Thursday, September 30, 2021

Microstory 1724: Columbarium

I am the only survivor of a crashed scout ship on an alien planet. My communications array was destroyed, not that there would be anyone to reach out to this deep in the black. If Earth doesn’t hear back from us, they will assume the worst, and make no attempt to mount a rescue mission. They cannot waste time looking for me when every ship is needed to search for a new home. Here is where I will live for the rest of my days, which will probably be long. The forward section of the ship is intact. It has good ventilation, solar power, ample medical supplies, and comfortable quarters. I must still go out in search of food, however, as our reserves all burned up. I’ll only last a year on the emergency rations that we had the good sense to store separate from the rest. I leave the protection of the vessel, and venture out into the wild. I won’t have to walk, fortunately, as a single occupancy helicopter did manage to survive the devastation. I’ll be able to hunt for resources from above, and it will go much faster. I immediately find a source of freshwater. It appears to come from a spring, and cuts through an oasis. I’m not sure if any of the plant life is edible yet, so I’m going to have to run some tests. I keep traveling over the lands, and keep finding these isolated oases, but the majority of the planet appears to be rather barren. It will be fine for me, but it would have been a poor choice to migrate our entire population. Life here would have been hard for people, so hopefully they will find something better elsewhere. I don’t see any land-dwelling animal life at all. I see some birds in the distance, but they are quite repelled by me. I don’t think I’ll be able to catch any of them for food. They appear to be too skittish.

I return to the ship knowing that I’ll have to become a vegetarian once the rations are gone, but also relieved that I’m probably going to be okay. I’m a decent engineer, there don’t seem to be any predators, and the weather array suggests a mild climate all year-round. So what am I going to do with all my time? My life is meaningless now, and I was raised in a world where meaninglessness meant uselessness, and uselessness meant a drain on resources which could be going to someone who contributes to the survival of the species. I have to find my new purpose. I first cremate the remains of my crew, and temporarily store them in bags. Bodies take up too much precious land, so we stopped burying our dead decades ago. I find some nice clay just outside the ship, so I use that to fashion a personalized urn for each and every one of my 55 fallen friends. I don’t stop there, though. Once the cremains are in the urns, they need a place to rest, so I begin building an entire structure for them, called a columbarium. It takes me a very long time to set the stones by hand, by myself, with clay and sand as my mortar, but I literally have all the time in the world now. I no longer have to worry about radiation pockets, or smog, or rioting. It’s important that these heroes be honored and respected. They deserve to be on display, not just for future travelers who might happen upon us millennia from now, but for me. It’s twice as big as it needs to be, because they deserve the wide open space too. Once it’s complete, I begin setting the urns in their niches. I stand there and admire my work, proud that I did this for them, and didn’t just focus on my own needs. As I’m making sure all of the urns are faced correctly, one of those white birds flies in, and perches in one of the empty niches. Another follows, and does the same. Then more come in. Perhaps I won’t have to become a vegetarian after all.

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