The Shadow of What Remained

Outland: Chapter 1  (Update- I’ll start putting up what I have of this for the next week or so.)

My eyes flickered open slightly to reveal the bright sun peeking through the metal slats of the shutters covering the cockpit window.

“Good morning, Andrew.”

“Good morning, Gulliver.”  I groaned, pulling my eyes open.  I wanted to avoid being nagged by him for trying to sleep in.  Stretching, I sat up and pulled the back of the chair up with me.  I could already feel the heat of the day entering the cockpit as I flicked the small metal switch to raise the shutters.  The midday sun began to shine though the streaks and specks of the plexiglas windows, glaring in my eyes.  Outside, I could see the blue green waves swaying back and forth against the land, tiny ridges of white forming as the opposing forces of the water pushed against each other.  Opposing the water was the comparatively tiny stretch of land continuing up the coast.  Just at the edge of my view were the mountains, stretching upwards to meet with a thick layer of clouds, almost a barrier from earth to sky.

“Status report?”  I queried, flipping open the storage compartment in the floor to pull out a plastic sealed food bar.

“We’re charged to 98%, Andrew.  Fuel cells holding at 38% integrity.”  The report came.

“Good enough.” I mumbled through bites of the chewy, nondescript ration.  Discarding the wrapper, I shoved the remaining mouthful down.  Fingers slightly sticky, I reached up to the instrument panel and flipped the switches reading Solar Array.  From behind me, I could hear the linear actuators engage outside, beginning to lower the panels mounted to the backside of the cockpit.  With a loud click, I heard them lock into place, and the humming of the hydraulics stopped.

“Shall we continue, then?”  I said absentmindedly.

“All systems are go.  Continuing north, I suppose?”  Gulliver responded.

“Indeed.  I’ll let you handle this for now.”

I could feel the springs in the flight seat under me begin to sway back and forth as the machine came to life, heavy treaded feet dislodging themselves from the soft dirt we had moored in.  With each step, I watched the view ahead of me shift slightly with the movement of the machinery locomoting forwards.

The going was slow, but it was better than sticking around and waiting for anything interesting to happen.  I told myself that if we continued north, we could possibly get somewhere where there may be people.  The Andes to the east kept us from heading inland, but even if we found a way to head inland, I knew we wouldn’t be welcomed.

“Gulliver?”  I spoke, preparing a question in my head.

“Yes, Andrew?”

“How long do you suppose until we reach the summer solstice?”

“According to my calculations, the days have been continuing to get longer.  Today’s sunrise was 45 seconds earlier than that of yesterday.”  Gulliver responded in his usual fashion.

“I see.”  Out in the distance, I could faintly make out the land starting to bow outwards westward, following the curvature of the continent.  “I suppose when we’re out there, it may seem as if the days are starting even earlier, too.  I hope we can manage to make it to the equator before the summer solstice hits.  After that… we’ll start losing out on daylight for you, Gulliver.”

“I understand the predicament, Andrew.  I shall continue to track the daylight hours if you wish.”

“Do that, please.”  I nodded, shifting backwards into the seat, lifting my knees upwards towards my chest.

After what seemed like hours of travel, I could feel my stomach start to rumble once again.  I looked down at the empty wrapper on the floor, and the still open supply hatch holding the faded cardboard box holding a dwindling supply of rations.  Quickly flipping the compartment closed, I stood up and grabbed the wrapper off the ground and shoved it into the chute to the garbage compressor.  Just as I was about to take my place back in the seat, Gulliver spoke up.

“Andrew, my radar is detecting something below the water level about a kilometer out.”

I panicked for a quick moment before quickly stepping up to the cockpit window.  “Something manmade?”

“Yes.  Fairly large.”

“I think I might know where we are.”  I calmed myself, spotting a bit of structure sticking out of the water out on my left.  “There was a big oil rig in this area.  Now it’s all under water, though.”

“Such a structure could act as an artificial reef, could it not?”

“You’re right.”  I nodded my head, stomach still feeling empty.  “I’ll bring us in, and perhaps I can swim out there and catch some fish.”

