Vantage story in proper order

This is the story scattered across the Vantage collectable of the game. I actually found this story quite interesting/touching/deep in its own way and it's a nice break from the more boilerplate/mainstream main game content. However, it was a kind of deliberately arranged in a random order across the 12 collectable points and thus was hard to follow. I put them into the correct order and hopefully it'll make it easier for anybody interested to read. Credits to u/Yezarul who typed and posted all the collectable lores. I merely rearranged the order.

  • Faro Automated Solutions
    • AUDIO: Apocashitstorm Tour, Day 1. Where better to start than at the end? Or where the end started, anyway. Ground zero, where it all came crashing down. My career first, then everything else. And I mean everything.
    • Text:

Hi Ma,

Remember how ecstatic we were when I landed a job here? Aerospace Control Engineer at Faro Automated Solutions, straight outta Stanford U. Saturday I was tossing a mortarboard, Monday I'm an employee of the biggest corporation on Earth. Starting wage? Six times basic.

It was a dream come true – yours as much as mine. When I found out I'd landed the gig, I waited until graduation day to tell you in person. You were so proud, you hugged me five minutes straight, laughing and crying at the same time, saying over and over, "Onwards and upwards! The start of great things!" I thought so, too. It seemed as though nothing bad would ever happen to me – to us – ever again.

But bad did happen, of course. More bad than I ever knew was possible. And while I can't blame FAS for making you sick – Metallurgic gets the credit for that – I can sure as hell blame Faro for the rest.

But lets talk about the end of the world later. It plays a part in this story, of course. If I hadn't found out what was coming, I wouldn't be doing this, leaving these time capsules behind. But the apocalypse isn't the story I want to tell.

This is going to be about our family. About us.

It's time to get going. I've spent enough of my life in the shadow of this place. I've got eleven more vantage spikes in the trunk of the Sabara I rented, and some pretty good ideas for where to sink them.

So let's get the hell away from this place and start sinking.

  • Air Combat Academy
    • AUDIO: Apocashitstorm Tour, Day 2. My father guest-lectured here, a 300-level military history course on the Age of Human Airpower. Might as well have been teaching medieval siege tactics. I was eight when he died.
    • Text:

Hi Ma,

You brought me here once to see baba teach. I didn't know it at the time, but the class was like something out of the 20th century. He stood behind a lectern in a real-space lecture hall, raising his unamplified voice to be heard by flesh-and-blood cadets seated in plastic chairs. This being '45 or '46, our air forces must've been 60-70% automated, but the academy was still old-school – literally.

I suppose the quaintness of the setting fit the subject he was teaching: "The Age of Human Airpower, 1909 – ???" The cadets probably thought the question marks were wishful thinking – or willful ignorance. From their perspective, the era of the human pilot was already over. But not for baba. I can still see the medals he kept in that drawer in the bedroom, the inscriptions in Sanskrit ("Touch the Sky with Glory," you said one meant). Even as a Commodore in the IAF, he'd kept flying. He still remembered what it was like to sit in a cockpit with his hand on the stick and his finger on a trigger.

And that's how he died. June 5th, 2048. At the funeral, some Metallurgic International rep said we should be proud he died "defending free markets." Even then I knew that was a lie. He died defending M. Int's claim on a Tantalum mine – that's what he died for. And why stop the truth-telling there? Really he died because M. Int wasn't yet rich enough to afford a fully-automated fleet, because it wasn't cost-effective to upgrade a military-surplus Razorwing with imrproved electronics warfare gear. He died because human combat pilots were just as obsolete as the crates they put them in, and just as expendable.

When he spiraled into the jungle, our family crashed with him. For weeks you couldn't get out of bed, and then came the hospital, me staying with the neighbors… Even after you recovered, even when you said all the right things and promised we'd be okay, I didn't believe it.

Something had broken between us. I felt like an orphan, and nothing seemed to matter any more. Which is how I lived for the next seven years… until it almost killed me.

