Check out our episode here! The Survivor by Bridget Tyler
Earth is dead. The Prairie is orbiting Tau Ceti e but is about to crash into it causing the mass extinction of three races and Joanna has to help save the day by doing a spacewalk. The last time she was in the vacuum of space, her heart exploded and her brother died... but! she managed to save a ship full of people from dying so she can do it again. Right? Obviously her anxiety is spiking, her mom, Commander Alice Watson, is trying to keep her focused, but she’s worried too. If you will recall from The Pioneer, go listen to that episode if you haven't already, The Prairie reached Tau Ceti e which was supposed to be uninhabited, but reports were fabricated and there are in fact two very different species on the planet, both of which do not take kindly to the pioneers, or really, we should say invaders. Joanna and her mom are the only people who can fix the solar sails that are malfunctioning and about to cause the ship to plummet out of orbit, but Jo is freaking out. Joanna’s grandpa however, who arrived with the rest of Earth's inhabitants at the end of book one, in true space cowboy style, comes surfing over the hull. For a 74 year old formerly retired Admiral with a heart condition and probably iso guck in parts best left unmentioned some he just woke up from hypersleep, Eric Crane is a spitfire.
Commander Watson and Admiral Crane manage to fix the solar sails and when Joanna lands the shuttle, the trailblazer, in the Prairie, she is shocked to see so many people up and about. Yes, it’s dangerous to remain in stasis for a long time and they’ve already been under for 6 months, but this is still a lot of people. When Joanna meets back up with her mom and Grandpa, who is accompanied by the sardonic Lieutenant Emily Shelby, 156th Infantry, she finds out that something fried during the sail fix and now they have 82 days to wake up 10,000 people and drop them off on a hostile planet. To say Commander Watson and Joanna are not pleased about the situation is an understatement. Admiral Crane and Lieutenant Shelby are less concerned, they are very much ‘by any means necessary’ people.
While Shelby leads a band of boisterous, gun toting marines who, upon landing on Tau Ceti e, ratchet up the anxiety levels of the existing settlers. They’ve been left in the dark, and the lack of information is worrisome. News of Earth's death has been given but what about the survivors? Beth, Joanna’s sister, leads Joanna to get some much needed sleep and during the night, Jay returns from his expedition. He’s found out that his mother and sister are aboard the Prairie and he is so happy, but for him to see them again it’s meant the end of the world. He’s wrestling with his emotions, as is Joanna, and things get a bit hot and heavy but it’s just not the right time for that.
Early in the morning Joanna is woken by Chris and Beth moving about. Jay can’t stay but there is still time for Chris to take the mickey out of them (Joey and Jay sitting in a tree K-I-S-S-I-N-G!). As they talk over oatmeal and bad coffee, Chris reveals some of his extended family are on board the Prairie, Leela comes bustling in, excited that her family is there too. There are a lot of mixed emotions, the apocalypse is a difficult thing to digest, but some of their families made it off the planet safely. Beth has been scribbling on her flex the entire time. She’s trying to write down the names of all the people she knows who didn't make it, it’s not much, but it’s something. After breakfast, Joanna stumbles across her grandpa in the stream. He asks her to keep reminding him that they are in an impossible situation, to keep saying out loud that they have made promises. He says this while he pins Ensign pips to her collar. They are heavier than she expected.
There is a 21 gun salute at the memorial service which seems disgustingly inappropriate, it reminds Joanna of something Tarn said, it's “an honest display of strength.” Joanna’s mother is nowhere to be seen and her Grandfather leads the service. His words don’t ring right to Joanna and she notices her father texting throughout the service. While prayers are being said, Joanna goes to find her mother who is staring at a message set to go to everyone. It’s the full report of Tau Ceti e, the one the ISA withheld. Commander Watson presses send. As they walk out to the memorial, people surround Commander Watson, it seems to help return her energy and her purpose. Admiral Crane has a strange look on his face. It is at this point Joanna realizes that her mother is no longer in charge… her grandfather is. Is this a good thing or bad?
