Monday, December 11, 2017

GONK!

“Gonk!” Said Gonk droid, in surprise at finding himself on his side.
Despite their shape, due to their large internal gyroscopes, Gonk droids are almost impossible to knock over.
“Gonk!” he said again, but no one answered.
He’d gone off line in the store cupboard, standing as usual. How was he not standing still?
Gonk looked around. He was lying on his side on the ceiling of the store cupboard, and the place was a mess.
“Gonk!” he exclaimed. How was he on the ceiling? And were was all this water coming from? And why was that also pooling on the ceiling?
Gonk suddenly realised the ship was upside down.

“Gonk!” he called to ship.
“Gonk?” Ship answered. “Is that you? You need to check on the crew. Slate, Faine and Blane aren’t answering.
“Gonk?” Gonk asked.
“We crashed, dummy!” Ship answered, “What do you think happened!?!”
“Gonk? Gonk?” Gonk asked.
“No, it wasn’t the Empire.” Ship told him, “We were leaving Tosche Station when pirates tried to jack us. They holed the hull so we couldn’t escape to space. Blane shot them down, but not before I was too badly damaged to stay airborne.”
“Gonk.” Gonk told ship.
“How?” Ship asked. “I thought you couldn’t knock a Gonk droid over.”
“Gonk.” Gonk answered.
“We’re upside down!” Ship exclaimed. “I just assumed… my sensors are off line. I’m blind.”
“Gonk.” Gonk said.
“We can’t be,” Ship answered. “Tatooine is a desert planet.”
“Gonk.” Gonk pointed out.
“I’m telling you there isn’t enough water in all of Tatoo…” Ship paused.
“Wait a minute, let me check something.” Ship said then instantly continued to say. “We have a fuel leak. That liquid you mentioned isn’t water. It must be fuel. It’s going down quite quickly. It’s leaking up into the ship because the ship is upside down.”
“Gonk?” Gonk asked.
“Yes, but thats the FTL drives.” Ship informed him. “The normal sub-light thrusters still use a liquid fuel.” Ship informed him.
“Gonk.” Gonk said.
“I don’t know.” Ship answered. “Where are you?”
“Gonk.” Gonk answered.
“Wait.” Ship said. “Let me try something.”
The door closed.
“Did the door just close?” She asked.
“Gonk.” Gonk told her.
“Good.” Ship said.
“Gonk Gonk Gonk!” Gonk exclaimed.
“I know.” Ship said. “But Gonk droids float. Once the room floods you’ll float, your gyro’s will self right you, I’ll open the door and you can search the ship for the crew.”
“Gonk!” Gonk exclaimed.
“I’m sure you do float.” Ship answered, “I have memory of Blane saying Gonks float.”
“Gonk!” Gonk pointed out.
“Well I’m sure this was one of the few things he was right about.” Ship tried to assure.
By now Gonk was half submerged.
“Gonk.” He said.
“Well I didn’t think you’d have 100% buoyancy!” Ship said curtly, “All you need is five or ten percent buoyancy.” She estimated, “That should be enough to get you upright I think.”
“Gonk.” Gonk said.
“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that.” Ship said, “Just don’t make any sparks or the fuel will blow us all into a million, million parts.”
“Gonk.” Gonk said.
“Hey,” Ship conceded. “I know that might be a tall order for a walking battery, but do your best.”
Gonk always found the analogy that he was a walking battery offensive. As he was, in fact, a walking generator. Something that, he felt, was a parsec away from just a simple battery.

Gonk was now almost totally submerged by the highly flammable liquid.
“Gonk.” Gonk pointed out.
“I’m just going off what Blane said.” Ship said, “I don’t have detailed files on Gonk droids.”
Gonk was now under fuel. He was a generator droid. His only function was to generate electricity and he was fully submerged in highly explosive fuel.
He shifted slightly. He did float! Well… not so much float as weigh considerably less when submerged. In normal gravity he would self right from anything up to a 45 degree angle. His gyro’s were that good.
He tried to self right. Whirred his gyro’s to their maximum revs and managed a 15 degree re-right before his feet caught on the floor (ceiling).
He could stand! He could do it once the fuel was deep enough.
“Gonk!” He told ship.
Ship was delighted.
The fuel was now at least three feet deep. He tried again. Span his gyro’s to the max, then beyond excepted safety levels… and… stood up!
“GONK!!!” he shouted. “Gonk! Gonk!”
“Great!” Said ship, “ I’m going to open the door. Just stay stood up.”
“Gonk.” Gonk said.
The door opened and the fuel drained out. Except the for the last eight inches, because the door didn’t go all the way up to the ceiling. Which was now the floor.
Gonk didn’t like the way the lighting in the hall was flashing and he didn’t like the intermittent buzzing sound either. It looked like a short somewhere, and the ship had a lot of fuel sloshing around.
Gonk looked at the eight inch high threshold he now had to step over.

“Gonk.” He said to ship.
“Which idiot designed you!?!” Ship shouted. “Well how much can you step over?”
“Gonk.” Gonk told her.
“Well that’s just great that is!” Ship complained.
“Gonk!” Gonk told her.
“Actually, most astromech droids can fly.” Ship informed him. “They have little jets that come out of the sides.”
“Gonk.” Gonk pointed out.
“Good point.” Ship admitted.
“Gonk Gonk.” Said Gonk 
“Alright!” She exclaimed. “It’s not a competition! Look around. Is there anything we can use?”
Gonk looked around.
“Gonk.” He said.
“Really?” Ship asked, “I feel like we’re so close.
“Gonk, Gonk… Gonk!” Gonk realised.
“Go for it!” Ship encouraged.
Gonk waded through the fuel to one of the lockers. The handle was pretty much at the same hight as the panel his visual sensor and diagnostic panel was set into. Could it be that easy? He walked into the locker door and leant forward until his panel was tucked in just under the locker handle. He pushed up, which would have been down if the locker were the right way up and the locker opened, and the spare grav-plates tumbled out, into the fuel.
It was about time something when his way.
With his feet, Gonk shuffled one of the three inch thick square plates towards the door. He stepped up onto it. Then tried to step over the threshold. He was still an inch short. He looked back to the other grav-plates lying under the fuel. He needed to stack one on the one he was standing on and butt another up to it to make a makeshift staircase. The problem was he had no way to pick a plate up to put it on top of another.
He turned back to the threshold and tried again. This time leaning back to his maximum 45 degrees he stuck his foot out. It only just met the top of the threshold. He stood on tip toes to get extra height and pushed. Managing to scrape his foot over the step. Suddenly it dropped down the other side and he fell out onto his face.

Gonk had managed to get out of a cupboard.

“Gonk!” Gonk told ship.
“Excellent!” Ship exclaimed, “Make your way to the cockpit. They were all there when we crashed.”
“Gonk.” Gonk informed her.
“How are you on your face!?!” Ship exclaimed.
“Gonk, Gonk.” Gonk said.
“Un-bel-ievable!” Ship shouted. “What happened to it being impossible to knock a Gonk over?”
Gonk felt sad. If he’d been an early EG6 model he would have had a front manipulator arm which would have been really useful right now, but he was a GNK model and some design genius had decided he didn’t need it.
He tried to think. If you’re a Gonk droid how do you get off your face?
He waved is little feet about bit. That didn’t work. He span his gyro’s and waved his feet about and still didn’t move.
He cursed his designers. Other droids had jets in their legs. Some had grappling hooks they could shoot out. Lot’s had arms. Actual arms! BB units were balls. There was no wrong way up for them.
Another thing his designers hadn’t thought to give him was much in the way of brains. The first twelve years of his existence he’d had less intelligence than a womp rat. Faine had boosted his intelligence nearly a year ago. Doubled it. She could do anything. Unfortunately double IQ still wasn’t exactly genius, because he’d started out so low. He thought and thought and thought.
And he had an idea!
“Gonk, Gonk, Gonk!” Gonk said.
“Why didn’t I think of that!?!” Ship exclaimed, and Gonk flew up to the ceiling as ship turned the grav-plating on the floor above him on and the artificial gravity the ship normally used in space pulled him up into the air. The fuel in the hall sploshed up to the floor too.
Gonk crashed into the floor that was now the ceiling and found himself back on his side. Looking up the hall to the flashing, buzzing light. The short was just round the corner. The whole ship could blow up at any moment.
“Gonk. Gonk. Gonk. Gonk.” Gonk told ship.
“Okay, Ready when you are.” Answered ship.
“Gon…k!” Gonk shouted, ship turned the plating off and Gonk fell as he whirred his gyro’s to max.
He self righted mid-air and landed on his feet.
It was by far the most acrobatic thing a Gonk droid had ever done.

