C H A P T E R 1
T H E C O N F E R E N C E
Moving in isn’t all that troublesome, really. With the use of matter reconstruction technology, all I have to do is grab the matter storage unit containing my belongings, transfer everything into the reconstructor linked to my exosuit, make my way over to my room, and find places to put all my things.
I spend a few minutes acquainting myself with my designated living area as soon as I arrive. It’s remarkably spacious, and, in all honesty, quite nice—being a researcher under Celeis certainly has its perks. The ceiling is approximately ten feet high, and the main room, the room I am currently in, is fifteen by fifteen feet in area. The floor consists of a smooth black material, undoubtedly some kind of high-tech polymer, while the walls are white and glossy, with a bar of light built in at about eight feet from the floor all around the room. One entire wall is occupied by a glass window—stepping up to it, I can see a view of the beautiful blue forests and glittering landscapes of Archeiah.
I back away from the window to walk towards the workstation in the center of the room—an arc-shaped desk with holographic projection technology that can display as many screens as I need. Most of my on-base work will be done here, including my video logs, which Celeis requires every employee to make on a somewhat regular basis. While there is a communal working area, most of the employees are expected to work relatively independently. After all, thanks to advancements in technology, a single person can now accomplish work that would have taken a large team centuries ago.
Sliding my gloved hand away from the chill glass of the desk, I approach a glass sliding door on the side of the room. It slides open to reveal a much smaller room—my bedroom. A full-size bed occupies one corner, complete with the standard set of white bed sheets and a black blanket. The provided furniture includes a bedside table, a desk with drawers to store my belongings in, and a closet. There is also a door to the bathroom on the opposite side of the room.
After inspecting the area, I lift up my right palm and imagine a screen appearing over it. In moments, the mental image becomes reality, and a holographic screen flickers into existence over my palm, displaying the words EXOSUIT C.7.8.1. SIER AVAREN in a simple white font.
Good, I had been worried that wouldn’t work. Celeis employees on Archeiah are all required to get an implant before arriving, a chip at the base of the skull that lets us neurally interface with the exosuit. It can be a bit finicky at first, so there are options for hand gestures instead of the mental commands, but the convenience of being able to mentally control my exosuit is something I’m certainly glad for. Plus, I don’t want all the effort of neural calibration and training to go to waste. It helps a lot that I have strong visualization skills.
I pull up the list of my dematerialized belongings—I don’t have much, just some artificial plants, a few shiny rocks, some photos of the green regions on Earth, and a few casual outfits for my days off. Most necessities are provided by Celeis, so technically, I didn’t need to bring anything at all.
I start with my artificial succulent—the desk seems to be a good place for that, so I hold my hand over the glass surface and imagine that it’s there. A faint outline of white light appears before I confirm the action in my mind, and the outline fills with solid light before fading away to reveal the plant in place. The wonders of technology, huh? I would’ve loved to have this back on Earth.
The rest of my unpacking goes smoothly, and it takes me less than fifteen minutes to put everything into place. That done, I head to the transporter in my main room. There’s another door on the wall opposite my bedroom door, consisting of the same darkened glass. It slides open to reveal a small room with a transporter pod: a glass tube, essentially, that one can lie down in to be transported to any docking station in the facility. The platform in the pod is made of some kind of rubbery material, which sinks down easily as I sit inside and lie down. I can’t help pressing my fingers into the material—it has a very satisfying squish to it.
“Main conference room,” I say, and the pod slides closed. I feel a slight shake as the docking locks disengage and the magnetic rails activate. The transportation system hisses, and the pod’s interior goes dark as it enters the walls. In seconds, I’m adjusting to the twilight glow of Archeiah’s white dwarf star as I emerge in the main tubes of the research base’s transportation system. There’s an option to darken the tint of the glass, but I leave it fairly clear. I doubt I’d be able to discern much, but I’m still curious about what I might be able to see of the base.
The Celeis research base has multiple “nodes,” and my assigned living space is in the central node—a circular structure consisting of an outer ring of glass buildings, another inner ring, and then the orbital elevator in the center.
It isn’t a space elevator as some might imagine it. The orbital elevator is simply a tall tower that can both launch and receive pods that go between the planetside research base and the orbital observation station. It’s where I and the rest of my research team came to the planet after arriving at the space station and being pulled out of stasis.
Besides the central node, there are additional wing nodes for food production, specimen handling, and energy generation, among other things. I can see the distant buildings of one of them from my current position, but I don’t know which one it is. I’m still not familiar enough with the layout.
Most of my attention is on the scenery, honestly. The forests of Archeiah are a wash of cobalt flora with shining bioluminescence casting everything in an ethereal glow. With the pale light of Xiron, the dwarf star, the image seems like something out of a dream.
