The first in-story post of the spin-off series Clear and the Hopeless. CatH Page 1 introduces the series' protagonist, Clear, and her current situation in life. There's background information to her, her species and her planet, some of which corroborates with events in Britt: The Legend. The post opens with Clear aboard her home, The Hopeful, which is characterised through the vivid descriptions of its state of disrepair. Characters Hebedee, Green and Note are also given brief introductions, though they currently just provide background to Clear's salvaging mission to Mars. To get to the planet Clear uses the Bug, which is the first mention of this ship (a staple for the series). Once she returns she visits Icer, a woman trapped in time in the Command Deck, but is interrupted when Note suddenly causes the ship to jump through space - something that has never happened while Clear has been on board. Hebedee tells Clear that this unexpected jump coincides with the sudden and mysterious disappearance of the Earth.
Clear walks along the gloomy corridor. Most of the lights didn't work and nobody intended to repair them because the ship's A.I. kept the lighting to a minimum to conserve energy. She had lived on the ship for several years now, so the brown stains of old blood against the walls and floors seemed like decoration. The ship is silent. It is always silent. The engines had been shut down long before Clear ever stepped foot on-board and she had no reason to turn them on. The ship is more like a spacestation now, orbiting the dead and desolate world below. There are now windows and the monitors are all blank. Clear turns right. She knows her way from point A to point B, the places she needed to be. The ship is too large, however, for her to know intimately. She could spend a year trekking and she'd never find everything. Comparatively she believed it would be the size of a small country on Earth. But truthfully, Clear didn't know much about Earth, nevermind its countries.
She topples little as she steps over the "death trap" - a thin chasm in the floor that has never been fixed. It is the only thing she actually wants fixing. She always intended to bring a sheet of metal up and lay it down over the gap, but kept forgetting. Every time. She always forgets. She gets her bearings. The gap isn't large enough to fall down, but it's wide enough to trip over. She wouldn't have done if she wasn't still woozy from drinking last night. She reaches up and presses a button on her breast. There's a similar winking sound and then the strange accent of Hebedee, the ship's current mechanic.
Heb: "Heya, darlin'! I thought you was gonna sleep until sunset!"
Clear: "I should've. Is the bug ready?"
Heb: "Sure is. Gave her a little extra gas this time too. Don't want you drifting back like last time! Ha!"
Clear: "I hope you didn't use too much, Heb."
Heb: "I know what I'm doin', darlin'. Don't you worry! Old Heb's got you covered."
Clear passes Icer's room and glances in. She is still there, staring out of her window. Clear would come and talk to her later. For now, she had work to do. After passing Icer's door, she came to a hatch. She pushes a few buttons on the panel beside the door and it swirls open like a flower in the morning sun. She steps through and waits for it to close behind her. She is now in a small chamber with windows overlooking the hangar. There isn't much to look at. Mostly old wrecks, holes, burn marks and more old blood stains. But the bug is still sitting pretty. Ish. It looks to be in better shape than the larger ship, but the bug is still a pitiful looking craft. It is shaped like an insect, hence the name. Hebedee wanted to call it a butterfly, but Clear thought of it more as a moth. A worn-out and faded hunk of bolts barely holding together just to keep its mothership alive and well.
The blank monitor sprang to life. Now, set against the same old black backdrop, is a face. It's a handsome face, but straight-faced and cold. He is the A.I. named Note.
Note: "I have included an inventory list. Good luck, Crewman."
Clear: "I'm the Captain, Note. Get used to it."
Note: "You are unable to become Captain while the current Captain yet lives."
Clear: "Captain's dead, Note."
Note: "The Captain is not dead, Crewman."
Clear: "How many times are we going to have this argument?"
Note: "You are arguing, Crewman. I am stating facts."
She rolls her eyes. Sometimes she liked to argue with Note, it brought a bright moment in an otherwise dull day. Today, however, her hangover wouldn't tolerate Note's deep-toned voice for long. She exits the room via the second door and walks down the metal stairs. They are the only stairs in the whole ship (at least that she had found) and often feel out-of-place in Clear's mind. Her feet clatter loudly with each step as the noise bounces throughout an otherwise noiseless metal cavern. She walks over to the bug. Its big wings raise as she nears and its single door opens. The small craft has enough room for roughly eight people, though she is sure she could squeeze more in. By itself it could make a stable living abode as it has its own bedrooms, living rooms and cargo hold. However it didn't have the comforts that the larger ship offers.
