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The Cold of Carpo, S1A2E2


The Cold of Carpo Starset RPG Living Lore

Ghostwhispers scratched the outside of the Exoship as the Hedron vessel made its descent. Data said Carpo’s atmosphere was still dense with dust and debris from Republic shelling. What little remained of the Ganymede settlement had been signed over as part of salvaging efforts.

Ava new there’d be a gorgeous sight through the ship’s tiny portal. The more senior salvaging agents had described how spectacular an Exoship’s descent could be. Rocks and dust would be pelting the metal exterior as it descended fast enough to spark the tiny rocks into molten streaks.

But she was too focused keeping bile from climbing up her throat.

The tiny inside of the incredibly armored research ship was a small, dark cone. At its base, her and her three colleagues sat in near-darkness, heads leaned together. A basic computer screen’s soft blue light churned lines of technical data on the state of the ship’s critical systems and external environment.

It was eerily silent. Anywhere else in the solar system, on any other ship, the ghostwhispers’ tapping would be a haunting nightmare. A sign that something in the empty vacuum of space was about to reach the pressurized environment inside.

But in an Exoship, apparently that was normal.

“You alright, Ordez?”

She flickered her glance to meet the commanding officer’s eyes and nodded back down to the ground.

“Aye give her a break, Cap,” Brendle jeered. The young man clapped a hand on her shoulder, nearly making her wretch. He had a tight haircut and eyes that shone in the computer light with something between pure joy and maniac excitement. “It’s her first time. They say you always remember your first.”

Ava murdered something.

“What was that, honey?” Brendle cooed.

“Shit in my boots,” she snapped, finally raising her head to look at him.

Captain Clauz chuckled. “You heard the girl.”

“Six minutes until touchdown,” the fourth member of the crew cut in. She was pilled up over the computer, typing on a small connected datapad.

“Thanks, Beak,” Clauz nodded. “This is a standard salvage survey, folks. Nothing too exciting. Office says nothing is moving on the surface of this mess, so we’re just there to assess the assets.” He chuckled at his own pun.

“But the residual fallout has made surface scans difficult, isn’t that right?” Beak cut in.

Clauz cleared his throat. “Anyway, protocol says I give you the heads up we might encounter some organic matter. It’s domestic, so no need to worry about infection or contagion. But it might be slightly disturbing.”

Ava felt the bile climb back up her throat. Domestic organic matter. That’s what they were called now.

“Just remember,” Clauz continued, “the specimens were self-emancipated from the Republic.” He glanced down at a briefing script. “Repulsion is a natural evolutionary response to these encounters. However, as citizens, I trust you will remain professional and not allow these illogical responses to affect your work.

“The work itself – we are just assessing the value of the Ganymede claims that we’ve licensed. The rock is only about two miles wide, and largely subterranean, so it should be smooth going.” He gestured to metal cases at the foot of each team member and drew a tiny glass tube from his own. “Collect a sample of soil, wreckage, and any discernable minerals to send back to the office. Everything go smoothly, we should be out of here in time for the evening show.”

The girl he called Beak brushed short hair out of her eyes and looked up from the computer. “The what?”

Clauz sighed. “Forget it. Before your times.”

 

The ship landed with a jolt.

“Suit up,” Clauz called.

The loud order was annoying, as they were all – at most – two feet away from each other. She nevertheless twisted the seals on her Space Support System. Sealing on her mask, the display came to life as the power connections coupled with those in her collar. She felt the double-tether connecting her suit to her seat tug to let her know it was active.

Thin, blue pinpricks of light came up across the screen, automatically darting around to try to analyze the dark room. Brendle was the only one without his helmet on yet, so the dots coalesced around him on her screen and pulled up his Hedron employee profile.

Ugh, definitely don’t want that.

Another message popped up: Dim light is making autorecognition difficult. TIP: Move to areas of brighter light to identify objects in the more clearly.

She swatted the two screens away and grabbed her case.

Clauz turned around, his face partially obscured by the lines of his own glowing helmet display. “Everyone –”  The last word fizzled into static.

“What?” she called over her own intercom. The helmets were equipped with encrypted channels to speak with the other suits from the ship.

None of the crew acknowledged they’d heard her.

She motioned them to stop, but Clauz was already turning away and cranking the vault-like mechanism to open the door. A gasp of air hissed as the seal broke, and suddenly they were open to the surface of Carpo.

Ava had often thought about what hell was like. There were times growing up when she felt she had experienced hell firsthand. She had heard Pontificate priests saying hell was hot once, but that was not her experience. The cold was worse than the heat. It settled into your bones and nibbled at your fingers and toes like invisible rats without stomachs to get full.  

But there was one thing worse than the cold.

The dark.

Standing on the edge of the Exoship, looking across Carpo, she felt as though she might tumble into the dark.

Carpo’s two miles were smaller when they floated alone against the precipice of space. The tiny rock was ripped and gauged. A haze of boulders and rubble floated above its surface, thinning, before eventually dissipating into the endless void of shining black space.

She averted her gaze, searching left or right for something concrete to lean on or stand on. Everywhere she looked, Carpo’s tiny surface wrapped precipitously downward to form a roughly spherical, floating moon. And everywhere she looked, that tiny surface gave way to the gaping black ever-night of space.

