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post #1 of 14 (permalink) Old 05-19-10, 10:23 AM Thread Starter
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Default An Unwelcome Chill

This is a story I started on the old Black Library forum and never finished. The premise is blatantly stolen from a famous John Carpenter movie...


An Unwelcome Chill

One


The blip on the screen was changing course again.

‘Whoever they are, they didn’t pay a lot of attention in flight school,’ murmured Shank.

‘Another change of heading?’ asked Lieutenant Skagard from beyond the console. ‘Already?’

‘Yessir,’ the Private confirmed. ‘Changing course to 104 mark 66 mark 93 – wait. Scrub that, sir. Changing course to 119 mark 38 mark 18.’

‘What?’ Skagard spun in his chair, frowning at the systems operator. ‘Is he drunk?’

‘Looks like it, sir,’ agreed Shank, throwing a number of switches to align a second sensor dish.

___


Out in the howling tempest, latched to a rocky promontory like a steel wall-flower, the satellite dish began to grind around to its new acquisition. Ice shattered along its ventral axis as the hundred-ton dish rotated ponderously.

___


In the operations room, Shank’s fuzzy screen took on a sharper definition.

‘Still changing course, sir,’ he confirmed, tapping the touch-sensitive screen for further information. ‘Dish 3 is picking up some sort of contrail. Could be debris.’

‘Battle damage, perhaps,’ said the Lieutenant, hanging over the systems operator’s shoulder. ‘That would explain the erratic course. He’s still inbound?’

‘1500 kilometres and closing.’

‘Keep an eye on him,’ advised Skagard, rolling his chair to another console.

___


Captain Belial was in the latrines when the wall-vox behind him chirped.

‘Dammit,’ he muttered, zipping himself up. He marched to the communications device and hammered the plastic transmit button with his fist.

‘What?’ he barked.

‘Lieutenant Skagard in the operations room, sir,’ said the scratchy voice. ‘We have an unidentified vessel on an erratic inbound course.’

‘What do you mean, unidentified?’

‘The mechanicus database doesn’t have any record of this hull design,’ said the voice. ‘Could be a tramp freighter, but I thought you’d want to know.’

Belial pursed his lips in thought. ‘Is he close?’

‘Well inside the outer marker,’ crackled the speaker. ‘If he holds his present course, he’ll hit the atmosphere in about three minutes. The problem is he’s going much too fast for re-entry and his angle’s all wrong. He’ll bounce right off – if he doesn’t blow up first.’

The Captain tapped a finger against the stained plastic vox. It really wasn’t his problem if some fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants privateer came to a sticky end in the arse-end of Imperial space. He’d just rather that sticky end came about on someone else’s world.

‘Notify the men,’ he said. ‘I’ll be up in a minute.’

___


The freighter wobbled on its axis, hurtling towards the grey-white planet below. Much of the outer hull was undamaged, but a section of plating had been stitched with holes from inside and was now venting fuel and atmosphere.

Something inside the vessel sparked and blue tongues of flame knifed from the series of small arms impacts. Black carbon scoring stretched back along the flank of the shuddering spacecraft as the flames grew in size and ferocity.

___


‘Situation report,’ Belial demanded when he strode into the operations room.

‘He’s changed course again, sir,’ said Skagard. ‘Now entering a parabolic curve straight into the atmosphere.’

‘No re-entry correction?’ the Captain frowned.

‘No sir. I’m not even sure he’s at the wheel anymore. Looks like the planet’s gravity is reeling him in.’

‘He’ll be atomised.’

A green light blinked on Skagard’s console. ‘Dr Crowley reports the medical bay ready to receive casualties.’

‘Understood,’ said the Captain, looking down at the readouts on Private Shank’s screen. ‘Although the speed they’re coming down at, I’m not sure they’ll be needed.’

___


The craft dipped lower towards the ice-covered planet. Hull panels, buckled from the heat and velocity, were beginning to peel away. The flames stretched further and further aft as the superheated fuel sliced open a narrow trench in its flank.

Abruptly, something structural was cut through and the port wing twisted and sheared off in an explosion of fragmented alloy. The ship yawed violently.

___


The shimmering green streak on the screen suddenly flashed and splintered.

‘Separation,’ said Shank, hitting controls. ‘Looks like a section of the ship just broke away.’

‘Escape pod?’

