Outland: Chapter 12

The following day, we crossed the final stretch of water to the mainland with the same ease as before.  Before us, just as I had feared, the land was more mountainous than I would have liked.  Despite having enough power in the cells to continue on for a bit, I decided to stop and consider the situation.

That night, while copying down the minuscule readings we had taken from the radar, I had to think over the next step.  At that point, if we were to continue North before crossing the land, we would be that much closer to the states.  However, the risk was high that we would continue to run across the endless peaks barring us from continuing easily.  Heading south first would result in a longer journey, but the mountains and hills would undoubtedly taper our as they reached the tip of the peninsula.

I awoke early the next morning, knowing that there would still be power left in the cells for the day.  After opening the shutters, I took out a ration to begin chowing down, eyes fixated westward to the rocky hillsides still slightly hiding the sunrise.

“We’re going North, Gulliver.”  I came to the decision before I could take the last bite.

“Confirmed, Andrew.”  Gulliver replied as I took the last chunk into my mouth.

The water being on the opposite side of Gulliver was strangely off-putting after many months of travelling up the same direction seemingly endlessly.  However, my eyes would not leave the coastline, looking closely for any signs of an old road or pass though the rough terrain.

I could feel the heat of the day start to creep up, the sun both reflecting off the water and rocky hillsides.  The area seemed completely barren, devoid of any plant life, and certainly no humans either.  The fatigue started to take a hold of me, but I kept shaking myself awake to keep an eye on the land passing beside us.

After hours of travel, I kept worrying that I might end up seeing the northern tip of the gulf creep up and start to curve back to the side of land we had come from.  Rising up from the ground, I could make out the mirage-like swaying of heat waves coming off the ground, almost hypnotically.  Blinking my eyes, I realized the formation that was causing it.

Covered by a thick layer of the red-brown dust on the ground was a well weathered stretch of asphalt, a road at one point.  One end crawled downwards towards the water, disappearing into the greenish depths.  Shifting Gulliver around slightly, I could see the remainder of the road continuing upwards into the mountains.

“This could be it, Gulliver.”

“A road, is it?”

“Yeah, it’s like a welcome mat for us.  Imagine that.”

“Is someone welcoming us?”  Gulliver responded almost in a quizzical manor.

“Not a particular person, really.  The land, maybe?  It’s here, and it’s what we need.  This will bring us where we need to go… hopefully.”

“Shall I proceed?”

“Proceed, Gulliver.”  I sat up in the chair, waiting for Gulliver to start shifting parallel to the old road.  With the few awkward steps to orientate ourselves, we were on our way.

The land started to shift upwards, but nothing unmanageable.  I could feel Gulliver take a slower pace, but it wasn’t anything unusual.  Along the road were a few stay signs denoting the altitude, or speed limit, but otherwise the road seemed like it had seen no visitors in a long time.

I allowed myself to doze off for a bit, feeling the road start to pan out.  I ended up being awoken to the sound of Gulliver shifting to a halt, swaying back and forth ever so slightly.

“Gulliver?  Systems?”  I sat up groggily, rubbing my eyes.  The sun had shifted to the backside of us.  As I waited for a response, I quickly looked down at the control panel to see the lights turned off, save a few of the LED’s.

I jumped up, clicking a few of the switches, to no reaction.  “Gulliver?”  I called out again.  Even the controls to activate the solar panel array gave no response.  It was my guess that Gulliver had somehow ran out of power, failing to stop before such a thing would happen.  Panic slowly starting to grow, I jumped down to the bottom compartment of the ship.

Slipping on the heavy coveralls, I grabbed my toolbelt and pneumatic drill.  Back in the cockpit, I turned the drill on, slotting in a bolt driver attachment.  Switching the motor to reverse, I got to undoing the bolts on the back panel of the cockpit.  After removing the final piece of hardware, the clunky plate fell to the floor with a loud clatter.

I could feel the heat of the day immediately beat down on me, sun shining ever brightly.  Attaching a clip from my belt to the one inside she ship, I quickly slid outside, grabbing whatever handholds I could find.  The metal of Gulliver’s plating was almost too hot to grab a hold of, despite the heavy gloves.  Sliding down carefully, my feet found the tiny platform beside the solar array.  Beside the linear actuators was a crank to raise them manually.  With all my might, I began turning the device, watching as the panels slowly rose up into position.

The bright light began to shine off them, and I folded the handle of the crank back down.  Trying my best to avoid looking back down, I climbed back up the to open panel, sliding inside and collapsing on the floor.  I found the panel too heavy for my weak arms to host back up and bolt in place at the same time.  Sweat dripped from my brow, and I could feel the rest of my skin under the jumpsuit slick as well.

I quickly chose to slid down to the middle compartment, ripping off the heavy suit as I made contact with the ground.  Breathing heavily, I collapsed down in my cot and waited to catch my breath while Gulliver charged.

The lights inside the cabin flickered on, jolting me out of my uneasy rest.  “Gulliver?”  I pushed my bangs out of my face, sitting up uncomfortably.  Outside, the daylight had long since disappeared.

“Andrew.  Systems are online.”

“What happened, Gulliver?”  I asked, starting to climb the ladder up to the cockpit.

