"Following this event, settlements were quickly established. The interim leaders of the settlements, Omega-021, Epsilon-024, Zeta-031, and Gamma-050 decided that a meritocracy would form a solid bedrock for a stable and peaceful society. They assumed control of their settlements on the basis that their initiative and ingenuity in establishing initial control proved their ability to lead and govern. Society flourished for eighty years under their leadership. During this time, numerous more settlements were established across the continent…"
Delta-735 quietly sealed off his eardrums. He'd already read the file, and the digi-tutor was just reading it off again. Besides, if the tutor asked him a question, it would still come through. He surreptitiously snuck a glance at Phi-724. She was staring intently at the digi-tutor. Delta-735 resigned himself to the knowledge that she would not look at him, then he looked again. Phi-724 was now quietly reading through her e-reader. Delta-735 sighed to himself. Her bright, iridescent nictitating membranes, the sheen of her waxy skin, the way her nostrils flared ever so slightly to capture extra water vapor, and the way she effortlessly applied linear quadratic estimations while also calculating angular velocities and trajectories for inertial guidance systems exuded grace and beauty. His reverie was broken by the beep of his e-reader. Delta-735 nervously unlocked it to peer at his newly arrived test scores.
"Darwin man, if I'd gotten a 93 on an exam I don't think my unit coordinator would've let me back into the charging pods!" Lambda-713 buzzed, his voice muffled through the radiation suit.
"Look, I don't want to talk about it right now," came Delta-735's reply. "Can you just get the anode? We can't have a Hall effect thruster if there isn't any electric potential!"
Lambda-713 walked towards the back of the hangar. He scanned the shelves for an anode, picked one up, and returned to 735, his feet clanging against the metal floor.
"C'mon man, what happened? How could you screw up so badly?"
"For Darwin's sake what part of I don't want to talk about it don't you understand?" 735 shouted.
"Seriously, what happened?" 713 pried. 724 wasn't listening, though. He was looking somewhere else. 713 followed his gaze. Outside of the garage where the two were working, Phi-724 was trotting down the street, kicking up iron-laden dust as she went. 713 whistled appreciatively, observing how the length of each stride was precisely calculated to use as little energy to cover as much ground as possible. Then he noticed 735's eyes following her every step of the way.
"Oh Tesla! You have a thing for her, don'tcha!" 713 realized. "Wait, she's in your class…"
"Shut up and plug in that anode!"
"Dude, if you want to work with her, you gotta talk to her first!"
735 sighed, grabbed the anode from 713, and quickly secured it into the thruster casing. "Look man," he buzzed, " we have nothing in common. She's designing flying organisms for cargo transport for her project. We're designing a hyper efficient Hall effect thruster. Plus she's a Phi. Phi's are engineered to go for Iotas and Zetas, you know that!"
"To be fair, there was that one time that an Alpha and a Phi got together." 713 pointed out. "But I have a better idea. A friend from Settlement-05 told me that Phis are big on ecology. He also told me that there are rumors of some weird organisms by the original landing site. So all you gotta do is find one of those things, bring it back, and show Phi-724! She'll be all over you."
"What kind of weird organisms?" 735 buzzed curiously.
"Well, that's the thing. He swears that people have seen Homo sapiens."
735 snorted, his mouthparts curling to let the air flow through and against his tracheas in such a way that it would strike the right balance of incredulous and condescending. "You Luddite! At least try to come up with something I can believe."
"I'm serious! He says there's a few wandering around near the landing site. No one's gone to check it because Homo sapiens have been extinct for more than ten thousand cycles. But if there are some…"
735 shrugged. "Fine, let's go. We can test out the range of the thruster anyways. Help me hook this up to the buggy."
The duo cruised across the red dunes, their rucksacks bouncing as the buggy kicked up sand. The Hall effect thruster worked perfectly, propelling them forward at a crisp 20 kilometers per second. Several times the buggy almost lost traction on the granular iron sands. To both of their reliefs, the buggy did not tip. Within 120 seconds of setting off, they could see the landing site. Within 123 seconds, they were at the landing site. Within 123.01 seconds they were about to crash into the generation ship.
735 smacked the emergency brake. The Hall effect thruster immediately shut off, and the buggy's emergency magnetorheological brakes arrested all movement of the buggy, converting it into flywheel energy that could kickstart the buggy. It did not, however, arrest the movement of 713 and 735, who were hurled from the buggy and against the generation ship.