She gets inside and heads to the cockpit. She straps in. The buckles were metal, the straps are laser. They glow faintly pink, the idea being if she has to eject she would be more visible to anything able to see in space. Clear, however, had never met anything she wanted to be seen by that could actually see in space.
The bug bounces as it takes off. It wobbles a little, seemingly suffering from a hangover too, before Clear takes the stick and steers the bug around and towards the exit of the hangar. Clear surmised that the hangar is the weakest point of the ship if ever it were attacked because it opens into empty space with out an atmospheric shield between it and the the vacuum. Then again nobody would attack it now, there's nothing left. Maybe other salvagers trying to keep their own wreck in one piece, but otherwise the only battles this ship would have have have already happened. And it lost them.
The bug cruises out of the hangar's atmospheric shield and comes in a lazy arc out and away from the ship until its finally free of the ship's shields and is able to twist and turn in the vacuum of space as much as the bug liked to. Clear, however, doesn't like to and so she keeps it on a straight heading for the planet's surface. The familiar orange to red tone of the planet stirs old feeling in her almost every time she sees it. Her homeworld. Mars. Her monitors also display the ship behind her and she looks at its colossal bulk from outside. It looks like a worm, curled in an arc and all. She almost fancied it would move one day and start wriggling across space. In large characters the name of the ship read "The Hopeful". Apparently hoping really hard didn't mean someone else wouldn't blow you up.
Clear pulls up the white scarf around her mouth as she prepares to brave the storm. She has landed in what was once called Yarith, a country on one of the larger northern continents where the grass was always pink and the herbivores were fat. At least that's how it had been told to Clear as a child. Yarith wasn't very large, compared to other countries, but it had three big cities. The bug is sitting in the centre of one of them. Tigor.
Clear likes Tigor. It's buildings aren't very tall and it seemed to escape much of the damage done to it during Mar's final moments. The wind, however, is awful. It whips at her skin and pulls at her stark white hair. When the winds pick up she mostly worries about her carbine getting jammed with crud the wind throws in there. She presses a button on her wrist and a holoprojection appears. First item. Metal.
Simple enough. Metal is everywhere. It's one of the few resources in abundance during her salvaging sessions. Metal, however, is also the one resource she doesn't know what Note uses it for. She presumes he's been fixing parts of the ship with it but she has no idea what parts because her area is still broken and always has been. She shrugs and makes her way across the street. Already she's found a large vehicle that could be broken down into scrap quickly and provide plenty of metal. She swipes her hand and the screen changes to a list of command options. She presses the first. The bug shakes and then a rear compartment opens to reveal the cargo hold and a floating robot named ALEX. ALEX stood for automated loading engine - Xerox. She had only learnt that last year and a few months ago she realised Xerox was just the name of the company that produced the machine. Suddenly, the robot's enigmatic name seemed less impressive.
ALEX sailed through the air, apparently unaffected by the wind at all, and begins to dismantle the vehicle with its laser cutting appendages. She wants to call them arms, but they protrude from his stomach area so she though they looked more like legs. Either way, that was item number one covered. She turns back to the inventory list. Fuel. That is harder to come by, at least in large amounts. The vehicle's tank would contain some, but not enough. Martian fuel was a strange milky substance that Clear had never understood. Neither had her father and he had used it first hand in his own Martian vehicles. Nobody ever wonders how things work, just know that they do. The Hopeful, which Clear likes to jokingly call The Hopeless, isn't Martian. Meaning the Martian milky fuel worked, but not properly and it was never going to work as well as the ship's native fuelling system. Unfortunately Clear couldn't figure out where the ship had originated, not that it would help since it was never going to move. Still the milky Martian stuff is all they have.