I close my eyes once the pod’s speed becomes too fast for me to make out much more than a blur. The main conference room is in the observation deck, a circular structure that surrounds the access point to the orbital elevator—slightly above the rest of the base. It shouldn’t be long before I arrive.
Soon enough, my surroundings darken, and I hear a ping followed by an electronic voice: “Main conference room.” The sensation of stopping is barely noticeable, but as soon as I feel it, I open my eyes to see the glass enclosure of the pod sliding open. I throw my legs over the side and climb out of the pod, stepping into a docking room much larger than the one in my own room. It looks like most others are here already—I count about ten pods gathered in the area.
I straighten my jacket and walk towards the exit of the docking room, immediately entering a spacious area as the door slides open. Opposite my entrance is a large window—the window of the observation deck, which goes all the way around the ring-shaped building. There are walls on either side of the room, with me entering near the left wall. To my right is a long arc-shaped desk that follows the curvature of the room. There’s someone standing there, dressed in regulation uniform. She has tan skin, short beige hair that curls slightly around her cheek, and amber eyes. A beauty mark is under her left eye. I recognize her from Earth: Reyla Wergen, my boss—more or less. She’s the representative Celeis board member for the Archeiah research base, and is in charge of the big decision making here.
I turn to look towards the rest of the room, which consists of seats and desks that slightly increase in level as one gets closer to the outer window. I’m reminded of lecture halls from back when I was in college, only these are much more high-tech—the screens are all holographic instead of built-in, for one. Many seats are already populated, but the room is nowhere near capacity. I estimate there are only twenty or so people, and this conference room looks like it can house at least a hundred, maybe two. I recognize most of the people here; we were given files to familiarize ourselves with, which included profiles on other employees.
Waving catches my eye, and my gaze lands on the familiar face of Kendra Cook: dark skin, dark brown hair in a bob cut, and yellow-gold eyes. She’s smiling brightly, as usual.
I met her during the pre-launch debriefing on Earth, and both of us found that we get along well. Though to be fair, having anyone to talk to before going into space is nice. She works in Communications, so I doubt I’ll see her much during work hours; the Field division usually works out in, well, the field, while those in Communications remain on-base.
After a quick wave and a smile back, I take the steps on the side of the room and sidle into the row Kendra is in. I sink into the seat next to her. “Hey, Kendra,” I greet.
“Hey,” she returns, half-raising an arm before letting it fall back to the desk. “Think there are a few more folks coming in, but we’re probably getting started soon.”
I nod. “Did moving in go well for you?”
“Well enough, I’d say.” Kendra props her head up with a fist, elbow on the table. “I’m more worried about Orca.”
I blink. Ah, right. “That’s your cat, right?”
The process of getting pets approved to bring to Archeiah certainly isn’t anything easy, and I admire Kendra for her dedication. That, and I definitely appreciate the prospects of possibly being able to pet Orca for myself. I haven’t seen her yet, but I’m guessing she’s black and white.
A few others arrive through the door—a group of three with the lightweight exosuit configuration. My own uniform is the field variation, which deploys faster, has more functions, and has sufficient power and oxygen for a weeks-long outing at optimal operating capacity. We all have the black pieces on our shoulders and waists, though my field variation also has black polymeric gloves and boots. Kendra and the newcomers lack the gloves, leaving their hands bare until they materialize their thinner gloves as needed, and their shoes aren’t the full boots I have.
I recognize one of them—Alion Evans. He’s a bit taller than me, and he has somewhat light skin and short pale blonde hair, parted to one side with the bangs trimmed evenly. We talked a bit before the launch, as well: I found out that he’s in the Laboratory division. I’ll probably be gathering many samples for his use.
I smile slightly at Alion and wave. He blinks, expression unchanging, before nodding and taking a seat near the front. The others he was with go in other directions; one of them I recognize from the files. The youngest of all of us, I think—if I recall, she’s to work in Computation. She is rather short, with dark skin and short hair that is white where it falls over one side of her face and black on the other side. Her eyes are a pale lilac.
It’s always interesting to see people with altered appearances—though whether she changed her phenotype herself or inherited it is up in the air. I got my eyes from my mom’s side, for one, and Kendra changed her eyes herself.
The firm voice silences my thoughts, and I immediately straighten to refocus on Wergen. She stands straight, arms folded behind her back, and scans her gaze across the room with a serious expression on her face. A moment passes like that, and then she smiles warmly.