‘Could be, sir,’ shrugged the Private. ‘Although it’s a bit late. They’ll hit the upper atmosphere any–’

The screen flashed again and Shank winced in pain, yanking off his headset. The fizzle of solar static was clearly audible through its earpiece.

When the screen cleared, a score of tiny flaring particles were spreading across the screen, scattering like shotgun pellets. A single larger mass continued on through this debris cloud, speeding towards the ground.

‘That’s that,’ said Shank, screwing a finger in his buzzing ear. ‘Looks like the ship exploded on atmospheric contact. That last chunk must be the escape pod.’

‘Intact?’

‘Think so, sir. Whether the men inside survived is another matter.’

Belial watched the streak vanish off the screen. ‘Get me a directional fix on the impact site, Private,’ he said, straightening and rubbing his back.

‘Yes sir.’

He turned to the Lieutenant. ‘Tell Sergeant Rose I want a scouting party organised. And get Seagate to warm up one of the Crawlers.’

‘You think there are survivors, sir?’ asked Skagard as he reached for his console vox.

‘I really couldn’t care less,’ said the Captain. ‘What I’m worried about is the distress beacon from that escape pod. The whole point of being a secret listening post is that no one knows you’re there. We don’t need another ship sniffing around this system if we can help it. Especially an enemy ship.’

‘Understood, sir.’

Belial ground his teeth in annoyance, watching Private Shank triangulating the impact site. ‘I want that expedition underway within the hour,’ he said. ‘And tell Rose to break out the weapons.’
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post #2 of 14 (permalink) Old 05-19-10, 11:15 AM
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Pretty good read, and I legitimately have no idea who John Carpenter even is...but meh.

One thing that I think you could work on in the future is the actions surrounding the dialogue, for example:

Quote:
‘Situation report,’ Belial demanded when he strode into the operations room.

‘He’s changed course again, sir,’ said Skagard. ‘Now entering a parabolic curve straight into the atmosphere.’

‘No re-entry correction?’ the Captain frowned.

‘No sir. I’m not even sure he’s at the wheel anymore. Looks like the planet’s gravity is reeling him in.’

‘He’ll be atomised.’

A green light blinked on Skagard’s console. ‘Dr Crowley reports the medical bay ready to receive casualties.’

‘Understood,’ said the Captain, looking down at the readouts on Private Shank’s screen. ‘Although the speed they’re coming down at, I’m not sure they’ll be needed.’
In this portion, you tell the story strictly through dialogue, without much description or narrative. While it wasn't a huge issue, it's something that may detract from more intense portions of the story in the future.

Looking forward to seeing more


Heresy-Online's Expeditious Stories Challenge 13-06: "Serenity" has started, get your stories in by July 11th!

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3. Nothing Boc said should ever be taken seriously. Unless he's talking about being behind you. Then you run like fuck.
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post #3 of 14 (permalink) Old 05-19-10, 11:56 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the feedback, BOC.


Two

2nd Lieutenant Blanker wasn’t sure what he’d wanted to find at the crash sight, but he was fairly sure this wasn’t it.

Most of the men crammed into the Crawler beside him were just grateful to be out on an honest-to-throne mission after months of interminable boredom and routine. He suspected they really didn’t care what lay at the end of it – just getting out and doing something was a relief. An endless expanse of hard-packed snow stretching in all directions might not have been their first choice, but it was still a change from cramped oil-stained corridors, piping and gantry floors.

Back in the Machinarium, Private Makasura had nearly run over Brother Mayhew, their resident Techpriest, as he attempted to anoint the Crawler’s hull for the journey. It seemed Blanker wasn’t the only one eager to get out into the open air.

He tapped the Crawler pilot on the shoulder as they grew closer to the slanting column of smoke. ‘Any transmissions?’

‘Nothing that I can pick up, Lieutenant,’ Makasura said. ‘If it was an escape pod, it must have got junked when it hit the glacier.’

The structure had smashed like an egg. Debris was scattered in a long expanding cone for several hundred metres. The largest pieces lay in shallow individual craters, formed when the surface melted from the heat of re-entry. Everything had been half-covered by drifting snow in the six hours it had taken Blanker’s party to reach the crash site.

In another six hours, all evidence of the impact would be smothered under a freezing white blanket.

‘Are you picking up anything at all?’ he asked.

‘Not much,’ said the pilot, gesturing at the console. ‘Some residual cosmic radiation, but that’s not unusual. The thermal imager’s not much use, either. Another hour or two and all this debris will be as cold as the snow around it.’

