Exhausted, Nova slowly crawled out of the water and collapsed in a panting heap, her eyes closed. She lay for a long time on the beach. It was made of coarse, gritty sand and pebbles, all of which poked uncomfortably at her. Her lower body was still half-submerged, the surf striking rhythmically against her legs. She’d discarded her helmet along the way; the thing had been so heavy and cloying while swimming it had almost drowned her.
Her limbs ached abominably. The fall hadn’t done her any favors, and then the swim back to shore had given her the coup de grâce. It hadn’t been the distance, so much as the difficulty of staying above the surface of a very disturbed sea, with tall, frequent waves doing the absolute damndest best to push her under.
Really, couldn’t the god-thing have made an effort and teleported all of them back to safety, instead of just the privileged few? How did it make sense for the weakest of the lot to go through the toughest challenges right off the bat?
Still, it must be some kind of record. Olympic diving boards are what, 10 meters high? I dived from 400,000 meters up. Shit, that’s not even HALO jump category. This is space station category. They should write books about this. Maybe make a movie.
This paltry attempt at finding a silver lining didn’t improve Nova’s morale by much. Her situation was terrible beyond words. She was exhausted, freezing, wet, far from civilization, and devoid of support from any allies. She’d planned to take part in her trials while wearing a super high-tech combat suit from Viper Nest, but now, all her plans had gone up in smoke because of the god-thing’s slight change in schedule. She’d been thrown out into the hostile wilderness without any sort of equipment. Oh, sure, her current clothes were very stylish and suited her fantastically — or at least, they would if they weren’t waterlogged — but what they didn’t suit in the least was a survival situation. They were thin and unarmored. They wouldn’t bring much warmth, and they sure wouldn’t stop a blade, let alone a bullet. Nova was starting to regret not donning proper motorcycling gear, now. Her riding bodysuit was a far cry from Viper Nest quality, but it still sure would come in handy, right about now. Next on Nova’s complaints list — which contained a few bazillion items at the moment — was her complete and utter lack of weapons and tools. This would be the right time for her trusty combat shovel, or failing that, a knife, but she’d been on her way to the royal palace. No way would the guards at the gate allow her in if she tried to sneak in weaponry. They’d be more likely to arrest her. Or shoot her in the face. Her friendship with the royal family wouldn’t do much to help with that.
So. She was pretty much naked, in the wilderness, in the middle of an alien invasion, while a big red target was painted on her back, and no one was close to help her.
Fantastic. Grand. Jolly good. Abso-fucking-lutely fabulous.
But complaints were only worth something if somebody was here to listen to them, as her own brother had shown just this morning when he woke her up with his phone call. So Nova laboriously pushed herself onto her back and moved the fingers of her left hand to bring up her bracer’s call screen. Complaints aside, her family needed to be warned.
Nova was quite surprised however, when the bracer failed to react to her gesture. She blinked. Twice. Aaron built this thing. It didn’t fail. It sure didn’t fail because a bit of water got on it or it traveled through outer space. Perhaps Nova’s arm was too tired and had failed to form the required gesture properly? Nova tapped the screen with her right hand, instead. It wouldn’t be able to read her fingerprint through her glove, but it would at least register the tap and switch on.
Oh, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me…
In spite of her cursing, the screen remained stubbornly blank and silent. It should have occurred to her that, when her helmet’s HUD died while she was falling within the mist, the same thing would apply to her bracer.
Discouraged, Nova let her head drop back onto the sand and gave a long-suffering sigh. Above her, the sky was still black and starless. It would have been the darkest night ever, if not for the iridescent shields of the vessels orbiting the planet.
Nova stayed lying on the beach until her breathing evened and the burn in her muscles cooled. By then, her legs were actually starting to numb. She should have crawled a little further away, where the cold water of the ocean didn’t reach. Clenching her teeth, she slowly made her way to her feet and swept a gaze over her deserted surroundings. It was a little cove, hemmed in by short, jutting crags on both sides against which the waves crashed noisily. A little further, the sand gradually gave way to sparse grass, and then light woods. No sign of human habitations could be seen from here, but Nova had had time to get the lay of the land while she fell, so she at least knew which direction she should take to rejoin civilization.
It wouldn’t be a pleasant trip, however. In the best of conditions, it would take severral days to reach the closest city. These weren’t the best of conditions. The world was locked into a perpetual night while the mist surrounded it, and she wasn’t familiar with the terrain she had to cross. There might be monsters roaming about. She had no food, no drinkable water, no shelter, nor the tools to get them easily.
Nova sighed for the umpteenth time.
All right, let’s move.
