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Gone to the Other End of the Sky

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Even to the naked eye, the Ghost Region just outside the Yiling system looks odd. There is some floating debris, but also patches of space that look wrong: too dark, or the wrong color, or a place that seems to swirl even though there’s nothing to swirl. But Wei Wuxian, alone in the little lander Wen Qing gave him and pursued by Wen Chao, sees no choice but to fly straight into the Ghost Region. As the Wens start firing, Wei Wuxian heads to the first large piece of debris he sees, which appears to be a large asteroid that was cut into two pieces as though by a giant knife.

Then, without any warning Wei Wuxian is falling. The small pot of succulents that anchored the array that produced gravity and breathable air in the lander floats past him. Something must have damaged the array, because everything is in free fall. A warped shaobing floats past after the succulents. The Wens must have hit him. Wen Chao’s voice comes through the communication system: “You think you can run away from me?”

Wei Wuxian keeps little lander dodging between unstable patches of space, still heading for the asteroid. But with the gravity out it's hard to steer. He pulls the ship into a piece of a space that feels too dense, then throws all the controls to the right trying to avoid an area that glitters, but that just pushes him back into a swirl of darkness and then he’s really falling. The lander is not in normal space any more, and without a golden core or even a piloting array he can’t sense anything, just the ship accelerating beyond his control. He’s pushed back against one wall and the pot of succulents and the shaobing land beside him. The lander is filled with tendrils of dark energy. One brushes through his hand and suddenly it's dark and all he can hear is screaming. It only lasts a few heart beats, then he’s back in the falling lander with his hands tingling.

Wei Wuxian’s fall continues, and he is thrown across the lander again. He loses track of time, but the dark energy touches him several more times, and each time it's like the world has been replaced by screams. Every time it's completely disorienting and he struggles to remember where he is.

The fall feels timeless, but then with a sudden jolt the lander comes to a stop. There’s gravity again, even if it's coming from what used to be the right wall of the lander. The pot of succulents lands again and shatters, spilling dirt, plants and pottery shards across most of the wall. The shaobing lands on one edge, which flattens, making a half dome, the paper now torn. Seconds later Wei Wuxian lands with a thud, getting a mouth full of dirt, and several more bruises. He rolls over, blinks up at the poem written on the left wall, and tries to think what to do next.

After a few moments Wei Wuxian gathers himself together enough to sit up. Out the window of the lander, he can see more of the dark swirling energy, strange twisted bits of metal and what appear to be dead vines.

There’s an emergency breather pack attached to the other wall, which is now the ceiling. He thinks that if he stands up, he’ll just be able to reach it. The air in the lander seems good for now, but with the array damaged and plants that powered it in pieces it’s hard to know how much longer the air will last. So he pulls himself to his feet, feeling new bruises forming. At least he doesn’t seem to have broken anything. Stretching up on his toes, he’s able to grab the breather. He needs to sit down again to put it on the red mask covering his nose and mouth. In the process he sticks his elbow into one of the dark clouds, and gets surrounded by screams and darkness again. For a moment he panics but then draws a breath and tucks his elbow to his side and he’s back in the lander again.

Breather on, Wei Wuxian looks again at the shattered succulent remains. Some are smashed to a pulp, but some steems and leaves remain. Succulents can grow from cuttings right? These scattered leaves are probably the only other living things wherever he is. He can’t just leave them. So he carefully gathers them up, using the biggest pot fragment to hold them. He tucks the smushed shaobing into a pocket. Then he grabs the backpack which had stuck to the control chair, and carefully opens the hatch, awkwardly scrambling up on the arms of the chairs so that he can stick his head out and look around.

He’s somewhere enclosed with an atmosphere at least. There’s even light coming from somewhere, though not much of it. The space above him is cavernous and full of the dark energy swirls, but above them he can make out a pattern of hexagons. He seems to be inside a geodesic dome. Most panels are painted blue, but there is a scattered pattern of dark hexagons -- windows, perhaps.

At ground level, this place does not seem very inviting. The shards of metal are twisted into strange shapes with jagged edges, tangles of dead vines and cables are everywhere, and the dark energy continues to swirl around.

If he’s going to survive here, he has to learn more. So Wei Wuxian scrambles up onto the side of the lander. Its bright red shielding makes it stand out in the gloom. He carefully balances the fragment of pot holding the succulents, then reaches back into the lander and fishes out the emergency landing kit. Inside are an environmental sensor device, a multi tool, a water filter, some emergency rations, and a blanket.