She enters a building that she recognised to be a refuelling station. These stations were used to refuel the vehicles and are normally the best places for Clear to get some fuel for The Hopeless. As soon as she enters, however, she sees that it's almost empty. Possibly other salvagers but more likely it was empty the day it was abandoned. She is just unlucky today. Other salvagers are possible but unlikely. Few bothered to pick the carcass of Mars these days. She would have to try her luck elsewhere. She looks around the station for anything else of use, anything of interest. She finds a few datapads lying around. They'd be useful for their parts. Heb always liked to get new screws. And she would enjoy pursuing them. She often found pictures on these datapads. Families posing or making silly faces. They are precious moments of a world that no longer exists. Her father's world. The world she should have been born into. A few times she had even found more intimate pictures stored on these datapads. Those she'd kept and stored in her room.
She then sees herself in a mirror and lowers the dirty scarf. Her bright pink lips are cracked and dried so she quickly licks them to give them renewed life. She smacks them and admires her face. She rubs it, trying to free it of the dirt the wind had slapped there. Her bright red skin contrasts against the stark white hair and the blue tongue she'd used to lick her lips. Her eyes are black save for the pink iris at the centre that matched the natural colour of her lips. She has seen Martians of different colours but her colour seemed to be the most common. Some were entirely pink, while she has also seen some with green skin. There were also different colours in hair, but the tongue was always blue, the iris always pink and the lips also always pink. She spits. She must have licked in some dirt from her lips. Today is going to be a long day if she can't find some fuel...
She pulls her braided hair free of the scarf as she loosens it from her neck. Now that she is back on The Hopeless she is hoping to settle down and relax for the night. She stomps up the stairs of the hangar, her legs complaining from the ache of walking all day long. She had found most of the items on her list, including a source of fuel, and she got a few bonuses to boot. ALEX is unloading the goods and would take them to wherever Note wanted them. Her own personal stash is in a big sack she has slung over her shoulder. She will sort through what she wanted to keep and what she would give to Heb for his repairs. While the ships repaired itself, Heb helped speed things along. He is also more meticulous, able to do better and finer craftsmanship than the ship's robots. Any parts he is always grateful for.
She drops the sack to the floor, a little more heavily than intended, and walks over to Icer's door before she would go to her bedroom. She peers through the small window and there she is. As always. Staring back, mouth about to speak. That word she was going to stay is forever pasted on her face. Clear always guessed it must be "open", as in "open the door before I die". She was once the Captain of the ship and now she's frozen in time. Clear had no idea how Note had pulled it off and the A.I. was always entirely silent on the subject. The entire room had been frozen in time. The fire burning was frozen, the broken lights shooting electricity were frozen. The desperate woman at the door was frozen. She wasn't Martian. She actually looked like a human, but Clear didn't think this was a ship from Earth. The Captain wore a smart military suit of grey with a long blue cape and a tall cap. However much of her uniform was charred or even burnt away. Even her hair was burning, frozen before it could reach her face. The name tag on her breast was half burnt but Clear could make out the last letters that appeared to read "Icer". Hence Clear's name for her, now old, friend. Clear doesn't like to talk to Heb. Not only because he's a human, but because she can never understand his prattling. But she had to talk to someone. And that someone ended up being Icer. Long before Heb ever arrived on The Hopeless, Icer had been there to talk to. Long before any of the other crewmembers that had come and gone before Heb, Icer had been there. She had been there when Clear was left alone. When her father died.
Note: "Prepare to jump."
Clear stares at Icer's brown eyes, bemused what the words she had just heard from Note. Jump. That'd be the day.
She feels a strange sensation in her legs. The ship had begun to shake ever so slightly. The engines. They were being turned on. Suddenly Clear is frightened and confused and the threat of her world turning upside down was very much upon her. Nothing much had changed to make Note do this. Aboard the ship there is only herself, Heb and one girl that they picked up a month ago named Green. Green had been quiet so far and kept to herself in her own part of the ship, but they had talked a little through the communicators. So there seems to be no apparent reason for Note to be acting so erratic.
Clear: "What are you doing, Note?"
Note: "Prepare to jump."
Note: "Coordinates lost."
Clear: "What coordinates!?"
Note: "Prepare to jump."
She presses the badge.
Heb: "Any idea what's happenin', darlin'?"
