He is Savage. Dominant. Primitive. I am slave to his instinct.
In the year 10,442, humanity is a space faring race.
We do not have sex, and we certainly do not breed.
I am an observer, a young woman alone in space, being punished for her sins. My sentence is to observe a remote planet where it is rumored an old Earth ship crashed thousands of years ago. According to records, there were no survivors.
The records were wrong.
While in orbit around the planet, I am hit. My shuttle crashes.
Zion, the beast of a man who pulls me from the wreckage and sets about making me his own does not know that my people do not engage in sexual activity. He doesn’t understand that reproduction is expressly forbidden. All he knows is that he wants me.
My untouched body will be his in every way imaginable. He will mate me over and over. He will fill me with his seed until my belly swells. When I defy him, I will be punished shamefully and thoroughly until I give him the submission he demands.
But there are even more dangerous things in the universe than Zion. My people will come for me, and when they do, even my primitive beast of a man might not be enough to save me from their wrath.
Earth Year 10,442 CE
“You’re not going to interfere with this planet. No matter what. Tselia. Repeat after me.”
It sounds like the Patron is right here next to me, though in truth he is speaking in low, slow tones over the holotalk system. He is in Andromeda Delta, a little over three light years away. I have taken a hard left past Zubenelgenubi, and am skimming my way toward a little planet on the outskirts of Ophiuchus.
“Tselia?” He prompts me when I don’t immediately reply.
“I am not going to interfere, no matter what, I promise.” I roll my eyes. He can’t see me like I can see him, and that is a very good thing. If he detected any attitude at all, I’d be recalled so fast my head would spin.
His warnings are unnecessary. I know what the protocols are. But you leap into one tiny little armed conflict and the exploration league puts you on probation for the rest of your natural born life.
My people have been mapping and cataloging the conscious contents of the solar system for well over a thousand years now, and we’ve barely made a dent in it. Turns out, there’s all sorts of weirdness in creation, but it all follows more or less the same rules: eat stuff, fuck stuff – except for plants. I’ve never trusted plants, and I’m not about to start now.
“You will find this a challenging assignment,” he continues.
That’s not likely to be true. It does have some potential to be interesting, but we both know I am being punished for what happened the last time I made contact with a sentient species. I’d put money on it that they’re not going to allow me near another civilization for the rest of my career. I’m basically being posted to watch grass grow.
It’s going to be a lonely assignment, but I’m ready for that. All explorers are temperament tested. We have to be able to withstand solitude, the true curse of the stars.
“I don’t need to remind you that this is your last chance,” the patron says. “If you breach protocol, you will be terminated and returned to Primary Colony Gamma. I recommend you stay inside your craft unless in case of extreme emergency.”
I do not want that. Primary Colony Gamma is basically a rock with most of the colony in stasis pods. I’d either end up in one, or cleaning them out when one of the occupants dies. Not exactly a fate I’d wish on anyone.
“You’ll be in orbit around Hades Exile soon,” the Patron continues, repeating the briefing he gave me three months ago when I set off after the disciplinary hearing. “We expect the length of your observation period to be three years as determined by the solar cycle of this particular planet. I don’t need to remind you that breaching the atmosphere will be grounds for immediate recall. If you do encounter life, report it immediately.”
“Immediately? You want an urgent report if I find a frog or something?”
I hear him sigh. “There is a small chance of human life on this planet. If there is, you will be reassigned. We don’t want a repeat of the last set of events, do we?”
I bite my lower lip. Yeah. There it is. If there is anything interesting to see, they don’t want me to see it. They want to bore me out of existence, that’s what they want.
“Alright sounds good. See you in three years then.”
His stern tone softens a hint. “Be good, Tselia.”
With that, the connection is severed. I am alone. Properly alone.
“Bye, Dad.” I wait until he can’t hear me to say my goodbyes. He prefers I think of him as the Patron, just like everyone else. Can’t have him showing me favoritism, even though he already has a dozen times. Anyone else would be a pod person by now. I’ve been given chance after chance. I hope I don’t mess this one up.
The last couple hours of my journey tick by uneventfully. My ship seems to hang in dark space, and it’s as if I don’t even move as a big gold and blue ball slowly rolls toward me, a massive marble which swallows the sky until my ship is caught in the outer tendrils of the gravity field.
I’m in awe. Slipping up to a new planet is always an incredible moment. No two are the same. Most of them are hostile to life, but every now and then you find a place like this, somewhere the rules for existence have been followed. Not too hot. Not too cold. Carbon dominant. Beautiful.
They call this planet Hades Exile. It’s not a fitting name for a paradise planet. There are plenty of places where the surface boils at millions of degrees kelvin, where the air is pure sulfur, where nothing has ever been able to bloom into existence.
Places like HE are rare, and evoke a yearning deep in my soul. This is the world as it once was, I imagine. This is how our genesis planet, Earth must have looked when it was still pure.