Wei Wuxian activates the sensor, which beeps cheerfully at him. After a few minutes it gives him a reading -- the air is breathable. He takes off his breather and takes a deep breath. The air smells musty, but it's good to fill his lungs.

He crams the contents of the lander pack into his backpack and then carefully sits in the lotus position. Breathing slowly and evenly, he extends his senses, feeling the qi around him. Without his golden core everything feels faint and distant, but he can still do this.

Reaching out with his mind, he can tell that he’s on a spaceship, a large ship, almost as big as a station, but still not a planet. He wasn’t really expecting a planet out here in the Ghost Region but he just fell through a wormhole or something without his golden core, so who knows? But this ship must be very old, possibly predating the shattering. The qi here feels old and settled, like it hasn’t moved in long decades. But there are some very small bits of qi that feel just a bit warmer. Heading that way seems like as good a direction as any.

He digs around in the survival pack some more and comes up with a sample jar, and carefully tucks the little succulent fragments into that. If he can find some dirt or other growing medium he can use the succulent to power another breathing array if the air here doesn’t last. Screwing the lid on tightly, he puts the jar into his backpack. Then he jumps down from the lander.

The view from the floor doesn’t help him understand where he is any better than before. How did his lander get into a spaceship, and why are there clouds of dark energy everywhere?

He takes another deep breath, feels the distant warmth and uses it to orient himself, and starts walking. Parts of the floor are smooth and even, but there’s damage and holes everywhere and also the twisted bits of metal he saw before. Up close, some of them seem to be small ships that have been damaged by some unimaginable force twisting them. Wei Wuxian guesses that this might have been some kind of landing bay. That might help explain how his lander got here. There is a mummified arm sticking out of one door, so Wei Wuxian doesn’t look too closely.

All this wandering makes it hard to avoid the swirling dark energy. Wei Wuxian steps in it several times, and each time he hears the screaming. Once his whole head gets stuck in, then suddenly he’s in the same place, but all the ships are whole and he’s running, surrounded by screams and laser bolts. He shakes himself free, but now recognises what dark swirls are: mempressions. But some kind of terrible corrupt mempressions.

Wei Wuxian has seen mempressions before.They are not rare in the cutlation world. While no one now living understands the mix of nano-tech and energy manipulation used to create them, many had survived The shattering. All the great sects had few mempressions tucked away. At Lotus Pier every disciple is taught to swim with the aid of a mempression of swimming on a sunlit planet no one living had ever set foot on. At the Cloud Recesses the students were shown a variety of mempression of performances. Poetry recitals, opera, dance, a strange play in odd flat language. The Jin had a gallery tour of the ancient Shanghai Museum’s pottery gallery. The Unclean Realm were rumored to have tutorials in using their strange [oldtech] battle blasters. The Wen boasted of the many planets their mempression collection held, most now lost to this region of space after the Shattering.

But all those mempressions are contained. They don’t seeth and swirl. They have to be carefully and intentionally accessed; they don’t suddenly plunge one into another person's memories unwarned.

For now it doesn’t matter.He just has to avoid them. Wei Wuxian keeps walking across the old landing bay. He gets caught in mempressions several more times before he finally reaches a door. Once he sees a crew repairing one of the ships, relaxed and laughing. But mostly he’s immersedin terrible memories. Running, shouting, shooting and fear. By the time he gets to the door, he’s wrung out and exhausted.

He slumps down on a clear patch of floor and pulls out the shaobing. It’s bland and soggy. He eats it slowly just to have something to do other than continuing to walk. His body probably does need the food anyway.

Finally, he stands up. The door has some kind of code plate that’s required to open it, so Wei Wuxian goes to that. The panel is bright blue and cold to the touch. First he just puts in random combos of numbers. Then he pokes at it with some spiritual energy, but he can’t do much that way right now, so he goes back to manipulating it physically. There are a couple of tools in the survival kit. But nothing works. When he runs out of ideas he slumps down on the floor. His mind is racing frantically, turning over the same ideas again and again. Meanwhile a little voice in the back of his head is telling him that he’s going to die here, and the door of the landing bay. He’ll never make it to the other side, or live longer than it will take his food to run out. Never get back to help his siblings or avenge Lotus Sation. No one will know what happened to him. For a moment he’s over taken by his own memories:

Lotus Sation is burning. Wei Wuxian hadn’t even realised that a space station could burn, but those are definitely flames surrounding his favorite observation widow, the one that’s tilted so that the water planet Yunmeng appears sideways. On the other end of the rambling station, the classroom where he first learned to concentrate his qi has been smashed, its old-fashioned, pyramid-shaped walls now in pieces, glittering among the smoke. Charred lotus leaves drift around the station. A half-burnt leaf has landed on the window of the small shuttle from which Wei Wuxian and his siblings are watching the destruction. The bright red Wen conglomerate ships dart among the chaos, sending another rain of fire down on the docking bays. There’s no way anyone will be getting safely on or off the station for a long time.

