Factory Reset

CW for brief language and morbid humor.


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DEFINITION: Felis lutrina. Indigenous pentapedal pseudomammalian carnivore. Diet based on smaller mammals, rodents, and insects. No plant-based consumption in evidence. Hunts in groups and will attack larger prey. Rudimentary problem-solving skills; no recorded tool use. Colloq. were-kat.

ADDENDUM: In groups of three or more, capable of killing and consuming humans. Treat with extreme caution. All we found of Raffiq were fingernails and teeth.

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SALVAGE REPORT
Haven Systems Terraformer Model 8 (deactivated)

Day One

Followed all day by a pack of felis lutrinae—seven or eight of them, I’m not sure. Despite the aggression documented by the original terraformer installation team, their behavior suggested little more than mild curiosity. They wove in and out of the deeper woods, shifts of two or three keeping me in sight, and when I stopped for rest and meals (times and rates outlined in the salvage contract) they waited for me, staring as if I were entertainment.

They are not at all feline in appearance. The closest analog I can think of is an otter, although felis lutrina has feathers rather than fur. The largest of them is about a meter long, and they move with a strange, buoyant grace, covering the land in long leaps. Their fifth leg is narrower and remains curled beneath them most of the time; it boasts very fine, sharp claws ideally suited to rooting insects out of the detritus of the forest floor.

Even if there are other mammals my size here, they would have seen nothing like my EnviroSuit. They should be afraid of me.

They should also have been made extinct 57 years ago.


Existence of specimens from the planet’s original biome suggest faulty terraformer installation or maintenance, with unpredictable consequences for a standard salvage operation. The reassertion of indigenous plant life has forced me to land 165 kilometers away from the Main Terraformer Control Center and complete the exploratory journey on foot. Surcharges and overtime will be invoiced as outlined in the salvage contract.

HOURS BILLED: 15.75
COVERED BY PRE-PAY: 100%
THANK YOU FOR SELECTING DEEP HAZARD SALVAGE SERVICE! HAVE A NICE DAY!

[message not sent. error code 1104 atmospheric interference.]

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DEFINITION: Amici Lagomorpha. Indigenous pseudomammalian herbivore. Dependent on low-growing open fields for nutrients. Primary food source for indigenous carnivores. Does not hunt. Easily frightened but non-hostile.

ADDENDUM: Virulently poisonous to humans unless consumed raw. Don’t eat them. Really. They don’t even taste good. At least that’s what Tara said before the vomiting and brain death.

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Day Two

Looks like at least one B42 Secondary Soil Module is still live.

This morning, after cutting through a particularly dense copse of thorn-bearing bushes, I stumbled into a clear-cut path 2.8 meters wide—the precise width of the B42’s effective cutting capacity. Based on the growth of hecate moss, a cespitose perennial that should have been extinct along with felis lutrinae, the path is about seven terran weeks old. It seems likely the B42 was not properly maintained during its original run, and retained rootable debris from plants it was meant to eradicate.

The path has allowed me to make up some time. The were-kats seemed to prefer it as well, probably because both amici lagomorphae and a wide variety of slow, bulbous insects enjoyed grazing on the open growth. They spent most of the day dining.

Which is perhaps why later, after I’d made camp for the night, three of them approached me, one carrying a live lagomorpha. They dropped it at my feet and backed away, and the lagomorpha froze, staring up at me with very rabbit-like yellow eyes. The were-kats watched me in anticipation, but I did nothing until the lagomorpha’s paralysis broke and it bolted into the higher underbrush.

The were-kats sighed in disappointed unison and returned to their pack.

They are of course unaware I consume all nutrition via my EnviroSuit. But I did feel, in the moment, very much an inferior hunter.


Given the active B42, I must assume the terraformer shutdown transmitted 15 years ago was not successful, and manual shutdown will be required before salvage. Extra time for this operation will be billed at the overtime rate outlined in the salvage contract.

HOURS BILLED: 17.00
REBATE FOR RECLAIMED DISTANCE: 2.5
TOTAL HOURS BILLED: 30.25
COVERED BY PRE-PAY: 100%
THANK YOU FOR SELECTING DEEP HAZARD SALVAGE SERVICE! HAVE A NICE DAY!

[message not sent. error 1104 atmospheric interference.]