  • Explorer Museum
    • AUDIO: Apocashitstorm Tour, Day 3. I was thirteen when I broke in and vandalized this place. Me and that kid, I think his name was Star. It was my first arrest. A real banner day for the Mati family. What a messed-up kid I was…
    • Text:

Hi Ma,

Like me, Star was a problem kid, but he wasn't really smart enough to get into trouble on his own. I didn't tell him my real motivations, just made breaking into the museum and vandalizing it sound like a fun thing to do high on Duster.

I was only thirteen, but my combined interests in tech and drugs had already acquainted me with the basics of hacking security systems. I used a jammer to bypass a window alarm, and then I got to work. I toppled holo-exhibits, smashed dioramas, yanked display panels off the walls and smashed those, too.

I forgot all about Star until he yelped about flying glass. He was just standing there, holding his cheek, staring at me with big, scared eyes, whining about how this was crazy and I was going to get us arrested.

He was right about the arrest – getting caught was part of my plan – but wrong about the crazy.

My one-boy orgy of destruction wasn't some kind of drug-soaked psychotic frenzy. It was a calculated attack.

Not on the museum. On Wyatt.

You'd started dating Wyatt a few weeks before, and I didn't like him. I wanted him gone.

When you had him over for dinner, one of the many boring things he'd droned on about was how he served on the board of the museum and oversaw its technology purchases.

Anyway, as I was saying, Star was right to think we were going to get arrested. It went down quick. Star began screaming about how he was burning all over, and next thing I knew I was face down in a mound of expanding foam. The police bots never even warned us. Compared to Star, I got off easy. I've never been on the business end of a microwave fun, but they say it hurts like hell. I was still picking bits of that foam out of my hair a week later, though.

Fines and damages came to eighteen months of basic income. So it wasn't just shame that my actions brought down on the family, but financial catastrophe, too.

Which is why the plan backfired. I didn't push Wyatt away, I handed him a golden opportunity. He stepped in and paid the bill, and it was only another month or two before you got engaged.

It's weird, but lately I've been dreaming about that night. I keep seeing that first projector I toppled, watching that hologram of a pioneer woman slew sideways and spin to the floor like a bowling pin as the emitter crashed over. A zap and a flicker and she was gone.

History shorting out. Kind of like now. I wonder if anyone will survive to build museums about us.

  • Colorado Springs
    • AUDIO:Apocashitstorm Tour, day 4. It's hard to believe Metallurgic International used to be headquarted in this dreary old ziggurat. Wyatt's office was on the second floor from the top. If M. Int had a policy against workplace romances, he probably wrote it.
    • Text:

Hi Ma,

Looking back, it's almost comical how much I detested Wyatt. I hated everything about him: his lumpy face, his bad skin, his always-calm voice, his out-of-style suits, and especially his stupid cowboy name. (I don't care how badly you want to assimilate, there is never any excuse for naming your kid after a gunfighter.)

I couldn't believe you would replace my baba – a decorated combat flier – with a corporate drone. So I made it as hard for you as I could. I was beyond cruel. I accused you to your face of only being interested in Wyatt for his money. Called you, my own mother, a gold-digger and worse. Refused to attend the wedding, then got myself arrested the night before just to cinch the point.

It took me years to understand the obvious.

Of course you married him for his money- for my sake, not yours.

Before Wyatt, the job you were working didn't even cover food and rent. When you didn't get overtime, we slipped deeper in debt or went hungry. You literally couldn't afford to spend time at home, let alone pay for childcare or rent a nanny-bot. Meanwhile your son was out of control, a truant and a thief, not even out of junior high and already a drug addict.

If you'd only had yourself to worry about, I think you would've politely refused Wyatt's interest. You were no stranger to hardship. Compared to what you went through getting out of Kolkata in 2037, simple poverty probably seemed like a cake walk. You knew how to survive.

But your son didn't. I was headed nowhere – at ramming speed.

You married Wyatt to save me. For the stability and opportunities his money could provide.

It wound up working, but not as smoothly as you hoped. Before I could be saved, I had to die first.

But that's a story for the Amphitheater.

  • Sterling-Malkeet Amphitheater
    • AUDIO: Apocashitstorm Tour, Day 5. The Grey Swarms opened for Turtlesmash the night I OD'd here – or so the police report said, anyway. I was fifteen years old. When I woke in the hospital two days later, your face was the first thing I saw.
    • Text:

Hi Ma,

I don't remember anything baout the concert – the bands, the music, the crowd. I was too throttled on Skydive and Snake that night to distinguish the thunder of bashcore from the roar of blood in my head. And then I ran across a pusher who was selling Razorwing for eight bucks a tab.

