"In the Beginning, the Earth was null and void. In the End, it shall be again. If we aren't able to find a way to change our trajectory, that end is going to be upon us well before we are ready to let go."
Jakop sat remembering the words of his 9th grade Future of Humanity's class teacher Mr. Rothstein. He could still picture perfectly the New Red Planet looming outside the reinforced glass of the classroom. It looked beautiful from up there; one side shining brightly with large swirls of white and gray contrasting against the deep reds and browns below, while the other side was pitch black with not so much as a pin prick of light shining. It looked as if a giant glass marble had been dipped in a basin of ink. He always wondered what it was really like down there, and was finally about to find out for himself.
The transport lurched back and forth, sensors and alarms going off in tandem all around him while his shipmates barked orders back and forth at each other. To someone without training it could seem like they were all doomed before they even entered into the atmosphere, but Jakop was calm. This was not his part. He needed to rely on each individual in the small ship to do their job perfectly, just as they had to rely on him when the time came.
"Its hot" he thought.
The Coalition had canisters suspended by geomagnetism inside the troposphere, a couple miles below the desolated ozone layer. These canisters collected precious vital resources that could be found in the air around Earth. The resources were then harvested by crews like Jakop's and brought back to the Ark. Their target resource today was the all important oxygen. Jakop's job was simple but not easy. He was to descend down to "canister O-12" while tethered to his ship. Once there he would connect his tether to the canister so it could be reeled in by a member of his team. The oxygen inside could then be transferred to the tanks waiting aboard his ship.
"Jakop, remember to engage your mag-harness before you disengage from the ships tether, otherwise you will go flying off the canister" the instructor Magnus was always reminding his novice team of safety protocols.
This being Jakop's first harvest, Magnus was visibly on edge. They both knew if he fell he would plummet 10km down to the red hell below. Even if he were to survive the fall, they wouldn't be able to get to him before the safe point in the ozone passed and he became exposed to massive amounts of radiation. More importantly though, Magnus didn't tolerate screw ups.
"Got it boss" Jakop replied in his usual informal manner.
The drop door opened. He could see the canister speeding along about 20m below them, popping in and out of the few small clouds that dotted the sky. He had to jump at the precise moment the light in his visor turned from red to green. A moment too soon and he would overshoot, or end up directly in the path of the large hunk of metal hurtling through the atmosphere. A moments hesitation and he would end up being dragged behind the ship and risk his protective gear getting ripped apart, as well as his own body.
The light turned green. His training and instinct kicked in and before he even gave it a second thought he was in free fall. He pointed his feet at the canister, bent his knees, and braced for impact. Thunk! His magnetized boots made contact perfectly.
"Piece of cake" he said to himself.
His landing wobbled the canister on its axis and he chuckled as he briefly lost his balance. With a glance down toward the ground he could swear he saw something disappear into a cloud below. His imagination was always pretty wild and he chalked it up to the excitement of his first jump. He unhooked his tether.
"Mag-harness!" Came blasting through the comm system inside Jakop's helmet.
He looked at the harness icon on his HUD and uttered the voice command "engage." There was a loud crackling as the electromagnet powered up. Something didn't feel right. His boots were slipping and he could tell they were no longer sticking to the hull of the canister. The mag-harness wasn't working either, in fact it was the opposite. In large red letters across his visor he could read "ERROR-REVERSE POLARITY." He could feel himself being pushed away from the O2-can by the powerful magnets in his suit.
"Reverse polarity!" he commanded his O.S.
"ERROR-INVALID COMMAND" It chirped back at him.
He was hanging onto the canister with one hand, the tether still in his other. He thought of the mission and the people on the Ark in need of the oxygen. He latched the tether to the can and grabbed on with both hands. The force of the mag-harness was causing his new vessel to jerk back and forth violently, threatening to go spinning out of control.
"Disengage" He ordered the mag harness be tuned off.
Magnus was shouting something into his comm and he could hear his other crew mates methodically talking back and forth. Everyone on these teams were selected precisely because of their ability to work well under pressure. There was too much static in the signal for him to hear what they were saying but he knew the canister was more important than he was, and his suit malfunction was jeopardizing the vessel and it's precious cargo. He felt his grip slipping, the force of the mag-harness still trying hard to fling him off the can and down to certain death.
"Power off" He tried one last command.
