Remora

Just below the surface, now. The stars so close he can almost see them.

The prep compartment is equal parts hope and terror: just a few more meters to the shuttle, Heinwald can see the docking hatch right there in front of him. But isn’t this always where the monster jumps out? Isn’t it during that last dash, escape and freedom close enough to touch, when one of those empty spacesuits turns in its alcove to reveal the thing hiding inside, biding its time behind the smashed faceplate? Isn’t it now, just when you think you’re safe, that you learn it was waiting for you all along?

Solway and Vrooman are always fucking ahead of him. Heinwald suppresses the urge to barge forward, to push them aside and dive for the hatch in a final frantic burst of speed. He keeps his escape velocity in check, observes a quick but orderly departure while his heart hammers fast enough to jump out of his chest and run the four-hundred all by itself.

Sol’s back in the shuttle, Vrooman’s in the tube. Heinwald is all alone in Araneus.

No. Not all alone…

Finally, the way is clear. Heinwald keeps his eyes straight ahead and steps forward. Nothing grabs him from behind.

He made it. He’s in the shuttle. Oh dear God he’s going home…

Vrooman slaps a control. The hatch seals tight. Air rushes into the compartment, its hissing crescendo muted by Heinwald’s helmet. They strap in.

Solway’s on comms. “Chimp, get us out of here.”

Static and pops.

Chimp.

Vrooman’s working the docking clamps. It’s taking too long. Cabin pressure’s a steady 92 kPa, but nobody’s taking off their helmets.

Solway tries again: “Eri, do you read?”

“Fucking clamps won’t release,” Vrooman hisses.

Eri here.” Chimp’s voice crackles through the interference. “Standing by to extract.”

“Extract, then! Now!”

“I’ll lift you off as soon as everyone’s on board,” Chimp responds.

“We are, Chimp. Take us home.”

“I’m reading one person still offsite.” The AI sounds almost apologetic.

They exchange looks. “Maybe the interference is fucking with his telemetry,” Heinwald suggests.

“Roll call,” Vrooman says. “Vrooman.”

“Solway,” Sol calls out.

“Heinwald.”

“All present and accounted for, Chimp. Now get us the fuck out of here.

“Just as soon as everyone’s on board.”

“Holy fucking Christ,” Vrooman mutters.

Solway unbuckles from her mesh. “Manual those clamps.”

“What do you think I’ve been doing?”

“It’s a fucking lever, Ari. What could go wrong?”

Heinwald calls the shuttle controls to his HUD. The moment those clamps unlock they’ll be floating free next to a rolling mountain with a black hole wobbling around in its belly, and if Chimp won’t be running the show—

Thump.

Everybody freezes. Slowly, in sync, they turn to face the hatch.

“That was outside…” Solway whispers.

…tickettatickettaticketta…

The clamps disengage. “Extraction proceeding,” Chimp reports cheerfully. “ETA Eriophora one point one seven kilosecs.”

Thruster icons bloom red on Heinwald’s HUD. The shuttle lurches and yaws; Araneus rolls away to port, a great basalt fist receding into the void. The stars wheel: all but one, larger but somehow dimmer than the others, holding position against that rotating backdrop. It swells in gentle, almost indiscernible increments.

Outside, something clicks against the hatch, scrabbles gently across the hull, and settles in for the trip.



This entry was posted on Friday, July 1st, 2022 at 9:33 am and is filed under fiblet. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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Jack Dominey
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Jack Dominey
4 months ago

Thank you! Always excited to see a fiblet. I’m eagerly anticipating finding out more about Araneus.

Rosten
Guest
4 months ago

Uhhh… Welcome aboard!

Do-Ming Lum
Guest
Do-Ming Lum
4 months ago

I am, as you know, a huge fan of Eriophora! Looking forward to reading the whole thing!

best wishes,
Do-Ming

Troutwaxer
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Troutwaxer
4 months ago

It’s not the journey, it’s the friends we make along the way.

Trubloff
Guest
Trubloff
4 months ago

Awesome, thank you!

Doomscroll
Guest
Doomscroll
4 months ago

Any forecast on when we might see the whole thing? (no pressure)

Doomscroll
Guest
Doomscroll
4 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

Sabotage your other projects. Got it.

Dale
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Dale
4 months ago

Tasty and intriguing. Well rung, Mr. Pavlov.

Antonio
Guest
4 months ago

Love this episodic format and the atmosphere of the Sunflower Cycle.

Antonio
Guest
4 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

Ah, I see. Disconnected episodes like the journey of the freezed characters inside the Eriophora (anyone but the Chimp).

Do you have a general idea of all the events between fiblets or are you tracking them as you write?

Antonio
Guest
4 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

Ok now I understand perfectly. Thanks Peter!

vodkaferret
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vodkaferret
4 months ago

Finally… Scramblers meet Sunflowers 😉

Thomas
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Thomas
4 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

Scramblers theoretically could be “everywhere” in the interstellar void if they are r-selected to the extreme like they’re mentioned to be in “Blindsight”.

I’d pay good money for that story

Andy
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Andy
4 months ago

I assume the full story will shed some light on what’s going through Chimp’s, erm, head when he doesn’t release the clamps despite the crew doing the roll call?

Because it kinda feels like bringing Kane onboard Nostromo right now, except there at least it was the humans that were idiots.