735 bounced back to his feet and picked up his rucksack, head spinning but paradoxically steadied by his own excitement. He had seen the generation ship before, but always from a distance. Now he could actually reach out and touch it. The tall, white, egg-shaped craft stood proudly, its enormous ion drives supporting it even as the bright red sand battered at it, fighting to engulf and consume it. On the side of it, nearly worn off after thousands of cycles, were two characters, written in an archaic script. One character was a sideways semicircle attached to the upper right of a vertical line. The other was a straight line connected to a second, perpendicular straight line.
"Did somebody get the license on that speeder?" 735 looked to his right to see 713 forcing himself to his feet. "Ah geez, my head is killing me."
"You okay?" 735 asked.
"Yeah, I should be fine. Check the buggy. Are the tranq guns there?"
735 bounded over to back of the buggy, where the supplies were stored. He opened the trunk and pulled out two long, thin rifles. "Tranq guns are fine. They're loaded, too. Catch!"
713 bobbled the gun, which went off in his hand. "Religion! The bloody thing almost hit me! Hey! Look at this!"
735 walked over to 713, who was peering intently at the ground. It was a footprint, but unlike any they'd ever seen before. It was a fat, oblong cylinder with ridges inside.
"Huh! This must be a Homo sapiens footprint! Okay, let's see. Homo sapiens like flesh, right? Maybe we can lure one out with some meat." 735 decided.
"Okay, let me see…" 713 murmured. He took a piece of jerky from his rucksack and moved around. "Hey man, there's a hole in the generation ship!"
"Really? Where?" 735 called back incredulously.
"713? 713!" Delta-735 raced towards Lambda-713, his hearts pounding in his chest. The sand restricted his speed, threatening to make him slip, but 735 reached 713 in time to see him being dragged by something into a great rend in the side of the ship.
"Oh Darwin oh Darwin oh Darwin…" 735 stared into the gap. It was nearly impossible to see. Enormous gears and wires threaded through the gap, sparking and giving off horrendous noises. 735 turned, intending to get help, but then stopped. What if 713 was killed by then? Or something worse?
Inside, almost no light could penetrate the ship. The ground was rough and metallic, and all sorts of gears, rods, and jagged ends poked into the corridor, rubbing against him. Eerie, harsh shrieks, loud roars of machinery, and the crackling of electricity punctuated the thick air. He felt claustrophobic, which was bizarre since he'd spent all of last night poking around the ventilation shafts back in the hive. But this was nothing like the hive's warm, organic confines. This was cold, sharp, and grim.
735 crept a little further in. He jumped and smashed his head on a rod as a particularly violent screech hit his eardrums. The sound echoed through the vast confines of the ship. 735 swore to himself that he would never visit the generation ship again if they survived. At that moment, he heard voices, although he couldn't tell what they were saying. 735 carefully followed the sound, doing his best to avoid alerting them. He wound his way through the corridors, dodging sharp falling objects, dangling wires, and all manner of other hazards. The ship was nothing like he'd imagined it. It wasn't a space worthy utopia. It was a nightmarish prison.
Delta-735 suddenly found himself peering into a wide, bright, circular chamber. Large spotlights illuminated the white, plastic floor. Two enormous slugs, similar to the ones in the hives, lay in the middle, throbbing. Every so often, they would squeal, and their cloacas would distend, ejaculating clear liquid as well as a small, fat hominid. The tiny offspring were hideous. Their soft, smooth-looking skin was a pale beige, and their digits were fat, round things. Two enormous, bulbous eyeballs blinked and swirled as the creatures howled. At that moment, 735 heard a voice as he fought to keep from vomiting. He couldn't hear it very well, but he could tell where it was coming from.
Delta-735 looked up. Near the top of the chamber was an observation room. A tall, rounded bipedal creature in a white garment was standing within, blocked off by frosted glass. At the same time, he could hear agonized shrieks coming from behind the thing, the voice of which belonged to Lambda-713. Delta-735 shuddered, and aimed his tranquilizer rifle. At that moment, he heard something behind them. Then a large, flat object smashed into his skull, and blackness overtook him.
Delta-735 woke with a start. He was strapped down to some sort of table, oriented upright.
