Prologue for the Silver Ship and the Sea
Fremont was discovered in the year zero. Zero always begins the marking of a new planet’s time, as if it did not exist before humans found it.
My story did not begin until after year zero, but I feel I should begin with discovery. With zero. Which is, in a way, full of infinite possibilities. Five bright metallic probes swooped in from Inhabited Space, circled my wild planet, and then, one by one, plunged to the surface. Three landed in oceans, reporting salt and brine and signs of life. One disappeared entirely; possibly swallowed by the hot molten rivers that run on our third continent, the one we call Blaze, after the fires of creation. The fifth probe landed in Green Valley, where we live today. It reported that humans could breathe the air and that carbon-based life existed abundantly on Fremont.
And so, a hundred years later, the thousand colonists came. All original humans, they came from a planet much like Fremont, much like Earth, called Deerfly after the shape of one of its seas, like a deer with wings. The shape of that sea is painted on the outside of the thousand colonists’ ship, Traveler.
They parked Traveler in orbit, taking seven small planet-hoppers to the surface, shuttling up and down for months with people and supplies. Being careful. Even so, Fremont’s predators began killing them even before they all made it to the surface. For Fremont was joyous, riotous, very alive, and very wild. The probes mapped a moment in time: a snapshot, not a movie. If more had found our valleys, had found the two livable continents (Islandia and Jini), had found the wide grass plains, the colonists might have been better prepared.
Fremont rumbles and moves and shifts. Its blood flows across the surface in red-orange rivers and slides into its waters, sending steam hissing and spewing to honor the marriage of water and fire. Fremont’s grasses and plants and animals are sharp-edged and sharp-toothed. Edible, but only once their defenses are breached.
New colonies often fail. Fremont’s almost did.
After a full hundred years, Fremont hosted only fifteen hundred people, now third and fourth and fifth generation, ragged and hungry and tired. About two hundred were wanderers, called roamers, scientists who traveled the continent of Jini, where Fremont’s one city, Artistos, nestles between the Lace Forest and the Grass Plains. The roamers planted and tended a continental network of information feeds, and documented the beauty and danger of Fremont. They fought to gain the knowledge and experience needed for the colony to survive. Everyone else lived in Artistos. Behind fences.
Artistos’ planners designed for five thousand. The houses, of course, were not all built. The Guild building and meeting rooms went up, surrounding the town’s true center, Commons Park. The park was kept up, the town maintained, the granaries filled, as well as possible, by stubborn hard-working people.
The colonists’ stubbornness nearly doomed them. They claimed true humanity, refused to be augmented, to improve their physical nature, to better match Fremont. Their spiritual natures were also stubborn; they did not give up when many others might have done so.
Two unexpected ships landed on the Grass Plains in the year two hundred, bearing my parents and others like them. New Making and Journey were smaller and more flexible than Traveler, so they flew down and landed in the open field next to Artistos’ spaceport, searing the ground black and bending the yellow-green whip grass flat. A mere three hundred people, but three hundred altered. Modified for brains, for strength, for quickness, for long life. My early education on Fremont taught me they were arrogant, but since they were my own people, I prefer to imagine they didn’t understand what they flew into. Surely they had the skills to survive, had they only understood the battleground.
The seeds of the war lie buried in history, history from long before either group came here, but we now call it the Altered War, the Last War, the Ten Years War, and all of us hope that no one else comes to make another one. Most say it started over scarce food supplies, or over demands from the altered that the original humans follow their footsteps. Others whisper that it started over bad advice given intentionally to the newcomers.
I don’t care. I do not know why it became war. Why couldn’t we all live here? After all, we believe both Jini and Islandia are habitable, even though no human lives on Islandia yet. Never mind, for it does not matter. It took only months for war to break out.
However it began, in the end fewer than a hundred altered survived to flee Fremont, taking the Journey. Half of the first colonists were dead. One altered still lived: Jenna — blind in one eye, one arm lost, but fast as a paw-cat. Jenna ran, climbed, hunted, and outfoxed everyone who tried to kill her.
And us. The only altered, as far as we know, born on Fremont.
There are six of us. Children of the dead. We were adopted, mostly separated. Alicia and Liam, both three years old, went to two groups of roamers. Four of us went to Artistos. My brother and I remained together, adopted by Artistos’ leaders, Therese and Steven, as a sign of the end of the war. Kayleen went to the popular, and barren, biologist, Paloma. Bryan became part of a large household in the builder’s guild, who have never liked him much. I was five at the time and Joseph two. Kayleen and Bryan were both four. So I was the oldest. The responsible one.
My new mother, Therese, once told me the altered hoped our unique talents would help them gain a future, help them save themselves. The words she used were “They made you for this place.” My first parents must have been made for Fremont as well, but made for the snapshot the probe sent back, not for the real place. We did not grow up in time to do whatever they made us for. They are, of course, gone. Or dead. Their ship, the New Making, stands upright where it landed. The ground surrounding the ship is still mostly bare and black in a circle as wide as the ship is tall. Wider than twenty of us lying down. It reminds us of our heritage. It remains locked, inaccessible.
It is twelve years since the end of the Black War, but it has not been twelve years of peace. The first colonists returned to an enemy that had harried their flank, and in some ways had become their ally, as they fought the altered. They returned to the struggle to survive Fremont.
I barely remember my first parents. They floated in and out of our lives like smoke, coming to our tents late at night, exhausted, then leaving again at daybreak. I do remember Chiaro, one of the last altered to be killed. She raised us. She was our teacher. To this day, although the pain has shrunk to a small stone in my belly, I miss Chiaro. Therese told me once that Chiaro saved us, bartered her own life for the six of us, claiming that we would someday be helpful.
Therese and Steven treat me well enough, and I respect them. At first, they were our captors more than our parents. It was only when we became old enough to work alongside them, old enough to begin learning our abilities, how to offer them carefully and subtly, that they began to treat us with respect, and perhaps, as family. My brother Joseph loves them, I think. He has no memory of our first parents. He has little memory of the first few years we lived in Artistos. He does not recall being watched carefully, as if he would turn and bite the hands that brought him breakfast. He does not remember the time before Artistos began to appreciate our abilities, to begrudgingly allow us to participate in the life of the colony.
And why not appreciate us?
I am very strong, and think well about spatial relationships, about trajectories, about trends, about relationships between people. Those skills let me become quietly important, useful without being easily noticed. Joseph, like me, has no external physical enhancements, although he too is strong and fast with keen senses. His extraordinary gift is built deep inside him. He absorbs and synthesizes and directs data, balancing multiple streams in his brain, accepting many inputs, seeing multiple current moments and correlating information. He is so earnest in his desire to please that most love him. And why not?
We all need each other to survive.
stream created July 23rd, 229.