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Colliery - Insect Horror

[v1.1 Scenario - Not a mod] [i] Picture a solar system so densely populated that everywhere capable of supporting life, does. One where planets, moons and asteroids weren’t enough, so man took too orbit in colony ships of every shape and size. Slums upon cities, slums upon stations, and slums upon slums. An uncontrollable population, bursting at the heliopause. Society here is mostly free of automation, due to a massive, expendable workforce. Now picture the only neighbouring star. Centuries ago, a popular destination for exceptionally wealthy emigrants, able to afford a Glitterworld life. And too for stowaways, desperate enough to lose years outside of cryptosleep. As we grew in population, they grew technologically, their star waning behind an inorganic shell. Piece by piece, a Dyson sphere assembled to capture solar radiation, with a single iris diaphragm shedding light on their lonely planet. In binary the star’s mechanical eye blinked us “goodnight” — and so they slept. No contact has been made since, and voyagers return from the system unwoken but aged, as though not in cryptosleep. A bitter irony for those who try. Without reciprocation, all we could do was watch and wait. Over centuries, countless observatories were founded, forgotten, and forsaken to the belts of orbital scrap. Data showed their planet’s magnetic field weakening, and in turn the star’s eye narrowed to soften the solar wind. Eventually the wind itself became but a breeze, the planet slipping into a remote, wayward orbit. Behind the sphere, their star was surely dying: A life expectancy of five billion years, cut drastically short. Astronomers revel in debate over our enigmatic neighbours, with one reigning question: On what have they spent the profuse energy? Some suggest an unprecedented attempt at faster than light travel. Those of faith engage in pilgrimage to the system, taking years from their life in exchange for wisdom. The prevailing theory however is this: People of the Glitterworld use the star to fuel an autonomous super-intelligence, known as an Archotech, which in turn gifts them transcendence; an inconceivable but presumably beneficial state. Transcendence would explain why no contact has been made. And an Archotech could surely exploit the molten core of a planet, upsetting the magnetic field. Perhaps the planet has even been hollowed in wake of esoteric apparatus. Truly an unsolvable mystery. [/i] “When you’re done reading Sarge, repeat the last sentence out loud.” “Yeah yeah, Wiseguy. I’m gettin’ there.” His squinted eyes continued scanning the pamphlet. “I need a damn dictionary for this thing.” Come to think of it, the handout was full of unnecessary jargon. Are tourists expected to know what an ‘iris diaphragm’ is? Sarge withdrew a partially chewed cigar from his mouth. “Truly an unsolvable mystery. So what?” “We’re going to solve it.” The dossier slid satisfyingly over the desk. “Right here in the contract.” Wiseguy and Sarge are officers aboard the Portmeirion; one of three behemoth detention vessels servicing the second planet from their star. Said planet has a prison population of approximately 627 million inmates, and each vessel a maximum capacity of only 200 million. Overcrowding is present in every walk of life, but usually tolerated. Unsurprisingly, his brow began to furrow as he flicked through the paperwork. “Why bring this to me?” Sarge grumbled, eyes still down, but sensing apprehension in his subordinate. “We’ll end up like those religious nuts, you know that? Old and withered, and not right in the head.” His rant mounted over a failed attempt to interrupt. “And you know why they want us? Because we won’t be missed — who’ll shed a tear for two officers, when a ship full’a cons leaves for a dying star..” “Dead star, sir.” Wiseguy shallowed, finally managing to get a word in edgeways. “You really haven’t seen the news?” Sarge hadn’t seen the news. In fact his typical morning consisted of hot scoffee and a crossword, with intermittent spells of space gawking. If he had, he’d know that some 2.8 years ago, the final flicker of light from a dying star was snuffed out by its closing eye: That light only gracing their system now. After time spent regaining composure, and some processing the information, he had questions. “So the boffins; they think the planet’s up for grabs? But if we take a bunch of killers out there..” He turned to point a smoke stained finger toward porthole “..how are we expected to keep them under control?” “Where’s your sense of adventure?” Wiseguy remarked, trying to re-establish rapport. “Upon our return, the prisoners are pardoned, and we’re heroes. That’s all the incentive I need.” “Heroes huh?” “Aboard the Portmeirion at least. Ships from other colonies will embark before us.” They both glanced at the dossier, knowing the paperwork could take weeks to clear. “Other ships might overtake us too. Oh, and anybody who set off in our lifetime, might already be there..” The sentence trailed off, Wiseguy nervously awaiting a response. “Well I’ll be dammed.” Sarge rubbed his greying stubble, seemingly unphased. “At least we wouldn’t be alone out there.” The whereabouts of an individual, among a population of trillions, are virtually impossible to track. Most governments prefer not to waste resources trying, allowing pilgrims to depart the system every day, unnoticed. Nobody knows for sure how many scrap-forged ships sail interstellar space at any given time. Or if any had made contact with the exoplanet in the past 2.8 years. “Between you and me, boss.” Wiseguy leaned in to offset the hushed tone. “I want off this can, and I know you do to. The number of times I’ve caught you staring out the window on a morning — you’ve been here too long.” “The porthole?” Sarge stalled momentarily, before settling for a loud, defensive response. “I worked bloody hard to earn an office with a view..” “Shhh. Keep it down.” This time successfully interrupting. “And drop the front. You won’t miss the view when there’s an entire planet to see. You won’t miss any of this.” Wiseguy could have laid the contract on the desk of any senior officer that morning. She knew others more intimately, but could only imagine manipulating one. A common fantasy among the working class is to leave the system and never return: To elsewhere, be more than just a peon. Her conscience wasn’t going to get in the way of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “Here.” She offered him a pen and turned to the final page of the contract. “We’re the first people to see it. First come, first serve. We might not get another chance.” “Maybe you’re right.” Sarge hesitantly took the pen, despite having one of his own on the desk. “I could do with a change. Haven’t took time off since the missus passed away.” “It’ll be good for you.” Wiseguy adopted a convincing smile while he signed the dotted line. Not a second later, she was one foot out the door with the dossier in hand. “You won’t regret this.” The door slipped shut, leaving Sarge alone to ponder the interaction. Despite thinking of his wife every single day, it occurred to him that he hadn’t mentioned her in conversation in years. This was surely a result of having no true friends aboard the Portmeirion. He concluded that he would neither miss, nor be missed by, any of his co-workers. The view from the porthole had never been so alluring.