“… Systems are saying that we overheated, putting us into standby while temperatures dropped.”

I shook my head, sliding the detached panel along the floor.  Sliding it back up, I pushed my back in to it while twisting around to get the first of the bolts into their holes.

“That isn’t good.”  I mumbled, between inserting the bolts one by one.  “Are we still stable?  No Damage?”

“None to report.”

“The heat of the day isn’t doing us any favors.”  I breathed out heavily, affixing the last of the hardware.   “I guess that’s what happens when we’re away from the water.”

“That is most likely part of the problem, Andrew.  My system is primarily intended for…”

“I understand, Gulliver.  We’ll be back on track when we make it over this stretch of land.”  I picked myself up off the ground, plopping down in the pilot’s seat.  “If systems allow… we can probably make some progress tonight, while it’s cool like this.”

“We’re charged to 67%, Andrew.”

“I’m glad I put up the panels then.”  I quickly looked out at the faintly visible road before us.  “Take us forward, then.”

Freshly awake and alert, I stared out at the dull lights cast across the road.  Despite the flat surface, rubble and silt from rockslides and what I imagined would have been very sparse rains dotted the surface.  It seemed nothing that Gulliver would be unable to handle, but I stayed awake nonetheless.

The pitch-black sky was dotted with stars.  I had been a very long time since I had been up at such a time, and I could tell easily that the stars had started shifting with the upcoming change of seasons.  Standing up the stretch my legs, I looked out the rear port-hole above the ladder.  Behind us, no sign of the water could be seen in the darkness.  Out front, the opposite side of the land showed no signs of appearing any time soon either.

Hints of sunrise came to the horizon.  I began to worry about the rest of the journey over land, concerned in particular by Gulliver’s condition.  Just as the edge of the sun showed itself, Gulliver began to slow.

“Charge had depleted to 7%, Andrew.”

“That’s fine, we can stop for now.”  I rubbed my eyes, feeling the cycle of the footsteps begin the rapid grind to the resting position.  “With how we’re looking at the sun, looks like we’ll just have to wait for tomorrow night to continue.”

“Roger that, Andrew.”

“I’m going to sleep now.  Wake me if something comes up.”

“Yes Andrew.”

Climbing back down into the second compartment, I fell back down on the cot and immediately fell asleep.  I was awoken some time later, thirsty and sweat, with the bright sun shining in through the port hole just at the right angle into my eyes.

I quickly grabbed a drink of water from my sink, returning the sound of the tank running low on water.  Rather than heading down to the bottom level to rinse myself off, I quickly dumped some of the liquid into my hands and rubbed it over my face.

“Gulliver, status?”  I called out groggily.

“61%, Andrew.”

“Damn.  If only we didn’t have to wait around.”  I grumbled audibly as I climbed up the ladder.  “We could be back down by the water, and I could start to boil some more to drink… and to take a shower.”  Plopping down in the warm leather of the chair, I pulled out the case of rations.  I could feel the bar sticky and pliable from the heat.  The food held tightly to the package as I tore it open, getting all over my fingers as well.

Wanting to avoid the hot rays coming in through the cockpit window, I slid out of the chair to sit back against the back wall.  The metal seemed cooler than anywhere else, though not entirely satisfying.  After I forced the ration down, I crumpled up the wrapper and tossed it aside, not having the energy or motivation to stand back up.

The sun rays coming through the window outside slowly began to trace their way up the ceiling, following the path of the orb moving back down the horizon.  I quickly stood up to look out at the sky hinting at orange and red, when Gulliver called out.

“We’re at 100% charge, and temperatures are within reasonable limits.”

“Good.  Good.”  I quickly jumped, gliding around the slick floor and landing into the pilot’s seat.  “Take us out of here!”

“Yes, Andrew.”

It took some time for it to seem like we were making progress, but eventually I could feel the path start to take an incline downhill.  The cool air of the night started to envelop the space around us, and I scrunched my legs up towards my chest for warmth.  I could feel myself starting to doze off, but I remained vigilant, wanting to keep watch.  Gulliver took the path in stride.

The night dragged on seemingly endlessly.  I had easily scanned the sky full of stars several times by that point.  Making sure we were on path, I quickly jumped down to the lower deck, eventually returning with a blank sheet of paper.  I managed to spread it out awkwardly atop my lap, where I began tracing out the various constellations I was able to spot.  They were in slightly different angles and spots in the sky compared to where I had lived before, both down south and up north.  I had long since studied the stars enough to be able to navigate by, so this was rather for the fun of it.

I noticed the stars start to disappear as the daylight began to retake its place in the sky.  Pulling myself away from the paper, I took a moment to finally look back out at the horizon.  Before us, the sliver of the sun peaking over the horizon shined brightly against the water.  The remainder of the road left us with only several miles before we would be able to reach the coastline, but the sight right then and there captivated me.

“Gulliver, stop us here, please.”

“Stopping, Andrew.”  Gulliver complied, the sound of the machinery below dying out.  “If I may remind you, we’re at 13% battery, which seems sufficient to continue to the water.”

“Thank you, Gulliver.  We can move in a bit.  I just want to watch the sunrise for now.”

“Understood, Andrew.”

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