There are ten little vignettes to this one, so follow the tabs left to right.
The famously beautiful floating village of Alta-Paradiso had drifted above the planet X’tuin for millennia. Floating over grand plains, navigating through deep canyons and over towering mountain ranges, Alta-Paradiso is renowned throughout the Thousand Worlds for its lifestyle, community and beauty.
For most of its history, Alta-Paradiso had changed little and any development that had occurred had taken place at a slow, steady and safe pace. With the opening of the Terra-X’tuin wormhole, Alta-Paradiso had suddenly found itself part of the Terran commuter belt.
Miq is a new resident of Alta-Paradiso, living in a newly constructed two-person module that has just been inserted into Alta-Paradiso’s infrastructure management schedule.
On the morning of the first day of his new life in Alta-Paradiso, Miq awakes and, still drowsy, takes stock: the orange redness of X’tuin’s primary sun is just seeping through the bedroom shields; his force-bed is yieldingly luxurious; his new wife is sleeping still, next to him, one arm thrown above her head; and in the adjacent living room, he can hear her pet Glaargs snuffling contentedly.
All is as it should be: life is good, and surely can only get better.
Miq gives the order and his sleep field gently rearranges underneath him and decants him onto the bedroom floor. He steps into his slippers and pads quietly out of the room. Pausing only to bestow a little love on the awakening Glaargs, Miq commands the living room window shields to show him the outside world.
The shields rapidly fade into transparency and Miq is greeted by the wondrous view of the rising sun spreading its light over the unearthly landscape below his module. Miq is left in no doubt that life in Alta-Paradiso will be all that the village’s reputation promised it would be.
Miq pads quietly out of the bedroom and stoops down to pat the head of an awakening Glaarg. Recalling the initiation video that he and Anné had viewed when they had first arrived in Alta-Paradiso, Miq knows that his module should have repositioned itself in the night. The video had glowingly described how, “With each new day, your window shields will open on a new and wonderful vista allowing you to start each day afresh with the best scenery that X’tuin has to offer.” Eagerly anticipating the view this morning would bring, Miq commands the living room shields open.
Miq flinches involuntarily as the module arrows at high speed directly toward a part of the monolithic 8Km-high, 1000Km-long sheer wall that comprised the renowned X’andros mountain range.
Miq had no idea that a module could move so fast and he was pretty sure that it shouldn’t be doing it at that moment. “Module! Emergency! Stop moving.”
Mere metres away loomed a jagged outcrop of weathered blue-gray rock, veined through by beautiful crystalline rivers of iridescent orange; scant seconds lay between the time when his window shields had first opened and disaster.
Miq’s voice rises to a shriek, “Help! Stop now!” and rises still further, pleading, “Stop.”
…and the module stops dead.
…and Miq stares weakly out of the window.
Marvelling that he is still alive, he stretches his arm through the window shield and tentatively touches the rock face. With an announcing chime, the module’s autonomous command unit announces that a “slight safety parameter adjustment” is needed and that the module will “proceed to rejoin the rest of the city forthwith.”
Miq slumps into a nearby chair and watches with relief as the module slowly traces a route back to the rest of the village’s modules, swarming in complete safety several kilometres away from the mountain wall.
As he begins to regain his composure Miq muses, “Well, that initiation video did promise ‘an exciting start to each new day,’ but that was perhaps a bit too exciting.”
Awakening slightly later than normal, Miq orders his living room window shields to fade into transparency.
Overhead, Miq sees a herd of large rainbow-coloured Xal’an lizards sunning themselves on the bright sands of the Xettlá desert. Beneath his feet, the crystal clear apple-green sky seems to stretch out to infinity.
Miq feels thankful that his module’s internal environmental settings are fully independently controlled.
Miq sighs. Another “slight safety parameter adjustment” is needed, it seems.
Miq awakes bleary-eyed and takes weary, shuffling steps towards the main living area. Last night’s party had been a really good one!
The smell is the first thing to break down the befuddlement wrapping his senses. That Smell!What on X`tuin is that ghastly SMELL? Next comes an awareness of green. Green? Miq uneasily recalls that fluorescent, livid green was not on the colour palette of the very expensive redecorations he had recently paid for. And the luxurious floor covering was not supposed to feel slimy…was it?
Slime. Green. Smell. The words float around for a while, disconnected.
That was such a good party. And that blonde! If he wasn’t a newly-wed…
Miq’s brain snaps into full wakefulness. The words find their common centre of gravity. An earlier conversation jumps into his mind.
“Glaargs are extremely social animals.”, The pet salesman had said. “They insist on gathering into nests of at least 10. If their numbers ever drop below this they immediately start advertising for a replacement. You really don’t want that. I’d buy at least a round dozen, if I were you.”
Now Miq has found out what ‘advertising’ really meant.
