|It's Cold As Hell
Author: The System Mother PM
FICTION. Man's first manned exploration base is finally settling in. Internationally renowned, the first Human settlement on Mars is a surprising success. The problem... something else doesn't think so. Third chapter live!Rated: Fiction M - English - Sci-Fi/Adventure - Chapters: 3 - Words: 5,719 - Updated: 11-22-09 - Published: 06-19-09 - id: 2687205
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
It's Cold As Hell
Tea and Firestorms
Daniel Acheson inhaled deeply, sliding out from his plump mahogany arm-chair and proceeded to straighten the flaps of his uniform jacket. He scratched his nose and tore a tea packet, popping the bag into a pitcher of ice water sat on the corner of the desk. Watching the clear liquid settle into a gradient of lucid brown, he leaned in to pour himself a cup. Daniel picked a cast iron lighter from his pocket to light a small, glassed-in red candle beside the replaced pitcher, and then removed a volcanic shard paperweight from the top, to allow air to ventilate through tiny slits drawn around the edges.
"Hey... Dan, you have a minute?" There came a subtle knock at his lopsided office door,
"got a lot of minutes, Molly. Come in." With one causal flick of the man's wrist, a latch creakily gave way, allowing for the heavy iron door to shudder open. "what can I do for you?"
With a level brow, Daniel Acheson still managed to eye the woman suspiciously. Molly Flynn was pleasantly average. She wore her bouncy red curls in a frazzled bun, and a clay-stained lab coat draped her shoulders. A grafittied plastic clipboard was clutched closely to her breast as she spoke,
"find any aliens today?" She sarcastically uttered with a girlish giggle; the old soldier just sighed a breath of frustration, and with the flare of a nostril and swig of iced tea, Daniel grunted,
"Kamal put you up to this? Because I can tell you, straight up, I'm not in the mood." He watched her cheekish grin quickly fade, yet she still reluctantly spoke back up,
"you know this project is gonna lose it's funding, right? Kamal says practical money is being wasted, and it's a joke. Sounded good on paper... bringing some alien enthusiast to check out the area, but face it, Dan... we have HUMAN needs to worry about right now; hunting for something that probably doesn't even exist, well... it's stupid, really, and I have to go with Kamal on this one," there was a long, rather awkward pause, and then peeped a "sorry," as she watched the dour man's face sink even lower.
"When the expedition makes first contact, and I'm back on Earth- there is no way in Hell I'm coming back here to save these people." He uttered in a spiteful tone, watching the woman's brows perk, and she shook her head quickly with another obnoxious laugh,
"you're losing your funding, not your job, Dan. You're still our linguistics expert." Molly restated with a continued stupid grin plastered on her lips- the kind of smile that insinuated that she was talking to a slow child, or some sort of retard. Dan was annoyed; this was his job, his funding, and his life's dream on the line, and doltish Molly from Medical was making a mockery of it all.
"Did you always want to be a doctor?" Daniel Acheson finally found the calm center to talk. Molly, although seeming puzzled, returned in rhetoric, "did you always want to the laughing stock of a Martian base?" He still felt surprisingly calm, and watched her exhale and then scratch the back of her neck in surrender,
"I'm sorry, Dan. No one actually wants to see anyone shipped off of the base, but face it... aliens, crackpot conspiracy theories- you're a regular National Inquirer, and we don't have room for that. This is a scientific expedition, and your xenology just doesn't cut it. This is good, American tax-payer's money going into your science fiction..." Molly, by this time, had taken a seat on the edge of his desk, swinging her legs and continuously fixing her stark white nurse's miniskirt,
"you're a nice guy, and you do the language thing. They won't get rid of you 'less Cromwell learns Sumerian. We aren't here to make first contact with your imagination, Dan... we're here to catalog Mars." She reached out to give him a playful tap on the shoulder.
"Tea?" Daniel offered the pitcher in exasperation.
"Yeah." Molly snatched it, filling the glass with more ice than tea.
"Ever since I was five, I was the kid who wanted to go to Space Camp, and meet the aliens." He frowned, running a slender, bony hand through his tatty grey hair.