Quickly throwing myself back into the chair, I pulled the instruments upwards from their folded down positions.  With a joystick in each hand, I quickly began fiddling with the controls.  I could feel the weight shifting uneasily upon the dry dirt below us as I shifted to face the ocean.  With calculated steps, I quickly guided Gulliver down towards the water, feet and legs slowly beginning to sink with the action of the ballasts.

The lapping of waves started to play with the machine, but the seabed below held firm.  Continuing still cautiously, I could see the water level slowly come up to meet with the cockpit windows.  Outside in the blue expanse, I could see the dark shadow of the structure that had been spotted.  Finally shifting into a rock outcropping underneath the waves, I came to a stop.

“Any leaks to report, Gulliver?”  I quickly noted.

“None.  I’ll keep us in place while you’re out, Andrew.”

Satisfied, I quickly jumped out of the seat and moved around towards the back of the cockpit, sliding down the ladder to the lowest level.  Inside of one of the cluttered lockers, I pulled out the ratty old diving mask and one of my dwindling canisters of air.  Giving it a quick test, I swung the tank over my back and grabbed the long, hooked spear off the rack, as well as a pair of swim fins.

“Open the bottom hatch, Gulliver.”  I shouted up.  With a mechanical rumble, the aperture of the lower hatch slid open, revealing the lapping water below, held at bay by the simple air pressure of the interior of the ship.  Sweaty, I unzipped my jumpsuit and stripped down to my underwear, carefully hanging up the clothes to get them out of reach of any splashing water.  Pulling on the mask, I quickly stepped down into the bottom compartment, and slid down carefully into the water.

The air in the canister tasted stale, but I was quickly distracted by the ominous structure in the water ahead of me.  Fins in hand, I fiddled with them and shoved my feet into the rubber stretchy harnesses.  The slow movement of the water and the flapping of my fins slowly brought me closer in the almost tepid water.  In the distance, I could see the quickly disappearing reflections of fish dancing in the bands of light penetrating the surface of the water.

The massive oil platform came into view, spindly supports continuing downwards into the murky abyss below.  The various cranes, supports, and pipes of the structure had been slowly eaten away and embellished with barnacles and other sea life of never-ending variety.  Just as Gulliver had suggested, nature had overtaken it, turning it into something like a reef.  Even though it was no longer usable by humans, nature found a way to make use of it.

Moving in slowly, I readied my spear.  Colorful fish swam about the structure, darting about each other and the dull metallic structure.  I had learned some time before which fish were the best to eat, holding the most amount of meat.  At this moment, though, I wasn’t feeling particularly picky.  With quick movements from my arm, I was able to impale a couple of the bigger ones I had been able to spot.  Feeling satisfied, and with my energy starting to wane, I quickly made an about face and began to head back to Gulliver.

I could see his legs in the distance, dark and ominous still.  Finally arriving back, I quickly ducking back up into the open port at the bottom, throwing the spear and wobbling fish upwards to the floor of the compartment.  I found my body heavy and tired from having swam such a distance on an empty stomach, and after wrestling with the air canister, I was able to finally get myself up inside.

Breathing heavily, sitting in a puddle of the salty water, I shouted up at Gulliver to close the hatch below.  The fish had become rigid, and I pulled them off the spear with a quick tear of their flesh.  I quickly deposited them into a tray, before rinsing myself and them off quickly under the shower of distilled water.

On the second level of the ship, I quickly stowed the fish and climbed up to the cockpit, still wearing nothing but my damp underwear.  Turning the machine around, I guided us back to the shore where I could hand the control back to Gulliver who could guide us forwards.  Doing so would allow me to prepare the fish to eat.

Having my dish prepared, the sun had already begun to set.  Gulliver had stopped as programmed, and I had begun to dig into the treat of a dinner, sitting in the middle compartment at my desk.

“Gulliver, send down the topographical data from today, would you?”  I asked, waiting for the screen by my desk to pop up the charts.  Having finished eating, I put the plate aside and unfurled one of my big sheets of paper, having been filled up partially with my mapping from the previous few days.  As I carefully charted the coastline, I remembered to mark the position of the oil rig out in the water, labeling it appropriately.  Stomach full for once, I felt my pen start to slip as my mind wandered, beginning to doze off.

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