“Welcome, everyone, to Archeiah. I am Reyla Wergen, the primary administrator of our activities here. You can call me Reyla if you like.” She waves a hand, and a large holographic screen appears behind her. It displays the Celeis logo, the word CELEIS with the C replaced with concentric C-shaped arcs and a circle at the center. “We are here to represent the interests of the Celeis research company, which primarily entails investigating this planet in order to understand and harness the power of starlight, the energy emitted from the core and captured within all the organisms here.” Reyla flicks her hand, and the screen transitions to an image of Archeiah from space.
“As you likely know, we measure the days here based on Earth. A year here is calculated to take approximately one-hundred-and-eight days, with a leap year every three. This means that it’s been almost an Archeian year since the first Celeis team landed on this planet.” She starts walking to one side, arms folded behind her back. “The days here are not like Earth days, however. It’s almost always at least somewhat cloudy, and you’ll be seeing twilight the entire day.” She turns around, walking the other way. “Of course, this is only because we are in the ‘twilight belt,’ where most of the organic life here resides. Half of this planet is in eternal day, and the other half is in eternal night.”
I remember reading about this—I think the article stated that the nature of day and night on Archeiah is due to the planet orbiting a white dwarf star, Xiron. There are a few other terrestrial planets and gas giants in this solar system, but only Archeiah is in the habitable zone, which is much closer to Xiron than the Sun’s habitable zone. Apparently, Archeiah is close enough to experience tidal locking, like Earth’s moon.
“Now,” Reyla says, standing back at the center of the desk, “Each of you belongs to one of seven divisions, save for division leaders.” She lifts her hand in a swiping gesture, and the image on the screen is replaced by a display of different rectangles. They’re labeled with Administration, Field, Laboratory, Computation, Communications, Health, and Operations. “More details about what you’ll be doing will be given in your division meetings. I will give a simple overview here.”
She makes a beckoning motion at the Administration rectangle, and it fills up the screen with an image of Reyla gathered around a table with a few others. “The Administration division is in charge of making decisions and approving various requests. The leaders of each division are also a part of the Administration division.”
Reyla makes a swiping motion and the image shrinks, replaced by the Field rectangle. The image is a scene in an Archeian forest, with someone kneeling above a plant in a fully activated exosuit—the helmet is deployed, hiding the individual’s features behind dark glass, and the black suit covers all parts of the body not already covered by the exosuit’s gloves and boots.
“The Field division is responsible for going out into the wilds of Archeiah,” Reyla continues, “whether to observe organisms, gather specimens, or set up any devices that might be used for purposes such as scanning or surveillance.”
I nod, mostly to myself. That’s what I’ll be doing here.
Reyla moves on, displaying an image of the stark white laboratories at this base. They all look like they have a window taking up the outer wall, which is nice—I’d imagine working in a lab with no windows can be fairly depressing. I think they might be simulated ones, though. “The Laboratory division will study specimens collected by the Field division. Any requests you have for materials can be sent through your exosuit’s access to the Celeis network. Certain types of requests can be pre-approved and will thus be directly sent to a member of the Field division, but others will need to be approved by your division leader or, in some cases, myself.”
Next is the Computation division, which Reyla represents with an image of someone working at a holographic desk, various screens and figures displayed around them. “The Computation division will analyze the theory of how things work on Archeiah—the math, the physics, that sort of thing. You will also analyze planetary patterns, including the astronomical, meteorological, and geological behavior of Archeiah.”
Communications is next, and Kendra shoots me a subtle fingergun as Reyla pulls up the image of someone working at a monitor with various holographic screens. “Those in the Communications division will monitor and handle communications to and from other locations, including the orbital station and the Earth base.”
Health follows, and the image depicts an individual in a completely white exosuit uniform in a brightly lit room, presumably a medical bay. “Those in the Medical division are responsible for our health and well-being, whether for injuries, illnesses, or just regular checkups,” Reyla says. “We also provide mental health services and resources, the full details of which should be in the Celeis handbook. Archeiah is an alien planet, and there will very likely be a significant change in your lifestyle. Please, don't hesitate to seek any help if you need it.”
“Finally, we have Operations,” Reyla says, pulling up an image of the Agricultural Center. I remember seeing it during the Celeis Crash Course—it’s where most of the food that we’ll be eating is grown or otherwise produced. “Members in this division are in charge of making sure everything at this base is running smoothly: the Agricultural Center, the generators, the intranet, and the function of other various things across the research base.”
Reyla folds her hands behind her back. “There will be much overlap in various divisions. You are expected to work with each other, and you should maintain clear lines of communication to do so. All of you are able to call each other using your exosuits, so please do not hesitate to contact any of us at any time. We’re a small team, relatively speaking, and I’d like for us to not only be able to work together, but also be able to live together.”
