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Log of the Month for January, 2020

Left Behind
Posted on December 17th, 2019 by Kuari and Kathryn Harper

by Kuari and Kathryn Harper

On top of her being naked, cold, and covered in scrapes and scratches, the day had begun with fog and rain. She was miserable and wanted nothing more than to be back aboard Atlantis, but complaining about it was a waste of breath that would only serve to remind her even further of her discomforts. The rain was not particularly intense, but steady enough to be annoying, and as Kathryn Harper once more wiped her face and slicked her red hair back, she found herself looking forward to the work involved in making camp and building a fire. After that, she would be warm and dry again, but at least in the meantime, her involuntary shower had made her relatively clean. For now, the only way to endure the ordeal was to make the best of it, so she smiled over at her traveling companion and quipped, “Lovely day for a stroll, is it not?”

For the most part, beads of water were forming atop the Rucara’s plated back and short, smooth-tipped fur, running off when the drops became heavy enough. Water did collect between the folds of her wings after a while, so it had become common practice when Kuari occasionally stopped for Kate to keep walking ahead without hesitation as she would extend her wings to shake them off without splattering her friend. Kuari was aware of the Risian’s cloudy state of mind, knowing full well why most bipedal species wore rain-shedding clothing. Her own experience with evaporation cooling the skin was limited to when she lolled out her tongue for a long time, and she could only imagine what that would feel like across one’s entire body.

The mock tone in Kate’s voice wasn’t lost on her, and over the years she had learned how to play along. “Surely they didn’t design this program this way. The holographic controls must be on the fritz.”

Kate couldn’t keep from laughing, smiling up into the rain despite their unpleasant situation. “I know! We will have to get engineering to look into it.”

They kept walking as the morning progressed, following the nearby stream and at least trying to keep each other’s spirits high with jocular banter, though the inclement conditions made a good mood almost impossible to sustain for very long. After some time, Kate narrowed her eyes as what looked like a structure was starting to become visible through the trees and fog. “Kuari…” she began, gesturing ahead, “Am I seeing things, or is that a building?”

Kuari was spending more time attuned to her sense of smell and listening to the sounds of the forest to notice what was directly ahead of them and immediately looked in the direction Kate was indicating, her ears perked up and her gait slowing. The distant, upright edge of something could be seen through the brush, and it appeared to be far too wide to be a tree. “It might be!” Questions flooded through her mind, but she dare not voice them just yet, her instinctual and trained wariness of unknown danger kicking in. The presence of a building in this place had many implications to consider. Crouching halfway to the ground, Kuari watched and listened for whoever might be home.

As the two carefully approached, it became clear that the structure had, at one point, been a rather quaint house, but had fallen into disuse quite some time ago. The stonework exterior had clearly been neglected for decades, but was remarkably intact beyond what simple mortar would have allowed for. Dirty but unbroken glass still filled the dark windows, and the sloped tiled roof still fully protected the house’s interior. A dilapidated wooden fence partially surrounded the overgrown yard, but appeared much more ruined than the house itself.

From behind a tree, Kate quelled her desire to get out of the cold rain with caution and whispered, “It looks abandoned, but we must be sure.”

Kuari paused a moment longer, taking one last breath slowly through her expansive sinuses. “I don’t smell anyone. By how old it looks I don’t think I would, but I don’t think anyone’s camping out here, either.”

Considering their predicament for a moment, Kate decided that the risk was acceptable, and subconsciously slipped into command mode. “Take the front while I go around back,” she began, still whispering. “See if anyone is visible through the windows, then try the door. Keep quiet until we are sure, but call for help if you need it.” Once Kuari nodded her acknowledgement, Kate slipped away and began to sneak from tree to tree around the perimeter.

Kuari stealthily crept forward, her motions almost unnaturally smooth. She noted the colors around her to allow her skin to match them on the greens and browns of the spectrum, the chosen pigment rising to the top of her skin to show through the clear fur. The grey plates on her back didn’t change, but at least she could keep the appearance of her motion smaller.

It was a simple process to pass over the shortest remains of the wooden fence. The Rucara could comfortably approach at half the height of the lower windowsill, not that anything could be visible through the grime other than a passing shadow. She once again found herself missing the HUD readouts and associated technology of her Marine armor, having relied on it in so many missions and simulations in the past. There was something raw and exciting about this, though, in a way she had rarely ever experienced. Overall, Kuari had found the challenge to just survive deeply satisfying, despite the fear and doubts that they would live through it. It was a side of her she would have to explore further, but now was not the time to get distracted with inward thoughts.