That's right – Razorwing. A certain designer stimulant named after a certain late '30s fight craft that our family had a certain unpleasant association with.

So I declined the offer. Heeded the ominous portent and got the hell out of there – right?

Or maybe what I did was buy four tabs and take them all at once.

Yeah. Did that.

According to the police report, I went berserk and attacked the pusher, then set fire to his stash, and then went after the security drones that showed up. I didn't get far. The drones put 50,000 volts through me, which wouldn't have been such a big deal if my heart hadn't already been hammering along at triple time. The shock flat-out killed me. The med-bots came fast as they could, but the first glitched out and the second got hung up in the crowd, so I was dead for almost two minutes. And even after they revived me, my condition was touch and go on account of all the substances sloshing through my veins.

When I came out of the coma, your face was the first thing I saw. You'd been crying. Your makeup was smudged, dark lines down your cheeks.

When our eyes met, I expected you to start yelling. And weak as I was, I was ready to yell back. Not even a coma could break my defiance.

But you didn't yell. You quietly asked Wyatt to wait in the hall, then pushed your chair right up to the edge of my bed and took my hand.

I wanted to jerk my hand back, but I couldn't.

It wasn't the strength of your grip that stopped me, but the warmth of your hand. The gentleness with which you took mine.

When you spoke, your voice was quiet, just above a whisper. "When I lost your baba seven years ago, you were my only reason to go on living." Your gaze lifted to the medical equipment sorrounding us, the tubes and blinking lights. You shook your head. "Why do you live like no one loves you? don't you realize that if you die, all my hopes and dreams, and all the hopes and dreams of your father, die with you?

You reached and touched my hair, and like a thunder-crack, I broke. Ormaybe I was just snapping back together. I lay there sobbing, for what felt like years. The whole time, you never took your hand away, and I didn't, either.

The next day I agreed to go into treatment. I wish I could say I never picked up again, but as we both know, that's not exactly how things turned out.

  • Denver Stadium
    • AUDIO: Apocashitstorm Tour, Day 6. I was fresh out of rehab when we saw the Metallurgists play the Hartz Wayfarers. The M. Int jersey looked pretty funny over your saree.,
    • Text:

Hi Ma,

So this would've been late May or early June. I was only a week or two out of rehab, still feeling pretty raw, pretty jangly about sober life. You'd already gone to toe-to-toe with Mr. Girson, that jerk principal who tried to block my readmission. I was looking at 8 weeks of summer school to make up for all the courses I'd flunked, but I didn't mind. Without drugs, I didn't really know what to do with myself yet, so I welcomed the structure.

The Metallurgists were playing the Wayfarers, and as usual Wyatt had box tickets. But this was the first time I'd agreed to go. Hell, it was probably the first time I'd ever agreed to do anything "as a family." In retrospect, I'm surprised Wyatt was willing to bring his hellion stepson to a public event so soon.

I'd seen teams slug it out on holo before, of course, but *it* seeing it in the real was a whole other thing. The size of the machines, their speed, the way they bashed each other to pieces – it was intense! All at once my fascination with tech, which had kind of faded as I'd sunk into the drugs, came roaring back. When Homi Raman, the team's chief engineer, stopped by the box at half-time, I was all over him, blasting him with questions like a one-boy press conference.

Looking back, it wouldn't surprise me if you took me to that game hoping to get me excited about tech before I headed into summer school. Or was it that you wanted me to catch a glimpse of corporate privilege? It was always your dream that I'd end up in engineering or business. Well, there was plenty of engineering on display when CONOR-12 scored with an 18-meter rocket jump. And plenty of VPs even C-levels in the box with us when we cheered the goal.

Yeah, it was a set-up. You knew what you were doing. Always did.