‘I don’t want to take any chances,’ Blanker said. ‘Even if the pod itself has broken up, the transmitter might have survived. We’ll have to collect it all.’

‘What do you want us to do, Lieutenant?’ Sergeant Rose asked from further back in the Crawler.

Blanker had been sent for reasons of medical expertise rather than leadership. The facility nurse and assistant to Dr Crowley, he was less experienced than the other command staff, but his rank still gave him jurisdiction over the mission.

‘Sergeant, have your men gather up all the pieces of the pod,’ he said. ‘Anything larger than a fist. We’ll pile it all together and destroy it with thermite.’

The soldiers grumbled and groaned at this, until the Sergeant cut them short.

‘Button up, you maggots!’ he snapped. ‘You got your orders – I hear so much as a mouse’s fart from any of you and you’ll be double-timing it back to the Machinarium in your skivvies!’

Sergeant Rose was a medical phenomenon. Nineteen times Division boxing champion and with a higher scar-to-body-tissue ratio than any man Blanker had ever seen, it was commonly accepted that the Sergeant was harder than a coffin nail. When he opened his mouth, the men closed theirs.

There was a general scuffle as the men squeezed into their exposure suits. The human body was a frail thing from a cosmic perspective and the wind chill on the Igness glacier brought the temperature down to roughly -60 degrees Celsius. To the unprepared, this meant hypothermia in seconds, frostbite in under a minute and, mercifully, death soon after.

The exposure suits were triple-insulated, electrically heated affairs complete with built-in gloves, helmet and over-boots. They would keep the average man alive, if not necessarily comfortable, in temperatures as low as -100.

They tramped clumsily down the Crawler’s belly-ramp and into the crunching snow.

Blanker felt the wind hit him immediately, even sheltered by the Crawler’s immense wheels, but it was tolerable. In fact, the wind-speed was well below normal for such an exposed area and as a consequence the visibility was much improved.

More typical weather on the Igness glacier was gusting wind up to 200kph and visibility of around five metres. Meteorology was next to useless in such a volatile climate and Blanker knew from bitter experience that this relative calm could change in minutes. For this reason, Private Makasura was staying aboard with orders to keep the engine running.

‘Okay, Tumbler and Cross – get over to the northern edge of the debris field and start working your way in,’ Sergeant Rose said, his voice sounding disembodied and slightly processed inside Blanker’s helmet. ‘Hook, you’re with me.’

The four men broke into two pairs, each making for a separate hunk of twisted metal. Blanker followed them a short way into the debris field, moving directly to the largest remaining section of the pod.

It was near impossible to tell architectural origins from the wreckage. Blanker stooped to lift a corkscrew of carbon scored metal and hefted it. His specialty was medicine rather than engineering, but the metal seemed unremarkable. It was almost certainly of Imperial design.

‘Sergeant Rose,’ he said into his helmet vox. ‘I think we’ll pile all the wreckage here. It’s about as central a point as we’re likely to get and this section looks too big to move by hand.’

‘Right you are, sir,’ replied his helmet speaker. ‘You heard the man, ladies. Time to earn your pay packets.’

They set to work.

___


Blanker was just about to call a halt after the next load of shrapnel when the shout came over his helmet vox.

An hour had passed and the men had carried or dragged virtually every chunk of pod they could find into a waist-high pile, fifty metres from the hulking Crawler. Already the northern side of the pile was beginning to build a modest snow drift and the wind was picking up, bringing with it swirling clouds of snow that frequently blocked his sight of the men around him.

They had found the transmitter beacon among the wreckage – in three pieces. It was marked with Imperial symbols of manufacture, but seemed to belong to a civilian craft rather than military. It looked like Captain Belial’s surmise of a drunken privateer was right, after all.

‘Sarge!’ The voice in his helmet was Private Hook’s and it sounded more surprised than alarmed.

Blanker turned in their direction, but couldn’t see much more than slanting snowfall.

‘Sarge,’ said the Private again. ‘Look at this.’

The seconds ticked out.

‘What is it?’ Blanker asked. ‘Private, what have you found?’

‘It’s a body, sir,’ said Hook. ‘Must have got thrown clear in the crash.’

‘Alive?’ It was a long shot, but Blanker felt compelled to ask.

‘I doubt it, sir.’

‘Stay where you are,’ the Lieutenant said. ‘I’m coming to you.’