Hunching down under the sill, Kuari carefully peeked over from the corner of the window, but as she feared couldn’t see through it. She brushed her wet paws together, then rubbed one over the corner of the glass. It took more effort than she was expecting, but she was finally able to look inside, and it took a moment of staring at the darkness for her eyes to adjust enough. A technologically advanced species had built this place judging by the furnishings, but she saw no one inside. Dropping down to the ground, Kuari crept along the walls towards the door.

From the nearest tree to the house’s glass back door, Kate quickly traversed the yard in a crouch-walk, and stood on the patio with her back to the wall as she leaned over to attempt to see through the door. As with the front window, the glass was also too covered in grime to get a clear look inside. Kate instinctively started to wipe at it with her sleeve before realizing that she didn’t have one, and after rolling her eyes, starting wiping at the muck with her wet bare hands. At first, all she accomplished was to make a mess of smeared dirt, but continually applying more rain water to her efforts finally allowed her to get a look inside. The visible room was dark with no apparent movement, so she tried the door only to find it locked, with the access panel dead. She pulled harder against the sliding mechanism, but the door would not budge, and Kate did not think this glass was breakable since none of it was broken despite the state of the rest of the exterior.

Half-heartedly smacking a hand against it in exasperation, Kate swore sharply under her breath in her native tongue. Outwardly, she had been careful to at least appear to take all of this in stride, since starship captains shouldn’t complain, instead presenting as a pillar of strength to inspire their crews, but she was reaching the limit of what she could endure without complaint. Right now, while soaking wet and chilled to the bone after over three days naked in the wilderness, Kate Harper wanted nothing more than to be in that room, warmer and dry, and sitting on furniture instead of the dank ground. She gritted her teeth through a sudden involuntary shiver while fighting back tears of frustration, and dejectedly touched her forehead to the glass. Maybe Kuari had better luck, but Kate needed a moment to gather her composure after being thwarted with relief so close.

Kuari reached the front door, finding dirty sealed sliders. It wasn’t something she was capable of breaking into, that was for sure. Looking next to the door just above her lowered head she found the expected access panel, but it was dark and appeared to be unpowered. She scrabbled at the edges with her claws in an attempt to get underneath to pry it open, but the seams were too fine. Being unfamiliar with the technology, she wasn’t able to find a way to remove the panel. Looking back at the doors, she tried to peer between them, but there was no gap that she could identify. She attempted to pull them apart, but she didn’t have enough of a grip on the surface to get either door to move. Giving up, Kuari decided to check in with Kate to see if she had any success from her side of the building and began to make her way around.

Upon hearing Kuari’s approach, Kate quickly attempted to put her Captain’s face back on, finding the rain helpful in concealing that she had teared up. She moved away from the door and toward the side of the house between them, meeting Kuari as she came around the corner. “That door is locked,” Kate stated with a deflecting thumb over her shoulder, “but the place does look to be unoccupied. Did you have any luck?”

“I haven’t seen anyone, either.” Kuari glanced at the glass door Kate had tried. “There doesn’t seem to be any power. I can’t tell if the front doors are locked or not, but I can’t get a grip to slide them open.”

Taking a moment to think, and glad to be working on solving this problem instead of wallowing in self-pity, Kate offered, “If they might be unlocked, then maybe together we can get the front doors to move.” Kuari nodded, turned around and led the way back around the building. Once there, they both set up to push against one of the doors, with Kate crouched below Kuari. In tandem they pushed, fighting to keep a grip on the smooth, wet metal surface with bare hands and paws, both keeping as low as possible to use their leg strength to the greatest advantage.

After considerable exertion, the door finally gave up a metallic screech and started to slowly slide open. Once the crack had widened to a few centimeters, they were able to get their palms against the inner edge, greatly increasing their grip and rate of progress, and soon a gap had opened that they could both fit through. A stale, musty scent wafted out of the house, as if the air inside had not circulated in ages. Kate held herself back from rushing into the dry sanctuary, but first peered inside, then back to Kuari. “Teeth and claws first, just in case?”

It took no more encouragement from her captain for the protective security officer in her to kick in and Kuari poked her head in further, stopping to listen and study the indoor scent, her large eyes watching for any movement. It seemed unlikely at this point, but with their success in getting in, she had to remind herself to still stay cautious. Finally sneaking all the way in and stopping again, Kuari couldn’t help but appreciate the simple luxury of being indoors, despite the mustiness of the air. After being outside for so long it felt excessively dry and warm inside, which was a great relief.

