Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

I staggered from the wreck of the Templeton stark naked. I’d been submerged in a sensory womb, enjoying some virtual sports with colleagues from C-Shift, when all three dropped offline. I wasn’t to know their side of the ship had been torn asunder by a rogue asteroid. While I tried multiple options to reconnect, the Templeton hurtled out of control, rammed through the escort corvette Wiltshire, scorched itself featureless entering the atmosphere of Velomere, and carved a trench twenty kilometres long into the largest continent.
There isn’t a description for my shock when I exited the womb – convinced I’d done something wrong because of having to use the emergency manual release – and found myself standing in half a room, gazing out at burning forest as a wave of sensory-enhancement gel sluiced across the blackened floor and out across the ground beyond.
My attention lingered momentarily on the verdant hills I could see between clouds of smoke and steam, then the needs of the moment struck me. A childhood of foraging and making do surged back into mind. I grew up on Atalus, a backwater world that deliberately cleaves to a low-tech way of life.
My parents taught me to farm, forage, hunt if needs be, and the joy in making and repairing. I’d thought it all useless after I ventured off-planet. Turns out it was another win for the ‘just in case’ school of learning.

Four days later the survivors of the Wiltshire followed the smoke of my fire to the makeshift camp I’d established to house the dying survivors of the Templeton. The womb had saved me from a brutal battering and lingering death. All I could do was make twenty people comfortable. Those from the Wiltshire were in worse state, but only from the privations of the trek to reach me. Their conventional upbringing had left them unprepared for offline survival.

While their medical orderly tends to the dying, and the few who might now survive, I face the other nine survivors. My father’s words come to me, back from the first day he led me out into the wilds and watched while I tried to make head or tail of what to do first.
“Us human’s aren’t so good without our tools. We don’t react properly. Something that could be used as a weapon is comforting when you find yourself troubled and in the wilds. Without it, you’re instinctively on the defensive. You might not need to be that way, but your thinking has already changed. It might not be entirely detrimental, either, but every advantage counts.”
I point at the ground, carpeted with all the detritus a forest sheds.
“You’ll be collecting wood – or its equivalent here – for fires and to make shelter. Somewhere along the way you’ll come across a chunk that’s a little too big for one purpose, too small for another, but sits comfortably in your hand. Keep it. It might be useful, might even serve as a weapon – until you can upgrade to a suitable rock.” I grin. “More importantly, it feels good.”
Gatsbul shakes his head: “Pick up a stick? That’s your Atalunian survival wisdom?”
Yallit turns to him: “I think he means to be on the lookout for potentially useful things while foraging, and not limit ourselves to specific targets.”
Edrin nods: “The moral is that intelligence and tools will keep us going.”
Two more interpretations. There isn’t a correct one. That’s the idea.
Like my father said: “Give survivors a purpose, and something to think on. Both keep hopelessness at bay”.