Droplets rested on black trees. The air was light, and to get a good breath,you really had to struggle. But people survived. It was day two, and the eternal night was gone. Now, they had a good long day ahead. Many of them would make it through, and in good health, too. But their science couldn't keep them all around. They were half an hour through through and Phil was fourteen minutes old; by no means the first.
The arid dirt whipped itself up into a dust devil behind him. Dark yellow dirt filled the soles of his shoes as he walked. He wasn't going anywhere in particular; just wandering. There where many places yet to be discovered and explored. Phil fit a mask over his face, so that he could get more air and go a little faster. He jumped into a canyon in a dusty cloud of dirt, and landed softly. There were no trees here; this place hadn't yet been reached.
The sinuous, contorted shapes of the rocks had a certain wonder about them that he didn't want muffled by trees. But that wasn't for him to decide. Yet. He scrambled up a large stone without any fear of falling. The landscape was filled with huge, smooth mountains and sharp dips. Also trees, in places. Yellow was the color that dominated. Dark, smooth yellow. People said it was a calming color. The houses were everywhere. They were made to blend in though, so they didn't stand out. There was enough atmosphere above for a light purple sky.
He sat down in a dip at the very tip of the rock. Leaned back into the crumbly stone. The sun was like a blanket. A rock fell into the canyon. He looked up. Someone was walking along the edge. Phil watched the person for a while until she disappeared behind a rock. After a while, the waking world and dream began to blur, so he forced himself to get up and start toward home.
Along the way was a forest of dwarf trees. They reached up to his shoulders, brushing past him easily. They were very soft. He heard voices ahead. When he reached them he realized it was one of the houses in the ground. There was no one else close, so he tapped on the ground above them with his foot and ducked under the trees. He found a huge rock that was at least twenty feet high and stuck his hands into a crack. The door opened easily.
Phil lived by himself. He had a family, but he had chosen to live alone because he liked seclusion. There were two levels in the house, connected by a rope trailing down from a hole in the ceiling of the first one. He walked over to his computer screen and unclipped a black box from the side of his jumpsuit and dropped it into the slot to empty into the database. His task was to map out all of the uncharted land here. The table to his right was covered in equipment. One more thing, the masc was added to the table.
While a drink was brewing for him, he sat down and began switching the perspective for the video he had taken to areal. The video was long, so it took a while. The drink finished before processing was done. On the screen was a wide trail that wound around in a vaguely straight line. He zoomed in and typed up a note about a mineral deposit he had found interesting.
It was tempting to just delete the canyon or make it look like trees were already there. But some people had already tried that, and he didn't want to share their fate. He did delete the girl though. The edit was small and he made sure it was untraceable. The other cartographers did that too. That way, it was harder to be watched. Some people deliberately wandered into the map so that the authority didn't get suspicious. Those people were payed generously, even though they never asked for money.
He zoomed out and collected his trail to put in the map. When he had it hovering over the correct place he noticed that most of what he'd worked on was already mapped. The section assimilated onto the map, overlapping some things. That would just mean more information, so he wasn't mad. Whoever had mapped before him had put notes in, and he read them. There was something moving in the trees.
Upon closer inspection it was revealed to be a person. He copied that section and changed it back to land view. There he was, in the trees. Somebody had followed him. And put him...on the map. It was easy to delete; he had the code. But somebody had put him on the map. He was incredulous. A quick search gave him names and locations of all of the cartographers near him.
He found the computer address of the most likely culprit: ”FOX21,” and angrily asked why he had not been deleted. FOX21 answered quickly in audio:”Sorry. I didn't see you.”
“You followed me.” He said.
“No I didn't. You're being a baby.”
He heard a finger on a computer screen from her audio. And then the sound went out. She had changed the address.
Phil sighed. He was probably just being paranoid. But she had followed him, which was bad enough, but she didn't even delete him. Maybe she was spying for the authorities. But then, they probably already watched them. They said that everyone had to be cataloged so that they could make “informed decisions.” He could kind of see the logic in that. But they could live with just one or two people off their grid.
The rotation was not quite over. It was hard to tell, of course, but everybody had watches and things. And their biological clocks. Of course he had to use that time for mapping. But he could have some food and a nap without any trouble. The hydroponics lab was on the level above. He jumped and grabbed the rope, then climbed up, locking it between his knees like his parents had taught him. The plants were green up there.
That was because radiation was filtered for the healthiest plants possible. It was set up in racks. They were a twelve by twelve grid and the plants grew in the squares, with containers full of the water and other things necessary for their existence right below, where they grew. There was a glass cover over each rack that filtered the light.
He reached under and unhooked the water container for a potato plant, careful to support the roots in one gloved hand while he cut off two large potatoes. After they were each cut in half, he fed them into the shredder and dropped them all in a pan. It was a self heating pan, so he could take it anywhere. He slid down to the first floor and let it cook on his lap, with a plastic board protecting him from the heat.
Phil woke up and immediately knew that something was wrong. Of course. He had overslept. Outside, everything was quiet and the stars silently radiated light through the tiny holes in the rock wall. This time always creeped him out so that he usually didn't miss the curfew. It took less than five minutes for him to fall asleep, curled up under his covers with the hole leading to the first floor covered by one of his cooking appliances. Yeah, he was paranoid.
A buzzing in his ear brought him back. He rotated back in. There were twelve revolutions of the clock left before he had to get back to work. The clocks were amazing. Coming to this place, they had to reconfigure time, but they went a step further and designed 3dTIME. They were made up of two rings, one over the other like a sphere that had been chopped up in a really weird way. Floating inside the cage of the 3dTIMe was a little ball that made them turn slowly with a radio signal. It looked like an atom. At least, the old model, Bohr's.