I don’t mean to shit in anyone’s supper, least of all Our Esteemed Host’s, but it kinda bugs me.

Doomscroll
Guest
Doomscroll
4 months ago
Reply to  Andy

The implication seems to be that Chimp read the hitchhiker as one of the crew. This could tie into its previous assertion that it’s “more human than any of them.”

Andy
Guest
Andy
4 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

Actually, the humans weren’t idiots. Ripley refused to open the hatch; it was Ash who overrode her, on company orders.

Yeah,l I should just rewatch Alien on of these days; I completely forgot that part.

Bamk
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Bamk
4 months ago

Here’s hoping everyone makes it to the heat death of the universe

Troutwaxer
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Troutwaxer
4 months ago
Reply to  Bamk

Or the big crunch! (I know that’s not the current cosmological science, but it’s much rougher on the characters.)

YamiEA
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YamiEA
4 months ago

Oh, I love this fiblet a LOT. And I still think that “Hitchhiker” can also work great as an independent horror short film or comic. The last scene is VERY cinematic.

Liav
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Liav
4 months ago

Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaas been waiting for this since the heat death of the universe!

Clemthor
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Clemthor
4 months ago

Hi Mr Watts ! Love the fiblet but actually I’m not writing about that. I don’t know if there is a more pertinent place to tell you that but in the right column “SIGNPOSTS EN ROUTE TO OBLIVION”, the last link about the US Supreme Court is the same as the previous one about Desertification. Just so you know.

Clemthor
Guest
Clemthor
4 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

I actually noticed way sooner but thought that someone else will tell you, and I’m probably not the only one. Such is human nature 😉

Fatman
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Fatman
4 months ago
Reply to  Clemthor

I only click on the links if it’s something I haven’t already read about. The so-called SCOTUS has been getting plenty of coverage lately.

Troutwaxer
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Troutwaxer
4 months ago
Reply to  Fatman

I recently called them the Supreme Clown Posse, but some rappers I know resented being compared to the current court.

Nestor
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Nestor
4 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

People just read the headlines, speaking of which, this one is disturbing. If true it sounds like game over for the biosphere

(So of course I come to Peter Watts for reassurance)

Raihan Kibria
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Raihan Kibria
4 months ago

Really looking forward to this twist the sunflower cycle is doing. I love reading about weird and borderline unrecognisable future humans and I expect if anyone can come up with a cool concept for them it’s the good doctor Watts 😛

ABR
Guest
ABR
4 months ago

So thrilling to get these tidbits, and happy to hear that Omniscience is still moving forward as well, albeit slowly! By the way I’m too late to the party to comment on a post of yours a few months back, “Parts of People”, but anyone who likes “Severance” really needs to find and read the story “Forlesen” by Gene Wolfe. I won’t spoil it with a clumsy description, but suffice it to say it touches on similar themes and is as close to perfect as a story can get. The relationship between memory and personality is a recurring focus in Wolfe’s works.

listedproxyname
Guest
listedproxyname
4 months ago

Thanks for keeping us updated!

On topic related to space exploration of dead(ly) abandoned husks – there’s pretty old indie game on Steam called “Duskers”. Recently I decided to check on it after abandoning for several years – only to discover that author still updates it, patches it and even introduces features like challenge modes and achievements.

It’s probably better to experience it yourself than trying to describe everything here in the blogpost, so I just going to mention that it’s the only game I played that uses console commands as core gameplay mechanics. It’s hard game, and at times even stressful, and single mistake can lead to losing and restarting – but herein lies the appeal and emergent experience.

I’m not trying to advertize anything, I only put it here because it had a good impression on me, especially after reading Freeze Frame Revolution, so I believe it can help to better immerse in the setting of dark, cold and silent depths of space.

has
Guest
has
3 months ago

@listedproxyname: “I believe it can help to better immerse in the setting of dark, cold and silent depths of space.”

By ’eck. I’m not sure I’d play it but that looks some of the most volatile nightmare fuel on this side of Ignition!

Lambert
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Lambert
3 months ago

Valerie sure gets around, eh?

InvertShark
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InvertShark
3 months ago

This is referring to a previous post “The Aspirational Zombie.”
I had this sort of mantra I’d say to people over the years, “minimize the delta.” When asked what that even meant, I described it as imagining some sort of n-dimensional potential energy surface, like you are a ball on a hill. Somewhere down there at the 0 point of axis Z, your ideal self (including every aspect of life, job, relationship, hobbies, personality, etc.) And your position on this surface is your current, life configuration. You FEEL that delta from 0. And the further you are from it, the worse you feel.
Sure you can end up in local minima, there can be barriers to navigating the configuration space. You could be in a bowl where the walls around it are quitting your current stable job for a potentially better one, confronting someone, asking someone out. Takes effort to get out of that. Or maybe you do not have a choice in the matter, external forces and events pushing you along the surface. Tigers in the grass, lack of food, losing your job, crashing your car, ending a relationship, pushing you up and up until you are at unstable, Mt. Everest amounts of delta. Boy do you feel it then.
Maybe you don’t feel it much if you are in a routine, metastable, day in day out. You can feel perfectly happy circling the toilet bowl of a local minima, but is your delta really as low as it could be?

Not sure where I was going with this, FEM just reminded me of it. FEM is also probably a better theory put together by way smarter people. Regardless, hope you minimize that delta.