I give myself a few moments just to take it all in. Emotion is welling in me, excitement, joy, hope. The brief of this planet is an interesting one. A very long time ago, humans landed here. It was an accident and they were not expected to have survived, but if there’s still a trace of them, I will find it.
Now I’m in orbit, things will start to get interesting – even if they’re not meant to. Hopefully I can get some useful information, impress the Patron and his council with not just my observations and discoveries, but interpretations. Raw data means nothing. It has to tell a story. Some of the best explorers didn’t really see anything. They just tore meaning from chaos, reassured those who keep our species in stasis that it is worthwhile to keep doing so. When most of your population is on ice, things can start feeling a bit meaningless.
I am one of the very few who get to see, to search, to bring home knowledge. It’s a privilege, and in spite of what the Patron thinks, I haven’t forgotten that.
I move to the observation deck and sit down in the comfiest chair in the ship. It has to be. I’m going to spend many, many hours here just watching the world below unfold.
Once comfortable, I set about calibrating the instruments. They’re incredibly sensitive, and even from a relatively high orbit, they can pick out life forms on a broad taxonomic level. I might not be able to tell from here if there are humans, which there very likely aren’t. But I will probably be able to tell if there are mammals in the same order.
A planet, any planet with life, is a gene swarm. When the instruments first lock on, they find a buzzing confusion of data which takes hours and hours to sort into discrete life forms.
That’s why I turn the cameras on and that’s why I like to look. A human eye and mind can perform that task in a fraction of the time. We generally know when we’re looking at something that is or has been alive.
My stomach growls, so I grab some noodles from the ration generator, and settle back down. This is a punishment, to be sure, but an exciting one. I am sure the patron is interested in what I am able to gather here. If I send back some decent reports, I might even be allowed back to Base Eden, the place where I grew up, sometime in the next century.
I hit buttons, put the camera feeds up on the big screen in front of me. Out the window, I see the mass of it, the edge tapering into darkness.
The cameras reveal a beautiful planet. Its land mass is largely one big continent, with several smaller islands at the verge. The sea level is fairly low, no more than ten thousand feet in any given part. Unlikely to be home to leviathan creatures then. But the lands, they are a different matter. There are multiple large inland lakes where I focus my search. Life loves water.
For the first few hours, all I do is stare, chewing the occasional noodle. I think this might be the most stunning place I’ve ever seen. There are massive plains and towering mountains, forests through which great rivers flow. The polar regions are minimal, and the humidity seems to be high throughout most of the territory.
Suddenly, being stuck on this ship is more punishment than ever, and I realize just how devious the Patron has been. If I was staring into the void of space, or looking down at a burning planet, I would be perfectly content in my nice oxygen rich little star home. But now I am seeing this world laid out before me, and I can imagine what it would be to swim in those lakes, or stand atop those mountains, feel the rain which is falling across parts of the world, or bask in the sunshine of the great star beyond.
I miss being planetside. I wish being part of a system of life. As an explorer, I am nothing more than a speck of existence floating about space so infinite sometimes I wonder if I exist anymore, or if I’m just a wandering thought lost to the void.
I need ground beneath my feet. I need to be part of something. The connections between humans are so distant and tenuous now it almost feels as though we are already dead.
“Snap out of it,” I lecture myself as my thoughts drift toward the maudlin. It’s far too easy to slip into self-pity out here. “Look for the humans,” I tell myself. “They’re here. We survive. It’s what we do.”
I have hope, even though hope seems futile. Most planets evolve some form of life. Intellect is not guaranteed, but brutal animal instinct is.
The humans who came out here were originals, direct from Earth. Records show that a small colony may have been established here, largely by accident. They decided to explore instead of going directly to the next waypoint. When they tried to return to course, their heading was off by a few degrees and it took them into deeper space than any other ship could reach and also expect to survive.
It’s been ten thousand years since anyone made contact with this offshoot of the species. In all likelihood, they are all dead. That’s why the patron sent me here. To see what happens when orders are disobeyed, and protocols not followed.
He wants me to see the desolation of a species consumed by the wild. He wants me to understand how fragile life is, and how disobedience leads to inevitable suffering. I know these things already, even if I don’t entirely believe them. The humans who headed out this way were ill-fated explorers, and they almost certainly died so far from home they would never be found, but I see this mission a different way. I’ve come for them. Even if it’s just for the smallest hints of remains, some long lost wreckage, even if they had to wait ten thousand years, I have come. We do not abandon our own. Not forever.
BEEEP BEEEP BEEEP
Either I’ve forgotten that I put a second set of noodles on, and the ship is reminding me that they’re ready, or the scanners have found something. Noodles are more likely, so I slip out of the chair and check the generator first. No noodles. Back to the scanners, which have started spitting out data so aggressively I can hardly keep up with it as is scrolls across the screen.