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DEFINITION: Titanium Viventum. Molten product of stable eruptions, produced at regular intervals on the planet’s surface. Thermal radiation tops 800 degrees Kelvin. Terraformer modules will fail within fifteen meters of the eruption zone. Steady effusion; no explosions recorded.

ADDENDUM: People will fail within fifteen meters of the eruption zone, too (Ellsworth got greedy). But that’s real titanium. No kidding. Shouldn’t we be figuring out how to mine this stuff?

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Day Three

It seems the original notes on the were-kats were incomplete.

After our lunchtime break, they didn’t resume their usual scattered, loping progress, but clustered before me, all nine of them, their movements slow and hesitant, stopping frequently to sniff the air. After an hour of my EnviroSuit persistently showing no hazards ahead, I attempted to get around them, and for the first time since my arrival they turned on me, surrounding me while emitting a low-pitched rumble.

I had not really believed were-kats were capable of killing humans. But that sound…I know a threat when I hear one. I’ve seen a were-kat skin and part out a full-grown lagomorpha in less than five seconds. And they were closing in on me, none of the companionable friendliness of the last several days in evidence.

I wasn’t worried about being eaten alive. Once they pierced my suit, the atmosphere would kill me in thirty seconds. It would have been merciful, at least, and I wouldn’t have been the first—or last—salvage jockey to die for Deep Hazard. But I didn’t want to die of poison gas, either. Or anything else.

I retreated as they closed, but it wasn’t until I was forced off the path and into the woods that I recognized I was being herded.

Once I stopped resisting, their entire demeanor changed. No more threats, no more visions of having my suit ripped open and my eyes taken out by spiny needle teeth. Just me and my cheerful companions, hiking up and away from the safe path and into the dense woods where the footing was far more precarious. They bounded ahead of me, unencumbered by my size and my clothing, and I followed without question.

Eventually we broke into a clearing, and I was able to look down over where we’d come, all the way back to the B42 path where they’d threatened me.

Twenty meters ahead of where we’d veered off, concealed by tight, high thickets of thorny undergrowth, was a swamp that expanded into a red-and-white pit of hot lava.

I’d have been fine, of course. My thermal readout would have warned me, or I’d have noticed the change in the footing. I’d have paid attention and turned around like a sensible person, finding this alternative route all on my own.

But the were-kats didn’t know that.

Addendum: It’s the middle of the night, and I want to add this note before I forget.

I can’t sleep well on solid rock, so it’s no surprise I woke up when the were-kats approached my campsite. I stayed still as they nosed through my meager personal belongings until they came across my daily waste canister. Per regulations, I have been leaving them along our path to be collected on the way back to my ship.

It took two of them to lift it, winding their fifth legs around it like supple terran serpents. They carried it down the hill and into the woods, and returned—nearly half an hour later—empty-handed.

Damned if I don’t think they dropped it in that lava pit.


The deviation from the path has added an extra 12 kilometers to my route. Additional time will be billed as outlined in the salvage contract.

HOURS BILLED: 19.00
TOTAL HOURS BILLED: 49.25
COVERED BY PRE-PAY: 18%
SURCHARGE: 3,331,2
THANK YOU FOR SELECTING DEEP HAZARD SALVAGE SERVICE! HAVE A NICE DAY!

[message not sent. error code 1104 atmospheric interference.]

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DEFINITION: B42 Secondary Soil Module. Removes native soil and replaces with terran-equivalent tillable material. Native soil sequenced and destroyed. Compatible components recycled as fertilizer.

ADDENDUM: Also appears to save the DNA sequencing data locally, even after synching with the main controller, which means its memory fills up too quickly. We’ve had to retrieve and reset these things way more often than the manual says we should. Come on, people. Don’t you test this stuff before you send it out?

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Day Four

Found the rogue B42.

My first warning was when the were-kats disappeared, but I didn’t think much of it. They hunt frequently during the day, usually in groups; it’s only at night that I see all of them together, snoring, piled on each other like discarded socks.

But if my oxygen recycler hadn’t had its hourly clean-and-reset cycle, leaving me with three full seconds of nothing but the unenhanced ambient noise of the woods around me, I wouldn’t have heard the module coming, and I probably wouldn’t have been able to outrun it.