He knew Hook’s general direction and set off into the blustering snow. After a few dozen strides, the hazy grey silhouettes of Hook and Sergeant Rose bloomed against the white and he quickened his pace.

The body lay between them, sprawled facedown as if it had indeed been thrown from the wreckage. It wore a flight suit common to spacecraft crew across the galaxy, but the fabric was torn and burst in a dozen places. Rising wind had shifted the skim of snow that had initially hidden the corpse. Its hands and feet were naked and pneumonic blue.

Blanker crouched awkwardly in the bulky suit and brushed snow away from the shoulders and neck. The insulated gloves were much too thick to sense a pulse, but habit made him go through the motions.

‘Dead, sir?’ asked Sergeant Rose. After six hours in sub-zero temperatures, it was unlikely to be anything else.

They rolled the corpse over. Blanker was mildly surprised to find it still supple and not frozen stiff.

It was, or had been, a man. Snow clung to his hair and eyebrows and the skin beneath had the same numb hue as his hands and feet, but there wasn’t a mark on him. His flight suit was all but shredded, but his skin was pristine.

‘No obvious signs of damage,’ he murmured, half to himself. ‘I’d have said the impact killed him by the looks of his clothing, but there’s no tissue damage. It looks more like he died of exposure.’

‘What do you want to do with him, sir?’ Rose asked.

‘Well, we can’t leave him here,’ the Lieutenant said, frowning down at the corpse. ‘We’ll take him back the medical bay. I can perform an autopsy there and find out for certain what killed him.’

The Sergeant shifted his feet.

‘Begging your pardon, sir,’ he said cautiously. ‘Wouldn’t it be better if we buried the gentleman out here? Only, I’m not sure what we’d do with him once we got him home, other than finding out the manner of his death, as you say.’

The Sergeant was correct, of course. Captain Belial would swallow his teeth when the search party returned with a half-frozen corpse they hadn’t set out with. There was no real reason to bring the body back – no dignity to be mustered from a burial at the listening post rather than right here where he had fallen. There was no justification Blanker could give the puzzled Sergeant other than, of course, boredom.

There was something slightly mysterious about the demise of this nameless space traveller and the Lieutenant itched to find out more. An autopsy would prove infinitely more fascinating than another excruciating round of heath checks and dietary programmes.

‘Nevertheless, Sergeant,’ he said. ‘I still intent to-’

He faltered.

The dead man had opened his eyes.
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post #4 of 14 (permalink) Old 05-19-10, 12:44 PM Thread Starter
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Three

Blanker’s heart performed a quick two-step and it took all his willpower to resist an urge to lunge backwards. He waited for the body to do something else, but the seconds passed and the man’s eyes stayed open; unfocused, ice-blue, glassy. A thick feathery snowflake landed on one staring pupil and there was no reaction.

‘A reflex,’ he said, hoping his voice sounded steady through the helmet vox. ‘Just a reflex. He’s definitely dead.’

‘You still want to take him back, sir?’ Sergeant Rose inquired. ‘Only, I think you had better check with the Captain first.’

‘Nothing more than a precaution, Sergeant, I’m sure,’ bluffed the 2nd Lieutenant. ‘You men go ahead and put the corpse into a carrier while I vox the command centre.’

He marched off through the crunching snow, missing the Sergeant’s raised eyebrows and the sidelong glance of Private Hook, who evidently didn’t share the Lieutenant’s conviction.

___


‘You’ve found what?’

‘A body, sir,’ Blanker said again, leaning over the Crawler’s vox console. ‘A single human male, perhaps thirty-five years of age. He was probably a member of the flight crew.’ Private Makasura sat nearby in the pilot seat, listening with interest.

‘No others?’ crackled Belial’s voice from the console speaker. The consonants sounded fuzzy, heavy with weather interference.

‘No sir. Just the one body. It looks like he’s the only one that got to the escape pod.’

‘Good,’ said the Captain. ‘Plant some thermite charges to clear up the wreckage and come on home.’

‘Yes sir,’ nodded Blanker. ‘I’m having the corpse sealed in a mortuary bag as we speak. I’ll have the rest of the pod destroyed momentarily.’

‘Sealed? What?’ The Captain sounded perplexed. ‘Leave the damn thing where you found it, Blanker.’

The Lieutenant rested a gloved hand on the vox console and twisted the frequency controller half a degree. The level of background static increased sharply.