Gonk had managed to get out of a cupboard and stand up.

Filled with pride, Gonk walked along the ceiling which was now the floor, towards the cockpit.
“If we’d thought of turning the plating on earlier you could have just walked out of the cupboard normally.” Ship pointed out.
“Gonk.” Said Gonk.
The cockpit was smashed. It looked like the ship had been driven into a vertical rock face. Crushing the front of the ship.
Slate and Blane were dead. Faine was unconscious, bleeding badly from a head wound.
“Gonk. Gonk. Gonk.” Gonk told ship. Then to Faine, “GONK!”
Faine didn’t wake. Gonk nudged her with one of his corners, and said “Gonk.”
She was lying in a couple inches of fuel. Despite the continuing leak it wasn’t getting any deeper. Which meant it was draining away somewhere.
Gonk nudged Faine again. “Gonk?” He asked, but she didn’t reply. Gonk loved Faine the way a pet might love its owner. She’d boosted his IQ. He’d been looking at her when she’d activated the extra processing power. When he’d woken up.
“What’s happening?” Ship asked.
“Gonk.Gonk.Gonk.Gonk.” Gonk told her.
“You need to get her out.” Said ship. “I could explode at any second!"
“Gonk.Gonk” Gonk told her.
Gonk nudged Faine with a corner again. She stirred and groaned.
“Gonk!” Gonk urged her.
“Faine! Wake up!” ship repeated.
“Whu? What… What happened?” Faine asked. Then started coughing.
“We crashed!” Ship told her. “There’s fuel everywhere. You need to get out before I explode.”
“Blane? Slate?” Faine asked between coughing.
“I’m sorry Faine,” Ship said. “They’re dead.”
Faine tried to get up. Her coughing got worse.
“Gonk?” Gonk asked.
“It’s the fumes from the fuel.” Ship told him. “A stray spark could even ignite the air.”
Faine couldn’t stand. She could hardly breathe.
“Gonk.Gonk.Gonk.” Gonk asked.
“Yes, I can do that.” Ship answered, “I do it anyway when we’re on low gravity planets.”
“Gonk.Gonk.” said Gonk, and ship brought the grav-plating on line above Faine, but only at ten percent power. The gravity above her pulled her away from the planet slightly, making her weigh less. Ship turned the plating up to twenty percent. Faine could really feel it now. The fuel around her could too. In the lower gravity it sloshed around more and more and started to form into a hump.
Gonk had turned his magnetic feet on so wasn’t going anywhere.
Eventually Faine was in a micro gravity. It took almost no effort to stand.
“Gonk.Gonk.” Gonk told her and she lay across him.
“I think the hatch is open.” Ship told Gonk, “You should just be able to walk out.”
“Gonk. Gonk.” Gonk told her.
“No. Leave me.” Ship answered, “You’ve stayed too long already.”
“Gonk.” Gonk told her.
“You’re being ridiculous!” Ship told him. “You’re not a shock trooper, you’re a Gonk droid!”
“GONK.GONK.GONK.” said Gonk.
“He’s right,” Faine said, “Take me there, Gonk.”
With Faine lying on Gonk, Gonk waded through the fuel to Ships core. With everything she had Faine managed to pull Ships core. A cylindrical object about the size of a flask pulled from the wall.
Slowly Gonk turned and walked out, with Faine lying on top of him. Faine holding ship’s brain.
As Gonk slowly trudged away the ship behind him finally blew. He walked from the explosion. He didn’t run and didn’t look back. Because he couldn’t run and was incapable of looking back.

Slowly, in the baking heat Gonk walked through the desert. He saw rocky region in the distance, and made for that in the hopes that he could find shelter there.
“Hold it!” Someone shouted to their right. Faine twisted her he’d to see who it was and Gonk turned the ninety degrees he needed to see.
From the looks of him he was a space pirate. Going off his considerable injuries he was one of the pirates Blane had shot down.
Did he want revenge? Did he just want to steel Gonk and Ship’s brain? Gonk didn’t know.
Gonk just blasted him with a huge electrical discharge. A blot of lightning.

Gonk had got out of a cupboard, stood up, saved the girls and killed the bad guy.

The suns went down and extreme heat gave way to extreme cold. They found a sheltered area and Faine climbed off Gonk. She was cold so Gonk ran hot. He was a generator unit. Inside his casing he was mostly a fusion reactor. It was easy to generate way more power than he needed, and vent the heat exhaust Faine’s way.

Then Gonk became aware of a few pale lights around them. Out of the gloom droids emerged. Lots of old battered, rusty, damaged droids.
“Beep-bee-boop-bee-weep” One of them said, finishing with a whistle.
“Gonk. Gonk.” Gonk said and they moved nearer. They were running low on power and he had all they needed. Three at a time they attached and drew the power they need for a recharge.
“Beep-dawooop-ding.” An R4 unit told him. “Beep-boop-bee-doop” It continued.
They’d been on a Jawa transport when it had been attacked by Storm Troopers. All the Jawa’s had been killed, and many droids. Including the Gonk that was with them. None of them knew why they’d done it. They’d been hiding in the caves ever since.
Luckily one of them was a medi-bot and it tended to Faine.
Gonk was pleased with himself. He’d done it. He’d saved them. Maybe Ship would see him in a different light now. Maybe he stood a chance with her.


Now that he was a hero.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Sad Dog


Sunday, December 3, 2017

Devils

Nerd alert!
You know the Sea Devils from Jon Pertwee era Doctor Who? Of course you do. This started out as a Doctor Who story about them, but thinking what would a Doctor Who story be like without Doctor Who?
I'm thinking massive body count. Anyhow. It's not a Doctor Who story anymore and they're not really Sea Devils anymore but enjoy all the same.

Devils
By Nigel Auchterlounie

Europa is smaller than Earth's moon,
but has more water than all of Earth.

Beth turned in her bunk. The room was hot and she couldn’t sleep.
Jupiter was the furthest out she’d ever been. More than 99.9 percent of the population had never been out this far.
The journey from Earth had been long and boring, but despite the uneventful quiet she’d found sleeping difficult. There was a creeping dread growing in her that she’d made a mistake. She couldn’t get past the feeling that this posting was a career mis-step.

Her ultimate destination, Europa, was a ball of ice in space. A hostile environment. She didn’t mind that. There was a good chance they’d find alien life of some sort under the ice on Europa, but the transport she was on was an old Mars hopper. It had, had a refit or two since the uprising. The boosters were newish, but it hadn’t been what she was expecting. Science, to her, was supposed to be clean and new, and this wasn’t that.

Also, several times during the journey she’d had sex with Zeek, and Zeek was going to be a colleague soon. That may lead to emotional complications later.
Beth tried to avoid emotions whenever possible. Such untidy things. Often mislabelled and left in the wrong drawer.
Zeek was also clearly a mis-step. Career wise. He was unkempt, unprofessional and the beard was disgusting.

She’d met him nine days earlier at the space depot.
With a large back pack on her back. A smaller one on her front and carrying two holdalls she had naturally made a beeline for the nice ship. The shiny one that wasn’t leaking a mysterious liquid all over the dock floor. The one that epitomised what science meant to her. Only to be redirected, by a rather sniffy attendant, back to the leaky rust bucket she’d staggered past.
No one would allow fuel to pour out of the bottom of any ship like that, what if it was coolant? Isn’t coolant also required? Water? You need that too. She couldn’t think of a single liquid that could be pouring out the bottom of the craft that craft or its passengers wouldn’t later need.

The interior of the ship was in keeping with the exterior. She’d taken the ferry across the Tyne from South Shields to North Shields a few times when she was young. This space ship, that was meant to take her on a science expedition to Europa, felt more like a cross river ferry than the sleek futuristic craft she thought she should be on.