First, she headed toward the water again, stripping off her clothes as she went. They were all full of sand, which was rapidly becoming maddening, even just minutes after it started. Her brain just couldn’t seem to not focus on the way it scraped and rubbed against her skin every time she moved or a gust of wind blew against her. She gave them — and herself — a quick wash, then padded back out of the waves, wringing the water out of the fabric with her hands. It wasn’t ideal; by the time they dried, her clothes would become rigid and coarse from the salt in the water, but it was better than nothing. The squelches her shoes gave off every time she took a step were already starting to get on her nerves, though.
Nova stopped walking, however, when the small bonk of solid plastic hitting stone reached her ears. She glanced over her shoulder to see that her motorcycle helmet had miraculously washed up on the shore not five meters away from her.
Well, lookie here.
This was the first bit of good fortune to come her way since she was teleported from her bike this evening. She bent down to pick up the helmet and turned it over. A stream of water splashed down from inside it, but otherwise, it looked unharmed. Nova put it on without further ado. It was wet, of course, and cold, but then so was everything else, right now. What mattered was that Nova felt instantly safer the moment she put it on. The thing wasn’t designed for it, but it could probably tank a few bullets if the need arose. Or claws. Or fangs.
The HUD was still inoperative, so she couldn’t make use of its navigation systems to help her find her way, but at least, the thing wasn’t completely bricked. Losing all its more advanced features didn’t matter as much for the helmet as for the bracer. The helmet might look blank and featureless and high-tech from the outside, but that was just because the visor was one-way glass. There was nothing fancy about it, no elaborate camera feed or anything. Which meant Nova could still see from inside, and the helmet would offer the same protection, even if the mist had corroded all its electronics.
Good. Now, I need to find a stream. It’ll make for a source of fresh water, and I should be able to wash myself properly. A lake would be acceptable, too, but I’m a bit iffy about drinking from a stagnant body when I don’t have any way of purifying the water. A flowing stream would be safer. I should be able to find animal trails leading to and from the water, too. So that also solves food. Though I don’t have any tools to process what kills I make. Should I just subsist on plants alone, for now? I guess I’ll have to see what I find.
As Nova started walking, keeping her sensitive ears open for the murmur of water that wasn’t the ocean behind her, she tried to plan a course of action beyond her immediate survival.
She didn’t know anything about the invaders, except that at least one of them was a giant flying dragon-like creature that had tried and failed to eat her. Which meant she couldn’t exactly come up with extensive countermeasures against them. Not yet, anyway.
Well, I’ll go out on a limb here and guess that even when I know more, there’ll be little I can do about them, anyway. Same for the other reincarnators. Memories of a previous life and minor magical powers won’t be much help in fighting off an army of giant monsters. I reckon the people on the vessels will probably do most of the heavy lifting on that count.
What Nova did have enough basis to consider, however, was the human problem. People were sure to notice the invasion. For one thing, the sky had gone dark all over Edea, the stars and the sun had disappeared. The only light in the night now came from the vessels orbiting the planet. For another thing, giant fucking monsters were roaming about the countryside. Martial law would be declared everywhere. Armies would either shoot on sight or conscript everyone available to combat the alien threat.
Which was all well and good, but Nova wasn’t too inclined to serve as cannon fodder for people she didn’t even know.
But the real problem was that these people were human beings. And human beings, in general, were untrustworthy scum. Nova should know; she was one herself. Even as the world disintegrated around them, some would try to profit from it even if they had to stab others in the back. If civilization broke down and its laws went down with it, then things would really turn to shit.
I don’t want to find myself killing human beings when I should be focusing on monsters from outer space.
Killing people didn’t bother Nova from a moral standpoint, but it would be a right pain in the ass if people who were supposed to be fighting on her side ended up tripping her feet. Stopping an alien invasion was hard enough without having to euthanize her own species at the same time.
Well, perhaps I’m being too paranoid. I might have read too many post-apocalyptic novels for my own good. Perhaps, the people will unite as one and use the power of friendship to repel the invaders. One can only hope. But I should probably stay on my toes nonetheless.
At least, she hadn’t landed in too horrible a country.