  • Colorado Springs
    • AUDIO:Apocashitstorm Tour, day 7. I was three months out of rehab when we went camping out here. Wyatt went to sleep early, so it was just the two of us when we stayed up and watched the Perseids. After, as we talked about the stars and space tech, I suddenly knew what I wanted to do with my life.
    • Text:

Hi Ma,

It was August. Summer school had wrapped, and I'd aced my courses, so I was heading back to tenth grade with a good head of steam. As a reward for my studies (and my sobriety), you and Wyatt gave me a Fullerton Labs AstroProdigy and took me camping to watch the Perseids at their peak. I was amped!

Wyatt spent all afternoon struggling with a "self-constructing shelter" he'd bought for the trip, until finally he gave up and built the damn thing manually (well, the sleeping pods, anyway) while we made a fire and cooked dinner. It must've taken a lot out of him, because Wyatt was nodding off at dinner and went to bed soon after.

As night fell, we sat and watched the meteors streak across the sky like fingernail scratches, marveling at their abundance, laughing our delight. After an hour or so you asked me to teach you the constellations, so I launched the AstroProdigy and played professor, spouting off about each star group as the drone magnified them.

Later, I had it zoom in on the Odyssey, which was still being constructed in orbit back then (it was another year or two before they abandoned it). We could actually see the robots building it, zipping across the hull like little fireflies. So I jabbered about that, which got me started on yammering about the robots that Faro and other corporations – even Metallurgic – had begun sending up to mine helium-3 from Luna and metals from the asteroid belt.

The more I spoke about space tech, the more excited I became. But I was getting cold, too – deserts at night are like that. So I sat back down next to you and we huddled under the camp blanket. For a little while we were quiet; I wanted to say what I was thinking, but it felt ridiculous. But then Wyatt snored explosively from inside the shelter, and we giggled, and our laughter seemed to make an opening for me to just go ahead and say it: that I – your delinquent son who'd almost flunked out of high school, who'd nearly died of an OD at a bashcore concert – wanted to be an aerospace engineer and make the sorts of machines we'd been talking about: robots to gather resources in the solar system, maybe even ones that could travel to other stars and colonize new worlds.

You looked at me and smiled. "Then that is what you will do." And then you looked up at the night sky and said, very plainly, as though it was a simple fact, "You will write the story of our family across the stars."

School started the next week, and I never looked back.

  • Bridal Veil Falls
    • AUDIO: Apocashitstorm Tour, Day 8. Holy crap. That glitched-out Lifter that crushed your arm and clavicle, back before you met Wyatt – that was in a mine back beyond these falls. Ugh, what a punk I was,
    • Text:

Ma,

I can't believe I just stumbled across this place. I remembered your injury, of course – I just forgot that it happened all the way out here.

This was before Wyatt, obviously, when things were really hard for us. I was twelve or thirteen, already smoking Duster every day. And you were working all the time, stuck on the job you convinced Metallurgic to give you after they stiffed us on the death settlement. It must've been terrible, servicing mining robots in dig tunnels for 1.5 basic. But it's how you kept us fed.

When the Lifter injured you, the foreman said it was your fault. Said the telemetry showed human error – yours. When you told me the telemetry had been cooked, I didn't believe you. I blamed you for your injury, same as the company. What a great kid I was.

I didn't understand the situation at all. Denial of Comp was a financial death blow. We were days from living on the street. Which is why you pushed your grievance up the ladder – up and up, until finally you wound up in Wyatt's office. He ordered an investigation, which was the right thing to do… though I've always wondered just how dispassionate his decision was.

The investigation proved the telemetry had been tampered with and validated your claim, and the implants and cybernetics fixed you up good as new. By all appearances it looked like everything that had gotten broken had been fixed. Hell, another six months and you and Wyatt started seeing each other, so before long even our poverty was fixed.

What we didn't know, of course, what that you'd been poisoned. LuBor-6 exposure from the solvents you used to keep robot joints clear. We were still years away from knowing the long-term effects, but the damage was done.

You doomed yourself working a shitty job to keep me fed and clothed, and I can't even remember a single time I thanked you for it.

Screw this place.

  • Eagle Canyon
    • AUDIO: Apocashitstorm Tour, Day 9. I was setting up my tent right here when Wyatt's call came through. I came as fast as I could, but you'd already slipped into a coma. We never got a chance to say goodbye.
    • Text:

Hi Ma,

My plan was to go camping here after the AMOS-15 launch. I'd been working OT for the past nine months, so I was pretty frazzled and figured I should take a weekend to relax before crunch started up again.