A large man with a small bag, wearing a high vis jacket and sporting the sort of beard men have when they come back from drilling in the North Sea, wandered down the narrow hall towards her. He was holding his phone up to the cabin door locks, and He was getting nearer. Passing would prove impossible. He was huge. Six foot fourish and broad too. She was small, but had made her outline huge with bags front and back and in both hands.
“Excuse me.” Beth asked “This can’t be going to Europa, can it?”
“I hope so, girly.” He replied. “Wait. You asked if it can’t be, can it? I don’t know how to answer that! Does yes mean it is or it isn’t?” He smiled. A wide grin full of perfect white teeth. Odd to find such teeth inside such a man.
“You flipped it one too many times for my little brain to figure out.”
“Is it going to Europa, or not?”
“Yes.” He answered, “Wait. You did it again. Is it or is it not?” He grinned.
The cabin door between them beeped and opened as the man swiped his phone across its lock.
“Looks like this is me, Girly!” He beamed. “I’m Zeek by the way, Zeek for short, short for Zeek.”
That word. “Girly” she didn’t think anyone had ever actually said it to her before. It was instantly, deeply, annoying and offensive.
Beth’s cabin was next to Zeek’s. She entered and locked herself in for three days.

The second of those days was her thirtieth birthday.
Hunger forced her from her cabin on the fourth day. The sweets and snacks she’d packed were gone. They were only meant to supplement her diet on the journey, because the journey was meant to be on a nice ship. “Get over yourself, you snobby bitch! Remember where you came from.” the voice in her head spat.
The part of the ship where food could be gotten was hard to label. Canteen? Cafe? Bar? Lounge? It had elements of all. The way it was possible to buy a pre-packed egg salad sandwich and a double vodka and orange didn’t sit well with Beth. In trying to be all things the area felt like it wasn’t succeeding in being any of them.

“Hey there, girly!”
The awful man was sitting on one of the sofas facing out one of the windows into space. He had a drink in his hand. Whiskey. Maybe rum. It was hard to tell in the bad light. Beth knew for a fact it was 10:30am. The endless night outside didn’t stop that being true. If they’d remained on Eastern standard, and she hadn’t been told other wise, it was very much the morning.
She picked a tray and filled it with the food that didn’t look too suspicious and turned to go back to her cabin. Beth’s heart sank as she read the words stencilled over the doorway out “Please do not take food back to cabins.”
“Screw that! Just go! Who’s gonna arrest you? The breakfast police!?” She told herself. “Shut up!” She replied. Then turned around again and surveyed the tables. There weren’t many. She sat at the cleanest and began to eat.
“Thought I would have seen you earlier, Girly.” Zeek said as he turned round to talk to her. The back of his sofa was only half a meter from her table. Why? Why was the cleanest table next to his sofa?
“Don’t call me “Girly”.” The term was 30% offensive 70% annoying.
“Well I don’t have a name for you, you know mine. Zeek. Remember?”
“Beth.”
“Hello, Beth.”
Beth didn’t answer. Just set herself to the task of eating her food as quickly as possible so that she could leave.

Having sex with him three hours later was an error.
He’d managed to find the chink in her armour and started, without invitation, to talk about work. The ice on Europa was twenty kilometres thick. Zeek was a lance operator. A sort of heated spear packed with sensors and other tech. An ice probe, designed to melt through the ice and send data back from the ancient ocean under the ice. This lead to Beth talking about her work. The search for alien life. The explanation that the life would most probably only be bacteria, but could be protozoa. She had some fascinating datasets on her screen in her cabin.
It was just as she reached the door of her cabin, with Zeek behind her that her heart jumped as she realised that other part of her had tricked her into getting what it wanted. Zeek had thought something similar. That Beth had invited him back to the cabin only on the pretence of viewing a dataset. He’d thought that, perhaps after some circling, maybe something might happen like a kiss.
He closed the door behind him, turned round and she grabbed his beard with both hands and nearly pulled it off, yanking him forward to her mouth for the first kiss. She was then very bossy for fifteen minutes, but Zeek didn’t mind at all. If you were telling him to do something he enjoyed, he’d do what you said all day.
Then after being so keen on him, he seemed to annoy her again. Two days later sex happened again, but this time he managed to stay in her room after by quickly talking about amino acids then asking if she thought all life everywhere would have a double helix. Once they got friendly enough to talk normally a lot of that talk was about how she didn’t want a relationship. That she was there for the work. That if he met someone else at Europa station that would be fine. Though they did find some common ground in TV shows and he was surprised by how much she could drink.

Now though Beth was alone in her room. (Though she never was completely alone) She’d kicked him out saying she could only sleep when she was by herself.
Jupiter loomed large in the window. Zeek had made the mistake of asking what she’d done wrong to be coming out this far? Beth had told him she hadn’t done anything, that it was a wonderful opportunity, but it made her face the feeling that she had made a mistake.
Beth didn’t care what Zeek had done wrong to be coming out this far. She presumed there was some sort of ex-wife thing. (she was right)
The storms of Jupiter swirled in the window. They took up almost the entire view. She stared into the tumultuous mass and was reminded of a time when, as a child, looking over the side of a bridge the morning after a heavy downpour. The churning waters seemingly invited her to jump in.


..............................
2

The surface of Europa is ice. Huge tracts are broken. Ranging from cracked areas a human might easily navigate to deep forbidding chasms, impossible to traverse. Other areas are smooth. Almost featureless. It’s unsettling to find ones self in a featureless landscape.
A uniform and strangely low horizon, with nothing for the eye to fixate on.
The hopper actually landed next to a beacon on the ice its self. Near what could only be described as a metal hut or garage. It looked like the sort of thing someone might be renovating a classic car in. Except this disappointing garage was 365 million miles from Earth. They landed and walked in space suits to the hut. The craft didn’t land in a hanger bay. The bay wasn’t sealed and pressurised and they didn’t step out into the base surrounded by newly recycled air.
They walked in space suits.
Beth’s heart sank further. Everything about this whole operation lacked prestige. The voice in her head laughed. “This what you wanted, is it?”

Inside everyone took their helmets off. Beth looked back through the airlock windows. A couple of robots were unloading supply boxes from the ship. It felt strange to Beth that they didn’t need suits, though logically she knew they didn’t need an atmosphere.
A large door on the opposite wall slid open and a man stepped out of what looked like a service lift.
Doctor Klasky introduced himself and welcomed everyone to Europa station. One of the pilots complained that the base coms were down.
“Yes, yes! We’re well aware.” Klasky seemed almost enthusiastic about the broken coms. “You’ve got the part we need in with the supplies somewhere”
“Of course the coms are broken.” Thought Beth “Why wouldn’t they be?”
Everyone crammed into the lift. Klasky, the pilots, Beth and zeek, and six other new crew members. As it descended, Klasky started some sort of unexpected tour aimed at no one in particular.
“It doesn’t look like much from the surface. The entire complex is carved into the ice, about a quarter mile down, I think. We chose this location for its stability. The ice is thicker here than other places but we won’t be bothered by a fracture.”
“What would happen if there were a fracture?” One of the new crew asked.
“Oh, Ha ha! A really quick death.” Klasky answered joyfully. “If the ice cracked we’d be exposed to the vacuum of space. If that didn’t kill you. The water rushing up from the ocean would. It’ll freeze in seconds.”

The lift stopped and everyone got out.
“There’s very little activity in the region though and we set off the thumper once a day to check and there’s never a problem.”
“Thumper?” One of the pilots asked.
“It’s an old fashioned echo sounding device.” Zeek chimed in. “You set off a small explosive device in a sealed chamber fixed to the floor. It sends a shock wave through the ice. It’s a bit retro. But it works”
“Doesn’t the explosive cause its own cracks?” The other pilot asked.
“No. It’s just a small charge.” Klasky replied. “Here it is, actually.”
Klasky motioned to a small round room they were passing. In the centre of which sat, bolted to the floor, something like a rusty metal canister. Against the wall, a metal wardrobe marked “Danger Explosives”
“They used to use charges for deep sea echo sounding back in the eighties.” Zeek said. “The nineteen eighties!”
Klasky laughed. “Yes, well it’s old, but not that old. Everything here’s second or third hand, but we manage.”

Three levels further down Doctor Klasky showed everyone the canteen. “The complex is actually quite large. Ice is an easy substance to tunnel through. So you end up cutting more rooms than you really need. These walls you see are little more than stretched thermal fabric over ice.” He paused, “Anyway, you all must be tired. I’ll show you to your quarters. We drop the lance in the morning. If you’re ready that is, Zeek.”
Zeek smiled. “I was born ready.”
“We’ll be off.” One of the pilots said, looking the screen on his fore arm, “The bots say the surface facility is full now and there’s there’s quite a few crates outside on the ice.”
“They’ll be fine there.” Klasky pointed out. “No one’s going to nick ‘em are they? And the cold will keep it fresh.”