I’m seeing signs of life. And not just any life. Humanoid life.
The scanners are showing a settlement at the base of a mountain range. It’s hard to pick out details at this range, so there are no pictures right now, but according to the data feed, hominid patterns of behavior have been detected. Primitive, but present.
“Wow,” I breathe to myself, watching as the data pours across the screens. I am going to need more than numbers and reports. I want to see these people with my own eyes. They have been here for ten thousand years existing entirely on their own. What are they like? Do they retain any of the old culture? I am excited at the prospect of seeing people who live as humans did at the turn of the thirtieth century.
This is so exciting I almost call a report into the Patron’s office, but something stops me. If there are people down there, I will be recalled and sent off to some other backwater. I will be denied what is mine: the rescue of the remnants of humanity.
I know what he would say: they are not to be interfered with. Life on other planets is not something for us to toy with. But I don’t see why. The Patron is always so concerned with contamination, saying that our mere presence can destroy what would otherwise exist. And maybe that’s true. But maybe it doesn’t matter. If the scanners are right, those are people down there. So how can I mess with them? I am a people too, after all.
The Patron might disagree. He has been saying for a long time that we are not human. We are superhuman. We are an offshoot of the original Earth species who decided not to keep falling prey to the cycle of brith and death. We long ago cured our ailments. Colds. Warts. Cancers. Coronary Disease. Each one was systematically eradicated until only our traitorous bodies with their cellular aging held us back – and then we solved that too. Some say the Patron is over a thousand years old. He has earned his immortality by guiding us to a place of pure power. To him, the rest of creation is nothing but a zoo to be curated. But I am only eighteen years old. I am a late birth, the product of illicit copulation. I am lucky the Patron didn’t have me removed from existence as an embarrassment.
Most of my people are not technically alive to shame him anyway. At any given time, most of our living members are in stasis, frozen in time. There are fields of people frozen, waiting for there to be a reason to exist again. It turns out, a perfect existence without pain or suffering is incredibly boring – and it also turns out that it is a lot more sustainable to keep a million or so people on ice than it is to have them walking around eating and excreting.
I don’t agree with that. I don’t agree with most things the Patron says and does. I am his youngest and most rebellious child, and he will never quite forgive me for existing.
But that doesn’t matter now. What matters is that I am here in orbit around the remnants of old human civilization.
I start to mess with the controls. The ship put itself into ideal orbit, but I’m not satisfied. I want to get lower. I want to see more. I want to get eyes on what’s going on below.
Hours pass as I hunt for humanity. Maybe days. I lose track of time as I scour the lands for views of what I know must be down there. I am almost asleep my in my chair when the grainy image of several bipeds flashes across the lower corner of the screen.
Bolting upright in my chair, I work to get a better view. It’s not great. I am limited to a top down view, and it is in such low resolution I can’t tell if these are the descendants of the lost humans, or some coincidental bipedal analogue.
I have to get closer.
The ship can’t go any lower without coming out of orbit, but there’s a shuttle I can take down quite a lot lower. It’s built for atmospheric entry, and it will allow me to observe these creatures with a much better resolution and degree of accuracy. But I’m not supposed to take the shuttle. I’m supposed to stay on the ship.
Tapping impatiently, I try to get a better view of the action below, already knowing I can’t get a closer shot.
The order I was given about reporting any signs of life has long been forgotten. This is my discovery, and the thrill of it makes me forget petty things like protocol and orders. I push up from my chair and I start getting ready.
I have to prepare the machine, and myself. Leaving the ship means getting protective gear on, a slick suit which conforms tightly to my body enough that no external atmosphere has a chance of penetrating if I choose to wear the hood. I almost never do. It gets sweaty in there and it makes me look like I’m wearing a full body swim condom. Not a cute look, even if I am all alone out in space.
The shuttle is powered up and ready. Its observation tools aren’t as powerful as the ship’s, but I will be able to get so close it won’t matter. I set the co-ordinates in the navigation panel to to the ones I saw the bipeds at, and I set off, detaching from my ship and dropping down into the atmosphere of Hades Exile.
The world rises up to swallow me. I find myself flirting with the sky, zooming over the rolling planet below. The subjects I located on the ship come into view. They are blissfully unaware of me above them as I set my devices to record and start to observe what seems to be mating behavior.
A pack of large males appear to be courting a female. By courting, I mean chasing her about in a field. I zoom in to make sure she is alright – not that I’m allowed to do anything if she isn’t.
There is a big smile plastered across her face as she leads the males on a chase. She is more nimble than they, and perhaps a little faster. Either that, or they are humoring her in her attempts at escape.
The female has long dark hair which flows from her head and she is entirely naked aside from a strip of clothing which covers her sex. It’s hard to tell what she looks like exactly, but my heart is beating faster because she really does look quite human. Not like me, precisely, but close.
