere of malachite; a present from her late husband and a family heirloom. The malachite stone was one of the only things from Earth that she possessed.

“And that’s nice and cold.”

She pointed to a liquid-full glass jar. Lucy smiled at the fizzing beverage while lowering herself into the chair which altered its shape to evenly distribute her weight.

“Thanks for ordering already, Anne. What is it?”

Dr. Phoenix gave Lucy a warm smile as she strapped herself in.

“Just some Jovian tonic water. Low quinine. Yours has lavender and chamomile in it.”

Lucy nodded and touched the perspiring glass.

“It won’t be that bad, Lucy.”

“Yeah. I just hope that…no, that’s ridiculous.” Lucy took a sip.

“What is? What are you hoping for?” Dr. Phoenix asked, already knowing the answer. Her steady eye contact was replaced with intermittent glancing. She was pulling up different displays from her glass-slide and transferring them to the personal computer embedded in her seat for easier viewing. She knew Lucy wouldn’t take that personally. Dr. Phoenix was a skilled multitasker.

“That they’ll let me go my own way when I’m down there. I don’t want Smith breathing down my neck again.”

“Well, you can’t change that. That’s a given. You think I got these drinks for fun?”

Dr. Phoenix motioned to her to keep sipping the beverage.

“What all did you say was in here, Anne?”

“Well, when they got here, they were nothing more than Jovian tonics. I took a few liberties with yours.”

While typing away on a keyboard with one hand, she used her other hand to open a flap on the side of her black jacket to Lucy. In a pocket were seven labeled vials of powder. Each one the size of a thimble. Lucy’s eyes widened as she abruptly stopped sipping resulting in an audible slurp.

“What did you…”

“Easy, Lucy. It’s just some powdered blockers and regulators. Very weak stuff. It’ll be just enough to keep you cool. I know how nervous you get when you’re paired with Smith. You won’t be on his radar if you’re not anxious.”

Lucy looked out the window while taking another sip.

“You think I can’t do it on my own, huh?”

“Did you go to sleep on your own last night?”

Lucy thought of the diphenhydramine solution.

“No. I didn’t. Come to think of it, what the hell do I actually do on my own?”

Dr. Phoenix sighed as the craft shuddered while breaking away from the dock.

“Lucy. No. Not again. Just…”

“When does this kick in?” Lucy rubbed her eyes and inhaled through her nose.

“Lucille. Like our job down there, some things just take time. Now finish the drink and sit tight. We’ve only got a few more minutes until we descend.”

“Yeah.Lucy mumbled.

She chugged the rest of the drink and pushed a button. A compartment opened up beneath the window where she placed the empty jar. After it closed, she pressed another button marked “sterilize”. Feeling a faint buzz, Lucy closed her eyes as a moderate vibration made its presence in the craft. Dr. Phoenix, more accustomed to reentry, kept her eyes open and watched Lucy lean back in her seat. As the vibrations intensified, more seatbelts sprang out from behind their seats and secured every limb of their bodies to the upholstery.

I should have done something about this before I was sure.

Dr. Phoenix continued observing Lucy. Her eyes remained closed while her chest rose and fell with every slow breath.

I should have taken steps to stop her from becoming so stagnant. No enthusiasm. No curiosity. Only a pinch of initiative. If she’s not mindful of it, it will consume her. Maybe giving her that medicine wasn’t a good idea. The more dependencies she develops, the more she’ll fade away.

She told herself to have a serious talk with her later and that she would be fine. Before she could reassure herself, Lucy started humming again. After taking another deep breath and clearing her throat, she replaced humming with lyrics.

“If I go a million miles away, I’d write a letter each and every day because, honey, nothing, nothing can ever change this love I have for you. Make me weep and you can make me cry. See me coming and you can pass me by but, honey, nothing, nothing can ever change the love I have for you.”

“Wow. I’ve never heard you actually sing the words before. What is that?”

Lucy opened her eyes and looked surprised.

“Oh. I’m sorry. I didn’t think you could hear me.”

“No. No. It’s alright. Maybe I put too much of those powders in your drink after all. But, still, what is that song?”

Lucy glanced at the view out the window.

“I honestly have no idea. It’s one of the fragments.”

“What fragments?”

“You know, Anne. From the Wing of the Unidentified.”

Dr. Phoenix turned to her.

“Lucy, is something going on?”

“Not really.”

“More than usual?”

“Maybe a little.”

“You’ve been spending a lot more time in that wing recently and I can’t figure out why.”

“That makes two of us.”

Dr. Phoenix sighed.

“Lucy, I know you’re prone to anemoia, but this is starting to worry me. Why have you become so obsessed with Pre-Gaian history?”

Lucy glanced at Dr. Phoenix before rubbing her face. She let out a deep breath as the ship slowed down to glide in the upper atmosphere.

“For the same reason everyone else isn’t obsessed with it. I just am. Somebody has to think of it. It’s kind of an important time. I don’t know why I’m the only one that ever goes down there. I also prefer ‘passionate’ over ‘obsessed’.”

“I thought you liked being the only one down there.”

Lucy held back a scoff and turned to look out the window. The rain came down hard and pelted the craft.

“Well, yes. I do. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want people to care.”

“You can’t have your cake and eat it, too, Lucy.”

“Good thing I’m partial to pie.”