Beth’s room was a long awaited step up. It was clean for a start. She was possibly the first to stay in it. The walls were smooth and white. Science white. They were solid in appearance but upon touching them it was apparent that they were taught fabric. Whist the appearance was anything but, in actuality, the room was little more than a tent inside an ice cave.
She logged into the base wifi, quickly found the entertainment store, briefly thought about calling on Zeek, dismissed the idea, and played a VR. A bank robbery. That other side to her liked to rob banks. Took a pill to simulate a quarter bottle of vodka and fell asleep on a virtual beach.

The next morning started down on level one. Zeek was dropping the lance. It was freezing down there as this lowest level wasn’t lined. The walls were exposed ice. The rest of level one was given over to food storage, due to the cold, except the large circular room Beth was now standing in, wearing a thermal one peace and a huge coat. She liked the thermal one piece. It was skin tight and showed the belly she wished she didn’t have and her fat thighs, but the mid grey colour, the ribs and piping made it look utilitarian. Like she was doing science. The other part of her laughed at her. She had a genius level IQ, but enjoyed dressing up. Beth wanted so much to have a soundproof room so she could have a proper row with herself. What was wrong with liking the way something looked?
Beth, Professor Arnot and an excited Doctor Klasky watched as Zeek prepared the lance.

Professor Arnot was a leader in his field. He’d detected bacteria in a comet tail ten years ago. And he acted like it. His reputation preceded him so Beth had been excited to meet him, and had tried to engage him in conversation earlier, but he’d simply ignored her. Often, in science and academia, elitism can spill over into sexism. She’d read a paper by Arnot a couple of years prior and knew for a fact she was smarter than him. It’d be so easy to let her other side kick him in the nuts.
“Is the ocean not under pressure?” She asked Klasky. Arnot rolled his eyes like she’d asked how come planes don’t fall out of the sky if they’re made of metal.
“We don’t know.” Zeek answered. “ Hence the lance. It melts it’s way through, but behind it, the ice freezes again. Forming a seal. Once we get telemetry back we’ll know if it’s safe to move to stage two.”
“What if it is under pressure? More pressure than the complex, I mean. If we break through won’t the base be flooded?” Beth asked.
“Yes.” Doctor Klasky confirmed. “But we’ll get a reading on exactly what pressure the ocean is under from the lance. If it’s pretty close to our own pressure we’ll just alter the base pressure to match. If there’s a big difference then that’s a set back. We’ll have to drop the ring half way, then build an airlock… Waterlock. Waterlock never sounds right but that’s what it is. A compression/decompression area so the complex isn’t flooded. We’ll have to go begging for more funding, so fingers crossed.”
“Is your next question, “Why didn’t we drop a lance from the surface before we built the base. So we knew before we started the ocean pressure?” Arnot asked Beth.
She hadn’t thought of that but it was a good question.
“Because the bean counters didn’t think to ask.” Zeek said. “And if you’ve already spent a bunch of cash getting this far they’re more likely to spend a bit more to finish the job!”

Beth knew money for pure research was tight, but this seemed only a little short of a con job. They’d put forward a proposal knowing full well what the additional costs may be and purposefully left them out. Is that how you get funding?

The ring was a circular heating element. Turn it on and it will, with the help of gravity, melt down through the ice into the ocean. Small heating drones would then spread themselves out, down through the flooded shaft, to stop the water freezing again.
Without much ceremony Zeek touched the floor in the centre of the room with the end of the lance and Switched it on. Very quickly the end glowed red, steam rose from where the lance touched the ice and it quickly sank. Leaving behind it a small puddle of water that froze in a few seconds.
“The water freezes really quick.” Beth remarked.
“Yes,” Professor Arnot replied “It’s because it’s absolutely pure. People assume it’s salt water due to all the talk of an ocean down there but it’s pure.” Arnot turned to Zeek, who was looking at his screen. “How long before it breaks through?”
“If echo’s right and it’s about eleven kilometres here, I’d say we’d be through in about three hours.”
Beth now had conflicting feelings about Zeek. His appearance, his manner, his way of talking was of a manual worker, but he was evidently knowledgeable and regarded in his field. Maybe he wasn’t… “You uptight, snobby, bitch!” The voice inside shouted.


...................................
3

Two hours and fifty two minutes later the canteen had a party atmosphere. The lance had broken through, telemetry was coming back and the info was good. Very good. Pressure was only half a bar above the base pressure. Klasky reckoned it should only take around 16 hours to match pressures, but that was only the start of the good news. 
Beth swiped through results on her screen. Any reservations about the posting long forgotten. Klasky looked over her shoulder.
“This is wonderful!” She said, “Scans say the water near the ice is near freezing for only about 100 meters then temperatures rise quickly. We have bacteria and amoeba in high quantities!”
Klasky was grinning like a cheshire cat “Just finding amino acids would have got us more funding. This is like the jackpot. And without extreme pressure, soon it’ll be safe to drop a ring. Do you fancy going diving?”
“Aren’t we going to send a drone first?” Beth asked.
“Do you want to send a drone? See it first on a screen? Or see it first with your eyes?” Klasky enthused.

A raised voice behind her made Beth turn round. Arnot was remonstrating with the canteen cook. “NO! IDIOT! Party food? Vol-au-vents and things on sticks? It’s not rocket science! I should know! I’m a bloody rocket scientist!” Cook looked like she was going to hit Arnot with a frying pan, but instead told one of her staff to go down to food storage to see what he could find. Noah rolled his eyes and wandered off.

Noah was barely down in stores when Cook rang him. He knew what the first words out of her would be so answered by saying “Jeez! Can they not wait? I’m there now. I’m gonna grab some fries too. Is there anything else we need?”
“Just whatever’s down there. Was there not mini pizzas at one point?”
Noah opened the store door. It was dark inside but not as dark as it should be. “I’ll call you back. I found… something.” Noah hung up and stepped towards the metal spike sticking up through the floor of the store room. Its end glowing green. If Noah knew what Zeek’s lance looked like he would said that it looked a little like that.

Klasky’s office was a mess. He leant back in the oddly old office chair, behind his actual wood, wooden desk.
Beth found it hard to believe they’d actually shipped out his personal furniture but couldn’t think of another reason for this. Klasky leant back, held his glass of freshly poured whiskey close to his chest and beamed. Zeek lay on the cracked, incongruous, leather chesterfield sofa with a whiskey of his own. While Beth sat on the perfectly congruous chair between them. Klasky continued his story. “…so they're all getting light headed because this things venting xenon. It’s not all that bad for you but it’s way heavier than oxygen so it’s displacing the oxygen into the roof space…”
A young technician popped her head round the door. “Dr Klasky, we… we may have a problem.” She said.
“Don’t, Jill!” Klasky begged’ “Don’t take this away from me! I checked the readings a bunch of times. They can’t be false because…”
“No, sir. It’s not that.” Jill interrupted. “Er… One of the kitchen staff went down to the food store to get stuff for the party, and they didn’t come back so Cook went down to see where they where and she didn’t come back either. We can’t find either of them.”
Klasky rolled his eyes. “I’m a scientist. Not a nursery school teacher.” The meaning of this wasn’t entirely clear, bur Beth presumed it was a way for saying he wasn’t a babysitter. “I’m not surprised they’ve gone missing,” Klasky continued, “did you hear the way Arnot was talking to Cook? I’d have walked off too. The size of Cook I’m surprised she didn’t break Arnot in two.” He paused. “It’s not like they’ve gone off world. Leave ‘em to have their own party. Tomorrow we drop the ring!”
Jill continued, “There’s also…” She paused.
“Also what? Come on out with it!”
“Pedro was telling me the, er, the part for coms. To fix it. It’s not the right part. I mean it’s right. The right part, but for a newer model. It doesn’t fit and it’s for a newer O.S.”
“Good grief!” Klasky exclaimed, “Like I care about a bloody radio! You know what? Good! It’s good that it doesn't work, because you know what would happen if it worked?” He swung his whiskey glass round wildly, spilling some, “This is academia, so we’d tell Earth station about the amoeba then, they’d say something like, hold off till, maybe, Grist got here. Yeah, it’d be Grist. Then we’d all be under orders to twiddle our thumbs ‘till he got here, and he’d be the first to dive. First to “discover” some three eyed alien fish. Then it’s his name on the paper and he can write his own cheque. They’d take it all off us. You know they would.” He sloshed some whiskey Jill’s way, “You’re young but you’re not that new.”
Klasky threw back what was left of his whiskey and Zeek did the same, then shouted “Amen!”
Beth considered the glass in her hand. She felt the unbearable social pressure to follow suit and did so. Knowing full well what it would lead to.