‘Sir, the body doesn’t seem injured in any way. I thought it might be beneficial if I performed an autopsy. We may learn more about what happened on board the ship.’

‘Zzzever mind that, Lieutenant,’ fizzled the vox speaker. ‘Just leave the damn thing alone. It’ll bzzzzz…ssssssith the rest of the pod.’

‘I understand your concern, sir,’ consoled Blanker, twisting the controller further off the transmission frequency. ‘Let me assure you that there is absolutely no quarantine risk.’

‘Izzzzkkk….ffffantine risk, Blanker. I don’t care whassssss…ffffff…appened aboard that Throne-damned ship! Make no…fffffzzzzzzzz…to bring back anysssssssss…’

‘You’re breaking up badly, sir,’ half-shouted Blanker, turning the vox further off Belial’s frequency. ‘Don’t worry about this – I have everything in hand. You can rely on me, sir.’

‘Vvvvvvvfffffffff….ssssssszzzzzzz...’

‘Yes sir. Lieutenant Blanker out.’

He shut off the vox transmitter and leaned back. Makasura was staring at him.

‘Something you wish to say, Private?’

‘No, sir,’ the Crawler pilot said.

‘Good. Keep it that way.’

Whistling to himself, Blanker went back down the ramp to oversee the loading of the corpse.

___


Belial banged his fist on the vox console, but it made no change to the steady puttering static.

‘Blanker! Come in, Blanker!’

Behind him, Private Shank glanced at the meteorological survey unit. ‘There’s a big weather front moving in, sir. I guess it’s hitting them a bit earlier than us.’

‘The damned fool’s going to bring that body back here!’ the Captain ranted. ‘What’s he thinking?’

Lieutenant Skagard revolved a slow 360 degrees on his chair. ‘If I know Blanker, he’s thinking this will give him something better to do than check urine samples for the next six months.’

‘Urine samples?’ the Captain growled. ‘I’ll have him cleaning the latrines with his tongue before the day is out for this. He deliberately disobeyed my orders.’

‘The transmission was pretty garbled, Sam,’ said Skagard. ‘You have to consider the possibility he picked you up wrong.’

‘The hell he did,’ Belial said, bristling. ‘And you know it. Blanker’s been very good at getting things his own way up to now, but this time he’s crossed the line. I don’t like being manipulated.’ He returned to the vox console and keyed in Machine Stores.

‘Seagate here,’ said the second Crawler pilot after a moment.

‘Private, I want you to meet Crawler One in the Machinarium the minute it gets back. And bring one of the promethium units.’

‘You want a flamer, sir?’

‘That’s right – I’ll meet you there.’

‘Yes sir.’

Belial released the transmission button and cracked his hairy knuckles.

‘I wonder what’s going to please Blanker more,’ he said, showing yellowed teeth in something approximating a vicious grin. ‘Learning of his latrine duty or watching his pet project going up in the flames on the Machinarium floor.’

___


The atmosphere had changed aboard the Crawler.

The massive armoured machine ground its way homeward across the glacier, bumping and lurching over ridges of crusty snow while a steadily increasing wind thumped and scraped at its hull. Inside, despite the comparative comfort and warmth of clicking humming machines and soft instrument lights, the men were nervous.

All eyes were on the glossy black satchel lying in the gangway between their booted feet. It rocked and slithered in time with the Crawler, but the quick eyes among them had detected a suggestion of something else. Sometimes, the thick plastic of the mortuary bag would settle or shift microscopically, almost of its own accord.

It was substantially warmer within the ground vehicle than without, and rational minds supposed that this was to blame – warm or cold air thermals mixing inside the bag, or some other uncommon physical reaction witnessed only in great disparities of temperature. That was it.

All the watchers privately reassured themselves that the vehicle’s heat seeping through the plastic cocoon was the catalyst for these odd, tiny disturbances. No one entertained the possibility that the thing inside, blue and frozen, could possibly be moving.

Of course not.

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Four

Brother Mayhew hovered nearby as Belial watched the inner Machinarium doors grinding open. The Techpriest Overseer’s eternal optimism and industry were a source of irritation to the foul tempered Captain on the best of days. Today was the not the best of days.

At his elbow, Private Seagate waited with the promethium flamer over his shoulder. Seagate was a good soldier, Belial mused. He did what he was told and took pretty much everything at face value – he didn’t question his superiors and that was really all it took to grease the wheels of military hierarchy.

