Friday, March 12

Unidentified Mountain Range, Goinard V: 12.3.112 - Mingwei, Shi

The forest behind her was alive with the sounds of birds and insects; a gentle breeze blew through her hair. Ahead of her, beyond the cliff edge, was a wide view of the several hundred kilometers of land between her and the sea. The sun was bright, and the sky a brilliant blue.

But on Morwen's face, there wasn't a smile to match the rest of the scene. Instead, a look of quiet determination was visible as she surveyed the small clearing along the edge of the cliff. A stasis pod floated several meters away just a few inches off the ground, accompanied by a nearby grav sled loaded with cut wood and small collection of other objects.

Morwen's gaze scanned across the clearing as she started moving towards the pack, gently pulling out what appeared to be a small camera drone, and then a primitive axe. She set the drone down on top of the stasis pod, activating it with a soft click before she moving to the sled and beginning to pull pieces of wood off and stack them on a level patch of ground a short distance away. Her movements were slow and methodical, each piece of wood placed with a careful and precise motion; each piece contributing to a larger whole in its own, personal way.

The camera drone watched her silently for over an hour as the delicately-placed stacks slowly but surely transformed from simple piles to the more recognizeable form of a pyre. Morwen took a few steps back, then started carefully walking around the completed pyre, her eyes scrutinizing every part of it, ensuring that it had been constructed exactly as intended.

Satisfied, Morwen moved silently over to the stasis pod and picked up the camera drone, moving it to one end of the stasis pod before returning to the control panel along the pod's side. She keyed something in, and with a soft hissing sound, the lid of the pod slowly opened, revealing the body of a young Jin-Mei woman.

The woman was dressed neatly in a white hanfu, her pose simple but refined. No visible trace remained of the quick, violent death her body had been exposed to; damage from exposure to vacuum had been repaired, as well as the myriad cuts and bruises caused by the shattering of the fragile chrysalis that had been the woman's hydrostatic capsule until it fell victim to a vengeful State Protectorate fleet in Aeschee.

Morwen cast a soft gaze over the body for a moment before she carefully reached her arms under and gently lifted it out, cradling it delicately as she moved over to the pyre and laid it down on top. A few minutes to straighten out the hanfu, to reposition the body, and then everything was ready. All the while, the mechanical sentinel continued watching her with focused interest.

She stepped over to the sled and picked up the sole remaining piece of wood: a half-meter stick about the width of the narrow part of her wrist and a bit of cloth wrapped tightly about one end. Her other hand moved to grab a small metal object from the sled; a gentle press to its side with her thumb, and a slow and deliberate motion bringing it into contact with the cloth wrapping soon followed.

Thin tendrils of smoke curled from the place the cloth had been touched, moments later turning into a steady flame, the light reflecting dimly in Morwen's brown eyes. She set the metal lighter down again and held up the makeshift torch, looking carefully at the pyre. Approaching it with care, she slowly walked around it in a circle, softly holding the burning torch to the edges of the pyre as she moved, watching as it steadily became alight with flames.

Gently setting the torch down among the flames, its purpose fulfilled, she turns back to the sled, picking up a container and gently prying the cover off with her fingers before setting them both down on the stasis pod. Reaching inside, she slowly pulls out a small canister and a small, delicate teacup with an intricate Jin-Mei pattern curling around its ceramic form. Morwen carefully twists the cap off of the canister then pours a small amount of a steaming liquid into the teacup. Afterward, she gently picks up the fragile cup and moves back towards the burning pyre, the cup held securely in her hands. She stops a few feet away, staring into the growing flames for a few moments before taking a sip of the tea.

A swift, gentle flick of her wrist, and the rest of the tea is cast onto the pyre, a soft hissing noise coming from the blaze as the liquid evaporates from the heat. Morwen stands there holding the teacup carefully, silently watching the glowing flames with an impassive look as the camera drone looks on.

Time passes, neither she nor the camera drone moving an inch. By the time the fire dies out, and nothing is left but ashes, several hours have passed by, and the distant sun is beginning to set, the sky now a deep orange hue. Morwen takes a deep breath, then puts the teacup and the small canister back into the container they had been stored in. She places the container on the sled, then moves over to the camera drone, picking it up gently and looking into its eye for a moment. Another soft click like before, and it is deactivated.

It only takes her a few more minutes to clean up and pack up what she had brought and move it back to the shuttle a short distance away. By the time the shuttle flies overhead on its return trip to the station Morwen had embarked from, only the pile of ashes indicates anyone had ever been there.

But even that is gone after a few more hours, the ashes scattered to the winds in ways only nature could provide.

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