Kate watched Kuari for a few seconds, waiting as long as she could stand it out in the cold rain while agonizingly perched on the precipice of relief before finally giving in, ducking just inside the door. She paused there and listened, but the only sound other than her breathing and Kuari’s stealthy movements was the patter of rain on the roof. On the roof! Not hitting her face! Kate had never in her life been more grateful to simply be inside a building, but she tempered her excitement and remained quiet and still, waiting for Kuari’s all-clear.

When clearing a building, time was of the essence. At a quick glance, Kuari could see the living area and kitchen were probably empty, but it was good to be sure. She spotted Kate just inside the door, so she gestured with her nose at those two areas for her to search and crept down the short corridor. There appeared to be three open doorways, one of which she could see was a washroom. Peering into the first room, Kuari found a spartan but dusty-smelling bedroom, and a quick check in the closet assured her no one was there. She didn’t even have to enter the small washroom as she passed its doorway to see no one could be hiding in it. The last room was not as minimalist in decor, with unfamiliar yet clearly children’s toys decorating the shelves and a small cradle against one wall. Satisfied the house was clear, Kuari took a moment to imagine who these people taking care of their young were, and why they left. A twinge of sadness settled over her at what could have happened to make them leave so suddenly, but her desire to meet back up with Kate led her back towards the main room.

She found Kate in the kitchen, regarding a piece of yellowed paper. Kate crossed the room to Kuari to show her; it was a crude drawing of the house and its former occupants, obviously created by a child’s hand. Nothing about what species they were could be determined from the stick figures, other than their humanoid form. “I wonder what happened here,” Kate whispered, as if she did not wish to disturb the sanctity of the place. “Everything is so neat and orderly, like they just… left, leaving the front door unlocked, and never came back.”

Kuari nodded, looking at the paper with both eyes causing her to appear cross-eyed for a moment. She then glanced behind Kate at the kitchen, hopeful. “I don’t suppose any food would still be good?”

“After all this time, I doubt it, but it is worth a search,” Kate responded as she reverently placed the drawing on a table. The kitchen contained what appeared to be a food synthesizer, but without power, that would not prove to be very useful. There was no refrigeration unit, which made sense with a synthesizer available, and the cupboards contained no prepackaged food of any sort, but Kate did claim a large kitchen knife, still quite sharp, and there were several utensils, cups, plates, and cooking vessels that looked to be serviceable. When Kuari tested the kitchen faucet, it caused a great shudder in the pipes, but eventually started to produce muddy water, which she let run to see if it would clear over time.

As the water ran, Kate tried the manual lock on the back door that had thwarted her earlier, and found that it released, allowing the door to easily slide open, providing air flow through the two doors to air the house out a bit. “No food and no power, but this is still all quite helpful,” she appraised as she turned back toward Kuari and folded her arms over her chest. “I think we should make this our base, for at least a couple of days. Then again, I could just be happy to be out of the rain.”

Their mission the last few days had kept them focused on finding other members of their crew that may be stranded here with them, and Kuari hesitated in her answer. It was entirely possible they were the only two here, but their sense of duty required them to be certain of that. Kuari stopped in her tour of the cushioned sitting area and sat on the floor, looking over at Kate. They had foregone establishing a more solid camp by constantly moving, and Kuari worried for her friend’s health if they continued to push on without proper rest. She had gotten used to her captain’s nakedness in the wilderness, but it seemed very much out of place in the house, a reminder of the last few days’ hardships. Maybe it was better if they stayed, at least for a little while. She had to admit, staying indoors sounded really nice.

Kuari brightened as a thought occurred to her. “You should check the bedrooms for clothing. Something might fit you, and even if it doesn’t, it would help keep you warm.”

Kate’s breath caught when she opened her mouth to reply, almost as if she should not dare to get her hopes up for such a windfall, thus sparing herself the crushing disappointment when she found nothing to wear. However, the stick figures in the child’s drawing were humanoid, and the house was in surprisingly good shape, so perhaps their clothing was similarly sturdy. Either way, she had to know, and the prospect of some level of succor from the constant soul-shivering chill that had defined her existence for the past three days was enticing. “Oh, please let there be something…” Kate entreated as she darted for the bedroom.

The closet and dresser did indeed both contain clothing, constructed from advanced synthetic fibers that had left them musty, but intact. Their colors appeared to have faded long ago, but Kate hardly noticed as she began to eagerly search for something that she could use, first finding a folded towel in the dresser and drying herself with it. After a few minutes, she sported a thin gray v-necked tunic under a sweater with a similar lack of color, a pair of utilitarian cargo pants, and a pair of thick socks. The fit was not perfect, but close; one of the former occupants had a similar height and size to Kate, with the clothes that had obviously belonged to the other adult being too large as to be unwieldy. “How do I look?” Kate asked with a grin as she spread her arms to present herself, the clothes feeling better than the finest she had ever worn.