I was setting up my tent when Wyatt's call came through. He said it was an emergency. I called a LiftSpin vert and made it to Denver General in less than twenty-seven minutes.

I was too late.

You'd already slipped into a coma. I didn't understand how that could be, but when I told Wyatt to explain, he just kept choking up, waving me towards the care station.

So it was a holo-doc that broke the news. How you'd been diagnosed a year earlier. The adverse reactions to gene therapy and polymer vascular replacements. The six months of mobile dialysis.

I couldn't believe you'd kept it all secret from me. Even at the height of crunch, I called you once or twice a week. So you just sat there, listening to me enthuse about my latest project or complain about workplace politics – and all the while, you were dying? It didn't make sense.

I marched back to Wyatt, cornered him, and demanded that he explain.

He said you hadn't want to distract me. That I was doing important work and needed to focus.

You know, as though the latest AMOS launch and the palladium and rhodium it'd bring back to earth mattered more than the ma who was already here.

Wyatt kept saying how proud you were of me. He even parroted that "onwards and upwards" phrase of yours. He said I should get back to work, that that's what you would've wanted, that he'd stay at the hospital and keep me informed.

I didn't go back to work. I called in. It took arguing my way past two supervisors, a labyrinthine automated HR menu, a Human Resources AI, and an anal-defensive benefits executive to activate my personal leave, but I did it.

And then I sat at your bedside for the next seven days. I kept thinking of the hospital after my OD at the Amphitheater, kept thinking that if you came out of the coma, I wanted my fact to be the first thing you saw.

On the eighth day they pronounced you dead.

After the funeral, I went back to work… but I wasn't really there. I kept telling myself to focus, that it was okay to be there. It was what you would've wanted, after all. Onwards and upwards.

But my work fell behind. When my supervisor called me in for an emergency review, I told myself to play it cool, accept the criticism, and promise to do better.

It didn't go like that. I snapped and shouted at him. And then broke down, sobbing uncontrollably.

Two minutes and three sec-drones later, and I was standing outside the Faro building, blinking in the sunshine, straightening my bunched-up clothes. An alert on my Focus indicated that I should go home for the day, then report for a disciplinary review on Monday.

But I didn't go home. Another idea had risen up in my mind, already fully formed. I guess I'd already been thinking of doing it for a while.

I took a LiftSpin to Pioneer Park. Ten minutes of asking around and a TruthTest to show I wasn't a cop was all it took to make a connection.

I went home with the drugs, started using, and didn't stop. Duster. Snake. Skydive. Overcast. No Razorwing, at least.

I didn't take calls, didn't show up for the disciplinary review on Monday morning. A friend stopped by and hammered the door until I answered it. When he saw what was happening, he staged a one-man intervention.

I agreed to go into treatment, but I didn't harbor any illusions. Use of personal leave was bad, but use of psych/SA leave? Career suicide. Sure, they couldn't legally fire me for it. But I'd been around FAS long enough to know they'd find a way. My career was over.

I thought I was at rock bottom, but I was wrong, of course. I still had a long way to fall.

  • King's Peak
    • AUDIO:Apocashitstorm Tour, day 10. So here's where I learned how the world would end. My second Apocalypse in a year. Looks like there's a lot of construction going on now… why would that be?.
    • Text:

Hi Ma,

I was surprised when FAS sent me out here, and not just because the meeting was to going to be held in real-space. I was surprised to discover that anyone at FAS still knew I existed.

When I returned to work after treatment, HR informed me I'd been reassigned to the Vantage project. It was exactly the professional death sentence I was expecting, the career equivalent of getting sent into a Red Zone without an environment suit.

Everyone knew Vantage was one of those doomed projects FAS kept around solely for the purpose of assigned dead-enders to them – especially "head cases" like me who couldn't be summarily fired for fear of parity litigation. Month by month, management would pile losers on a lost cause, then cancel the project and lay everyone off.

A ship of fools sunk with a single torpedo. Ain't wrongful dismissal if it's down-sizing.