Two hours later it lead to her pulling Zeek into her room by his awful disgusting beard, because even small amounts of alcohol lead to the lowering of internal defences.
Beth woke early the next morning. By now the base pressure and the ocean pressure would be equalised. Zeek was lying next to her. This was going to lead to complications. Soon he would be asking for things from her she didn’t want to give.
Like affection.
He woke. “Morning. Big day today. You got a deep dive cert, yeah?”
“Yup. Had to get one when I was studying Pacific extremophiles.” Beth replied curtly. Zeek picked up on her mood.
“I can’t figure out if you like me or not. I mean I know you like this, Girly!” He grabbed his crotch over the bed clothes. “But sometimes you don’t seem keen on what it’s connected to.”
This was a new record. Normally this conversation took at least two or three weeks to happen. Maybe she should try to explain. Tell him that while she doesn’t really have two personalities. Not really. They’re both called Beth. They both shared the same memories, but that… her train of thought stalled. How do you explain a thing you don’t fully understand? She was sure she wasn’t insane. Not properly. Just nearly. She should have took psychology not marine biology. She could have done a paper on herself. “You’re great!” She finally answered, “I’m the faulty one.”

Later, as Zeek finished prepping the ring down on level one Klasky remonstrated with Arnot, as Beth stayed out of the way. “I heard you, Arnot! Talking to them like you’re, you’re, you’re better than them.” He stammered, “Not just the kitchen staff either. The tunnel crew too. Find them and apologise! The whole base had no cooked breakfast this morning because of your attitude.”
Arnot gestured to the ring. “But…”
“The ring will take at least three hours to melt all the way through.” Klasky interrupted, “I think three hours is long enough to find someone and apologise!” Then, turning to Zeek, “Okay, turn it on.”
As Arnot left Zeek did just that, and a plume of steam rose from the ring as it disappeared leaving a pool of water. Before the pool could freeze a series of metallic balls, heating drones, rose out of the large barrel that sat to one side and one by one entered the pool. Glowing red as they did so.
“Do you have enough of those?” Klasky asked.
“Should just squeak it, I think.” Zeek answered.
Klasky looked back to the door Anrnot had just walked through. “Cook’s been with me since Titan.” He said. “She’s called Cook because that’s her name. I mean, she has a real name but refuses to use it. When she first came on board I kept using her actual name and she’d always correct me. “Cook!” she’d shout. “I’m cook!” Arnot may have found bacteria in t4-38 but that achievement doesn’t come close to Cooks chilli”

Cook and Noah weren’t in the canteen, the kitchen or the rec room and there was no answer at ether of their quarters. Arnot begrudgingly asked around and no one had seen them since the night before. As a last option Arnot went back down to level one to check the stores. He walked past the room he’d recently been ejected from, quickly peeking through the window on one of the doors. Through it he could see the pool, glowing red from the heating orbs. He continued on, and entered the room next door. Store room 1.
After flicking the switch the lights flickered on. Nothing was out of place. Arnot didn’t even know what he was looking for. They wouldn’t be down her hiding in the cold and the dark, but he couldn’t think of where else to look. Store room 2 was the same.
Arnot paused before flicking on the lights to store room 3. Something was different. The room had a green glow coming from somewhere. He stepped inside and followed the eerie light round a corner made from racking.
There was a pool of water in the floor between the racking. Just a meter across. Compared to the three meter diameter of the pool in the other room. It was glowing green in much the same way the pool in the other room was glowing red. Arnot approached it. What the hell was cook and Noah doing? Were they spies for one of the other companies? Hoping to nip in ahead and steal samples ahead of them? Arnot looked around some more. In another narrow alley formed by the racking he found Cook. Well, most of her. She was missing her lower jaw and right arm. Her stomach was cut open too, and it was possible that her intestines weren’t there. Arnot didn’t feel the need to find out. Her face was covered in red dots too. A minor detail compared to the details. He turned to run and tell Klasky what he’d found but found himself standing face to face with… with…

If Arnot had had the time and distance to describe what he saw he would have described it as a bipedal amphibian. Humanoid. He would have pointed out its wide mouth and its large eyes set far apart. Eyes that large were clearly for seeing well in the dark. The eyes being set far apart, but still forward facing would indicate a hunter with excellent depth perception. He could have gone on in much finer detail but the creature said in a deep vibrato voice “It’s not… rocket science.” Arnot staggered back. “Vol-au-vents and things on sticks.” It said, Arnot’s own words from the night before came back to him. The creature stepped forward to keep the distance between them the same. “Idiot.” It said. “Id-i-ot.” It repeated slower. Feeling out the word. “Vol-au-vents… things on sticks.” It grinned an impossibly wide grin. Arnot jumped over Cooks corpse and rounded the end of the rack slipping slightly on the icy floor. Another creature was standing there. The last thing his ex-wife said to him ran through Arnot’s mind. That odd statement about her mother. It had stuck with him a while because he couldn’t for the life of him figure out why she’d said it. There was a double meaning he was sure, (most of what Judith said had a double meaning), but had trouble, despite his intellect grasping just one of them. Odd to have such a phrase run through his mind at such a time. The new creature reached forward and with one of its huge webbed hands grabbed his face. The creature’s wet clammy palm clamped over his nose and mouth and covered his eyes. He couldn’t breath or see. Though it felt to him like, under the hand, worms were wriggling in under his skin he felt no pain. Then he heard his wife’s last words again, but in that deep vibrato voice. “My… mother still likes you.”


..........................................
4

Two hours later Klasky was furious. The ring had broken through. The heating drones were keeping the water in the shaft just above freezing but Arnot was still not back, and he’d damned if he was going to go looking for the fool.
“Screw it!” Klasky shouted. Throwing up his hands, “Beth, you’ll have to stay behind and watch things from up here. Zeek and I will do the dive. You’ll get your chance tomorrow.”
Beth’s heart sank. Her professional side knew that no one remembered the second man on the moon. That other side of herself wanted to go get drunk, find Arnot and break his thumbs. She wanted to be first too.
Klasky and Zeek suited up and made the drop. Beth watched them sink from sight. The heating orbs automatically moving out of their way as they sank. It’d take an hour to make it to the ocean.
Three hours exploring. Plus another hour to surface. Five hours. She tried coms to see how Klasky and Zeek were getting on. Coms weren’t working. They’d worked ten minutes ago, during pre-dive test. Beth tried a couple of things but couldn’t get them up. She remembered Jill saying the night before that Pedro couldn’t fix the main coms. These were short coms though. A different system but perhaps Pedro could help? She didn’t know what Pedro looked like, but She knew where main coms were. Perhaps Pedro would be there?

Coms was up on four. Beth found Pedro there, working on trying to get a part that didn’t fit to fit. He rubbed his temples. “It’s connected. Still doesn’t work! It’s a software problem now. I’m trying to run a 2 point 0 device on a 1 point 0 machine. I can’t upgrade the software on the main unit because I don’t have it and the internal architecture doesn’t support it anyway.” He stared at the mess of wires and drives in front of him with the sadness of a coms officer with no coms. He turned to Beth. “The thumper on five. The echo thing. Nobody manufactures that you know. It was homemade on Titan. It uses blasting caps because Titan’s a mining colony. So blasting caps are like sweets out there. The only concession to safety is the caps have a ten second delay to stop you accidentally blowing your hand apart. That says a lot about this place.” Beth was burning up. She was wearing the thermal one piece for working the lower levels and a big coat. Up here though, it was only room temperature and room temperature was way too hot. Part of her wanted to grab the whiny bitch and drag him down to level 1, but the other half stopped her.
“Come on then.” He said to Beth eventually, “Let’s fix your issue.”

Down on level one it took Pedro less than thirty seconds to figure out that everything was working fine their side. He used the short coms to call Beth’s screen. “The problem’s their end.”
That didn’t make sense to Beth. “Both suits have their own com link. They both can’t have failed at the same time.”
“You’re right.” Pedro agreed, “There must be something in the water blocking the signal.”
That didn’t make sense to Beth either. If there was some unknown element in the water to block coms why weren’t the lance coms blocked? She looked to the pool. “They must know by now that their coms don’t work. Why haven’t they come up? It’s against procedure to dive without working coms.”
Pedro looked to the pool too. A worried expression on his face. The red light of the pool flickered slightly and for a horrible moment Beth thought that the heating orbs were going to turn off. Klasky and Zeek would still be in the shaft at this point and without the heat from the orbs the water would freeze in seconds. But it was just the orbs moving out of Klasky’s way as he surfaced.