Having followed Kate into the bedroom, curious as to what she would find, Kuari stood near the door, smiling. “They look good. You will be much warmer, and better protected! How do they feel?”

With a laugh at her complete and utter relief to have what was normally such an ordinary comfort, Kate gushed, “Better than Risian silk!”

“I’m so happy! There’s nothing like going without to make you appreciate the simple things, is there?” Kuari sat for a moment, watching Kate and appreciating their fortune, when she remembered the sink was running in the kitchen. “I want to check on the water.” As she got up and made her way back down the hallway, she added in a louder voice, “Then I should go hunting and bring back something to eat!”

Kate sighed contentedly in response to Kuari’s sentiment on appreciation, then started to look around the bedroom for anything else useful as she replied, “Not that I do not appreciate the fruit, but I could really go for some meat, I must admit.”

“The water looks good, now!” Kuari yelled from the kitchen, watching the tap as clear water flowed from it. “Do you think they have a well, or it’s pulling from the stream?”

“Probably a deep well, if it is still working after all this time.” Kate paused at the dresser and peered into its mirror, wondering who was the last to do so.

Kuari shut off the water and took a closer look around the kitchen, her voice still raised to be heard in the back room. “I wonder how long it’s been abandoned. It seems like a long time, but the technology is quite advanced. I wonder whose it is?”

“We may never know, but whoever they were, we can thank them for it anyway,” Kate answered, still regarding the mirror and pondering its history. Noticing a hair brush on the dresser, she picked it up and pulled a few strands of bluish-purple hair out of it. “But here is one clue…”

Drawn by Kate’s words, Kuari returned to the bedroom to find Kate looking at a hairbrush. “What did you find?”

Kate held up the strands of hair for Kuari to see. “Not much, but an interesting color of hair, at least.” She shrugged, and looked at herself in the mirror, noticing her own hair to be a disheveled damp mess, and smirked when she remembered she was holding a hairbrush. After habitually raising the brush, Kate stopped herself; it was not important for their survival, but she found her desire for the small luxury to be sudden and strong. “Kuari, with everything that we still must do today, would you think it selfish of me to spend a few minutes brushing my hair?”

Shaking her head, Kuari assured her, “Not at all. In fact, you should think more of yourself right now. You’ve been worried about the crew, but you need to do things to make yourself feel better right now.”

With a smile of thanks to her friend, Kate tried the brush, gingerly at first, but she brushed more firmly once it was clear that it had held up well to the ravages of time. As she worked the tangles out, Kate did start feeling better, and when the job was done, she smiled at her reflection in the mirror, feeling much more like herself. “Thank you, Kuari, I did need that,” Kate said as she put the brush down and picked up an ornately-decorated silver hair clip, pulling her hair back into a low ponytail and securing it.

Kuari sat watching her, still smiling. It was good to see her friend looking more captainly, and her mind had already moved on towards her own tasks at hand. “You’ll feel even better after a full belly. I’ll do my best to find you some meat. We have places to store food now, too!”

“Yes, that will help, but it will be difficult to get a fire going in this rai—” Kate interrupted herself when she noticed something familiar on the back of the hairbrush, which she had placed bristles-down on the dresser. She picked it up and turned it sideways as she held it in front of her face, almost dumbstruck by the engraving on the tarnished silver. “To my love,” she quietly read aloud before turning to Kuari and meeting her eyes.

“It is written in Gencodian.”

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  •  Alexis Wright says:

    This is great! I love the idea of them falling so easily into their professional roles and then back into their personal ones – it really gives a sense of long-term, practiced friendship. The description of the house really gave me a sense of age. And Most of all… Gencodian! Holy shit, there’s a twist! Interested to see where things go from here. Nice work!

  • Atlantis Patch Benedict Wolfe says:

    I enjoyed the storytelling of this post. Pretty much everything Wright said above, and then this:

    With one of the writers sitting next to me, I get to comment as I read – whether that’s for better or for worse. One of the notable moments linguistically was the use of the word, “unwieldy.” Not a word I generally associate with clothing, and just about any other time I don’t think it would work, but it does here.

    I enjoyed the connection being created between Kuari and Harper, or rather increased, as they’ve spent three days together. Two characters who couldn’t care less about clothing, now intensely interested in it.

    Quick question: Is this the first organic element we’ve seen from the Gencodians? I know our characters and those surrounding them have interacted with Gencodian objects, but ever anything organic like hair?

  •  Emilaina Acacia says:

    This one had me on the edge of my seat just from how well the story flows! As always you two have great chemistry.
    Definitely excited for the resolution of this one.

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