Later that night as Joanna is putting the last of the rubbish into the recyclers, she notices a yellow light at the fence. Realizing it is Tarn, she lets him in. Tarn accuses Joanna of lying, she had promised that the pioneers would leave Tau Ceti e. She tries to tell him that they don’t have any other option. It’s a hopeless situation. If they were invading, the Sorrow would win, but they don't want to invade, they want to cohabitate. Tarn gets angry. Very angry. He grabs Joanna by the throat and starts to squeeze and hum. She is filled with a strange drowning sensation until Shelby comes across them and fires a warning shot. They both start to brawl and Joanna tries to call for help but instead steps between Tarn and Shelby preventing Shelby from being stabbed. Tarn just looks down at her then runs off, with his voice he is able to disable the security fence and runs into the night. Well…. shit. This isn’t going well.
Joanna has nightmares about the attack and all the other horrible things she has seen, done and encountered. Three weeks later, while going for a walk by the perimeter, she sees a new Raptor with a thorn crown slam into the fence. The Raptors have been approaching Pioneers Landing but they don’t seem to be from the same nest as Bob and Sunflower. None of these use sign language and we all remember that Bob had started teaching it to his fellow Raptors. Hmm… Jay runs into Joanna, he’s on patrol and it’s been a while since they’ve really had any time together. Shelby keeps the Squadron busy running drills, doing target practice or being on duty. She even has them settled in a different location which further removes them from the community. Jay says he has been put on a special squad to help “take care” of the Raptors. His squad mate refers to the Sorrow as “glow worms.” This entire situation sickens Joanna.
A couple of hours later, Joanna is doing some fixes and checks on a shuttle and is about to go with her sister as she conducts surveys of the Raptors. Shelby decides she is coming along too. Oh great. They land at the first nest, and though Shelby protests about Beth going to carry out her work for safety reasons, Beth is an obstinate headstrong scientist and goes about her business. Joanna learns that Shelby and her squadron are from Mississippi, this was an area particularly badly affected by the Storm Wars. They all enlisted, it was the obvious choice of orphans and the forgotten, and they’ve managed to come back together as a mismatched family. (This adds context to Shelby’s personality, not to provide sympathy.) While the three are looking down at the nest, they notice some baby Raptors. Awww a baby vegetable patch of killers! It’s during this surveillance that Joanna notices Beth slip her flex into a pocket and pull out another. She’s hiding some information from Shelby and therefore their Grandpa. Why?
Joanna confronts Beth a short distance from Shelby who admits since she was nearly responsible for ecological genocide she’s been doing it for a while, and no she doesn’t trust her mother or grandfather since they’ve been lying for years, orders or no orders. During this hushed discussion, two Sorrow Takers scale down the ravine and throw some glittering dust over the baby Raptors that starts to cut through them. This wakes the sleeping Raptors, particularly Sunflower who chases after them with Shelby not far behind. Never ones to miss out on potentially life threatening danger, Joanna and Beth follow. They end up at the sugar-like beach where the Hot Spot communication equipment was from the first scouting party. “Was” because the Sorrow appeared to have stolen it. Since Sunflower won’t follow them onto the beach, Joanna, Beth and Shelby scale the hollow hills into a cave of Solace roots. Shelby starts asking Joanna questions about the Solace roots and the main Sorrow city… uncomfortable questions that Joanna is not sure how to answer.
When they return, Joanna goes to talk to her Grandpa about Shelby’s xenophobia but she instead finds her mom. She’s hiding in her closet-sized office, she can’t find a way to fix anything and it’s making her so mad. She’s tried calling Tarn on the satellite phone they know he has with no success. They don’t know if they should console, scream, hug, blame or any other of the millions of emotions they are running through. To top this off, Jay comes out of the Admiral's office. He has been demoted for not doing something but won’t tell Joanna what. Surely it’s got to do with the new Raptor team he was on. At this point we have so many questions and no answers!
Joanna joins Chris to help finish the Vulcan at River Bend, once the base site of the scouting mission but now home to the military squadron and their families. Chris and Leela have been working on a backup system to the backup system that will prevent future accidents like those that caused the loss of Chris’s mom and thirteen other pioneers in book one. They also tell Joanna about a scrubbing system they found that would find and eradicate all traces of humans once the scouting mission was done. These are similar to the scrubbers that helped kill Earth due to bad programming. This is not good. Only Chris, Leela and the Admiral know about them, oh, and Dr. Brown, the former head of the scouting mission that got awfully chummy with the Sorrow before everything went tits up, which might explain why the Sorrow are suddenly attacking with fire bombs! It’s all hands in to assist in putting the fires out. Smoke is everywhere, and as things calm down, Commander Watson tells them to get the Vulcan up because the Sorrow obviously want the scrubbers. It’s not until Joanna, Chris and Leela are in the air they realize the Sorrow weren’t attacking River Bend, that was only a distraction so they could hit Pioneer Landing. Uh oh.