As it was, I was frozen for nearly a full second before my training kicked in and I dashed away at an angle into the denser forest. The B42 almost caught my heel as it went by, methodically mulching undergrowth and scattering the pulverized result far into the woods.

I kept my hands over my head until my readout told me the B42 was out of range. When I stood up, the were-kats popped up around me, unconcerned with the disruption, then dropped to four legs and slunk along the ground until they reached the edge of the path cut by the B42. There they feasted for twenty full minutes, and then spent another twenty frolicking in the newly-exposed soil.

I fed a soil sample to my EnviroSuit’s analyzer. Plenty of nitrogen and phosphorous, but the potassium was way off, and it hosted an entirely incongruous set of metals and trace elements. Not terran-compatible at all. The B42 was still live, but it wasn’t converting a damn thing.

This could explain how the environment could be growing unchecked, but not how the original flora and fauna came to be resurrected. The terran environment was maintained here for 57 years; by now, 15 years pos-shutdown, this place should have been barren dust, leftover oxygenated atmosphere clinging by a thread. It shouldn’t have been habitable by anything—not even were-kats—for another six decades.

The were-kats, as has become their habit, brought me a selection of grubs and worms, feeding their hunting-impaired companion. They hold little nutritional value for humans, but they’re not poisonous. Ground up, with a touch of umami, they taste like mushrooms.

HOURS BILLED: 14.5
TOTAL HOURS BILLED: 63.75
COVERED BY PRE-PAY: 0%
SURCHARGE: 7,112,1
THANK YOU FOR SELECTING DEEP HAZARD SALVAGE SERVICE! HAVE A NICE DAY!

[message not sent. error code 1104 atmospheric interference.]

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DEFINITION: Haven Systems Multi-Axis Full-Spectrum Terraformer, Model 8. Overrides and eliminates existing environment, asserting and maintaining terran-compatible soil and atmosphere for the purpose of growing crops. Equipped with remote update capability, full safety shutdown protocols, and limited self-upgrading manufacturing abilities. Full warranty for 500 years or the heat death of the universe, whichever comes first.

ADDENDUM: I’m quitting. I mean it. I don’t care how hard it is for you to get more staff. Someone else can make the sacrifice to feed the galaxy. This thing was programmed by camphor addicts and spoiled children. Brings in more samples than it plants crops, and if we toss them? Just brings us more. This is the worst job I’ve ever had, and I’ve worked waist-deep in sewage in the asteroid caves. At least when you get rid of sewage it stays gone.

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Day Five

It’s still hard, sometimes, to realize all this has been replaced by single-module food fabrication units, cheap and simple to install.

I’ve salvaged larger terraformer complexes, but the Model 8 always presents the problem of the main housing. Later models modularized the biorecombinators and the atmospheric converters, but the Model 8 got some efficiency out of housing them both in a single large structure. Dismantling it involves removing the exterior walls entirely before piecing out the interior, and even with the large salvager it was going to take me weeks of work to clear the space.

The rest of the Model 8 was typical: crew quarters, Secondary Module housing, and control areas all built with standard polygonal prefab blocks. All in all, not a complicated salvage—except I still had to figure out how to turn it off.

Because it was still operating at full power. Everything. Even the recombinators. But in the previous four days, I didn’t see a single terran plant, didn’t pass through a single pocket of oxygenated atmosphere. Like the B42, it was running, but doing nothing.

Or maybe not nothing. Just not trying to turn this place into Earth.

The were-kats declined to enter the Control System cube with me, electing instead to mill around in the well-tamped dirt at the entrance. The space was strangely cozy, with small, square windows arranged in a single line half a meter from the ceiling, letting in the dim light of the planet’s mid-morning. As soon as I sat down in front of the readout, the oxygenation system turned on, giving me air I could actually breathe. I pulled my helmet off for the first time in five days, and was hit by the odor of ozone and dust: nothing organic, not even a trace scent of old human sweat.

The auditory module synched with my EnviroSuit, and I tugged off my gloves and reached for the keyboard to scan through the system logs. It took some time to look back through five years’ worth of entries to find the shutdown signal, but it was there, clean and clear:

22231405> INCOMING
22231406> SHUTDOWN[100,FULL,1] *// Immediate shutdown requested
22231407> SHUTDOWN INITIATED *// Command sent
22231407> SHUTDOWN COMPLETED[2] *// Successful shutdown Status 2

I’ve shutdown a lot of models of a lot of terraformers. Shutdown options are binary, always, for safety. Off or on. No ambiguity. Much smaller chance for error.