Klasky burst out of the water and scrambled for the pool edge. Beth and Pedro helped pull him out. Beth felt the water as she did so. It must have been as close to zero as you can get. They pulled Klasky out and as he struggled with his helmet Beth saw that his suit was cut open at the upper left leg. Blood and water poured from the gash. Klasky got his helmet off. Water tipped out of the suit. “TURN THE ORBS OFF!!!” he shouted. “Freeze it!”
“What about Zeek?” Beth asked, “He’s still down there!”
“Zeek’s dead! Freeze it!” Klasky scrambled to his feet and picked up the screen that controlled the orbs.
“Wait!” Beth ran to stop him.
Pedro saw that the lights in the pool were changing again and stepped nearer. A humanoid creature leapt out of the pool. Beth and Klasky spun round. Beth saw that it was wearing a belt. Hanging from that belt a short wide bladed sword. The pool turned dark as Klasky turned the orbs off. The creature turned to Beth and Klasky. Ignoring Pedro as he ran from the room. It smiled and said in a low vibrato voice “Hello Girly.”




The pool quickly began to freeze. A scream and other shouts could be heard elsewhere in the complex. Beth and Klasky ran for the door. The creature made no attempt to follow. Just watched them go.
Beth looked back. It stood there impassively.
Beth couldn’t help but smile. That other Beth. The creature turned its head in the same way dogs do when they are trying to understand you. This reaction was unexpected. Odd to have an unexpected reaction. It knew everything Zeek knew. Zeek clearly didn’t know Beth.

In the corridor Jill ran up to Beth and Klasky. “Doctor Klasky! There’s things… Aliens in the complex! They’re killing everyone!!!”
Water started flooding from down the corridor. Just a few centimetres deep. In it, stopping the water from freezing, were green glowing orbs, bobbing in the water, steam rising from them. A similar creature from the one they’d just seen came out from round the corner. Walking briskly towards them. This one had a serrated dagger in each hand. The lights flickered then went off, leaving only the light from the green orbs. For a second before the lights came back on, Beth could have sworn the daggers were glowing red slightly, but couldn’t be sure. Beth, Klasky and Jill ran for the complex internal lift. As they reached it, it pinged, the doors opened, a creature stepped out and stabbed Klasky in the belly with a spear. The knife end easily breaking out through his back. Before he could make a noise, the creature clamped its hand over Klasky’s face. It made a few clicking noises, then said. “This is… academia.”
Beth and jill made for the stairs. They got there just as water from a second source splashed round the corner.
As they ran up the stairs Jill asked “If the base is pressurised how is water coming up?”
“Because we’re losing pressure.” Beth answered, “Can’t you feel it in your ears? They must have got to the pumps. Must have tunnelled up like we tunnelled down.”
“How would they know to do that? They don’t look advanced. They’re using swords and spears.”
“How would they know how to speak English?” Beth pointed out. “We need to get to coms. Send a signal, somehow.”
They’d gotten as far as level 3 when they were met by panicking staff running down the stairs. Clearly there was trouble above too. One of them had a deep wound in his shoulder. Beth spotted the dark shape of one of the creatures coming down. Beth and Jill dodged into level 3. “Where are we going?” Jill asked.
“No idea!” Beth replied. Beth was a sea of mixed emotions. There was fear and panic certainly, but there was also excitement.
All her life she’d made decisions that took her further and further away from danger. The only activity they both enjoyed… “they both enjoyed”? No. That’s wrong. She’s one person. The only activity she fully enjoyed was diving. While diving she was working. Taking samples, making observations. It was also dangerous. In the Pacific she was working near deep sea volcanic vents. There were lots of ways to die down there.

“Air and coms are on the next level up. The ceiling’s ice. We can smash our way through.” Beth barged into a room she’d never been in. A lab of some sort. She was up on the table tearing at the fabric ceiling before Jill had closed the door. Behind the fabric was the lighting, fixed to the ice ceiling. Beth yanked some of it down. Tube lights fell and shattered on the table. She twisted the metal trunking the lights were fixed to until the it snapped. She then started jabbing at the roof with the trunking’s most jagged end. Large chunks of ice quickly started falling down.
“It’s getting cold.” Jill pointed out.
“It will do, without this fabric’s thermal shield.” Beth answered.
“No. It’s more than that.” Jill said, “The heating’s off too.”
Beth didn’t slow down. Despite the new cold she was getting hot. She thought about taking her coat off, but that would have slowed her down a few seconds. The ice between floors must be at least a meter thick and she was only through about twenty centimetres.
Suddenly the door burst open and a creature stormed in. It lunged for Jill who deftly side stepped the creatures blade. Water flooded in from outside through the automatically closing doors. Beth leapt from the table with the trunking in hand and smashed the creature in the head with it. It staggered back falling into the almost closed doors slamming them shut as it fell. Beth landed on top of it and held the trunking across its neck pressing hard. It moved its sword to Beth’s side but didn’t get the chance to push it into Beth before Jill hammered its skull with a fire extinguisher. Jill backed off.
“What are you doing!?!” Beth shouted, “Keep going! Don’t stop till it’s dead!” Jill went back to it and didn’t stop until the job was done.
Beth now had a much better tool for breaking through the ceiling. A sword.
A minute of hacking at the ceiling with the sword later and Beth had dug through quite a bit of ice, but estimated she was only half way.
“Get me a chair.” She told Jill. Then she noticed a button on the sword’s handle. She pressed it and steam rose from the wet blade. Beth grinned, as the blade started to glow red.

