By Shannon Rampe
A long, low hiss cut into Gar’s awareness, drawing the attention of his senses. He had actually been awake for several minutes, he realized. He was trying to get his bearings, trying to remember where he was, how he had gotten here. An enormous darkness welled up inside him, a void where memory should have been. There were Chira and Wyl, but their faces were vague, like he was seeing them through a dense fog. How long had he been asleep?
The hiss was followed by a click, a latching mechanism. That click had been the last sound he had heard. The latch of a hibernation creche door, closing. Fragments of memory floated up through the darkness like bits of flotsam, slowly filling in the void. The Empire. The colony. His promise. The Guardian program.
Hearing the latch now meant only one thing. They had arrived. Epsilon IV, a world teeming with life in the habitable band of a solar system that lay beyond the reach of the failing Empire. A world discovered to be ripe for habitation and devoid of other species. A world humankind had never spoiled. A world perfect for starting over. That was the plan.
The pod door opened a few centimeters. Light flooded in through the cracks. The light of a distant world. Gar swallowed a sudden lump that had risen in his throat. It was too much to think about, falling asleep on one world and waking up a few hours or a hundred years later on another. He tamped the thoughts down. Time to consider all of this later. He needed to get his bearings, keep his cool. Stay in control.
A breeze whistled through the separation between the pod door and the body of the pod. Gar wiggled his fingers and toes first, testing. Just like in the training simulation. Take it slow. No sudden movements. Let the body recover from the induced hibernation process. Electromuscular stimulation would have ensured that his body didn’t atrophy during the immense passage of time, but the nervous system needed time to recover.
His body was responding just fine. He would undergo a full medical analysis later, to ensure that all of his bodily systems were functioning correctly, but that would come later. For now, he just needed to move. He pressed his palms against the inside of the door of the creche and pressed outward. The door swung open easily.
Light! So much light! He blinked, trying to force his eyes to adjust. The sky was a glaring pale blue. His nose filled with the rich, ripe smells of earth, of growing vegetation, of water. Planet-smells. Gar hadn’t smelled life like this in a very long time.
He hefted himself up into a sitting position. The creche, a long tube of a hybrid metal-ceramic, lay on a hillside covered in high vegetation similar to some sort of grass. It undulated in the cool breeze. Gar shivered. Four other creches lay nearby. One, a few meters away was already open, and a woman with steely gray hair was studying him.
“Gar el Kinj,” said the woman. “Welcome to Epsilon IV.” She did not smile.
Gar swallowed. “Uttaru,” he said by way of acknowledgement. He had barely had a chance to train with Uttaru Oshu, their Savant, before the team had deployed. From what Gar knew of her, Uttaru was one of the first subjects of the Guardian Program enhancements, but she was the last to join their unit, and thus he had only met and spoken with her a few times. He knew little about her and wasn’t immediately pleased about having her in his unit at the last moment, but the fifth position had to be filled. And she was there to fill it.
“Have you been awake very long?” Gar called.
“Twelve minutes and thirty-seven seconds,” she replied. “My creche opened seventeen seconds after I awoke, so I have been absorbing data about our new environment for twelve minutes and twenty-five seconds, now.”
“Gather anything useful?”
“The chemical makeup of the atmosphere is suitable to our survival, or the creches would never have opened. There is no evidence of a crash, so at the moment I have every reason to believe that the transit, and the initial stages of the deployment, were executed successfully. Presumably the transition team is awake on the ship and preparing for the deployment of the initial modules.”
Gar was impressed. He was still trying to wrap his head around the leap of time he’d just experienced, the disorientation of waking up on a new planet. He climbed out the creche, felt the sharp-bladed grasses scrape and catch on the fabric of his hibernation-suit. “Can you move okay? We should wake the others.”
“My body appears to be operating at normal capacity, Commander Gar.”
Gar glanced at her, but there didn’t appear to be any sense of irony in her voice, and she was already climbing out of the creche. The other Guardians’ creches had not been programmed to automatically open upon landing on the surface of the planet in the event of an unforeseen problem such as previously undetected chemicals in the atmosphere. Instead, Gar and Uttaru were the first awakened. But Gar so no reason to delay. Uttaru was right. Everything seemed to be running according to plan, which meant that they needed to wake the others and scout the landing area to ensure that it was safe.
Gar paused a moment and gazed around, turning in a slow circle. Rolling hills spread out around them, covered in more of the thick, grassy vegetation. Thick, purplish plants with draping arms and leaves like wide paddles dotted the hills. A cliff face rose a few hundred meters away, sloping steeply up from a gentle hillside. Some kind of mineral in the cliff face sparkled in the sunlight. Some kind of animal with wide, leathery wings soared overhead, high above. Gar shielded his eyes against the sun and gazed up at the sky, a sense of wonder overtaking him.
A new world.