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......MUTANT RAIN FOREST ISSUE........JUNE, 2016
Illustrations above by Shasta Lawton.

Be sure to Subscribe and Follow this blog to keep updated on the FREEZINE of Fantasy and Science Fiction. If you or a friend are interested in submitting your short stories or longer works for daily serialization in a future issue, please contact us at freezinefantasysciencefiction@gmail.com, and we will reply in due time. Thank you for your participation in helping to support this nonprofit creative writing platform. Don't miss out on the current issue featuring Sanford Meschkow, John Shirley, Brian Stoneking, Vincent Daemon, and Bruce Boston. Featuring art by Will Ferret, Jason Heckenliable, Kara Koma, Marge Simon, and Shasta Lawton.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

SPACE IS A DEADLY SISTER: IX

by Gil James Bavel


Mission Day 722:
15:20 hours
Unknown Ganymede station
Second Shift




I finished recording the door mechanism and put my helmet back on. One last bounce onto the ledge and over the paperweight that sat between the doors. The second robot stared me down as if we were about to draw on each other in an old 20th century western. Instinctively, I looked back at the defunct robot to see if I could get access to my tire tool. It appeared as if, when it had powered down, the first robot’s magnetic inductors had failed, because the tire tool was lying on the floor next to it. I leaned over, reached down, and took it confidently in one hand.

I then approached on the second robot’s position, brandishing the tire tool in front of me. The robot backed up tentatively and I then knew how I was going to manage my way. I threw the tire tool down, past the first robot’s dead hand—about four feet further down the hall. The robot backed away immediately. It didn’t want to tangle with metal objects on the floor. I continued this, tool over metal hand, until I had backed the robot up against its original door. I made sure to leave the tire tool in its way so that I’d be able to pick up the first robot’s hand. Grabbing this, I made my way back to the T-junction, to the consternation of the second robot, unable to advance.

Now I was ready. I removed my helmet and prepared to activate the actuator that would play the signal from the door. First I held up the robot’s spherical hand and set it inside the ducted indentation. Then I pressed the button in my helmet. From the additional interface emerged a small button. I leaned forward and pressed it with my forehead.

The ceramic indentation pulled the robot’s hand out of mine with a strong electromagnetic field, and I felt a grinding underneath me. Looking toward the chasm, I saw that the rail in the middle was opening, and the bridge was extending into the darkness beyond. Lights flickered on. Success!

Smiling, I put my helmet back on, but then remembered how I had gotten here. This was the last place I could go. Wherever this bridge led, there was the end of my journey. To be prudent, I waited until the grinding stopped, which was at least ninety seconds. When the bridge had extended all the way, I grabbed my helmet, clipped the plasma torch back onto my jumpsuit, and took a first tentative step onto the bridge. Sturdy enough. I made my way across the bridge, being careful not to look down. There was something really strange about the gravity here, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. It was somehow stronger, but it should be weaker, I thought. It felt more like Luna’s. No matter.

On into the darkness I walked. It took me about a minute to get across to the other side, where I found another hallway much like the one I’d left. This door had another simple button, which I pressed. The door opened and I was greeted by a warm temperature, and a warmer glow from the lights inside. And here I could smell life. This was a familiar smell. Someone was indeed here. And I had questions.

I was in an outer access area, with simple accommodations and a hydroponics bay. It was not unlike the one in our installation, smaller, but also older. It looked as if one half had been recently cleared and new vegetation was growing, the other half was full of familiar veggies and fruit. I looked at some of the food there—I knew better than to touch it, but my mouth watered at the thought. It had been some time since I’d eaten. Focus.

Looking around, I could see a restroom and a shower/locker area to my left. There was only one shower, with a detachable wand and a metal bench. It could not service more than a few people. I wondered who lived here. To my right, I could see a hatch above the ledge near a drink station, and a round bin next to a cabinet with two doors in front. The hatch appeared to be closed, but was round, and looked as if it might accommodate a cylinder about eighteen inches wide.

I grew curious and opened the doors to the cabinet. Napkins, silverware, food paste tubes, condiment packets—someone not only lived here, but received regular shipments from home. But not from the Friday Run ships—they would have told us. I’m sure they would have. The occupants of this station also received fuel from somewhere—perhaps the auto-bots that mined Io for H-3, hydrogen and other ores. I stepped on the lever to the bin and a similar chute to the hatch above led down into the dark. Waste disposal. Fairly well planned out for such a small population. I unclipped the plasma welder and held it firmly in my right hand.

