The howling started on the third day after leaving the precipice. On one hand, it annoyed him as he thought he’d have a week before they started crawling back out of their caves but on the other, it was almost boring trekking through the fields with no interruptions.
The Hunt Begins Tonight, it said in his head.
“I don't suppose you’re going to stand between them and me?”
You Are The One Complaining About Nothing Happening.
“You shouldn't read peoples minds like that, it’s very off-putting.”
It’s Not Mind Reading.
“Of course not. Be useful though, how many creatures are on the fields with us?”
On This Side Of The Mesa, Seventy Five. All Around It, Three Hundred And Fifteen.
“Native vs non-native?”
One Hundred and Three Non-Native,” it said.
The Hunt Always Wins.
The history of Onix dates back to humans first foray outside of its comfort zone. It was one of the earliest non-Solar System planets humans managed to set foot on, and it was definitely the first where that was regretted immediately. Nothing on the surface was hospitable to humans, and from first glance, it had nothing of any value; certainly not to the extent that was promised as a reason to explore the stars.
What it was, and what made it interesting, was the first planet to have a number of different species that, somehow, had managed to find a way to flourish here.
It, clearly, wasn't impossible to live on Onix, however, it was the first time where humans, with all their technology and all their experience found themselves overwhelmed by a planets native fauna and struggled to make themselves at home. After the failure of the first batch of colonists, thanks to what is now called The Hunt, a monitoring station was set up on Onix’s perpetual companion, what is now called the Major Moon. From here, small drones were sent to the planet to do the research. They weren't ideal, of course; out on the fringes of civilisation like this, the World AI hadn't been established yet. But they did the job well enough.
They cataloged it all; but the focus was put on the various creatures, at least, the ones who lived on the surface. Underground and underwater were still an issue to be dealt with.
They discovered and cataloged the fire, tasking a number of drones to perpetually follow it and, as they say, figure it out.
And of course they found the city. It was surrounded then, as it is now, by a multitude of outcroppings and tall precipices of solidified lava. Shining black obsidian, existing temporarily before being reabsorbed into the ground when the lava storms came.
Geologists, especially, were enamored with the lava fields and the city. They claimed there wasn't enough tectonic activity within the planet to create such features, yet they clearly existed, so now the race was on to come up with a realistic alternative which could be studied from afar and explained the surface features.
For the longest time, Onix existed as an anomaly, a weird little place right on the edge of our collective consciousness, a place that parents used as fairy tales, where all the bad kids go and all that. Similarly, it was used as a hell by others, with the city being the throne of the devil, ready to accept all sinners. In reality, it wasn't either of those. Not yet. It was a scientific oddity. Something to be explored and cataloged, but not to have money spent on. And for seven generations, that's all it was.
The change was overnight, almost. The World AI had been established across the Solar System and beyond and all of the now disparate human colonies were linked by this massive, almost entirely autonomous, computer system. Computer system is absolutely the wrong term to use, it wasn't a network of different servers all joined together, rather, it was a series of bio-mechanical installations which ran each of the various colonies and relayed data between each of them by means of something no human could understand, but which it assured us was the next step in what we termed a network. These installations were sent everywhere there were humans, including Onix and everywhere one of them landed, a mega city grew around it. Now, with virtually all objections to research on Onix gone, the mega city of the major moon started figuring ways of putting people on Onix and have them survive the many things they shared the planet with.
The fire precluded any permanent facility, at least on the surface, and attempts to create one underground or in the water was met with swift, yet unseen, opposition.
Getting people to and from the planet was super easy even without the World AI. Keeping them alive was not. The easiest answer therefore, according to the AI, was to not. Consider people sent to the surface a lost asset. Use them for as long as needed and do not mourn their loss. They served their purpose.
“Hence why I'm here,” he said eventually.
This Seems, it paused. Abnormal Behaviour.
“Yep. Not wrong. But it’s how we do things, you know?”
I Do Not.
“First we’re afraid of technology, then we mock it, then we use it, then we rely on it. You go back through our history and that's piece for piece the way the AI worked. When it told us to just let the researchers die down here, no one in power thought otherwise. The World AI worked for us. Ha! As if. It’s just another life form out for itself.”
“Well, yeah. We’re just letting it use us. We’re a bunch of idiots.”
At Least You Can Admit It.
The man was still laughing as they came up on the next precipice. “Well, what do we have here?” a strange voice asked from its shadows.
“Just a man and his dog, out for a walk. Please tell me you’re looking to start something.”
“What if we are?” the voice asked.
I Do Miss The Hunt.