Not like Brother Mayhew, whose loyalties and devotions were for those things mechanical and electrical, and certainly not that viper Blanker, whose concern went no further than the preservation of his own greasy skin.

Give me a few more Seagates and I’ll give you an army to be proud of, he thought.

‘Crawler One approaches, Captain,’ Mayhew said, sounding as always like a vox transmitter in a bathtub. ‘I must lay the sacrament of Faithful Service to mark its return. With your sanction.’

Belial flicked the Techpriest away impatiently. He had little truck with the arcane side of the great Machine Spirit – in his experience of field mechanics, you could get just as far with an expletive and a kick as you could with a ritual of chanting and sacred oils.

The Techpriest hissed and clanked his way across the cavernous vehicle garage and began laying violet plas-silk scarves on the oil-stained concrete. His servo limbs wove and chattered as he threaded the Crawler’s path with blessings.

A moment later, red warning lights began to revolve and a klaxon blared rudely. The weather-scored outer doors yawned open, emitting a knifing wind into the Machinarium that stole the breath from Belial’s lungs and made the Private at his flank turn away wincing.

Brother Mayhew was transformed to a jittering spider silhouette as the Crawler’s huge blunt head appeared through the driving snow, sporting a dozen sets of blazing halogen lights. The giant transport grumbled and rumbled its way into the garage, all eight wheels and much of its outer skin glazed in ice.

Belial refused to turn his head away from the stinging cold, shrinking his eyes to slits as the swirling cloud of frozen air engulfed him. He heard Seagate cursing under his breath. These were the things that made a commanding officer more than the emblem on his sleeve, he knew. He felt the terrible cold as much as the Private beside him, but was careful not to show it.

Set your jaw, son, he thought, and one day you might be me.

___


‘Outer doors are shut,’ Makasura reported as he guided the lumbering vehicle across the Machinarium floor to Garage No 1. Away down below, he could see the tiny shape of Techpriest Mayhew laying a track of blessed epitrachilions to mark the Crawler’s path back to the garage. ‘We’ll be docked in just a moment, sir.’

‘Good,’ said Blanker, but without conviction. He had already spotted Captain Belial standing to the left of the Garage entrance, with Seagate at his side. The Private was carrying a flamethrower. There were no leaps of deductive knowledge required to understand what that was for.

That damned ape Belial was going to burn his prize. He knew it was nothing to do with quarantine or regulations or anything else, although the Captain would certainly use one or all of them to justify himself later.

He was going to do it to punish Blanker.

The Lieutenant glared out through the armoured windshield at the post commander, the wheels of his mind turning furiously. He wouldn’t be denied his autopsy.

Blanker put a gloved hand on the Crawler pilot’s shoulder. ‘Get me a vox line to the medlab,’ he said, his eyes never leaving the image of Belial and the waiting flamer.

The game’s not up yet, Captain.

___


With the Crawler parked and its access ramp down, Belial and Private Seagate moved forward. Both outer and inner doors were now closed, but as the Captain walked under the shadow of the massive transport vehicle, he felt the temperature drop sharply. To touch the metal hull of the Crawler now with bare flesh would be to have fingers turn black as coal and snap off. The entire vehicle would have to be blasted with super-heated steam before Mayhew and his servitors could continue their machinations.

‘Light that thing up, Private,’ Belial said. Seagate twisted a dial and the flamer emitted a reassuring snap-hisssss as the blue pilot light ignited in its muzzle.

The men began to disembark in single-file, still wearing their environment suits with the helmets removed or flipped back to protect stray limbs from the frozen skin of the Crawler.

Sergeant Rose came first, backing down the ramp with one end of the mortuary bag. Private Hook had the other and looked none too pleased about it. Between them, they humped the heavy cocoon down and dropped it unceremoniously half a dozen metres from the rear of the Crawler.

Belial noticed how the other men milled around a distance away. No one seemed to want to get anywhere near the black shape.

‘Sergeant,’ Belial snapped.

Rose straightened and threw him a salute. ‘Sir.’

‘This is the body you recovered from the crash site?’

‘That’s right, sir.’

‘What did you make of it?’

The Sergeant paused a moment in thought. ‘Just a body, sir. Frozen in the snow.’

‘And you brought it back. Why, exactly?’