He slumps down further, basically lying on the floor, the cold bringing him back to the here and now. As he does so, his feet enter one of the dark swirls. Suddenly he’s in another mempression. The remembered body is much smaller than his own, its fists pounding on the door out of the landing bay as lasers fire. “Let me in, let me in!” There’s a muffled shout but the person in the memory keeps pounding. Then again, louder, “64061” The woman in the memory takes a moment to fully register what was said, but then they look at the code panel and type in the code. The door opens.

Wei Wuxian pulls his feet out of the corrupted mempression. Reciting “64061” to himself. He knows what the code once was. Maybe it still works? So he carefully tries it, at the same time pushing down the ferocious swell of hope that makes his breath come easier. It’s such a small chance. But it works, and the door opens.

On the other side is a terribly plain corridor. The floor is gray, the walls are gray, the ceiling is gray. Light comes from two stripes along the edge of the ceiling, a harsh white glow. has never seen a totally undecorated corridor before. At Lotus Station, all the walls were painted with murals or lined with trees. The Cloud Recesses corridors were austere but painted with cloud patterns and often filled with plants. Even the Wen’s ships had red and black patterned panelling. The blankness feels spooky, as though no one ever lived on this ship, even though the corrupted mempressions clearly contradict that.

But the slight warmth is not coming from this landing bay, and he’s going to need more resources than can be found here to survive. So he steps into the blank corridor, a small part of him expecting to disappear when his foot touches the ground. But he takes one step, then another, before pausing to look around again. He’s still here. He pats his chest and legs and they still feel solid. So he probably still exists.

He keeps walking. There are doors along the corridor. He doesn’t sense anything beyond dust behind them but he opens one at random. The door opens surprisingly easily, considering how long this ship has been abandoned. The room inside seems to be some kind of workshop. Many of the tools are things he doesn’t recognize, but there’s also hammers and a welding helmet. If he can get these tools to work they might come in handy later.

Wei Wuxian continues down the corridor. He opens a few more doors at random. The rooms behind them seem to be work spaces for the most part, given the kind of personal items left on the tables, but he also finds a chemical lab, and a room full of cosy chairs, and small tables.

He also has to dodge past more of the corrupted mempresions. At one point one almost snakes around his ankle and he nearly trips jumping away from it.

Finally he gets to the place where the qi felt a bit more active. This door also opens with only a gentle push. Unlike all the other rooms he’s been in, this one has windows. They take up the whole wall directly opposite the door. He looks out at the stars for a moment hoping to get some idea where he is in space, but this configuration means nothing to him.

All the other walls in the room are lined with shelves. A slight blue aura hangs in front of them. The qi he felt earlier is behind that. Wei Wuxian goes up to one of the selves and sticks his hand through the blue barrier, it tingles slightly. There are dozens of cylinders on the shelf and he grabs one at random to look at. He holds it up to the light, and inside are seeds. Seeds that from the feel of them are capable of growing, despite the fact that they’ve probably been sitting on this shelf for hundreds of years.

*

Wei Wuxian wakes up in the room he’s taken to calling the Seed Suppression Bay. He sleeps in a nest of blankets on top of a small array he’s built for life support and protection. So far the air in the ship has remained good, and he hasn’t seen signs of any living inhabitants, but it doesn’t hurt to be safe. The surviving pieces of succulent sit in a pot of strange green growth media that he found in one of the lower shelves. The little plants seem to be putting out new roots, enough for this small array anyway.

Once he wakes up, he lies looking out at the stars, groggily trying to wake up and remember what he has to do next. Staying on this spaceship, without anyone else, and not even any automated light cycles, he’s lost the sense of time passing. He just sleeps when he can’t keep awake any longer. More than once he’s collapsed wherever he was working or exploring, but he tries to make it back to this room because he’s not sure about the air elsewhere, and besides this place seems to have fewer of the corrupted mempressions drifting around. Here he’s never woken to find himself surrounded by blood and screams, but he has in other places on the ship.

Wei Wuxiann stretches and pulls himself up to a sitting position and crosses his legs. His stomach wakes up and growls. On the shelf next to him, on the other side of the blue glow, is an empty seed jar that’s now full of water and his small store of ration bars. Breakfast is half of a bar washed down with the water. He’s trying to make the ration bars last until his seeds grow.