I had nothing better to do, so I spent my time studying the tech. Chip design wasn't my forte, but I knew enough to admire what the engineers had accomplished with the Eternity chip. Stored data was guaranteed to last 50,000 years or more without degradation. As for Vantage itself, the project was little more than a failed marketing plan. The idea was to promote the tech by burying unlocked Eternity chips at scenic locales around the world. Public domain time capsules where enthusiasts could cache date-locked data. The project got as far as devloping the "spikes" – portable drill applicators – to sink the chips, then stalled when Grass-Heckel encapsulates came on the market and stole Eternity's thunder.

Anyway, I'd been at Vantage three weeks when FAS unexpectedly sent me out here for a real-space meeting. Me, a dead-ender working on a doomed project, dispatched to a high-security FAS R&D site inside King's Peak. It didn't make sense.

Security put me in a small conference room and told me to wait. It was downright claustrophobic – dim lights, bad ventilation – more like an interrogation room from one of those '90s cop vids. But what really got my attention was the noises coming through the walls: the non-stop bang and clatter of construction bots building something deep in the mountain – something big.

The door opened and some doofs wearing FAS badges file in. I recognized one of them – Brad Andac, a military division replications engineer I met when I first joined the company – but I don't think he recognized me. He stayed at the back of the room the whole time, looking distraught.

I was about to ask what the hell was going on when a woman wearing a hijab walked in. She didn't introduce herself, but she didn't have to. It was Samina Ebadji, former lead archivist of the Odyssey, architect of the entire HOMER project. Not a global celebrity by any means, but if you grew up following the Odyssey project like I did, you knew her on sight.

Ebadji sat down and started asking extremely precise questions about the upper-range tolerances of Eternity chips. Then she asked me to speculate about the feasibility of various upgrade paths. The interview lasted maybe ten minutes, whereupon she thanked me for my time and left. Everyone else filed out after her.

Security came for me a few minutes later and escorted me to my vert. The whole way back to FAS, I kept trying to figure what had just happened. What was Samina Ebadji doing at a classified Faro R&D site, asking me questions about Eternity tech? It didn't add up.

By the time I landed, I knew I wasn't going to give up until I'd puzzled it out. The worst that could happen was I'd get fired, and that was going to happen anyway.

It took a couple days and some geo-work, but I got a fix on Brad Andac soon enough. He was going to a different bar every night, drinking to the point of blacking out. I shadowed him until I managed to proxy his Focus and dupe his net protocols.

I didn't find anything strange in his financial records or media patterns. I was starting to think I'd wasted my time.

Then I accessed his dreamBoX account and found the journal he'd been keeping the past few weeks.

It was all there. How the world would end.

My first thought was, well, at least my Ma didn't live to see this.

My second thought was that nothing mattered anymore.

Which made it pretty obvious that I should kill myself.

  • Lake Powell
    • AUDIO: Apocashitstorm Tour, Day 11. I came out here to die. But instead of overdosing at Wyatt's cottage, I went out walking along the water. I was standing right here when the idea hit me, and the moment it did… I knew I had to do it.
    • Text:

Hi Ma,

I came here with a duffle full of drugs after I found out about the plague. I had a plan, a simple one. I figured I'd spend a few days getting high, then OD on Overcast.

I guess I was still furious at Wyatt for aiding and abetting your silence. If everything had gone according to plan, my corpse would've lay rotting in the cottage for who knows how long. He would've needed to lease catastrophic cleaning bots just to scrape me off the floor. A skeletal middle finger from beyond the grave.

But things didn't go to plan. For some reason, I went out walking before I got high.

I truged along the shore, thinking of all the times we walked and talked here. How I'd changed over the years; how you'd stayed the same. Whether I was a high schooler jabbering about AP classes or a university student gossiping about my professors or a FAS engineer pontificating about payload yields, you were always there, always listening, always interested. And always encouraging me, of course, spurring me on. Onwards and upwards…

But now here I was, an abject failure, standing alone on this beach… as all around me, children chased play-bots across the sand, sun-bathers basked, families splashed in the water or zipped past on old-timey boats, utterly oblivious to the mechanical terrors that would soon consume them.

