The following is a piece I started writing to get inside the head of a character I’d made for a friend’s Mindjammer role-playing game. Sadly the game struggled to take off and ended before I’d gotten round to finishing this piece, but I’m uploading what exists here for posterity.
One of the reasons I never finished this is that I do not like writing sci-fi. I love both science fiction and fantasy stories but in general find it significantly harder to write sci-fi that I’m happy with. I tend to get caught up in thinking too much about how the science and technology would work and whether what I’m describing is actually possible to enjoy the process. With fantasy I’m generally happy (well, happier) using a hand-wavey “well it’s magic, innit” rationalisation which allows me to concentrate more on the plot than the plausibility, making the task both easier and more enjoyable.
This was originally written in October 2014.
Chikere “ChiChi” Chinleyu
The ATV rolled to a stop with a crunch, a soft hiss of sand running into the tracks it had left in the white desert and the ticking of its cooling engine replacing its mechanical whine as it powered down. A harsh, mechanical hiss followed as a door popped open high on the vehicle’s side.
A heavily wrapped figure squeezed through the door, manoeuvring clumsily under the many layers of rustling fabric obscuring their body. Halfway through they stopped and looked around, as if noticing their location for the first time. The figure gingerly took hold of the large goggles resting over their eyes and pried them off, resting them on their forehead as they blinked in the cold sun and harsh, colourless sky.
“Hm,” the voice was muffled; the figure probed through the fabric on the side of their head to press the switch of their earpiece with a click, “No wind. Check next time. Protective desert clothes…” they paused and looked around again at their lifeless, static surroundings, “unnecessary.”
Fully extracting themselves from the confines of the doorway the figure began unwinding the tatty fabric from their body, throwing armfuls as they were unwound untidily back through the door. Once freed the figure, a woman, spent a few moments readjusted the straps of the many bags she carried and bought the goggles back down over her eyes. She huffed as her short black hair flopped over them, obscuring her vision, and she lent back through the door, grabbed a small rag and tied it around her head. She tilted her head experimentally to ensure no more hair would fall lose, pulled the door shut with a soft thump, then half-crawled, half-slid down the outside of the vehicle. She came to rest on top of one of vehicle’s treads, falling into a crouch, and looked out at her prize.
She had pulled up near the bottom of a dark streak of rock running across the landscape, the severe grey of the stone looming over the otherwise pristine and unbroken sands like a scar. More interestingly, jutting from the base of the jagged cliff was a twisted pile of scrap that, once upon a time, had been a spacecraft. Leading away from where it had impacted at the base of the cliff was a long valley rent into the sand, tapering off towards the horizon and peppered with debris, where the ship had apparently made landfall.
Snickering at the occupants’ misfortune at having collided with the only chuck of rock for kilometres around, the woman once again reached up and depressed the switch on her earpiece.
“ChiChi’s Log, H-34Z Desert Expedition, Entry One,” she said, before remembering she’d already made one entry and guiltily adding “uh, Point One.” She looked around, squinting against the glare even through her goggles. “Source of the anomalous signal has been located. Downed ship at 12.5268 by negative 162.6637, model unknown or, well, unrecognisable.”
She hopped from the side of the vehicle, dropping the few metres to the floor nimbly, and strolled towards its rear. Still looking at the ruins of the ship she groped across the back panels until she found what she was looking for, sliding her hand across an ID panel and tapping buttons until, with another hiss, a lift began to lower itself from the underside of the vehicle. Finally managing to pull herself away from the view and pay attention to the task at hand ChiChi clambered onto the descending panel and unclipped the protective webbing to reveal the battered industrial cart beneath. She grabbed a rope attached to the trolley and tugged it off of the lift, grinning as the skis she’d mounted on it began to skim easily across the desert. Holding the rope and dragging the trolley behind her she turned and bounded across the sand towards the ruin, taking elongated strides as the desert rushed back in to her footprints behind her.
As she drew closer to the wreckage she began to see other, smaller scars in the sands of the desert; some smaller trenches ending in a piece of shrapnel from the ship and a number of small, uniform circles as if the area had been pelted by a tiny meteor shower. The body of the craft jutted upwards at a precarious angle from the base of the cliff, though whilst some of the body still seemed to be intact (if you could call the concertina of metal it’d become ‘intact’) large portions of it had been gutted by fire, leaving upper portions of the wreckage a burnt skeleton. Where it impacted the rock it was surrounded by a tangled jumble of burnt machinery that had probably once belonged somewhere inside it. Smears of paint covered parts of the chassis and in places ChiChi spotted writing, though it was in an alphabet she didn’t recognise. She thoughtfully stopped to take some pictures of it in case someone wanted to buy them from her later. Approaching the base it became harder to navigate the cart through the maze of metal so she abandoned it and moved up to the side of the wreck alone. She placed her hand against it reverently, looking up at the twisted metal towering over and around her, then rapped her knuckles against the hull and listened to the sound reverberate across the metal.
“Mine now,” she whispered happily.
Moving out again and humming to herself she picked her way around the area, occasionally climbing larger lumps of the surrounding wreck, looking for an easy way into the main section of the craft. To an observer it may have looked like slow going as ChiChi proved to be easily distracted and stopped frequently amongst the tangle of metal to retrieve bits of electronics and other salvage which she hefted onto her waiting trolley. Eventually she managed to complete her circuit of the ruin’s base and was forced to admit that there was no easy way into the craft at ground level.
She returned to the old roof of the craft, where the angle was least steep. After spending a brief moment securing her pouches more tightly around her she took a look upwards then leaped into the air. Her feet thudded against the shell of the craft, her fingers grasping upwards until they hooked over a protrusion on the wrinkled metal surface. She tugged on her hold to make sure it was secure then looked upwards again before bracing her feet and pushing off for the next hold. She bounced from ridge to edge as she made her way up the outside of huge craft and eventually reached a part of the metal skeleton that had crashed downwards. She took a last deep breath and launched off.
As she landed on the exposed girder she dropped to a crouch to catch her balance and looked around. Unfazed by the drop to the tangled metal below her and the occasional creak of the old metal she stood and padded along the beams, hopping and clambering from one to another she worked her way around the outside of the ship. As she circled she climbing higher until eventually she stood above what remained of the metallic skin of the vessel and could look down into its remains. She clapped her hands together and dropped into a sitting position, happily kicking her legs over the open space, then clicked her earpiece again.
“Have scaled the outside of the craft, all lower doors inaccessible. Setting rigging to extract salvage from above.”
She began extracting herself from her bags, looping the straps over the beam and securing them dangling underneath. As she want she produced a variety of contraptions, lining the items up along the beam before pushing the bags over the edge. As she began clipping the devices to herself and the beams she resumed humming, constructing a set of rigging that attached her and a small pulley system to her vantage point, all secured by thread-thin wire.
She pushed off, dragging a cable behind her and falling towards the opening at speed. As she drew close she tapped a button on her belt, causing the rope to catch and slow her descent. A few metres above the opening she stopped, peering into the shadowy interior. Holding the cord with one hand to steady herself she pulled her shaded goggles up on to her forehead and squinted suspiciously at the darkness below.
“Possible life on board the craft, could have spotted movement,” she muttered into her earpiece, “checking IR.”
She let go of the cord and began to spin lazily as she fiddled with a small computer display mounted on her wrist. After a few moments it let out a desultory honk and flashed an error at her. She glared at the screen for a moment then tried again, muttering as she did and jabbing the screen harder than was strictly necessary. The machine honked again and she swore.
“Piece of junk, urgh, fix later, fix later,” she clicked her earpiece again, “IR unavailable, resorting to drop test.”