Landed on Laos in midst of storm. Instruments acting strange.
October 14, 3021
I’m attributing the lack of a return warpagram to the magnetic interference. Yes, magnetic. Just what they’re looking for. If my foray onto the surface tomorrow proves that it has manageable conditions, then I will have found the site of General Hader’s new base.
I didn’t specifically mention high magnetic levels in my warpagram, but they’ll read between the lines. Why else would my instruments be having trouble? The question now is this: if Laos is the spot, then what will that mean for us? Will I be ordered to continue on to the other stops? Or will I be directed home? I’m not sure that I prefer that option.
But, right now, this isn’t about me. I’m in a bad situation, yes, but Fergus is in a much worse one. I almost didn’t take him with me when I left Vortega. For that brief moment, I truly considered leaving him to his fate. I’ve been miserable ever since at the thought of it. If for no other reason than that moment of selfishness, I have to tell his story.
How much have I already told? I wish this wasn’t so scattered, but I haven’t tried to string these entries together like this before. Okay, there it is. I explained where Fergus learned the tru-
Well, that was the second exhausting conversation I’ve had with this man. Keeping me up late is just part of it. He walked in as I was writing earlier and finally wrung my topic from me. I didn’t tell him why I’m so desperate to tell his story, but I think he knows. He didn’t look as haunted as I feel, though. Anyway, he said his story is a lot broader than what he told me the other night. That was just the mission.
When Fergus went to work for NCSP in the Spring of 3006, he was dating a girl from college. They were going to get married, even though they weren’t formally engaged yet. Within six months, she was gone. According to Fergus, it wasn’t her fault. He was assigned to a very interesting project immediately after being hired, and in his eagerness to start he didn’t read his contract very closely. NCSP demanded more and more of his time, and he saw less and less of his girlfriend. She said she had called him, but he never received those calls. About four months into his employment, Fergus asked for a week’s leave so he could fix things. They refused. After that, tensions grew even more. Looking back now, he’s convinced NCSP intimidated his girlfriend and deliberately drove her away.
He never married.
I was nearly crying while he told me that, because it felt like he was telling me my own story. My boyfriend, Trevor, and I broke up two months after I started working for NCSP. We met in our senior year of college in my last physics class. He was studying to be a pilot. I remember never getting his calls while on the grounds, which was almost constantly once I was ordered to move into housing on the premises of the launch complex. And the look on his face that last day… I’ve never forgotten what he said: “Get out, Cass. Get out while you can.” I wish I had.
After Fergus lost his true love, he got pulled farther into his work. By the time he’d been working for a year, he literally had no life outside of NCSP. The easiest thing to do was just keep working. And he liked his projects. Six years after being employed there, he was assigned to Project Wanderer, which would result in his fateful space mission. He helped program the original ship, which went through several prototypes as tests failed or passed. The project hit plenty of slumps, especially when they couldn’t develop a communication method fast enough to travel thousands of lightyears. Then they invented the warpagram. It could only handle five words at a time back then, Fergus says, and, as they would discover, it wasn’t as reliable as expected. But eventually everything was ready. Fergus was the natural choice for navigator, having worked on the ship for so long.
Four months’ travel brought the trio of pilot Adam Hausler, engineer Katherine Dallas, and navigator Fergus Darby to the edge of the Zako Sector and the dwarf planet Veritas, where Adam finally told them what was going on. Adam had been pensive more most of the trip, not saying a lot. He wasn’t supposed to share the objective with Fergus and Katherine, but four months was as long as he could take the weight. Western Earth was seeking a tactical advantage in an all-out war, and they were the only ones who could stop it. As they launched toward Vortega, they had a long discussion and decided that this mission would end on their terms. If they went back to Earth, NCSP could potentially still use their knowledge – there are methods I’ve only heard whispers about – so they decided to destroy the ship. With no ability to do that on the ground, their only option was a crash landing.
Adam asked if their souls were ready. Uncomfortable, Fergus moved away from them. He remembers the pilot and engineer praying together before the three sent one final warpagram, not knowing if it would get through: SPEAK THE TRUTH. When Adam tried to talk to Fergus again, he told the pilot he was ready. But he was terrified. And as the ship hurtled toward the surface of Vortega, he gripped the nearest thing to him: the solarium.
His face went deathly pale when he told me about the crash: horrifying screams from the crew, an ear-splitting screech of metal, a deep rumble, and a wall of searing heat. When Fergus came to, the ship was a smoking heap, and his crewmates were dead. Tucked against his chest was the solarium, somehow untouched.
He nearly froze that first day, but by pulling the ship apart, he managed to make himself a ground-hugging shelter. He buried his friends near the spot. Turns out the ground contains a lot more than sodium deeper down. His solarium contained several green plants that he carefully nurtured. And that’s how he survived: dirt, plants, and, most surprisingly, ice. Nearly every other day, he said, clouds would form and drop ice crystals. For five years.
My neck has a horrible cramp in it, and the sun is just peeking over the horizon. It’s washed the whole planet in an almost dangerous fluorescence that reflects how I feel: numb. How can I keep going after hearing a story like that? I’m wrung-out. I almost feel broken. I need to sleep.