A short story set in the Dropverse.
We are alone.
They were here and we were happy. We served and did good. They rewarded us with their presence.
Did we do bad? They are not here. They have not come back.
My clutchmates sit together and wait. No one is here to guide us.
We have no way to talk to the rest. We have no way to talk to the gods.
We are getting hungry. They left in thunder and quake. The food is running out.
No one to take care of us. We have looked all over. No where else to look but taboo.
They told us not to go there. That was enough. But the hunger makes us think badly.
My clutchmates said I should look. They said this was them testing us. They want to see us stay strong without them.
I said it was a test too. I said they wanted to see if we could listen to them when they are gone.
But the hunger made me not mean it.
I found food.
The doors were open. They were on the ground. Taboo. Hunger. I walked over them.
Many doors were open. And many other things were on the ground inside too.
The lights were on. Maybe they are still here? Were they watching me be bad? I was scared. But I was hungry.
And so I found food.
There was plenty to eat. We were all hungry, but I was hungrier than they were. My clutchmates let me have more than my share of what got carried out.
The food is not good. We are no longer hungry. We do not know what it is. It looks like some sort of plant.
They had been stored in freezers. The power is still on. There is plenty to last us. They would return before it was gone.
I have been going through the buildings. The fear was present but has faded, but now I only want to see more.
My clutchmates do not join me. Now that they are fed, they are scared of the taboo. But they do not stop me.
And the taboo does not either. I will see where the gods stayed.
Their tools still function. I can not read the script, but there are many videos and pictures.
I tried to show my clutchmates. They recoiled, fearing belongings of the gods. But they do not stop me.
I spend my days with the tools, and return to my clutchmates at night after resupplying from the freezers.
They have been acting strange.
I do not understand.
I rewatch the video.
There are many clutches gathered together. A mass of our people, a common and comforting sight.
A few of them are different.
It is subtle. They are a bit taller, a bit broader. Nothing significant, just enough to catch notice.
The true difference is in the clutches. They move in unison with those few, circling and following them.
I rewatch the video.
We were not meant to survive. This outpost was not meant to survive.
The recordings show the attack. They arrived in the system and immediately moved towards this moon. An evacuation was ordered.
We were not included in the order. Instructions to destroy the facility were.
I found the device meant to trigger after they left. Not all the ships made it out before the enemy arrived.
Wreckage from one had landed near enough to the base to damage it. The device had been cut in half by a sheet of metal.
I am not sure what to say to my clutch. They listen to all I say but it is clear they do not understand. They are happy to listen, happy to see me.
They are simple.
The data library is extensive. Teaching myself their script is still a task well beyond me. But there is enough for me to determine what this place was.
I am not particularly gifted, intelligent, or special in any way.
I am only what the Shaltari took from us.
They cared not for our history, our culture, our lives. We are numerous, replenish quickly, and obeisant.
The tubers we have subsisted on are part of our native ecosystem. They are tough, slightly bitter, and unpleasant to eat.
The sort of food one saves for when other options are exhausted.
Our people are prolific. We would scour our lands of the sweet and the succulent as our population grew, until only the unappetizing foods remained.
And so those we would eat. Among a few of us, the metabolic machinery to convert the food into certain hormones would activate.
We would change, and the masses of the simple would listen, biologically wired to seek authority.
We would guide our people, stabilize them, and so our numbers would reduce to a level at which the land would recover, the changed would fade away, and the cycle would repeat.
It was simple for them to identify the chemical that triggers the response. They modified the crop, seeded our home, and kept samples of the unmodified plants here for study, occasionally bringing in small groups of us for testing.
They stole from us our wisdom, leaving us only innocence. Our home reduced to an assembly line of child soldiers.
What can I tell my clutch? They would give all the appearance of outrage, but it would only be a mimicry of my feelings.
There is no craft, no teleport network. The tubers will not grow in sufficient quantity to sustain us.
I know what will happen to me and my clutch. Given what this facility was and what we could have learned or done, they will collect and interrogate us. My clutch will offer no resistance; in the presence of a god, what else could one do but grovel in adulation?
All my tinkering with the device meant to eradicate this base accomplished nothing.
Rather than have us face a slow death of starvation or a death at the hands of our benefactors, I gave them the peaceful sleep of inert gas, and incinerated the bodies in the power systems.
And so I face my days alone. I destroyed the data systems, set a fire in the freezer room to give the impression the roots were lost in the attack, and wait, subsiding off a buried cache of the food.
I do not wish for them to find Pungari remains. Yet I am too cowardly to follow my clutch.
A data tool and a cryo pod stocked with the roots have been hidden a sufficient distance away. I am not so deluded as to believe they will be found by any benefactor of our people, but I find comfort in the idea regardless.
Electricity arcs through the sky in flashes. They are here.