Having eaten, Wei Wuxian gets up and heads to the room next door. This must have once been a peaceful garden. Besides the landing bay, it's the biggest room that he’s found on the ship. Raised containers full of the green growing medium and dead plants form geometric patterns.

Wei Wuxian heads to the raised bed nearest the door which he has cleared out, avoiding more of the corrupt mempressions as he goes. He’s gotten better at avoiding them. But he’s also found that some, like the one that showed him the code to the door out of the landing bay, can be useful.

He’s still not sure how and why these mempressions were recorded. And unlike the ones he’s accessed before, there’s no index, no real order, though sometimes if he thinks hard about a specific topic (like the door code) that will let him access memories more relevant to what he wants to know. At least when he’s calmer, he’s less likely to get the screaming and bloodshed, but trying to find out how to grow the seeds involved a lot of strange memories, including more terrifying ones.

He’d try to walk into the dark swirl in this room thinking very hard about plants. The first thing he’d found was a memory of attending a guided tour of the garden. The tour was in a language he didn’t understand, so he couldn’t get the full sense of it. But he knew that the rememberer had enjoyed the garden very much. Another try led to more dead bodies, this time scattered around the garden. Eventually after many tries he’d found a mempression of growing radishes. That was at least enough for him to understand the green stuff was growing medium and to learn how the controls for the lights worked. Though identifying the seeds is another problem.

Now, Wei Wuxian tends to the bed he’s cleared out. There are tiny plants sprouting and getting bigger everyday. Growing plants here is different from the aquaponic system back home at Lotus Station, but it seems to be working. He misses the lotuses, and the way the fish darted through the growing roots.

After he tends to the young plants, he sets to work clearing out another bed. He’s still trying to learn more about this strange ship and how it works. If he can get the plants to grow, he could survive. But he wants more than that. He wants to get off this station. He wants to see his family again, and he wants to hurt the people who burned his home.

*

After a breakfast of another half ration bar supplemented with a handful of micro greens, eaten while huddling under his survival blanket, Wei Wuxian goes exploring. He’s been slowly examining all the rooms near the Seed Suppression Bay, but today he decides to go farther afield. Before he departs he makes sure all his plants seem to be doing ok, sticking his fingers in the growing medium to make sure that it's moist enough. Little fragments of bright green cling to his hands, and the smell, which reminds him of grass but with a chemical tang, lingers. The radish leaves are taller than his hands now. After he takes care of the plants ,he shoves a whole ration bar, a couple of sample tubes form the survival kit, and the environmental sensor into his pockets and heads off down the corridor away from the landing bay.

From what he can tell, the interior of the ship is laid out with a grid of cordoirs. The interior environmental controls seem to still be working despite the fact that the ship must be hundreds of years old. The ship is cold, much colder than Lotus Sation, but still within livable temperatures, so he knows something must be heating it. And the air remains breathable, and the lights powered, even though he must have been here for weeks. Wei Wuxian has no idea where the power is coming from but he’s grateful for it.

The blankness of the corridors isn’t as glaring as when he first saw them, but it still makes Wei Wuxian uncomfortable. Everything is so gray, how did the original crew live like this? The corridors are still filled with black smokey swirls of corrupted mepressions. Walking anywhere on the ship still means a danger of getting sucked into them, but Wei Wuxian has learned to ride it out. He doesn't lose complete awareness of his body the way he did for the first couple of days, but his physical surroundings still feel distant. He has to channel some of the resentful energy to do it, pushing it through the place in him where his core should be. Then later, when he’s free of the mempression, he can slowly release the energy.

Today Wei Wuxian heads to the farthest part of the corridor that he’s reached so far and keeps going. If he concentrates, he can feel the qi of the growing plants so he doesn’t worry about getting lost, but just takes random turns as they strike his mood. The corridors continue to be gray and indistinguishable from each other, meeting at right angles at regular intervals. The air is still, but cold and dry, and there's a thick layer of dust along the floors, which his boots leave prints in.

In ten minutes of wandering, he only gets caught in the corrupt mempressions a few times: once a family sitting down to eat strange food he doesn’t recognize, once more screaming and running, and once a body on the floor bleeding from a wound in the chest. The last one leaves him feeling disoriented and he leans against the wall breathing too fast, his heart hammering in his chest, and tries to remind himself that what happened here was long ago and he can’t do anything about it.

There’s a door in the wall next to him so he opens it. The door slides into its pocket with only a light touch. Inside there’s a table with three chairs around it, what Wei Wuxian thinks is a cooking unit and some shelves and a small overstuffed sofa. A door in the far wall leads to a bedroom with bunks on the walls. The beds are neatly made up and Wei Wuxian, rubs his hand over the dark greenish-brown blanket on one bottom bunk. It’s slightly puffy and gives under his hand. It must be warm.