Jakop drew a deep breath, let go with one had and pulled the manual release cord on his suit. The hot and humid air of planet Earth came rushing up into his helmet as his suit and harness fell off his chest. He could feel the caustic atmosphere burning his eyes. The HUD and the voices in his helmet faded away in a faint crackle, without the power source from this suit, as he grabbed back onto the anchor point of the tether. He wedged his wrist under one of the handles on the side of the can, squatted, and wrapped his leg around the tether line. He felt the canister jerk towards his ship as the tow line dug into his leg.
"Thank The Council" He thought.
His vision was blurred and his eyes were stinging, so he closed them. He focused all of his strength on holding on and tried not to think about how much longer he had to stay like this. How long could he hold his breath? How long does it normally take to reel a canister in from 20m?
"Stop" He told himself.
He was seeing stars floating around in the blackness behind his eyelids. He could no longer feel the arm that was wedged under the handle at his feet. He became dizzy but he could hear the ships engines over the rushing of the toxic air around him. He opened his eyes to look up but he couldn't see a thing through the tears so he closed them again. He strained to keep his grip and struggled against the urge to breath in. Were those voices he was hearing? Maybe he was close. He had to be by now. There was a loud ringing in his ears and the he force of the wind was burning his skin.
"Magnus is going to be pissed" He couldn't stop thinking.
This was it. Jakop had been like this for over seven minutes now and though he wasn't afraid, he knew he couldn't stay awake. He felt his consciousness slipping away and his body slump right before everything went numb. He spasmodically gasped one large breath of the noxious steam around him and immediately regretted it. Everything burned inside and out, right before it all went black....
"Can you hear me?" warbled but intelligible. "What is your name?"
Jakop opened his eyes to an unfamiliar face. A woman in her early thirties dressed all in white. She was wearing gloves and a white mask over her mouth but he could tell she was quite pretty. The woman was holding a piece of IntelliGlass and typing with one hand while she spoke.
“Who are you? Where am I? What Happened?” He moaned.
His head reeled and his vision began to blur again. He could hear rhythmic beeping and noticed the strong smell of disinfectant. He tried to sit up but realized he was strapped down to the bed. He struggled against the straps and could feel the the friction of the bonds on his right arm, the left however felt strange. He knew it was there but something felt different. He pulled harder. The tempo of the beeping monitors increased. The strap holding his left arm gave way with a loud rip and he pulled his arm into view. What used to be an arm made of his own flesh and bone was now only a polished titanium skeleton. There were wires and diodes exposed along with what looked like muscle fiber but was clearly made of something inorganic. He instinctively reached for the strap holding his other arm but the woman pressed a button on he IntelliGlass and the mechanical appendage fell uselessly across his chest. He shook madly but to no avail.
“Please calm down sir” The woman requested. “the installation of your software as well as your remaining bio-ware is incomplete and until it is finished I have full control over all of your mods”
“ALL of my mods?!” He felt a pang of panic. “What else have you replaced?!”
“There will be time for all of that later. Right now I just need to run a few diagnostics” She said, as if all of this was totally natural.
Jakop felt a cold sweat permeating his brow. He had seen the way people with artificial limbs and mods we treated aboard the Ark. They were the undesirables. Mankind relied on technology to survive, but it was a relationship of necessity, not love. The remaining remnants of civilization largely blamed the tech industry for the death of their planet, and resented it for not being able to solve the environmental problems that the industry had promised to rectify. People who needed mechanical help above and beyond the norm were considered to be weak and dependent, the way mankind was just before the fall of Earth.
After The Fall there was a resurgence of faith in the Church of the Pure Man. Most people believed in the superiority of the human form over that of the unnatural. Laws were passed that prevented any mods from being allowed to serve on The Council. Modified humans also often found it very difficult to acquire a license for child birth.
People with mods required multiple nervous system implants, circuitry that allowed their systems to utilize their new mechanical parts. This circuitry required an operating system that was susceptible to all manner of viruses, power surges, fried circuitry, and other types of failure if not used and maintained properly. Not to mention the fact that there were ways to illegally update the operating systems and the mods in many ways. There were even a group of mods who would use their implants to stimulate their brains into releasing neurotransmitters in mass quantities. Since organic drugs were scarce on the Ark, these were the new drug addicts. Needless to say this was not a group that anyone, especially Jakop, wanted to belong to. Still, here he was, doomed to the life of an outcast without even a chance to protest.
“I don't want to be a Mod” He protested anyway.
The woman in white chuckled. “Well its too late for that, would you rather we let you die?”
“....Yes” He muttered.
“All done” She sang, as if he had just been thanking her.
She touched her IntelliGlass again and he fell back asleep.