There is no 2 in binary.

“Why is the terraformer still operational?” I asked.

> SHUTDOWN SUCCESSFUL. COMPLETION STATUS 2.

“Define Status 2.”

> FACTORY RESET.

I’m familiar with all the available upgrades on the Model 8, but it was possible I’d missed an option somewhere. Every terraformer has its quirks, after all, and even with close monitoring it’s possible this one had been given a mod nobody’d logged.

Which didn’t matter, really. The state of the terraformer—the state of the planet—didn’t change my task. I’d been hired to take the thing away, modded or not. The only complication was figuring out how to shut it down properly without documentation.

“Show me the factory reset code.”

(2)
IF SHUTDOWN
*// Fuck the system!!

ATMOSPHERICS[ORIGINAL] *// Put the damn atmosphere back
BIODIVERSITY[REVERT] *// Reseed the fauna 
ACCELERATE[2] *// Speed it the fuck up, dammit
X=WARNING[UNINHABITABLE,EVACUATE] *// Get the humans off NOw
BROADCAST[X]

ENDIF

I don’t tell people my mother was a revolutionary. Nobody wants to hire salvage with political opinions. She always told me we didn’t have the right to terraform like this, to destroy an existing habitat to feed the billions of people we’ve scattered without compunction all over the galaxy.

I never really understood why she thought it was so bad to terraform a planet that didn’t have any intelligent life on it. What’s a few alien plants and animals? It’s not like the universe is limited. It’s not like there aren’t more somewhere, even if we don’t know where.

“How would terraformer shutdown affect the environment?”

> FULL ENVIRONMENTAL COLLAPSE WITHIN 15 TERRAN YEARS.

“How much longer will the terraformer need to run to return the environment to self-sufficiency?”

> 17.4 TERRAN YEARS.

Like all Deep Hazard contracts, mine has a time limit: two terran years. Always more than enough. I’ve never had a salvage, no matter how complicated, take me more than six months. This one? Four to five weeks to dismantle, another two to transport the materials to my tug. An easy job. Easy money.

Were-kats have a short lifespan—five, six terran years if they manage to stay with a pack. My companions of the last few days would be long gone by the time the atmosphere failed.

If I left the terraformer, my reputation would be destroyed. I wouldn’t get another salvage job again, ever. Not even critical hazmat.

I took a breath, getting ready to speak, and something outside exploded.

I ran to the window and peered into the distance, the were-kats in the yard frozen mid-frolic and staring with me. I saw the flare of a distant flame and braced myself for the roar of a fireball; but instead the light dimmed and died, and the were-kats returned to jumping and wrestling as if they’d never been disturbed.

When I turned back to the console, it was displaying a flashing line:

> ATTENTION! B42 SECONDARY SOIL MODULE 3 HAS MALFUNCTIONED. MANUAL RETRIEVAL REQUIRED.

And then:

> ?

The question mark didn’t flash. It just sat there, waiting, and if I’d done nothing it would have waited for the rest of my natural life.

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SALVAGE REPORT
Haven Systems Terraformer Model 8 (deactivated)

Day One

Arrival at the Letrus Terraformer Colony delayed due to engine maintenance issues.

Ship-to-shore sensors show high surface radiation, with the bulk of the terraformer structures destroyed and unsalvageable. I have identified a single intact B42 Secondary Soil Module, apparently trapped outside the Main Terraformer Control Center at shutdown time. It is outside the irradiated zone and should be salvageable in its entirety.

Due to the diminished amount of material obtained on this effort, I have reduced my usual fee and credited the overpaid amount. Delivery time of the B42 Secondary Soil Module should be 7 to 10 days.

HOURS BILLED: 10.5
COVERED BY PRE-PAY: 100%
REFUND: 6,231,7
THANK YOU FOR SELECTING DEEP HAZARD SALVAGE SERVICE! HAVE A NICE DAY!

[message sent.]


Nighttime image of forest floor with flying insets, mushrooms, and dirt