Ahead of me I could see another door, this one with a familiar panel on it—it looked exactly like the ones in our installation. So it was the company. I pressed my fist against the entry button, and the doors parted. Beyond was an all-too-familiar sight.

Something like a video studio, with a room-wide telescreen on one wall, and a camera on the other. I could see other things in my peripheral vision, but straight ahead of me—impossibly—was First Director David Chenowith of the Company. He was seated behind his command center desk, and seemed truly startled to see me. He regained his composure and put down the pad he was working with. He spoke with a familiar voice, but now it was uncompressed and, in real life, raspier than I expected.

“Well, son, I must congratulate you on your ingenuity and tenacity. I imagine you must have a dozen questions. I was truly sorry to see that Ganymede Base was compromised by the rogue comet.”

I could no longer contain my rage. “Compromised? Compromised-?” He obviously had eyes on our base, hell, he had probably had eyes in our base. “Okay, so it’s a rogue comet now. Did the Company know it was coming? Could they have saved the crew?”

“No, son. There was no way to save the crew or we would have, you must understand that.” He looked me unflinchingly in the eye.

“How much lead time did they have? Why have another base so close and not evacuate the crew? Why did you let them die? I loved her!” I was exasperated.

Chenowith shifted in his chair and crossed his legs under his desk. “They knew the risks when they signed on. It’s a dangerous life out here. That’s why you’re paid so well. Why your families are provided for so well in the event of your deaths. The benefits and perks are better than any other in the Corps. Earthside officers don’t make the kind of money that you do,” he said, matter-of-factly.

“What possible reason could you have for not evacuating us?”

“There was nothing we could do. We suspected the comet would affect the stability of Ganymede, but we weren’t sure. If it did, telling the crew wouldn’t do any good. If it didn’t, it would have been a close call.”

“Why did you disable the JSDA?” I asked.

“We did nothing to the array. We only modified your Commander’s COM system software so the alarm would not sound. Knowing there was a potential threat would have done you no good. Panic would have ensued, and no one would ever have survived anyway. Frankly, the only reason you did is because you were already outside in your suit. I must credit you for your ingenuity on making it this far,” he replied.

I was getting angrier with every word he said. “We all could have survived down here! Look at the room! It’s bigger than our entire installation!”

“But there are no supplies for a team as big as yours. My needs are small. As you are now aware, I am the only one here. I was the first settler sent here, and it was because of my advanced age that I was approved at all. When I came here, we did not have the advances in radiation shielding and plasma field control that we enjoy today. I have been through three bouts of severe radiation poisoning, and let me tell you, it’s no fun, son.” Chenowith looked at me.

“Neither is losing your entire team! We all could have survived until the Friday Run in here!”

“But who would have gone back?” he answered. “In the cargo hold of a shuttle? No one would have survived in the hold. It’s not meant for human transport. It’s not pressurized and has no radiation shielding. The Friday Run ship only seats two, you know that. Would you have drawn straws? Killed each other? Left five to die? We had no way of knowing for certain that you would have been affected at all. Predicting the effects of short period comets is hardly an exact science.” He set his hands in his lap, and leaned back in his chair.

“You should have given us the choice. We could have moved the fuel storage tanks away from the installation. We would have taken our chances.”

“Then how do you know that it wouldn’t have been something else to go wrong?” He queried.

Chenowith’s answers were getting dodgier and dodgier. His confidence was eroding and I could tell. It was palpable. He kept his composure, but I could feel his authority waning.

“And why have you been sending us messages from here as if you were on Earth? What’s with the pre-recorded background?”

“I’m sorry, son, but you’re not authorized for that level of clearance. Suffice it to say that the Space Corps and The Company deemed it mission-critical to have a commander off-site, and that will have to be enough for you.”

That tied it. Waving my plasma welder, I said, “I’m coming over there, old man, and I’m going to burn the answers out of you.” I advanced on the Director’s desk.

“I wouldn’t advise violence, son,” said Chenowith, and pulled a micro laser pistol from his lap, pointing it at my head. “This is the one weapon that, fired in here, will cause the core no harm whatsoever. It will, however, leave you quite dead. I’m sure you’ll see that I will be able to shoot you well before you can reach me.”

He had me there. My mind was reeling. He had secrets he was keeping and I was determined to find out what they were. Or die trying.

I was acutely aware of the fact that I had nothing left to lose.


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