Up on level four a sword smashed up through the insulating tiles that made the floor of an unused office. Beth poked her head up through. “It’s all clear.”
“That’s good.” Said Jill. Standing on the table she looked down to her feet the water was an inch deep where she was standing, on the table. It was freezing too. Actually freezing, due to the fact that water could come in through the small gap between the double doors but the alien heating orbs were too big to.
The first inch of water would freeze a new layer of water would pour over that then freeze and so on.
Beth threw the sword into the office then tried to lift her self up, but she lacked upper body strength. There was a crashing sound under her and Jill screamed. Beth tried to reach the sword but she’d thrown it too far.
“Hurry!” Jill shouted. The creatures in the hall couldn’t push the door in because of the ice was half way up the door. So they were smashing the top half. Jill pushed Beth up and with everything she had Beth pulled herself up as the crashing beneath her grew louder. She turned round. Grabbed Jill’s hand and something grabbed her feet and pulled her away. Jills face slammed, horribly, into the table top as she fell. For a second Beth thought about going back down but then she heard in a low vibrato voice.
“The heating’s off too. He-ting. Ting. Too. Tooooo! Too!”
Beth grabbed the sword.
“Beth.” The creature stepped out to under the hole so Beth could see it.
“Beth.” It said again. “Hello girly.”
This must be the first creature again. It had found her. It started to climb up. Beth brought the sword high over her head and down onto the creatures head almost cleaving it in two. It dropped back down the hole into the rising waters, and Beth made for the door. As Beth popped her head out the door water started to fill the hole in the floor. The coast was clear so she made for Coms, as the hole over flowed. The flooding was speeding up.
The door to coms was locked. Beth banged on the door. “Pedro! You in there!?!” The door opened.
“How are you still alive?” Pedro asked.
“How are you doing with an SOS? I presume you’re not just hiding in here.”
“The long coms are down but the beacon still works. I’ve sent an SOS over the beacon. It’s the best I can do. There’s one huge problem though.”
“What’s that?”
“No one listens to the beacon. No one human at least. Nav-com use it to home in, but Nav-com won’t tell anyone. It’s dumb code. No AI. It’d be a lucky coincidence if anyone heard.”
Beth looked to her feet. Water came in under the door. Even if they could get a proper SOS out over a normal frequency it wouldn’t save them. The whole complex would be flooded in less than half an hour at this rate and a rescue would take at least a week. She opened the door again. Down one end of the corridor a creature was stabbing a technician through the gut with a trident. Down the other end Beth could see, going off the uniform, the body of one of the tunnel crew, lying in the few inches of green lit water. The water around the body stained red. One of the green heating orbs was bobbing near the door. She kicked it into the coms room.
“These are like our orbs. They do the same job. You need to find whatever signal is running these things and block it. The water will freeze then. Stop the complex being flooded. Freeze a bunch of these bad guys too.”
“Okay!” Pedro was on board immediately, “I’ll have to re-task the beacon to over ride their signal, but it’s a much better use of it.” Pedro tried to pick up the orb but it was too hot to touch. He took off his shoe, scooped it up and tipped it out on the table. Immediately it turned off “It turns off when it’s out of water. An Automatic thing. I can maybe use that!” he said excitedly, “Trick them all into thinking they’re out of water.” Pedro said, “I need something to open it up.”
Beth hit it with the sword and it cracked open.
“Okay,” Pedro looked at the interior of the orb. It appeared to be partly organic. It was totally, utterly, alien.
“I, I, I can’t do this. This would take years to figure out.”
“So what’s the other way!?” Beth Shouted at him while peeking out into the corridor. “come on! The other way!?!”
“Er… we… er… Okay, we go at it the other way. We scan the whole spectrum. Just like auto tuning on a radio. Once we find something we put out our own signal on that frequency as powerful as we can, and just blank it out. Hopefully a loss of readable signal will result in an automatic shut down.” Said Pedro.
“But we can’t do it here. We’re going to be flooded in a minute and then we’ll freeze with everyone else.”
The water was almost waist deep.
Beth popped her head out. The coast seemed clear. They ran for the stairs as fast as someone can in waist deep water. Beth’s coat was soaking and slowing her down. She let it go.
They made it to the stairs just as someone else came round the corner. They opened their mouth to say speak, but were pulled under the water by something before they could.
Up on level five, Beth saw a creature, facing away, bent over a dead technician. The creature speaking the tech’s final thoughts. “I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die.” Beth crept up behind it and rammed the sword into its back as deep as she could. It went in easier than she thought it would. The end bursting out of its chest. It let out a cry, stood up and spun round knocking Beth over. It pulled out its sword and swung it down to Beth. She rolled and it missed. Finally the creature started to act like it had a sword sticking through it, dropped its sword, faltered and fell to one knee. Beth grabbed the fallen sword, rose, and chopped the top of its head off. There didn’t seem to be any blood.
The creature stood up. Its eyes were in the top, severed, half of its head. It made some clicking and popping sounds with its mouth. It turned round slowly in a circle. Swaying, shifting its weight from one foot to another. The body seemed lost without the brain. Beth’s scientist half was fascinated. The creature must be highly autonomic.
“Come on!” Pedro urged Beth. “I’ve found it!” He said, holding up his screen. Right down the bottom end. Way past anything we use for general communication.”
“Coms is under water now though.” Beth pointed out, “How do we transmit?”
“From the surface.” Pedro replied, “Tap the junction box on the beacon tower.”
“Cool. There’s plenty of supplies up there. We can wait it out till the next transport in a month.”
Pedro’s face dropped. “A month!”
“Or you can stay down here. Up to you!”
They cautiously made their way to the cargo lift that went to the surface. The overhead lights flickering more off than on.
“Was I falling for Zeek?” Beth thought. “Did I love him?”
Jesus!?! Really?! Was she really going to think that now? Why think that now? Why ever think that at all?
Beth punched herself in the side of the head and pushed the lift call button. Pedro looked at Beth, puzzled.
Had she just punched herself in the side of the head?
The doors opened, he turned his head to face them. His mouth opened and he was skewered through his open mouth out the back of his head by the long thin blade held by an alien arm.
Pedro dropped his screen. Beth stumbled back. The creature stepped out of the lift and pulled its sword from Pedro. A second creature stepped out and swung at Beth. She ducked, picking up Pedro’s screen as she did so, and scrambled away. There wasn’t really anywhere to go though. Back towards the stairs, she saw the water coming, lit with it’s now familiar green glow.
This was the only level left. A creature stepped into view. She now had one in front of her. Two behind. She went the only other way open to her and dived into the room to her right. Slamming the door shut. Looking around she saw a metal wardrobe near the door. She tipped it over and pushed it against the door. As it fell one of the doors fell open and the cupboards contents spilled open. She was in the Thumper room. The device that sent shock waves through the ice so that sonar could map the ice for cracks. There had to be a hundred small explosive charges at her feet.

The door lock broke with the first impact from the creatures on the other side. The wardrobe was the only thing that stopped the door swinging open. Beth looked around, and thought. She quickly imagined a 3D map of the complex. The far corner of the room she was in would be above coms.
She lent against the wardrobe as the creatures hammered to get in. She saw water seeping in at her feet.

If she was over coms and the beacon was a quarter mile above her, on the surface, the cables between the two must be…
The hammering on the door was too much for her to hold back. It was open a few centimetres now. An alien arm came through the gap and thrashed around wildly for her. She chopped and slashed at it with the sword until the creature drew it back.
Beth picked up one of the small charges and pulled off the red top. It looked like there was a button on the top. She remembered Pedro saying they had a ten second delay when activated “To stop you blowing your hand apart.” She pressed the top button and threw it to the corner of the room.
The hammering on the door intensified. The door was pushed open 20 centimetres now. Beth and the wardrobe pushed back that same amount.
The charge went off in the corner of the room. The fabric lining shredded. Behind it she could see wires headed from the ceiling to the floor on their way from the beacon to coms. A green orb bobbed into the room through the gap in the door. She threw another charge. Then activated another. The hammering continued and she was beaten back 40 centimetres as she counted 1,2,3,4, the charge in the corner of the room went off, breaking apart the wires, 5,6,7 She threw the charge, 8, through the opening door, 9. The other charge went off and one of the creatures screamed. The hammering stopped. Another orb bobbed in just as Beth pushed the door back closed.

There was nearly a foot of water in the room now the two orbs keeping it liquid. Beth knew the creatures didn’t have to come in. They could just wait until she drowned. She grabbed a fist full of charges and ran to the wires with Pedro’s screen. Purple was the base colour for data. Thankfully there was only one. She looked at the frayed end. That wasn’t going to plug into Pedro’s screen. She needed an adapter.
Luckily there was a charger cable on the bench. She cut the wire off with the sword and stripped the insulation off with her teeth. Now it was just a simple case of red to red. Blue to blue. Green to… there was a lot of wires. Orange, yellow, Blue and yellow.
She glanced at the door. If they pushed again without her there they’d meet little resistance. They could just come straight in. The only thing stoping them was the knowledge that she had explosives in there with her.

