Friday, June 2, 2017


“All right, all persons are accounted for. You really sure you want to stay there?” Williams set her tablet down and gave Alex a pointed look through the portal, wind whipping heavy snowflakes around him.

He gave an exaggerated shrug so it would be easily visible through his environment suit. “Yeah, there’s still some work that can be done here.” A handful of the first group through  had elected to stay even after nightfall, despite the setbacks to construction. It should have been at least two-thirds complete, but the weather had limited them to the reactor, command center, mess hall, and one barracks dome.

“Suit yourself. Stay warm, Sorenson.” She gave him a nod and went back to herding the group back out to the ship.

“Fully intend to.” It was already 20 below zero, and expected to drop further as the blizzard worsened through the night. Alex turned and began his trudge back to the advance base site, following a navigation beacon, the trail of footsteps already filled back up.

He knew better than to try the command tent. There were six people, fully suited, along with most of the equipment that needed to be installed stored in it, so that it wouldn’t get buried in snow. To say it was overcrowded was an understatement.

The barracks were right out, as well, as he was uninterested in laying on the floor and staring at the wall. So, to the mess hall. At least it was almost dinner time.

The outer door opened after a moment of hesitation, the wind overpowering it. The mess was also the only tent with the airlock installed. He helped the door close and hit the temperature button, the blue dot next to it turning red as it normalized with the inside, snow accumulation dripping off his suit into the grated floor, the inner door sliding open once they were aligned.

Alex ran a finger over the joints of his helmet, sliding ice out from between the plates so they would retract properly and not dump slush on his neck like last time. The atmosphere in the helmet hissed out as the faceplate separated and the whole assembly stowed away without a shower of ice shards this time. “Swear to god I can feel the cold through this thing...” He said to himself as he stepped inside.

Abbot was the only one there, hunched over a plate and reviewing a tablet. He didn’t look up. “Suits run better when it’s cold. Easier to dump waste heat.”

“Aware.” He’d picked that one word reply up from Stana after hearing her say over the open comm channel two dozen times over the afternoon. Most of the human side of the team tried to explain things she knew to her, but the majority had been directed at Abbot.

The scientist sat up a little straighter. “Don’t start with that, too.”

“I never pass up an opportunity to help someone learn.” He started to dial in dinner on the dispenser, tapping through a half dozen menus.

That earned him a short, sharp laugh. Abbot and Stana had eventually come to an understanding. “Have you seen the manifest for the next shipment of supplies?”

“I haven’t, what’s up?” Alex had rolled the dice on spaghetti and meatballs, something that most dispensers didn’t screw up, in his experience. The machine dinged and he retrieved something that was not conforming to his expectations.

“Four double length pallets with your name on them.” He took a drink and continued, “not literally with your name on them, but I figure they’re for you.”

“Don’t leave me hanging here.” He sat down across from Abbot, poking at his bowl of steaming hot meatball fragments and pasta shards.

“One brand new Corvin 85-E.” Abbot highlighted the lines on his tablet and held it up.

That improved Alex’s mood a little. Corvin made good vehicles, and the 85 series was ground to orbit rated, though quite compact. “Oh, really? I didn’t know the 85’s could be palletized.”

“Looks like they can!”

Abbot’s enthusiasm about this struck Alex as a bit odd. “So, you into ships, too?”

“Little bit.” He scraped his bowl clean with a spoon, washed down the sauce with the rest of his tea. “Always wanted a De Luca Azzurra.”

Alex wanted to, but did not, roll his eyes. An Azzurra was what people said when they didn’t know any better. Nothing wrong with them, but beyond the aggressive styling they were pedestrian. “Ah yeah, nice. Ever seen a Masamune GX8?”

“No, what’s that?”

“Older model, kinda rare. Used to be stripped down and used for racing.”

“Didn’t know. I’ll look it up when we get back on the other side of the portal.” He tapped his finger on his chin, looking over the manifest again. “What should we name it?”

“Name what?” He didn’t just...

“The Corvin. I like ‘Icarus’, myself.”
Alex didn’t say anything for a long moment, interrupted by the airlock humming as it heated up. The inner doors shuttered open, and Stana stepped in with a brief nod before heading to the dispensers.

“There’s a lot wrong to unpack there. We’re not naming the ship Icarus. Didn’t you see what happened to the drone they sent to check the upper atmosphere?” The drone, Alpha-6, had passed beyond some kind of low density forcefield a few kilometers up and come back down as a slug of molten alloys. Alex was not superstitious by any measure, but the similarities were uncomfortable.

“Well now we know where the boundar-”

“No. I’m the first pilot, naming is my right. And Icarus is right out.”

“What is the problem with Icarus? It rolls off the tongue, even if it’s a nonsense word.” Stana added herself to the conversation, the Tsla’o sitting down beside Abbot. She moved with a remarkable amount of finesse in the strength boosted armor, cup of coffee in one hand, tube of food gel in the other. She said it again with a heavy Tsla accent, “ih-kar-is. Smooth but meaningless.”

“Ok, ancient myth, right? This guy, a master craftsman named Daedalus, builds a huge maze for king Minos. The king imprisons Daedalus and his son, Icarus, so they won’t tell people about the maze or what was in it. You know how royalty are, right?

Stana watched him for a few seconds, expressionless. “No, I have no idea.” She took a long pull off her gel tube while staring him down.

“Right. Anyway, Daedalus builds himself and his son wings out of wax and feathers, they fly the hell out of there. Icarus forgets what he’s doing, flies too close to the sun, his wings melt, and then he falls out of the sky and drowns.”

Stana sipped her coffee, nodding. “Yes, we will not name an aircraft after someone who falls from the sky.”

“See?” He sucked the italian-ish sauce from his fork and pointed it at Stana. “She gets it.”

Abbot relented on that front. “Ok, fine. What about Prometheus?”

“Right, chained to a boulder and having his liver eaten every day. Sure.”

“The Valkyrie.” He almost sounded conspiratorial as he said it, as though he’d been keeping it secret.

“They decide who lives and dies on the battlefield, no way. Has nothing to do with this mission at all.” Alex drained the remainder of his coffee, cold now, and went for another cup at the portable dispenser. “Stana, give me a name that’s better than what he’s suggesting.”

“Perhaps the... Ankao. Translates into explorer.”

Alex returned to his seat with a fresh steaming mug, gesturing at both of them. “See, look at that. No death or organs getting ripped out or anything.”

“That is not to say such things couldn’t happen to an explorer, of course. Someone who takes that mantle may be more likely to die horribly than someone who does not.” She added a moment later.

“Helpful as always.” He shook his head.

“Fine, what are you going to call it?” Abbot leaned back in his chair, arms crossed over his chest.

Alex lifted his coffee to his lips, a smirk hidden behind the synthetic mug. “I’m thinking... The Titanic.”

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