“Luce…”

Dr. Phoenix rolled her eyes and watched Lucy. She could see her reflection in the glass; the emptiness in her eyes. Lucy’s right hand slid up the wall and rested on the bottom of the window and curled against the glass. The minutes passed without number as the craft shuddered. Lightning flashed through the open windows and produced a strobe effect.

“Anne.”

Dr. Phoenix laid back in her seat and stared at a glass display levitating in front of her. It gave a list of stats indicating the craft’s velocity, rate of descent, wind velocity, temperature, pressure, et-cetera. They were now less than a kilometer above the surface and approaching their destination; a makeshift outpost near a loop in the river.

“Anne. What is that?”

“I’m just trying to see if there’s a forecast for this storm.”

“No. I mean that. Outside.”

“Outside?”

Dr. Phoenix turned and saw Lucy pointing at something out the window. A mass of dark shapes rose above the horizon and were partially hidden in the veil of rain.

“Those are the Abiectio Mountains.”

“I know. I mean what are those clouds doing; over Mount Perierat?”

Dr. Phoenix scooted closer to Lucy and leaned past her to look out the window. She squinted and strained her eyes trying to look past the beads of rain pelting the window. At first, she saw nothing more than the Saraswati River churning and reshaping its banks, but when she focused on Mount Perierat, she did see something unusual. A small group of clouds were moving in the opposite direction as the rest of the storm. She was astonished upon realizing that most of the lightning strikes were coming from that area.

“That is strange. I wonder what’s out there.”

“Probably another ship. What are they doing flying so close to the mountains? Wait. What the…”

Lucy pressed her face to the window and made binoculars with her hands. Barely visible through the rain, she saw a dim pair of lights moving down the side of the mountain.

“What in the world…”

“What is it, Lucy?”

“Anne! Look! There is a ship out there. It’s right below the clouds on the mountain.”

“Here. Let me…Wait, Lucy. We’re about to land.”

“Ugh! I wish I could get a better look. What is that thing?”

“We’ll send someone over there to check it out when we get to the base.”

“There’s no time! It’ll only be a few minutes before it crashes into the river. We’ve got to do something.”

The craft swayed side to side as it anchored itself to the dock. Lucy felt the tremors coming from the motors underneath that reeled them in.

“Lucy. Calm down. Going up there now, we’d only be casualties. We’ll send someone up there as soon as we can.”

Lucy watched as the base’s retractable jetways slid out of the walls to connect with the craft. Before Dr. Phoenix could ask her to get up and wait by the door, Lucy pointed to the mountain. The clouds had begun to dissipate around the area near the summit. The thunder and lightning had ceased but the rain was still coming down hard with a sound similar to that of hail.

“Wait, Anne! Look! It looks like it’s perched on that outcropping. Maybe they’ll stay up there and buy us some time.”

“Maybe. Let’s go. The hatches are opening, Luce. Come on.”

With a clank and a hiss of air, the craft’s hatches opened revealing the jetways; their canvases rippled in the harsh winds. Lucy and Dr. Phoenix were the first ones out of the craft. Once her communicator was connected to the base’s network, Lucy pulled up the control tower’s emergency contact list. She tapped the first name that appeared under the list marked “available”. A moment later, a gruff voice broke through the rain.

“Two whole seconds? You’re getting slow.”

“Hey, Reynolds. Listen, can you get a retriever up and running? We’ve got a ship stuck on Mount Perierat and they might need our help.”

“No, we don’t. I’ve got it on radar and it’s not one of ours. It’s got a strange signature. It’s hardly making any noise. Non squawking.”

“Damn. Their radio must be out. Probably got struck by lightning. Dr. Phoenix and I will be up there soon.”

“Very well. I’ll meet you on the retriever. We’re taking Virgil this time. All the way at the end of the dock.”

Lucy sighed.

“Understood. We’re on our way. Wait. Do you have a visual on the ship yet?”

“We were about to, but it slipped off the outcropping and now it’s sliding down the mountain. At the rate it’s going, it’ll probably hit the river in less than two minutes.”

“It’s going to crash? Why can’t they just fly out?”

Lucy quickened her pace to a jog. Dr. Phoenix was able to keep up but her breathing grew louder.

“I’ve got an infrared scope on it now, Luce. It’s practically blue. No signs of heat anywhere. If the thing still has engines, they’re totally dead. Whoever they are, they’re out of control.”

“Okay. Get the ship ready. We’re crossing the gangway now.”

Once the two of them trotted up to the ship’s rear hatch, they were able to stop. Dr. Phoenix, after taking several deep breaths, smiled and shook her head.

“Feels good, doesn’t it?”

Lucy whipped around.

“What?”

“Coming out of that daze you’ve been in. Let’s get to the bridge…slowly. That run took a lot out of me.”

Lucy smirked as Dr. Phoenix leaned on the wall and wiped the beads of water off her glasses. However, due to the moisture from the outside air, her glasses fogged up and would be useless until the hatch door closed again.

“Anne. You okay?”

Dr. Phoenix, regaining her breath, sighed while tucking her glasses into her collar. She motioned for Lucy to keep walking as she brushed her hair away from her face.

“Don’t you worry about me. Let’s just get to the bridge and rescue whoever’s out there. Goodness, I haven’t moved that fast in years.”

“I thought you were jogging.”

“I am. That’s why I can still do off-planet work. That being said, can we get to the bridge? I need to sit down. My legs need to cry.”


To be continued . . .


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