Seeing some Takers and one very large Sorrow with a diamond Warhammer heading to the Trailblazer, Joanna and co obviously go to stop them before they crash it into the Prairie and kill the rest of humanity on board. There are too many Sorrow inside, so they need to take down the Trailblazer by cutting wires inside the engine... that is currently being powered up. They’ve done stupider things we're sure, but right now the pressure is on so we can’t think what those might be. Leela is dangling inside, held up on a tether by Joanna and Chris, when the engines start. Before the final wires can be cut, Joanna forces the three of them to drop, but they are tangled in their tethers. The Trailblazer goes down in a fiery explosion, Joanna suffers broken ribs, Leela may be burned, Chris possibly has a concussion. They are on the ground when Jay and a couple of other marines appear. The one in charge shouts at Joanna: how many Sorrow are left? Are they armed? One and no. A few moments later, the Sorrow runs past them but Jay can’t take the shot. They were unarmed, running away… but not defenseless. There is a scream as the Sorrow kills Jays squad mate, Hart, as they run away. In the aftermath of the battle, Joanna finds out 12 people have been killed, the number of dead Sorrow are more. Jay is angry with himself for letting the one Sorrow get away and falls into his marine training. Admiral Crane approaches Joanna, tells her she earned her ensign pips. Without her and Leela, the situation would have been a lot more dire.
Jay is not okay, very much the opposite. While Joanna is in the medical tent getting nanos to fix her broken ribs, Chris comes to find her. He takes her to a supply area where a not-so-legal still has been set up. Jay has drunk two bags of Tau Ceti e moonshine and it’s strong stuff. With Beth’s help, they manage to get him back to their makeshift room in the greenhouse to sleep it off with a sobriety patch Beth has. Joanna demands to know why Beth doesn’t trust their grandpa, it turns out Beth had been accepted to Stanford on a PhD scholarship where she would develop natural crops and air filtration that would help heal the earth without the use of Scrubbers. Their grandfather killed it, got her application withdrawn and the scholarship cancelled. It took a lot of effort on their dad's part to get her into MIT. The Scrubbers are Admiral Crane’s legacy, a legacy that killed the Earth and devastated the human race. He needs to change his legacy on Tau Ceti e but no one is questioning him. Joanna makes the decision that she needs to go back to the Solace and talk to Tarn. Beth, Leela and Chris are going too.
Instead of running headlong into unknown danger as seems to be a too regular occurrence, Joanna gets supplies. As she is taking a medical kit, her mother walks in. In the makeshift morgue, Commander Watson tells Joanna she married her dad, Nick, against her father's wishes. Joanna’s dad had hope and looked to the stars to save humanity and she needed that, oh, and to take two medical kits. Back in the greenhouse, Jay is protesting what they are doing. It’s an improbable act to try to save everyone, but he joins them.
With much needed early morning witty banter, they leave in a flyer and soon spot another in the air heading back to base, behind it is thick black smoke. Jay tells them that Shelby has been using a flamethrower to kill the Raptors. When Jay tried to stop it, another marine got mauled but not killed, which caused him to get demoted by the Admiral. The smoke is coming from Bob’s nest. They land, seeing black char everywhere, and if they hadn't been in that exact spot where their friend Miguel was killed in the first book, Joanna and the group would never have seen Sunflower and a group of Raptors, bloody and soot-stained, coming down the ridge in a rage. Trying to make it back to the flyer is impossible until a Sorrow turns up with a crystal spear. It’s a bloody fight but the Sorrow wins. Joanna tells the Sorrow “thank you” and asks to speak to the Followed. They are taken to Solace and Tarn basically kidnaps Joanna from the group and takes her to the top of the highest tower in the city. Naked Sorrow are carving up the bodies of the dead, adding their bones to the city. They are both angry and desperate. Feeling disgusted, Joanna flees the room, pulls the ensign pip from her collar and is nearly sick. Suddenly she notices some of the glowing solace roots above the city are flicking, she realizes they are dying.