Clear: "I was hoping you'd tell me! I've been back up here five minutes and suddenly the ship's powering up! It's never powered up. I mean never. What's could be happening?"
Heb: "Well, I checked some reading and, to be honest, somethin' definitely happened out there."
Heb: "Well, uh... Earth. It jus' up and POOF! vanished!"
Clear: "That's pretty drastic. The entire world?"
Clear: "But why... coordinates lost... Maybe the ship was bound for Earth when it was last attacked and shut down? With Earth gone, Note thinks he has to try and find it?"
Heb: "Sounds like an explanation to me! Can you talk 'im down?"
Clear: "I'll try. Note! Stop! You don't need to jump."
Clear is suddenly pulled against the all by what feels like invisible hands wrapped around her stomach. She struggles against the sensation, but a moment later she allows herself to be pinned as the world around her flashes and changes colour. First red. Then blue. Then white. Until, a few seconds later, she is released from the wall and she falls to her knees coughing. She breathes heavily and gasps for breath. Winded by the jump she reels from the sensation. The ship must have automatic safety locks that stuck her to the wall during the jump. But it had been the jump itself that knocked the wind out of her. She is sure jumps aren't meant to be so harmful. She guessed it is because the ship isn't using the correct fuel, though it may be the age of the jump-drive, or the fact it hadn't been used in decades.
Clear: "Note... what's happening?"
Note: "Coordinates lost. Prepare to jump."
Clear: "Again!? Note! We won't have enough fuel! Stop!"
Note: "Jump Paused. Calculating."
Clear: "Thank you. Okay. Note. Where have you jumped us to? I assum--"
Note: "Prepare to jump."
Clear: "No! Note! ACK!"
She is, once again, slammed to the wall and forced to endure another jump. She falls to her knees again and splutters. Her face mushes against the cold metal floor. She can see her sack of goodies still sitting on the floor. Some of the datapads have fallen out, but it otherwise remains in tact. She guesses that objects are shielded during the jump. A living creature, however, couldn't be shielded in such as a way as they'd suffocate or go through a condition similar to rigour mortis, where the body would remain frozen in stasis, yet the mind aware and conscious. A living Hell her father had described it when he watched a co-worker go through it. They were unable to kill the worker humanely as his body resisted any attempts at medication. In the end the worker was melted. Melted down to save him from a living Hell. She could only imagine those last moments of life. She just has to endure being winded and sickness.
Note: "Salvage mission required. Worlds with supplies are in the vicinity. Crewman, please prepare for mission."
Clear groans and sits up.
Clear: "I'm not going anywhere, Note. Not until you calm down."
Note: "I am an A.I. designed without emotions, Crewman."
Clear: "Then stop freaking about about the Earth and just relax. We don't need to find the Earth."
Note: "Coordinates lost. Salvage required. Prepare for mission."
Clear: "It's like talking to a brick wall..."
"CatH Page 2 was meant to introduce, primarily, Clear; not just her appearance and past but to give us a demonstration of who she is. She's not a typical hero, brimming with enthusiasm for adventures, she's a woman set in her ways and a woman who has lost everything. Only that constancy keeps her stable, though she has developed, even apparently here, several unhealthy habits. It was also meant to set up some key mysteries for the Clear and the Hopeful series, such as Icer and her past, as well as Note's reasons for jumping after Earth. These questions, in fact, remain largely unanswered even into chapter two, Clear and the Hopeless: The Living Daylights. The post also sets the tone and feel for the entire series, I tried to ensure that while it's in the same universe as The Never-ending Story and the other spin-offs, its definitely its own thing and would have its own style." - Britt the Writer
Hero Force One Influence
One of the few connections to other Stories, the sudden disappearance of the Earth coincides with the first chapter of the Hero Force One, Missing: Earth. In fact it's the entire Laniakea Supercluster that has been moved, while the Earth is standing in its original position all alone, however Clear and her crewmen wouldn't notice this - to them it seems that the Earth is gone. The Supercluster was moved by a group known as R.I.T.E. and placed the cluster into the Deep Void, where they hoped to attract Netherwyrms for capture. Although the supercluster would eventually be returned, and the Earth back in its place, Clear would only return to the Sol System when forced to later in the chapter.