She smiles again. “All of you have quite a bit of free time allotted to you. Whether you use it to relax on your own or socialize with others is up to you, but we will be organizing various social company events. While not everyone will be available at any given moment, I hope you’ll all join us if you can.”
Social events, huh? I suppose I can give it a try, though I’m not the greatest with crowds. Hold a conversation with one person? No problem. Socialize in a group? Easier said than done, for me.
As I consider this, I receive a message. The mental ping is still a strange sensation, despite my training course—while I did have to practice sending and receiving messages, the course was more of a “slightly more than the minimum” sort of deal, given that acclimation tends to happen over time. I think about opening it, then, and see in my mind’s eye a line of text: Kendra: I’ll go if you go.
Well, fair enough. I reply with a simple, Sure. There’s another ping in my mind as the message is sent, and Kendra throws me a quick smile in response.
“As I’m sure you are all aware,” I blink and refocus on Reyla as she continues, “You have all been outfitted with neurally-linked exosuits. There are four variations: a field variation, a lightweight variation, a minimal variation, and a lab-medical variation. You must have an exosuit projector with you at all times, though you may switch to the minimal variation during rest hours if you like. All of them can deploy a full exosuit.” Reyla lifts a hand, and hexagonal light fragments spread across her body, coalescing into a black suit. A helmet forms over her face, an almost-ellipsoidal form of dark glass. “You can deploy the exosuit at will, but it will also automatically deploy when any possibly life-threatening conditions are detected.” Her voice sounds a bit different, projected through the exosuit’s speakers. “I recommend deploying your suit before you go out of the base’s shield, though. Archeiah’s atmosphere is primarily composed of denser gases such as argon, and it doesn’t have much oxygen. Breathing it in will cause the heavier gases to settle at the bottom of your lungs, and you can suffocate even if you go back into an oxygenated system.” Reyla’s exosuit recedes, and then she smiles wryly at us. “That said, we do have beds in the infirmary that can tip you upside-down so you can get it all out of your lungs.”
That’s a strangely amusing thought: having to go upside-down in order to prevent yourself from suffocating.
“One more thing,” Reyla says. “Gravity on Archeiah is approximately zero-point-eight times the gravity on Earth. On base, Earth gravity is replicated for health, but if you go outside the shield, you’ll certainly notice the difference.” She waves her hand in a circular motion, and the screen shuts off. “Now, does anyone have any questions?”
She gives us a few seconds, scanning the crowd, but with no questions forthcoming, she nods. “Alright. After this, you are to gather in your division meetings. Consult the task list in your exosuit for relevant locations. Dismissed.”
I rise out of my seat, pulling up my task list in my mind’s eye. FIELD DIVISION MEETING. LOCATION: EXCURSION BAY. TIME: 1700.
“I’m headed to the Communications Center,” Kendra says from beside me, pushing her hair behind an ear. “How about you?”
“The Excursion Bay,” I answer. “Probably to prepare us for going out into the field.”
Kendra nods solemnly. “Makes sense. I’ll see you around, then?”
I laugh lightly, more a huff than anything. “Yes, I’ll be seeing you.”
Kendra and several other employees make their way to one of the side doors of the conference room; the Communications Center must be in the observation deck, too. The rest of us go to the docking room, taking the pods to wherever we need to go. I do need to wait a bit, though—the downside of the pod system is that only one person can go in each pod. At least it’s fast.
As I wait, I take note of the others standing along with me. I recognize the other two members of the Field division I’ll be working with, but I haven’t spoken to them yet—Kendra was the first one to talk to me, and, honestly, introducing myself to Alion had taken the rest of my energy for initiating social interaction with others. Despite the two-week long space travel in between now and then. To be fair, I was in stasis.
I suppose it doesn’t matter, since we’ll be getting to know each other in the division meeting anyways. I’m more anxious to actually get out in the field, so I fold my arms behind my back and do my best to quell the anticipation that’s been growing ever since I was recruited for the job.
Soon. Soon I’ll be out there, and I can see the wonders of this planet myself.
B O N U S
S I E R A V A R E N
BIRTHDAY: JULY 22
Formerly a researcher of the Sylven Foundation, a publicly funded group on Earth that protects and researches Earth's green zones. Specializes in field biology and ecology.
K E N D R A C O O K
BIRTHDAY: AUGUST 11
A communications specialist with experience in managing interstellar communications equipment and data. Experience with linguistics and fluent in numerous languages, despite the universal adoption of Standard.
R E Y L A W E R G E N
BIRTHDAY: APRIL 8
A member of the Celeis board, and the primary administrator of Celeis activities on Archeiah. She is experienced in management within extraterrestrial scenarios.