Maybe Zeek would have been right for her? He seemed pretty self contained, so wasn’t likely to rely on her for anything, and when she was giving mixed signals he called her on it straight away instead of letting things build up. “Urrrgh!” Beth groaned to herself. “Stop it! Not now!” She punched the side of her head a couple more times.
Because the two sides of her nature weren’t properly separate and distinct. It was hard to say what was going on in her head. Which side was now driving. Which side was now the little voice in the back. Not without quite a bit of therapy, and she didn’t have the time for that.
The water was waist high now. She climbed up onto the bench. The lights continued to flicker more off than on. During the seconds that the lights were off, Beth noticed, on the fabric walls either side of the door, two red glows. They were cutting their own doors through the ice walls, with their heated swords.
Beth readied a charge, the fabric on the left side of the door slashed open and a creature started to climb through as Beth counted, 6,7,8, She threw the charge, 9. The moment it touched the creatures right arm, it exploded. Obliterating a section of forearm. Its sword fell into the water the blade sizzling. The hand’s autonomic nature not allowing it to let go. Beth grinned. That was an unbelievably lucky shot. Both for aim and timing. Beth knew how lucky it was, but to them, the appearance would have been that it exploded due to contact.
Beth turned on three more charges and threw them without waiting. She stripped wires and twisted them together as fast as she could. The three charges went off in quick succession. She didn’t look to see what damage they’d done. Finally she plugged the charge wire into the screen. A message box popped up for the briefest of moments before disappearing again. Beth spread out the bare wires that were shorting each other out. The window popped up again. ”Do you trust this computer?” Was the message, with yes/no boxes below. Before she could tap yes it went off again. She cursed. Activated two more charges, and threw them.
The water was now chest high and she was standing on the bench. She pulled at the tattered fabric that hid the ice ceiling so that she could stand fully erect, hold the screen higher, and keep the wires out of the water. The message popped up again and she tapped yes. Then tapped run on the app Pedro had open.
The two green orbs turned off. Now the only light was from the flickering over head lights. Beth saw that there was a slim gap between the trunking for the lighting and the ice ceiling. She carefully slid the screen into the gap. Taking extra care not to let the wires fall in the water or short each other out. Patches of ice were starting to form on the black water. The thermal suit she was wearing wasn’t enough to stop her feeling the extreme cold.
Beth saw the red glow of an alien sword moving towards her under the icy surface. She activated her last charge and threw it in the water. Just before the glow reached her the charge blew. The body of a creature rose to the surface. Its arms making lazy uncoordinated swimming movements despite the hole in its spine.
With half frozen fingers, Beth grabbed the trunking and pulled her self up out of the water, hoping that the trunking wouldn’t come away from the ceiling.
Less than two minutes later the surface water was frozen. There was a three centimetre gap between her back and the ice surface. She relaxed down onto it. It cracked slightly but held. She rubbed her hands together, blew on them and tried her best not to die from the cold. Her thermal suit was hydrophobic so wasn’t actually wet, but nothing could keep out this level of cold.
She turned over. Looking down through the ice she could see it freezing solid. She crawled/slid along the ice towards the door through the 30 centimetre gap between the ice and the ceiling. The door wasn’t there though. It was under the ice. She span round and kicked as hard as she could at where she thought the top of the door was. It didn’t give. She could really use one last blasting cap now. She looked down through the ice and thought she could make them out on the floor less than two meters below her. “May as well be in China.” She said to herself.
Herself agreed.
She kicked and kicked again. Eventually the ice cracked and she broke through. She squeezed through the small gap into the hall outside the thumper room. Beneath her, trapped in the ice, she could see two creatures, frozen.
She slid on her belly towards the cargo lift. Slid over Pedro. His body had floated up. His face was only a few centimetres under the ice.
His eyes frozen open in horror for all eternity.
It took longer to break through the ice into the lift shaft. Beth didn’t know how long. Just that she had to rest once then quickly found that if she stopped moving even for a few seconds the cold came quickly in.
Both sides of her could feel how close death was.
“Is this what you wanted!?!” She shouted to herself “Loving this “excitement” are you!?” She knew a part of her was actually still enjoying fighting for her life.
Once in the lift shaft, in the dim glow of the emergency lighting, she was pleased to see a ladder fixed to one wall. It stretched up into what looked like infinity, but was, she knew, only a quarter of a mile.
Only a quarter of a mile of ladder to climb. Only.
After the first twenty minutes the batteries in the emergency lighting gave out. The rest of the climb was done in total darkness with fingers that couldn’t feel and hardly bend.

Eventually she made it. How long it took she had no idea. She’d been worried about how she was going to get out of the shaft at the top but found that the winch room for the lift was next to the shaft with only a rail separating the two. Once in the winch room she simply walked through the open door into the main space she’d stood in only… what was it? Two days ago? Three? She couldn’t figure it out. Thinking had become hard.
If she didn’t warm up soon she’d die.
This building ran on its own power. It had its own lighting and heat, but it wasn’t enough heat. She was still freezing. She put on one of the space suits, and that worked. It had its own internal battery powered heating system that warmed her up quickly. The gloves were especially welcome. She didn’t think she’d lose any fingers, but couldn’t be sure.
She looked around. There were boxes everywhere. She’d easily survive the month to the next transport.
Physically at least.
But a month with only herself to talk to? She annoyed herself at the best of times. It occurred to her that this was that sound proof room she’d wished for earlier, but she didn’t have the energy for a shouting match, and anyway, if truth be told, it was that other self that had gotten her out of that impossible situation.
Something niggled her at the back of her mind. She was missing something. Thinking was still hard work. Even though she’d warmed up. She was missing something.
What was it?
She opened a box to see what she’d be eating for the next month. “Please be chocolate!” She said to herself. Both sides of her agreed on that. It was dried soup. This box at least. Melted ice would be the water needed but she couldn’t see a way of boiling it. Cold soup for a month? She opened another box… 
They were in the cargo lift!
The creatures were already in the cargo lift when Pedro was killed! They must have…
She looked round. The one’s in the lift must have come down from the surface!
From where she was now.
A sword blade came down on her from behind. Cleaved open her shoulder and stopped just before touching her right lung. She turned to see the space suit and her right side open like a book. She fell to the floor and the creature clamped its hand over her face. Before she passed out she felt something like worms wriggling under the skin.
Then blackness.

Suddenly she was back on the ship having sex with Zeek. Then she was on Earth. In the ship. In the corridor outside Zeek’s room. His phone scanned the lock and it opened. “Something’s wrong.” Beth said. Zeek acted as though she hadn’t spoken.
Then she was in the pacific. Sitting on the edge of the boat. She was suited but unzipped to the waist. Her hair was wet, which meant she was post dive. “This isn’t real.” She said. “what isn’t?” asked Micheals.
“You. This.” She answered.
Then she was at the South pole. This was the path. The ice now. The water later. It leads to Europa at the end. Then death?
Was she dead?
She felt at peace. She looked out over the antarctic ice and felt at peace. Then she felt sick. Her mind was clear. The other had gone.
That other her.
She was alone and suddenly it terrified her.
She’d wanted her gone for so long, but now she was, she felt utterly lost.
She fell back into blackness.
She was in a strange city under water. It was beautiful. She looked to her left and saw her other self. “This is where they live.” She told herself.

In the small building on the surface of Europa. The creature with its hand on Beth’s face fell back. Something was wrong. It tried to let go but somehow couldn’t.

The Beth’s stood in line in the grand hall. Khock-gol-cal stood triumphant before them. Both Beth’s cheered along with everyone else.
She’d never felt so good since the kelp. Finally she was…
It was earlier. They were in broads. Chasing a filthy blue gill. It was its own fault it shouldn’t have… Have… have…

She was out in the kelp. She didn’t have legs yet. She still had her tail, she’d only breathed air a few times and she knew she didn’t like it. She looked down. Her tail fin was almost fully split.
She didn’t want to walk. She wanted to stay in the kelp forever. Walkers never smiled.
She was in the cave. Mother was showing her how to share. Mother took her hand and placed it over her face and before long she knew everything mother knew. Some of it she didn’t like. Some of it she didn’t want to know.

Then suddenly she was human. She was someone called Beth and the thing she used to be was lying next to her. Gasping.
Beth looked to her side. Her shoulder was open and blood was hosing out of her. She tried to pull it together with her other hand.
“What the hell was that!?” She asked herself. She already knew the answer. They had some sort of way of sharing, or rather taking information, but it had gone wrong somehow and she’d taken from the creature instead. Had she done it consciously? She didn’t know.
While the creature was reading one of her, had it been unaware that there was another? And that had allowed the other to swim up stream into its mind?
She’d lost herself for a while. Thought she was the creature. They were isolationists. They abhorred anything that wasn’t them. Though that hadn’t always been the way. There had been a time When Europa’s ocean had hundreds of intelligent species. Those days were gone though. The other species had been eradicated.
Then they turned on the broad fins amongst them, until the broad fins were gone. Then they turned on the split eyes and the ridge heads until they were pure. Except for the filthy blue gills. Then they were finally pure. Save from the six splits. With their gills segmented into six instead of the righteous five.
And so four billion became three, became two, became millions. Became hundreds of thousands. Each time all were the same, save but a few. Then the few were gone and some new difference, that had always been there, became more apparent than it had ever been before. The creature beside her was gasping. Eyes rolling around in its head.

There was a med kit on the wall between the door to the winch room and the cargo lift door. It was may be four meters away. A nanite injection could fix her wound in three or four hours. She tried to get up, but couldn’t. With her uninjured hand she reached for the creature’s sword and used it to hack one of its hands off. Its rubbery bones easier to cleave than human bones. Still lying on the floor she undid her suit and slipped it in over the wound. She pulled her shoulder in to close the gap. The hand’s autonomic response took over, and the worms burrowed under the skin. The pain went instantly. She knew there was some sort of anaesthetic effect connected with the hand. It would do for the few minutes she needed to get to the med kit and sort it out properly.
With great difficulty she got to her feet. She looked down at the creature. She’d done something to it, without knowing what, and now it was blank.
She knew everything it knew and realised that the only way this species could survive its self, was if it had something else to kill. For one day they’d stopped killing each other. This day. Their only hope of survival was to move out into the solar system and concentrate on killing humans.

The scientist in her knew there was a book deal in this.


That other half of her, with their new knowledge, knew how to kill ‘em all.

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some sort of artist or something. with problems and issues. I draw stuff
All cartoons and original writing ©Nigel Auchterlounie 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012

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