He removed a touchscreen from the wall in front of him and found a book to read. After two revolutions, he realized he wasn't being careful with his time. With a swipe of his finger across the screen, the default breakfast mixed itself up and declared itself ready with a chime. He leaned over and opened up his desk to take it. The default breakfast wasn't without options. Maybe that made it something other than a default. Today, he had it made as a drink to be efficient.
The last revolution came around quickly, and he jumped down the hole. When the box was turned on, he looked at the map for a new place, found one and ran out into the stars. The authorities had instructed them to turn their heads a lot and get as much land as possible, but after a while of that it was realized that the distances warped the map. He instead focused on the detail in the small slice of the map that he was making. He stopped and looked closely at a shimmering rock. It was probably just a small sampling of the bigger deposit likely right under his feet. He made an audio note about that. A dozen small vials were clipped to his arms and he took of one so that he could take a dirt sample. The dirt analyzers would like that.
A scraping of feet on rock made him pause. There was somebody behind him. Probably taking video. And he didn't feel like he would be deleted. Quietly, he slipped a small gun out of his bag. Not lethal; it was issued to mappers for the crazies that occasionally popped up. The person got a little bit closer. Just about close enough to shoot, he thought. Quickly, he turned around with the gun pointed straight at...somebody.
She let out a short scream. And took her hand off the “still” button on her box. The one that took pictures. He had caught a cataloger. Gun still aimed at her neck, he got closer and took the box. He searched through the video she had taken and saw pictures of himself and a few other cartographers he knew.
“So you are a cataloger?”
“Yeah,” She said, “I work for the government; you can't touch me.”
She tried to look unafraid but only succeeded in giving him more neck to shoot. She was shapely. Her hair was a dark shade of brown and her skin was tanned almost as dark as his was. She was very pretty. He slammed the box into the ground and sprinkled it with acid from his kit.
“You're in trouble now.” She observed.
“Shut up or I'll shoot you.”
She smirked. It made him feel like he had somehow...less power. But she was just playing tricks with his mind.
“Do you know what I can do to you?” He asked nonchalantly. No response. Her face was impossible to read.
“I can take you and have a pretty valuable hostage.” He leaned in. “Or just give you to an old man.”
Now he could see that she was afraid. In spite of himself, he felt bad for saying that. He led her to his house and locked the doors so that only he could unlock them with a movement of his eye. She didn't say anything as he tied her wrists to the rope.
“What's your name?” He asked.
“Your real name.” He knew she wouldn't tell him; If she had any way to annoy him, she would use it. Probably in the hopes that he would decide it wasn't worth it and let her go. But that wouldn't happen. Catalogers were valuable to the authority. Not valuable enough for him to get in trouble though, because they knew they were breaking a law and didn't want to draw attention to it.
Phil jumped up to the top of the rope and pulled himself into the second room. She tried to headbutt him in the crotch. The tiny holes dappled his whole room. He barely noticed. There was still quite a lot of rotation left for work, he thought. What would he do with a hostage?
The girl walked behind him, secured to his waist with a rope. The rope wound around her neck and tied her hands together too. She had been stripped of any weapons or devices. He hadn't had to do the search himself; just a pat down and a quick swipe of his metal detector. She had laughed at him when he brought out the detector and called him an unprofessional baby for not doing a strip search. But he could see she didn't mean it; it was just another thing to mess with him about.
They stopped where some trees started. This place would already have been put in the map. He made her sit down first, so she couldn't start kicking him like last time. It was a mistake. She rolled on her side to get a better aim and kicked him in the balls as hard as she could. And he already knew she could kick hard. Phil stayed up; he couldn't put himself at risk of greater harm. He turned to face her and before she could try another time, he kicked her in the knee, right where he knew it would hurt most.
It felt like he was banging his crotch against a cement wall. Or maybe like he was being neutered. Either way, it hurt. He left her, gagged and tied up to a tree sitting down so that she wouldn't be noticed. When he had finished up mapping for the day, he returned and untied her. Then tied her hands up and led her to his house.
By now, he just wanted to get rid of her. Just as she had planned, of course. But there had to be something he could get out of this. By the time he had her trapped in the second floor, above, he had come to a decision. As soon as the next rotation started, he would trade her to another cartographer for some technology or something. Only if the person followed the rules though. He didn't want anything to do with the sex trade. Nasty stuff, that.
He mixed up a shake and started a soup. About twice the usual. A small cutting board slid out of the side of his work table. It was an expensive table. Lots of interesting features. Carefully, he chopped up vibrant vegetables and reconstituted meat. For some reason, the animals had not taken to the environment like the humans had. Some could live in special artificial biospheres but nobody could afford the meat. So it was shipped here in squares. But it tasted nice; their preservation techniques had gotten quite advanced.
Before eating, he added this rotation's video to the map. He noticed that the trail was a bit too wide. The girl had probably found a way to hack into his box and add to it. He had no problem with that. But he changed the code anyway; better to be careful. As he watched, the code changed back. She must have a computing implant. He could take it with some help. That wouldn't be cheap though. An idea crossed his mind. She had refused to give him her name, and the names of her employers, but she had an implant that could be hacked. Maybe he could get a little bit more out of this.
All thoughts of food cast aside, he sat down to his computer and started to change the code for his box. It slowed down very slightly as she realized he was changing it again. He detected her and caught her computer. All of the information spread out across the wraparound screen. Videos, journal entries, documents. It was a treasure trove of information.
The first thing he did was change the key and lock her out. Now she couldn't find him and retract. Or change anything.