Except for the burning red eye of Jupiter. The planet dominated the left horizon of the tiny moon like a lantern seething against the black sky. It was wreathed in an impossibly smooth surface of white-yellow clouds, issuing an alluring and horrifying beauty. The red eye of its central storm watched unblinkingly, issuing a demonic challenge. Survive. 

Behind her, Brendle shoved her out of the Exoship. She cried out inside her helmet and felt warmth on her leg as she fought back tears. She didn’t dare glance back or make any sudden movements, but she could see him in the corner of her eye making a lewd gesture and saying something into his coms link.

He would think she was ignoring him.

“I can’t hear you,” she shouted. Her voice cracked and a sob started to break. Tears clouded her eyes, and she couldn’t wipe them away without taking her helmet off.

Warm panic crept up her legs. Hands of anxiety massaged her shoulders, caving them in as she collapsed on herself. She became acutely aware of the sweet plastic smell in her helmet mixing with the ammonia of urine and it suffocated her. She panted.

Suddenly her boots touched ground.

The ground was ashy on Carpo, and her suit’s boots sunk almost an inch into the soft dust. Blackness continued spinning around her, but somehow the soil seemed to anchor her. She took a deep breath, and fresh oxygen from the cannisters and filters filled her lungs.

“We got this.”

Clauz and Beak were already heading toward the small horizon, picking through rubble. Republic navy rails had gauged irregular trenches in the moon, some appearing as deep as twenty or thirty feet. Only tiny hints of steel and concrete poked from these craters. Brendle wasn’t far away, and she saw him tossing glances over his shoulder toward her.

She elected to ignore his leering and turned back to gaze at the task.

The file on Carpo had said there was a fairly developed outpost for Ganymede before the specimens took over. Most of it must have been underground, she surmised. Hopefully that’s where the organic matter is too.

 

The day passed by impossibly slowly. Time was immeasurable on the tiny moon. The sun was a speck all but stationary in the dark sky, and it felt like hours had gone by. Ava kept moving to wipe sweat from her brow, only to feel her gloved suit rasp against her helmet. The inside started to smell salty and bitter with sweat, and her case was heavy with samples.

After exploring a small chasm, she turned around and started.

Brendle stood barely two feet behind her. He was already moving and seized her arm, yanking her with him.

Ava screamed. “No – get off of me!” Her words fell on a broken communicator. He continued to manhandle her, grabbing both her arms and wrenching her towards him. The panic that had begun to ebb surged back. Adrenaline came with it, and she thrashed against him, her mind flashing with fear through what his intentions could be.

Nothing good came to mind.

Twisting in her grasp, she swung her sample case at his helmet. The blow connected and reverberated down her arm as the corner of the box opened a crack in Brendle’s helmet.

He tumbled at the blow and collapsed on top of her until they were tangled in the dust.

Why?! How could he?

He fought to pin her arms down, but she continued beating against him and squirming around in the dust until a haze covered them. He’d been annoying and flirty, but she never wanted to imagined...

In their hazy scuffle, she felt his hand on the stomach of her suit. Something snapped inside her.

Because he’s scum.

She cudgeled him again with the case, and he tumbled off of her, now clutching the widening crack in his helmet. She swung again and felt it break open. Warning screens popped up across her visor, but she ignored them. Through pursed lips she continued wailing on him, ignoring his hands thrown up in defense and his face bulging and gaping in the vacuum of space.

Long after he had laid still, Ava panted and dropped her case. Inside, the samples were shattered to glass and dust and the metal corner was painted red.

She stepped back from the gory handiwork and stared.

What have I done.

Leaving the specimen and her case behind, she sprinted out of the chasm as best she could. In the weak gravity, every footstep launched her further than she expected, and she missed her footing more than once, until she broke the surface of the tiny moon.

A few hundred feet away, she saw Clauz and Beak standing with backs to her. Panting, holding back tears, she followed their gaze.

Dust lifted off the ground and the rocks under their feet hummed. From just beyond them, the Exoship’s Jones Turbine was churning to life.

Ava frantically flicked through the warnings on her 3S screen.

 

Warning: Tethers have been manually disconnected.

Warning: A fellow crew member’s vitals are weak.

Warning: A fellow crew member’s 3S is not reporting vitality data.

Warning: Engines activated without all crew on board.

 

The three crew members watched from Carpo’s barren face as the Exoship sputtered off the surface and into the darkness of space. Oh. That’s why he pulled me with him, Ava thought numbly. She almost giggled at the despicable irony of it. I guess there was something else moving on the surface after all.

The red eye of Jupiter judged the trio with a silent stare.

Finally, Clauz turned and walked toward her. She felt frozen as a pillar of salt. In the lightless limbo of Carpo, she had no idea how long it took for him to reach her. And didn't care. Through his fading display, she saw the graying man furrow his brow and look at the red covering her suit. He met her eyes with concern -- not for the bloodshed, but for her.

In a violation of policy, he gingerly reached out to hug her. Ava seized him and pulled him close, leaning all the disaster of the timeless day on him.

“I’m so…” She searched for words to speak into her broken com link. “Cold,” she croaked


Ava Ordez, NPC profile for Starset RPG

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