The air scrubbers in the hab needed a little time to cycle, so Henry took his submarine for a jaunt. There was no land on Inhospitus. It was a world covered in an ocean of acid that constantly burned across its surface where it interacted with the volatile air. It was a completely restricted planet; illegal to even breech the atmosphere, so all of its inhabitants were in deep shit well before winding up here. Henry was no exception, but he’d come to terms with his fate long ago. That was better than most.

The planet was a dump. That wasn’t a judgement; it was the official refuse repository for the entire Galactic Collective. A million portal mouths from a million worlds hovered in formation high in the atmosphere where the heat was manageable and the most caustic particles couldn’t climb. And from them fell a steady stream of garbage to be burned and dissolved, like the worlds of the Collective all bent over and puked in unison.

Most everything was destroyed in a matter of hours, but some things could be scavenged if you had the time and the determination. Henry had both. If he didn’t he’d be dead.

From his hardened sub with its protective coating—which was in need of another application—he collected replacement hab components, organic matter for the garden, and a soup of partially rendered plastics to be used as raw material for the printers.

Something huge hit the ocean just meters from his sub and the force knocked him off his feet. His own fault; shouldn’t have drifted so close to the surface. Out of curiosity he pulled up the would-be cannonball on the scanners. Unusual for something so big to come through the portals. It took him a minute to work out what he was looking at, and then he felt his heart race like he hadn’t felt since coming here. It was an escape pod. Old model; hadn’t made them like that for a few hundred years. And the goddamn thing was transmitting.

Someone was in there. Alive.

The pod was sinking, but Henry dove after it. He may have just found the first innocent person on Inhospitus.

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