Sergeant Rose met Belial’s gaze. ‘As I understood it, sir, Lieutenant Blanker had cleared that with you already. I believe he intended to autopsy the…’

‘Did he,’ cut in the Captain. ‘Very good, Sergeant. Take your detachment to the mess hall and get some hot java in them.’

‘Sir.’ The Sergeant threw another salute then gathered up the lingering Privates with a barked command.

Belial waited at the foot of the Crawler, his gaze alternating between the empty ramp and the inert plastic satchel on the Machinarium floor. The seconds ticked past and the Captain’s internal mercury climbed. He could have given the order to burn the body right there and then – watched as Seagate bathed the corpse in flaming promethium – but he didn’t. He wanted Blanker to be there when he destroyed the thing, and what frustrated him the most was the Lieutenant knew it too.

So long as the medical officer lingered inside the Crawler, Belial was forced to await his pleasure.

‘Blanker!’ he roared presently. ‘What are you doing in there, man? Front and centre!’

At excruciating length, the Lieutenant appeared at the top of the ramp and clanked down to ground level, a pleasant smile on his face.

‘My apologies, Captain,’ he said. ‘I didn’t realise you were waiting for me. I was going to bring you my report once I had secured…’

‘...the body?’ Belial finished for him. ‘The body that I expressly forbade you to bring back?’

‘Forbade?’ Blanker’s expression of bafflement was flawless. ‘But, sir, if you remember the vox transmission from the site – I indicated that an autopsy would help me piece together what had happened to the transport and you agreed. I remember distinctly that you agreed.’

‘You are standing on extremely thin ice, Lieutenant,’ Belial growled. ‘Choose your next words carefully.’

‘Sir, I recall the conversation clearly,’ Blanker continued. ‘As I understood it, you concurred with my suggestion to bring the body back to medlab for further investigation. I’m sure that Private Makasura will corroborate this – he was present in the Crawler and must surely have heard the conversation.’

‘I’ll bet,’ said Belial. Makasura was a spineless ingrate who had yes-sir, no-sir, three-bags-full-sir’d his way to the relatively cushy position of Crawler pilot. ‘When we check the vox logs, I’m sure we’ll find that I unconditionally refused your request to bring that body back here. What I told you to do was to leave it with all the rest of the wreckage and destroy everything with thermite.’

‘I don’t understand how this could have happened,’ said Blanker. ‘There was some transmission breakup, but I thought…’

‘I know exactly what you thought, Lieutenant,’ interrupted the Captain.

‘Sir, I…’

‘I’ve heard enough, Lieutenant,’ he said, holding up a hand. ‘Seagate, burn that thing.’

The Private stepped forward, aiming the blackened nozzle of the flamer.

‘Just a moment, Private,’ said an authorative voice behind them.

Last edited by Bad Badger; 05-19-10 at 01:11 PM.
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post #6 of 14 (permalink) Old 05-19-10, 01:30 PM
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Me likey so far, would i be correct in guessing that the carpenter film you "aquired inspiration" is the thing?

Quisnam praesumo, successio
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post #7 of 14 (permalink) Old 05-19-10, 02:18 PM Thread Starter
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You are indeed correct, sir - and furthermore, me likey that you likey.
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Wow - having real problems adding the next segment to the story.

Any reason why it should suddenly start throwing up 404 errors? Is there a maximum amount of data that can be posted per day?
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post #9 of 14 (permalink) Old 05-19-10, 08:07 PM Thread Starter
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Five


‘Ah,’ smiled Blanker. ‘Captain Crowley – just the man I was hoping to see.’

Belial finally realised why the Lieutenant had taken so long to come down out of the Crawler – he’d been on the vox to the facility doctor, and the only man in the station who, under the right circumstances, could oppose his authority.

‘What’s going on, Captain?’ Crowley asked. His narrow face and glittering black eyes always gave him the appearance of some wizened raptor, watching for the hint of a field mouse.

‘Nothing you had to leave medlab for, Basil,’ he countered. ‘What are you doing here?’

‘2nd Lieutenant Blanker requested my assistance in the Machinarium. He mentioned something about a crash victim and impending autopsy.’

So that’s it, Belial thought. Share the spoils with your superior officer. Assisting in an autopsy is still better than watching the whole thing go up in smoke.

‘Well, I’m sorry you made a wasted journey,’ he said. ‘The Lieutenant brought a corpse back from the crash site against my orders. I was about to reprimand him after having it destroyed.’ He motioned with his hand. ‘Carry on, Private.’