There are flamethrowers and machinery everywhere when Joanna and Tarn reach the surface. Shelby is leading the destruction but it’s not just Prairie people amongst them, familiar voices are behind the black heat-shielding masks. Joanna begs them to stop and this causes discord amongst the people. Shelby is crazy with anger, she’s going to shoot Joanna herself for the mutiny. Suddenly the Sorrow attack and it’s all fire and violence. Beth, Chris, Jay and Leela have also come up top and are trying to escape in a flyer. To compound the situation, there are Raptors attacking. They manage to get to a flyer when Joanna turns and helps Shelby carrying another very injured marine onboard. Shelby turns and forces Joanna to sit down and shouts an authorization code to lock Joanna in place. She is taking joy from this, she’s gleeful that she can bring Joanna down. Jay slips onboard and punches Shelby in the face, cuts Joanna free with a Taker's blade and they jump. During all this, Chris, Beth and Leela have escaped. They land hard and when Joanna stands she hears a gunshot, expecting to be hit she turns and sees it was Shelby who tried to kill her before running off. But Joanna isn’t hit. Tarn is. He stepped in front of the bullet.
The Sorrow form a circle around Tarn to do some hum-healing. While they are hum-healing, Raptors gather around the circle and start their own song. When it stops, Tarn is standing, shining like a beacon. Bob drops down from the trees next to him and signs for Joanna to translate. He wants the Sorrow to know that the Raptors will protect the trees. No humans are welcome here.
Hours later Joanna and the group are at Dr. Brown's old camp near Solace. It feels like the first time they were there, injured and tired, but this time without Miguel and with more scars and wounds. Chris has gone wandering and comes back very excited to have found a spaceship that the Sorrow are building. He wants to help them make it fly. Joanna does too. As they are looking at the ship, a messenger fetches Joanna, it’s Nor, the same Sorrow that Jay didn’t shoot, who killed Hart… she takes Joanna to Tarn, now fully healed and suffering the same turmoil as Joanna. The armor he is wearing is made from Raptor skin, the skin of the ancestors of those same creatures who helped them today, pledge to help them further, and aid in his healing. As they talk Joanna receives a message from her Grandpa. He wants to meet. Alone. She must go.
Admiral Crane is waiting at the top of a crystal arch, the Vulcan on the ground. Joanna already knows her Grandpa is a jackass but now he’s a crazy jackass. Joanna’s parents tried to stage a coup, said he was unfit for duty and this has caused infighting and bloodshed between Pioneers Landing and River Bend. He wants to use the scrubbers to break down all the humans who won’t follow his leadership and he wants Joanna to go with him to the Prairie while he deploys them. She won’t of course, she is a part of Tau now. Joanna tries to push him off the arch, but he slaps her. He can’t let his daughter take over and try and fix this. He uses his tether and escapes.
Chris works out that simulation 12, the backup to the backup, could help them. It will reset the Vulcan’s systems and therefore the scrubbers, but they need a craft to get them into space, something they don’t have. They also figure out that the scrubbers won’t work if one of the original Rangers is still registering on Tau. Dr. Brown is only presumed dead. They need the Sorrow. Tarn agreed to help with his spacecraft and to locate and keep Dr. Brown safe because, as Joanna points out “because it’s better.” They travel to where Dr. Brown has relocated with Nor piloting which makes Joanna redundant so she finally gets some sleep. As she is talking to Tarn who admits he came along in part to avoid a challenge as Followed, Joanna receives a message on her flex. It’s from Shelby. Gotcha! Another of the ships, 3212, tries to ram them. Nor tosses the flex controls to Joanna in the dogfight and with her badass pilot skills, they are able to escape, though not without taking damage that forces them to make a crash water landing, luckily near their destination.
Thank goodness Joanna remembered to pack a pontoon because the water is thick marsh with bubbles of death in it. Yes, actual death bubbles. Tarn does some hum-bug repellent thing to get the sticky bubbles off the boat's engine which is great until these ant-bird things attack. One of them gets Joanna who has never experienced pain like it, with barbs digging in. Beth is able to remove it but they keep coming. When they move into solace-like trees the ant-birds stop following them. In true Pioneer style something else attacks! The roots of the solace-like trees begin to ensnare them. They are trapped and the trees are tightening their hold. They are stronger than the solace trees and their sap is acid. Shooting them makes them tighten their grasp, but then Joanna fires down at the root network. Breaking free, they power through the swampy water but now, the boat is taking on water! Because this venture cannot run smoothly, they hit a rock just shy of the muddy embankments. Jay leaps out to free the boat and pull it toward shore and Tarn joins him. Collapsed on the mud, Joanna finds multiple death bubbles sucking the life out of Jay around his hips but Jay can’t feel them, not since his spinal wound put him in the leg braces. Nor runs over and screams something so violently it makes Joanna dry heave but it kills the death bubbles. Then they hear someone’s cry for help in the distance.