Nine grieving Glaargs have responded to the overnight loss of one of their nestlings in their own disgustingly inimitable fashion: projectile-vomiting copious amounts of foul-smelling green slime over every surface. Such small creatures. Such a capacity for slime-generation. Such an effective ‘advertisement!’
“We were warned.”, He acknowledges to himself. “My fault for being a cheapskate. Hindsight is such a wonderful thing.” “Still,” he thinks, as he quickly gathers up a few necessary items and heads to the door, “Anné wanted the damned things. She can deal when she wakes up. I’m off to the Gym.”
Miq is sampling hard-boiled Xanthene egg, a local delicacy, for breakfast. By various accounts, eating one of the large purple-spotted orbs constitutes an initiation of sorts into X’tuin life.
Miq cracks the hard, thick shell with the edge of a knife and a large segment of the shell falls away.
A slitted yellow eye glares balefully into a widely-dilated brown one. Miq belatedly recalls the egg vendor’s exhortation to “take it home and eat it immediately.” It was clear that he should have paid more attention to the word ‘immediately’ and not leave it in storage for a couple of days. Rather than cooking it, Miq’s attentions had merely completed the nascent animal’s incubation.
A hungry, rat-sized lizard possessing the speed of a panther and the sunny disposition of a hippopotamus with a toothache was about to emerge into Miq’s living room.
“Now I know why eating a Xanthene egg is an initiation”, thinks Miq, as he scrabbles around in a sideboard drawer trying to find the blaster he keeps there for “emergency situations.”
Slowly and carefully, without taking his eyes off the increasingly weakening egg, Miq backs away from his breakfast plate. He is acutely aware of the keening of the frightened Glaargs behind him.
“There’s nothing like a good cup of Aalgordian high-plains coffee in the morning,” muses Miq expectantly as he waits for his food replicator to construct the contemplated brew.
The replicator’s “come-and-get-it” beep reaches Miq’s ears moments before the pungent ammoniacal smell wafts into his nostrils.
“Oh, rape my lizard!” Miq is disgusted.
Yet another “parameter adjustment” is needed, it seems.
“Thou shalt not mess with a man’s morning coffee” is a near-universal rule, constant for pretty much all possible alternative values for ‘man’ and ‘coffee.’ Miq’s appreciation of life in Alta-Paradiso is beginning to wane.
Miq issues his customary morning command to the module’s window shields.
Above his head lies a small grey-orange sphere, glowing brightly against the velvety blackness of space. X’tuin, as viewed from a roughly geosynchronous orbit.
Miq's life has once again been saved by his module’s autonomous internal environmental controller.
“Damn that bloody useless infrastructure management system”, he curses.
So many “slight safety parameter adjustments” are needed.
Miq awakes from the embrace of a pleasant dream-filled night’s sleep. As he wakes, his feeling of relaxed lethargy is alloyed by remembrances of earlier morning-time adventures. It’s a good thing that he is an optimist at heart. Nevertheless, “What can possibly go wrong this morning?”, he thinks.
As with each day previous, Miq gives the order and his sleep field gently rearranges underneath him and decants him onto the bedroom floor…
…where both knees crack alarmingly as the result of his almost instantaneous transition from practically weightless sleep environment to an unexpected 3g field. Miq strains mightily against the unexpected pull to gather sufficient breath to shout out for Anné’s help.
Miq muses that his module’s autonomous internal environmental controller has previously saved his life, only to devise a creative new way of trying to kill him.
Once Anné has restored the earth-normal 1g gravitational field, Miq says: “I’ve had enough of this near-death experience shit! One more mess up and we are out of here.”
Miq wakes with a start. Much is wrong: he is lying on the floor, the orange redness of X’tuin’s primary sun is pouring through an unshielded bedroom window, and noises from the world outside seem odd and unusually loud while at the same time a strange quiet seems to have enveloped the module.
Miq jumps to his feet, “What the f..?” His imprecation trails off as Miq finds that the module is resting unevenly on the ground. This is quite simply something that is Not Supposed To Happen. Ever.
His attempts to converse with the module’s internal systems fail. Miq quickly establishes that there is no power, no data grid connectivity, no gravitational conditioning…the increasingly agitated audit establishes that none of the paraphernalia necessary to support his life is available. “Even my toothbrush has failed me.”, he notes with disgust.
Rooting around the house, Miq gathers together a white sheet and a container of beetroot juice. If he can wrestle open the juice container without powered intervention, he plans to prepare an ‘SOS’ banner and then stake it out on the ground outside the module in the hope that this will bring rescue.
As he turns to clamber out of the living-room window, wielding his old baseball bat for protection against whatever the surface of X’tuin may throw at him, he says to Anné: “I’ve turned into a stone-age man, living in a cera-plas cave! This really is the last straw. We are leaving Alta-Paradiso.”
Anné, ever the adventurous one, says, “I’ve always wanted to live on one of Talaxus’ great undersea habitats…”