A large, beige creature in a light-green full-body garment and mask stood in front of him, speaking into a recorder in some incomprehensible language. Delta-735's eyes widened as he frantically fought to extricate himself from his restraints. The creature noticed him move, said something else, and then waddled away from him. Across the room was Lambda-713, tied to a similar board, whose eyes widened upon seeing Delta-735. Several electrodes were taped to his skull.
"735! Are you okay?"
"Except for being tied up by a fat hominid, I'm great!" 735 snapped.
"Can you get out of these restraints? They're too tight!" 713 called back.
735 made a show of fighting his restraints, but Deltas weren't engineered for athleticism.
The fat thing waddled back into view, dragging a trolley of sharp-looking surgical instruments. 713 and 735's eyes widened in disbelief. This creature was going to perform surgery on them? Without any sort of robotic assistance?
The fat creature said more things into its primitive recorder, took a serrated scalpel from the trolley, and moved towards him. If he could cry, Delta-735 knew he would have. Even while Delta-735 plead to every scientist he could think of, the creature made a long, straight seam down his chest, from neck to groin. Oddly, he couldn't feel anything. Then it peeled back the seam. Fat, muscle, nanomesh, and bone came with the seam, exposing 735's organs. His two hearts pulsed in time with the electronic devices that regulated them, drumming out a grotesque tempo. Delta-735 wanted to close his eyes but he couldn't keep them off the spectacle happening to him. His lungs throbbed as they exchanged oxygen and captured carbon dioxide for photosynthesis. His stomach was very nearly empty, probably because he had not eaten anything since before they left, but the chloroplast sacks busily performed photosynthesis in the artificial light. Delta-735 almost giggled. All this for some girl?
The hominid continued prodding around inside his chest cavity. It fiddled with his hearts, almost shutting them down at one point, poked at his lungs, investigated his rounded stomach, and generally poked and prodded. Its clothing was spattered with blood. All the while, it mumbled into its little recorder. Once it was satisfied that it had prodded him enough, it took a spray canister, rolled the edges of the seam back together and sprayed. The cut in Delta-735's chest sealed up. Then it took its scalpel and moved it to 735's arm. It busily sawed away at his arm, exposing his nerves, tendons, and blood vessels. Mercifully, 735 couldn't feel it. He supposed he had been given some sort of anesthetic. Then the scalpel sliced him in a particularly sensitive nerve, one that the anesthetic failed to desensitize.
The pain forced 735's adrenaline response to kick in. His arm ripped itself from the restraints, ignoring the blood spattering from his arm, and socked the hominid in its masked face, sending it reeling. As the hominid tried to regain its balance, 735 was already freeing himself. Fear gave him wings, as he bounded across the operating theater and pounced onto the hominid. 735 smashed the creature into the ground, beating at it with his fists, kicking it, throwing everything he could grab from the trolley at its head. The hominid fought at first, then weakened as a bright red fluid that was probably analogous to blood gushed from its head. Eventually, it simply stopped moving. But Delta-735 wasn't done. He ferociously beat at it and beat at it and beat at it and beat at it, smashing until the creature's head was a pulpy red and grey mess. Delta-735 sat there, panting in rage and fear. Had he killed it? Was it dead? Had he killed something? Oh god he had killed it! 735 got to his feet, finally remebering his opened arm. He stood up, taking the scalpel from the hominid, and stumbled towards 713. He sliced the restraints holding 713.
"What do we do now?" 713 asked.
"We get rid of this."
Omicron-746 was watching the sands for a project of his from the gatehouse. Thus he was able to see Lambda-713 steering a buggy towards the settlement, with Delta-735 lolling against his shoulder. 713 stopped at the gatehouse for 746 to come out. "Dude, where have you- Curie! What happened to Delta-735?"
"He was attacked by a sand sweeper. His arm's in pretty bad shape. Help me get him to his hive. What's wrong?" Lambda-713 snapped.
"The generation ship blew up! That's what's wrong! Our fucking heritage is gone!" Omicron-746 replied, as they picked Delta-735 up. "They found some weird shit in the wreckage. There were some… slug remnants in there! Like, the ones in the hives, but these ones were spawning something else! Nothing even remotely human!"
"Huh. Do we know what they were spawning?" Lambda-713 asked innocently.
"No. We found some weird, pink skin, but that's about it."
"Guess we'll never know."
"Yeah. Say, I heard you guys went out looking for Homo sapiens. Did you find anything?"
"No. Not a thing."