The scene is like something out of Predator, the 3212 is standing empty, marines are dead, killed in horrible ways. One has been eviscerated and is hanging from a solace tree, the acid sap burning him from the inside out. Another is separated from her head by several meters. Trip wires are well hidden but Tarn and Nor find them. It seems Dr. Brown has picked up a few things. Speaking of which, they finally locate her, covered in blood and looking rather close to death's door. Tarn breaks the security fence with some humming and they take her aboard a flyer where Tarn spends hours hum-healing Dr Brown while the others wait outside and tend their wounds. It’s during this time we find out that Nor is Pel’s daughter, Pel is the Followed Challenger! Ooooh! Needless to say, Dr. Brown doesn’t take the news of the death of earth well, and Tarn once again steps up and does this hum-healing grieving chokehold song thing that boils all their emotions but after, they feel lighter.
It’s time for rest, Joanna is sleeping and having nightmares of being back on the crystal arch with her grandpa, Beth, who is sitting studying on her flex listening to audio of that same moment, wakes her. Dr. Brown asks for Beth’s assistance with something in her tent, she’s trying to work out exactly how the Earth scrubbers could have gone so wrong, something isn’t right. It’s at this moment Shelby reappears and she is a mess and rather loony-toons. She demands Dr. Brown, she will follow orders and kill her so she can go back to River Bend and explain to her squads' families that trees ate them. It’s then Joanna realizes that Shelby doesn’t know. She doesn’t know that her Grandpa is going to kill all of humanity on Tau Ceti e indiscriminately with the Scrubbers at the death of Dr. Brown. You can hear the whole thing click in Shelby’s brain which is a great time for giant ant-birds to attack, eat Dr. Brown's hand and go in for her soft parts. Uh oh. Dr. Brown is dead. DUM DUM DUUUUUM!!
So, they have a plan. Wait for a takeoff window, fly into space, attempt to board the Vulcan being piloted by the dangerously crazy and expert flyer Admiral Crane, override the system and shut it down with Simulation 12. Excellent. But now they have Shelby on board who is going to help them by radioing her people on the Vulcan and get them to power the ship down. Obviously this doesn’t work. Admiral Crane dropped them off at the Prairie. They make contact with Admiral Crane and mute his mansplaining monologue to plan. While Joanna keeps him talking, Shelby, Chris and Jay go outside and manually guide the emergency docking tube which will automatically override the Vulcan and force the two ships to attach. Joanna and Beth distract their Grandpa with memories of his dead wife long enough for most of the plan to be effective. Outside in space, Leela is shot at and her tether isn’t attached, meaning she is now free floating in space. Joanna is going to need to spacewalk as the last able-bodied EVA trained person left.
Joanna suits up and is out the airlock. After some tricky maneuvering, she manages to get the emergency tube to tether. Now she needs to get Leela. Jumping up to the Vulcan’s solar sail and putting all her trust in getting a viable tether, Joanna pushes away. She manages to reach Leela and they are spinning together when the computer voice says across the comms tether fail. Shit. Shit. Shit. Joanna tries again. Fail. But on the third go it connects. They race into the Vulcan. Admiral Crane is on the bridge, little green pips on the screen. The scrubbers have been deployed. Chris is desperately trying to override the system but can’t. Joanna begs her Grandpa to understand why. He made a promise to Cleo, his wife, that he has to keep, to save humanity. He worked out though, to do this most of the population had to die (this is the plot of Kingsman I’m sure). There is still a very good chance there are pockets of survivors that will thrive, after all, he made sure the scrubbers would leave plant life alone. But now he sees his chance to do the same on Tau Ceti e. The system can’t be overridden and there are tearful goodbyes with the group's family on the surface. Chris runs off as his father comes on screen, then everything goes black. The Vulcan is dead in space. What?
Chris didn’t run away from his father, he ran to Tarn and Nor who used hum to destroy the mainframe and he manages to deploy simulation 12. Joanna gets a buzz on her flex, it’s her parents. Everyone is still alive. When they land, there is a mixture of human and Sorrow, it looks like a new beginning.