Brief moments in the sun, doomed to end in horror and amount to nothing.

All your love and devotion, all the sacrifices you made to support my success… what had that come to? Failure. And at such cost. We never even got a chance to say goodbye.

But even if I hadn't failed, if I'd gone on "succeeding," would that have been any better? The whole time I was clawing my way up the ladder at FAS, the company's military division was creating the tech that would end the world. I served the same master.

Success was a ladder to nowhere. It just took falling off and landing on the Vantage project to see it.

I don't know why, but the irony of that had never hit me until I was standing on this beach.

That it was only because I'd failed and been assigned to Vantage – an abandoned time capsule project – that I'd found out the world was ending.

Irony? More like a cosmic joke. Why, then, did the realization hit me like an inspiration?

I had access to the tech. I knew I could do it.

Sure, in the end, it would probably all just come to nothing… like everything else. But for 50,000 years or more, whatever data I left behind would still be there.

It wouldn't be much. But it wouldn't be nothing, either.

I went back to the cottage, stashed the drugs, called a LiftSpin into town. If I was going to make an end-of-the-world tour, I figured I might as well do it in style, so I leased a Sbara and rode that to FAS. I let myself into the lab, signed out twelve Vantage spikes for "testing," put them in the trunk of the Sabara… and the rest is history.

It was less than two weeks ago. Feels like forever.

When I started the tour, I figured I'd come back here and pick up where I left off. Get high, then dead. But the first thing I did when I got back was incinerate the drugs – all 2.5 months of salary worth – so that bridge to oblivion has literally been burned.

I don't know how I'm going to die, but it can't be like that. I know how you felt about me and drugs. However it happens, I can at least promise you this: I will die clean.

I still have one last Spike to sink. One final stop on the grand mystery tour.

I'll see you there.

  • Bryce Orbital
    • AUDIO: Apocashitstorm Tour, Day 12. As we watched the booster arc up into the night sky, riding a pillar of flame, you took my hand, squeezed it, and said, "You have written the story of our family across the stars."
    • Text:

Hi Ma,

Last stop. After this, I'll have said everything I need to.

It was just a routine launch, but for us it might as well have been Apollo 11. It was my first paylod: a seeker/extractor with an upgraded propulsion system I'd designed.

The vehicles was destined for M89282, an asteroid rich in ruthenium and tungsten. A Metallurgic claim, as it happened. A family event, through and through.

So there we stood, in the open air as night fell and the stars came up. And of course I was thinking of that night years before, when we watched the Perseids together and talked and dreamed of this very moment.

You were thinking of it too, because when the booster launched, as it rose into the sky on its jet of flame, you took my hand and said, "You have written the story of our family across the stars."

Even then I knew it wasn't true. The vehicle was headed for a rock, not a star. It was a routine launch, not some voyage of discovery. But my heart was too full to quibble. I just smiled and squeezed your hand back.

It was the finest moment of my life. You and me, Ma. Onwards and upwards, the start of great things.

But after you died and I broke down, the meaning of that night… changed. Everything that had seemed wonderful seemed to turn rotten and false.

It seemed false because it was false. I'd never written anything across the stars. Sure, I'd hoped to work on a project like that, a deep space probe or a colony ship. But it never happened, and now that my career was over, it never would.

And then, when I found out about the plague, the memory haunted me even worse. Because it wasn't just me who failed to write a story across the stars, you see. It was all of us. Our entire species.

All our innovation, all our tech, all our striving… and it came to zero.

I've been looking up the stars stars a lot, Ma. And the only story I see written across them is that we are small and insignificant and will soon disappear with hardly a trace left behind.

It's a hard story, and I don't much like it. So I guess maybe what I've been trying to do these past twelve days is tell a different story.

Not a big story, written across the stars, but a tiny one, written across the humble earth of the only world we ever got to know.

I have no reason to think that anyone or anything will survive to ever read it. But whether that happens or not, the truth of the story remains.

That once upon a time, on a planet called Earth, there lived a boy named Bashar who loved his mother very, very much.

Goodbye, Ma. I love you.

Bashar Mati

Son of Aamaal and Bayhas Mati

Stepson of Wyatt Mahante

24 November 2064

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