With a flurry of dust and sneezes, he pulls all the blankets off and bundles them up. He ties the bundle with one of the sheets and puts it over his shoulder. Then he rummages through the kitchen and grabs a couple of cups and bowls as well. They are extremely ugly, being a slightly unpleasant shade of brown, with straight clunky sides. He once again pauses to marvel at the total lack of anything pretty on this ship. But cups, bowls and, most of all, blankets will be useful, and he needs to stay alive.

So even though he’d wanted to see more of the ship, he takes his bundle and heads back to the seed bay, retracing his steps via footprints in the dust. While he was exploring, the dark mempressions have shifted, and one of the corridors has filled with them to the point where he'd rather not walk down it. So he takes a detour. He’s almost back to the way he came when he notices a door.

Unlike every other door he’s seen in this place this one has a thin line of lime green around the edge of the frame. Maybe he should just go back with his new blankets, but this is the only decoration he’s seen so far and he’s curious. So he sets his bundle down, rubs his arms to warm them a little, then puts his right palm on the smooth gray surface of the door. Wei Wuxian pauses for a moment, arm fully extended, trying to work up a sense of the occasion. He takes a breath, then slides the door open. Inside is dark. He steps in and prepares to draw a simple light talisman in the air in front of him, but as he moves the lights go on.

Behind the door he’s surprised to see a space free from the clouds of resentful energy. The room is full of shelves, and the shelves are full of books. Old fashioned paper books of the kind that are generally only made for collectors. Wei Wuxian walks over to the nearest shelf and grabs a book at random; its cover is a dull red. Opening it to a page in the middle he sees that it’s written in roman letters in a language he doesn’t read. He leafs through the book anyways, not minding the dust that flies into the air as he does so. On a page about a third of the way through he finds a diagram. Turning it this way and that he can see that’s something meant to direct the flow of spiritual energy, though not from any tradition he’s familiar with.

Spotting a table father down the row, Wei Wuxian walks over to it and puts the book down, causing a small cloud of dust to rise. Then he pulls another book off the shelf, and flips through it. This one is similar, with words he can’t read but diagrams that look like some spiritual tradition. He walks through the room at rando,m pulling more books off the shelves and flipping through them. They are all similar, though Wei Wuxian thinks there’s a couple of different languages here. But nothing he can read, and many many diagrams. Some of them look like medical diagrams, some of them have growing plants, and some of them have what looks like spaceship engines.

Wei Wuxian finds what looks like a diagram of spells for making plants grow faster, and sits down at the table to study it. The other books he’s taken off the shelves are piled haphazardly on the rest of the table. The diagram is complex but Wei Wuxian thinks he might be able to try the spell, if he can just understand it. He thinks about how nice it would be to have some mature vegetables. He traces the pattern in the book, then scribes in the dust on the table. After a while his stomach grumbles so he nibbles on a corner of his ration bar. When he thinks he understands the spell he gets up tucking the book under one arm.

At the door he draws a locator talisman, to help him find this place again. Then he picks up the bundle of blankets and heads back to the Seed Suppression Bay.

*

The library turns out to be a huge boon. After a few tries, none of them resulting in an explosion, he gets the plant growth speeding spell to work. This means he has so much more to eat, even if the spell works best on radishes. He’s still trying to get it to work at all on the potatoes.

After Wei Wuxian gets the spell to work, he goes back to the library to see if he can find anything else helpful. He finds a couple of more spells that deal with plants that he wants to study more, but he gets caught up in studying a diagram of spaceship design. It looks like a way to power a spaceship with resentful energy. This might be a way that he can get out of here, a way that he can get back to his family and fight the Wens even without his core.

Wei Wuxian starts to spend most of his time in the library, trying to understand how it would work. And once he has a clearer idea of the process he goes back to the landing bay and sets to work fixing up and modifying one of the ships there.

*

The newly finished ship gleams, the red characters Chenqing standing out on the smooth black surface of its sides. The little ship is not much bigger than the one of Lotus Sation’s shuttles. It’s not designed for jump travel, but rather for subspace jumping that Wei Wuxian believes to be possible if powered by the resentful energy he’s gathered from the dead ship.

Chenqing has been outfitted as best Wei Wuxian can manage from scavenging the ships in the landing bay and storing the food he’s grown. It’s not as cosy and the interior is filled with arrays that will allow him to travel through subspace. But he thinks it will take him out of here back to the world. Back to his family.