The males have overtaken her and are surrounding her. She turns to face each of them, spinning around in place. They seem to be communicating. Are they speaking?
I want to get closer. I hope they don’t move from this field. Mating has always been a fascination of mine but it rarely takes place where I can see it. The resolution on my optics is good for what it is, but I’m still obscured by things like trees and caves, so unless they all start fucking in the open…. oh. There they go.
As I look on from my perch in the sky, the female is taken between them. Though she likely only has a single vaginal canal, they seem to be too impatient to wait for that cavity, so they make liberal use of her mouth and her hands, and very possibly her anus as well.
The smaller shuttle has much better optics for being closer. I can zoom right in to the point I can almost see the male members. They are very much like the male anatomy of our own species. Evolution is a mistress of habit. She likes a four limbed base model, with alternate wings if you insist on them, or flippers if you want to go in the water. Two eyes, for the most part, if you’re going to bear live young. She has rules. Rules that haven’t been challenged for a long time. Our scientists used to try. Why not four arms and no legs? It turned out two arms were re-purposed as legs fairly quickly. Why not three eyes and no nose? Also had its disadvantages.
There are ways things are done, even on far flung planet like this one. One of the rules I’ve yet to see broken is crude, but simple: females get fucked.
Genital configuration is also one of Mistress Evolution’s sticking points. One has an out bit. One has an in bit. Sometimes the out bit will break off and stay in the in bit, as in the case of the Rectari, who mate via the anal canal, but the basic formula is usually the same.
I have seen a lot of mating in my time. I am yet to experience it myself. Reproduction is a classified and restricted activity. If I had been chosen for one of the very rare breeding position, I would have had any number of offspring now – not that I would have known them. We don’t tolerate tedious “parenting”. Our small ones soon work out which tube of their personal pod is for nutrition and which is for waste, and we have many instructive and educational videos for them to watch as they grow to full size.
I ease the ship a little lower in orbit. There is decent cloud cover. I’ll be fine. They won’t see me. These creatures show little in the way of human intelligence. I imagine they are no different mentally to many of the other automaton-like creatures I observe, going along predetermined patterns of behavior without much in the way of thought or concern.
The audio isn’t good from this distance, even if the view is better. It would be nice to see from an angle other than top down though, there’s only so much I can glean from the top of a bobbing head. I need to see expression, I need to hear reactions.
At this distance, it is impossible to tell if the female is in ecstasy, or if the males are taking their pleasure at her cost.
I should get just a little closer. Another few thousand feet and I will be in audio range. I’ll also be close enough to have to use the thrusters to avoid gravity. Out of orbit and into range I go, barely thinking about the additional risks I’m incurring.
Wet slapping and animal grunts suddenly burst over the speakers. Oh yes. Those are the sounds of a vigorous mating in progress. There is no way these creatures speak Intergalactic English, but by sheer coincidence some of their vocalizations sound familiar. The noises they make are deep, rough and gritty. Wait. Am I imagining it, or are those words I recognize from old language classes? The ones the Patron said were a waste of time because nobody spoke twentieth century English anymore, nor would they ever again.
“Bend over. Pussy up. Now.”
The words rumble through my speakers and I feel excitement slice through me. Those words hold a power, a raw intensity. I know they’re not really words in the way I might use them. They’re mating calls. I can tell, because I am an experienced observer of animal life and also, in all the years we have been observing other planets and systems, we have never found a species as sentient as our own.
These aren’t people, I have to remind myself. Even if they look like people, and sound like people, I have to avoid anthropomorphizing them.
Something impacts the left engine of the shuttle. My eyes are locked on the scene below, the carnal viciousness of the male’s actions so utterly spell binding that I am halfway across the shuttle, thrown by the impact, before I even know it has happened.
WARNING: PROJECTILE LODGED IN ENGINE the ship grates in my ear. LOSING ALTITUDE.
I crash into the far wall, then into the ceiling, then into the floor again as the shuttle spins. We’re close enough to the planet that there’s gravity. Goddamit. I hate gravity.
In seconds, I am in free-fall. Whatever hit me knocked my flight systems offline and that means I’m no longer in a shuttle. I am now in a big hunk of metal hurtling toward the ground, fighting controls which are calibrated for the seamless resistance of space and which barely respond in the thick, oxygen rich atmosphere of the planet.
The best I can do is slow my descent enough to the point when I impact the ground, I hopefully don’t die immediately. I manage to strap into the chair tight enough that my body is held securely, the emergency systems doing their best to cushion the shock of a terminal speed impact.
There is noise and rumbling and motion, a sense of intense speed even though I am actually moving slower than I have moved in months. Hitting the ground is like being knocked out of my body. I have never felt anything like it. I feel as though I have been crushed out of existence.