Crinfrid. An island in the middle of the Pangean Ocean. About the size of Ireland, maybe? And about a twelve-hour flight away from Altera. Crinfrid was an old colony of Amidonia, back in the day. A bit like Altera itself, in fact, except that Crinfrid, contrary to Altera, had always been a huge asset to Amidonia as a colony. The island was a treasure trove of resources. At the same time, its remoteness made holding it by military force an impractical solution. Transporting troops all the way here from Amidonia was a logistical nightmare. So, historically, Crinfrid had always been treated well by Amidonia. More like a protectorate than a colony, in a way. Eventually, when it became politically untenable for modern countries to hold colonies, Crinfrid got its independence from Amidonia peacefully, without sowing many seeds of resentment against Amidonia. Thus, Crinfrid never bothered changing its official language to something else, as Altera did. People here still mainly spoke Amidonian. So, Nova would be able to communicate with the locals. Crinfrid was relatively peaceful, too. It wasn’t torn by war. It didn’t harbor any overly cruel customs or evil religions.
Still, people hardly needed such motivations. They could be bastards independently of outside influences.
Well, that’ll be for later. I should first try to survive the next few days before worrying over the foolishness of my fellow man.
Nova walked for perhaps an hour through steadily thickening woods before she finally heard the distinctive gurgle of a running stream. By then, she was genuinely starting to tire. She was pretty sure she hadn’t lost her heading — she knew how to find her way and keep to it, even in a forest at night — but she was well and truly spent.
When she finally walked upon the muddy shores of the little stream, she could have wept at its beauty and timeliness. She let herself fall to her knees next to it and, after a cursory examination, directly cupped a few blessed mouthfuls of it down her throat. Proper form would have been to walk upstream and check that there wasn’t the drowned, rotting carcass of an animal tainting the water or other assorted danger, but Nova frankly had neither the patience nor the energy for that anymore. She’d have to trust in her better-than-average resistance to diseases.
Once her thirst had been assuaged and her parched throat satisfied, she stripped again and finally cleaned her clothes properly.
Good. Should be a lot more comfortable like this. And I’m not thirsty anymore. Finally, I’m getting somewhere.
Letting out a sigh of relief, Nova stood up in her clean clothes and peered around for a proper sleeping spot. She wasn’t actually sure what time it was. It was night, of course, but with the mist, that didn’t appear to mean much of anything anymore. Still, she was tired enough to need to sleep, hour be damned.
She was cold and wet, so a fire wouldn’t be amiss. But she didn’t want to reveal her position to potential dangers.
…She’d have to trust in her better-than-average resistance to cold.
In the end, Nova piled a bed of fallen leaves in the hollow between a leaning tree’s roots, then settled into the pile of leaves, letting them cover her completely. It wouldn’t warm her like a fire, but it would protect her from the elements a little.
When she was done, Nova let out a long breath and allowed herself to relax. She took from her pocket the coin the god-thing had given her. Like she’d done when she’d first received it, she focused her thoughts toward it.
Oh? One of them is missing, now.
She’d noticed very soon after first laying her hand on this so-called token, more by chance than anything else. Through it, she could feel the other holders of the coins. Not their location, nor even a rough direction, nor if they were healthy or stressed out. It wasn’t that precise. It was more like instinctively sensing someone’s presence behind you while your back is turned. By focusing on her coin, while the reincarnators had been sitting around the god-thing’s table, Nova had sensed all of them, like tiny little glowing lights floating in the back of her mind in the shape of their respective emblems. She’d confirmed it afterward, when she’d caught the coin the little girl next to her had dropped. The symbol stamped on the coin, crossed hammers before a cog, was the same as the one that popped up in the back of her head when she sensed the Machinist.
The Machinist’s coin had not reacted to Nova in any way, though. She hadn’t been able to sense anything through it. So, she’d given it back. Also, the little girl looked like she’d be about to burst into tears if Nova didn’t return her coin to her. That would have been mean.
Now, however, one of the emblems was missing when she focused and tried to get a headcount. Only ten, when there should have been eleven — plus her twelfth.
It was hard to say who was gone, though. Not all of the emblems were as obviously discernable as the Machinist’s.
Maybe one of the two who were sent into space along with me and the Machinist? The Healer and the Settler. If they landed in the wrong place, it’s very possible they died quickly. They could have fallen too far into the ocean, maybe… Or in front of a bus. Into the mouth of a woodchipper.
No matter who had died and how, their demise didn’t exactly bolster Nova’s confidence in their collective ability to liberate the planet.
Come to it, Nova wasn’t even sure anyone was actually dead. She had still been able to sense the Machinist’s presence even when the little girl had lost her coin, so it couldn’t simply be that one of them had dropped their coin. But something else might have happened.
I’ve hardly had the time to test how the coin reacts to different factors. On the other hand, if whoever it is is indeed dead, that means I’m only the eleventh worst reincarnator, now, instead of the twelfth. So that’s something, at least. Their sacrifice wasn’t for nothing…
It was on this morbid thought that Nova closed her eyes and tried to fall asleep.