APAGear II Archives Volume 1, Number 1 December, 1998


No Man's Land

Rick Horton

It baffled Dr. Casch that he was standing in a place where no sentient being had stood before. The lush, flat plains before him were flanked by rolling hills, placing the sunset in a bowl of landscape. The true scope of it began to dawn on him, as he realized that few humans had ever even set foot on this entire planet. The tiny patch of ground was his. No one currently on this planet would dispute it. He held his arms out, tilted his head back and stared up to the faded azure sky, smiling. "Nicholai! This meter of grassland is mine!" the doctor shouted into the breeze.

Casually, as if it were a statement common to everyday conversation, Nicholai replied, "Not likely Doctor. This site is almost perfect." He continued feverishly scribbling in an old-fashioned notebook. "This is not a bad spot for a Bickley lander. We can have a comm post set up in a matter of hours, assuming the soil can support that flying monstrosity."

They had traveled to the area by truck, collecting geological specimens on the way. The group was almost at the end of their patrol, as they had used the majority of their two weeks worth of supplies. Here, in the wilderness, on a chunk of dirt light years from home, a place more virgin than any imaginable, some in the eight-person colonial survey team had begun to find justification for their cosmic journey.

Staring into the distance, Dr. Casch finally replied, this time in a more serious tone, "If she could be here with me...I..." His word lingered into silence. This planet's sun Helios, was just beginning to touch the horizon, it's glow cascading across the open plain. The surrounding sky had begun its gradual fade to violet, and the alien heavens were coming to life.

Dr. Edul Casch and his wife, the renowned Dr. Solei Burkwood, began their journey to Terra Nova so many years ago that his memories had begun to blend into a surreal swirl. He only clearly remembered the beginning. It was scarred into his memory by pain. He and his wife had lost their three-year-old daughter to a tragic house fire. This event led them to several life-altering realizations: All of their lives had been devoted to bearing that one special child, the prodigy that would reach the goals that they had not achieved. Once the child was gone, they were emotionally and spiritually bankrupt. There was nothing on Earth that could repair the sadness and guilt they felt. Their offspring had been a tool forged from selfishness. Somehow it was their fault she had died. This epiphany brought them to the conclusion that they would have to begin anew to heal.

Edul, a doctor of zenology, and Solei, a medical doctor, had less difficulty than most in securing a pair of slots as colonial surveyors. After the lengthy application period, they were put aboard a medical research frigate in the entourage of a Marco Polo Class gateship.

The change of pace was not all that they had hoped. The long fruitless searches begun to take their toll on Solei. She was beginning to lose faith in the ideal that they would find this elusive peace on some remote, undiscovered rock. The work aboard the gateship fleet was tedious at best, and did little for her but keep her mind busy. Eventually she became sickly, a bizarre and odd disease that had not been seen before. No treatments seemed to quell it or greatly reduce its symptoms. She died slowly, and painkillers made her decline uncomfortable. Edul was numb to any pain by that point.

Now, standing on Terra Nova, eyes locked on the landscape, Edul now understood what it was they were seeking. Although he had reached the answer, his joy was tethered to a feeling of loss. "What will we do here Nicholai?" He queried rhetorically. "What will our people do to this world? I only hope that the rest can see the alien nature of this place, so that humans will treat it with inhuman respect...Do we ever learn from our mistakes?"

"Err...um...Doctor, should we begin setting up the Vitch?" Nicholai interrupted.

Dr. Casch broke his gaze from the sunset, and sighed. "Sure, get both...and see if you can get them running before dawn." He requested. Dr. Casch stutter-stepped down the side of the steep hill. In the adjoining ravine he met up with two armed figures. One, several inches shorter than the Doctor, had a long scoped rifle cradled in one arm.

The rifleman's works issued from within his ragged, full beard, "We just got word of two more attacks on other teams." He indicated with his eyes a woman crouched beside him. She was kneeling, a shotgun slung under her arm. A complex portable communications device was exposed in front of her. An antennae dish was extended towards the sky. Reading a map, she rhymed numbers and phonetics into a headset radio microphone.

Dr. Casch looked back towards the truck, "Great...Now I can't wait to meet the locals. We have only been here a few months and they already don't like us. Go ahead and get the perimeter secure, Nicholai is setting up the Stanovich array. I'll be with him." Giving orders to military personnel always made Casch uneasy. He was technically their superior, but he was never quite sure of their motivations. The rest of his team was easy to understand. Casch had more in common with the most bizarre scientist than he did with any soldier.

At some point that night the screams of chaos from the camp were punctuated with booming firearms. The dead were buried quickly, and the group evacuated. On the ride back into orbit, Dr. Edul Casch, looking down onto the area he had "claimed" as his, realized that no matter what untouched beauty this place had to him or any other, human nature would make war in it, and on it. This world had already become no man's land.

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APAGear II Archives Volume 1, Number 1 December, 1998