"What five year old kid didn't? I'm sure pretty much everyone on this base has claimed to have had some kind of extraterrestrial encounter." The doctor shrugged it off, and Daniel dug a fist onto the desktop,
"I didn't, and I've never met an alien, so I don't really think you understand what I'm getting at. I majored in Ancient History and Biology back in Ohio State. I'm finally here, on Mars, and they won't even let me try!" He rose his voice harshly, and sniffed when Molly huffed,
"you're working through the government. Surely, we've boldly gone to Mars, but there hasn't been a single life signature besides our team, and we've swept, like, half of this sector, already. It's politics, and what ever looks best in the press, is what they want to hear. Us setting this base up is enough, and anything else is just back-page news in the Science section." Molly confessed with a sorrowful expression; Daniel Acheson looked positively awful.
"Look, if you're planning on going awol to prove your point, count me out. I never heard anything." She raised her hands with this inconspicuous look on her face, and averted her eyes from Daniel.
"Thanks for the tea." The girl tipped her glass toward him, took one last sip, and carefully set it down on an artifact gold-trim ebony Egyptian side-table on her way out.
With a whispered command, the dense titanium shields that protected his windows from the frequent firestorms and blustery desert winds slid open in a spiral fashion, allowing for a heavy downpour of red sand to spill from the outside sill. The landscape, outside, was nearly invisible as a violent sandstorm stampeded through the area. Daniel took another sip of tea, and bent beneath his desk to rummage for some papers.
The layout of the base was drawn in a pentagonal scheme, surrounded by a few tons of aluminum plaited steel wall. There was a sentry post suspended above each point on the outer-complex wall, stood on reinforced steel stilts, and the entire inner base was shrouded by a hefty dome of laminated glass. On a separate sheet, Daniel made quick note of security camera positions, patrol rounds, and spotlight movements- the man sighed a breath of hopelessness; there was a sentry tower set right beside each exit, and he would never be able to leave without official documents, or risk being gunned down for compromise.
Just as he was about to close the folder, his candle flickered, the lights sparked, and before he knew it, he was seeing red. Daniel knocked his tea over in the darkness, clutching his ears against the wooping screams of the emergency alarm. His feet felt like they were rested on scalding coals, and he touched his forehead to confirm sweat dampening his face. The digital thermometer planted in the nearby wall rattled, numbers scrambled, and as he watched it, the man tucked his knees up against his chest, and began ripping out drawers to retrieve his pistol. The soles of his feet were already blistering from the heat.
Daniel heard no screams, and ducked with a flinch when sparks popped and fizzled from the ceiling. With a cup of his hand over hacking breaths, Daniel searched desperately for the wall in the mess of roaring sirens and blinking lights; it sizzled and steamed on contact.
"What the hell...?" He mustered in a whisper to himself, finally being able to shove a creaking door loose enough to slip through. Daniel had scratched up his arms shouldering through; his blood was black in the buzzing crimson emergency luminescence.
"Anyone out here!?" His voice eerily echoed off of overgrown walls of criss-crossed wiring and scorched metal. No reply. A spark-flecked gust blew down from the ceiling vents; he could hear an incessant scraping rapping inside of the vent directly above him. The blackened stub of a hand hung limply from between the widened grate-slits; someone had tried to escape.
"Anyone out here!?" He called again, but was only met by another searing gust of ashen wind. The corridor's horrible red lighting balanced on unhinged circuit plates and uprooted iron boards- Daniel felt queasy, like he was descending the long road to Hell. The man clutched his pistol so tightly, he felt his knuckles turning white.
Finally, from the cracks in a slashed window shield, Daniel's worst fears were realized. Small craters dented the ground outside, caved in with debris of aluminum and glassy martian sand. The high walls surrounding the compound had been battered, and charred bones littered the grounds. The once-proud line of international flags were swissed with scorched holes, and noticeable splatters of blood painted the poles.
Daniel stepped over Molly's disfigured body. She had died screaming, mouth still agape and body striped with heavy burnt gashes.
"Why did- how did I...," the man could not bear to formulate a sentence- he was struck with shock. How was he still alive? What happened... who happened? The wounds to the flags had appeared like bullet-holes, Molly had looked whipped, those fingers had been carefully severed, and that wall had been rammed. This had to have been an attack, intentional and intelligent.
"Dammit." Daniel snatched up the last spacesuit beside an airlock exit, checking diligently for punctures, before slipping it on over top of his heavy, soot-stained uniform. The man carefully fastened on a heavy white containment helmet, and strapped the half-empty oxygen tank to his back. Eleven pounds, and he was already feeling it. He rigged the oxidized pump to the receiver on the underside of his helm, and unsealed the airlock. It whirred and moaned, before swinging open with an ear-shattering crash!
The soles of Daniel's aluminum-plaited boots cooled as he stepped off of the last sliver of civilization and into the blistering Martian frontier.