Seagate stepped forward again.

‘Have you considered,’ cut in Captain Crowley in such a manner that Seagate halted again, ‘that an autopsy might actually prove beneficial?’

Belial rolled his eyes. Boredom clearly wasn’t confined just to the junior medical staff. ‘In what way?’

‘If a virus or disease killed this man, we may all be in danger,’ Crowley said. ‘An autopsy would reveal that. More specifically, the autopsy would reveal an affliction with an incubation period that might not manifest itself for days or even weeks. Fore warned is fore armed, wouldn’t you say?’

‘So what you’re saying is Lieutenant Blanker broke the regulations of quarantine?’

‘Not necessarily,’ Crowley said. ‘The Lieutenant has sealed the corpse in an airtight container and it is unlikely that any microbes clinging to the outside of their environment suits would have survived the temperature outside.’

‘So there’s no risk of disease, then,’ Belial said.

‘I said unlikely, not impossible,’ the doctor corrected.

He’s a slippery one, Belial thought.

‘Alright, Basil,’ he nodded. ‘You can have your autopsy. I’ll detail two men to take the corpse to medlab, on the condition that the body is destroyed after you identify the cause of death. Agreed?’

‘Agreed,’ nodded the doctor.

‘I’ll go and prepare the…’ started Blanker.

‘Not so fast, Lieutenant,’ said the Captain. ‘You’re on latrine duty, effective immediately.’

‘Sir?’ The Lieutenant blinked. ‘Captain Crowley will need an assistant…’

‘But not you,’ Belial snapped. ‘You’re on punishment detail.’

‘Captain Belial,’ said the doctor. ‘Lieutenant Blanker is my medical staff. Surely it is for me to decide…’

‘In medical matters, absolutely,’ Belial continued. ‘But in all other station matters, specifically discipline for disobeying direct orders, I have authority.’

Crowley nodded and stepped back. He had what he wanted. It was just possible that Crowley disliked Blanker even more than he did.

‘Still here, Lieutenant?’ snapped Belial. ‘There’s sixteen crap-stained heads needing your surgical skills. Snap to it!’

Blanker lingered long enough to shoot his superior a look of pure green venom, then offered an insolent salute and stalked away across the Machinarium.

AUG-915444X, one of the station’s two Servitors and christened ‘Laurel’, rattled into Garage No. 1 and began dousing the frozen Crawler with jets of angry white steam. Captain Belial stood in the warm, billowing smoke and took a deep breath and savoured the intoxicating vapours of petty victory.

___


‘How long, now?’

Munich flicked through loose printer leafs clipped to a board on the rust-blistered wall. He did some quick mental arithmetic.

‘Four-hundred and sixty-one days,’ he said. ‘Getting close.’

‘Not close enough, though, huh?’ Burbank grinned.

‘Closer than it was yesterday.’

‘Trust me, baby,’ the Corporal said, stretching on his bunk. ‘It’s not the leaving you’ll remember. It’s the coming back for another 500 shift.’

‘Leaving? Not me, man,’ said Munich. ‘They’re not getting rid of me. No way.’

‘Oh?’ Burbank cocked an eyebrow. ‘You know something I don’t?’

‘I’m gonna have me an accident,’ said the Private. ‘Just before the shuttle leaves. I got it all worked out.’

Burbank leaned forward, listening with interest.

‘Reckon that a tumble down the dock steps ought to do it,’ Munich continued. ‘Bust a leg, maybe my head. I’ll be in the medlab for at least a week – the shuttle’ll be long gone by then. Another 500 days before the next one…’ Munich shrugged. ‘Nothing to do but kick back and make snowmen.’

‘What you want to get stuck in a dump like this for, anyway?’

‘This ain’t my first posting, that’s why,’ the Private said. ‘You think you’re doing well getting off this ice-ball? After a few days R&R, they’ll stick you in a trench on the front line of some war-torn crap-hole with a lasgun and a couple million screaming Xenos running at you. That’s why.’

Burbank chuckled. ‘You got it all worked out.’

Figures were marching past the open dormitory doorway and both men glanced up. Their expressions froze when they saw Privates Hook and Cross struggling with a body bag.

Munich swore. ‘Somebody bought it on the glacier?’

‘Relax, lads,’ puffed Hook, pausing with his labour. ‘Nobody’s bought it. We found a body out at the crash site. He’s on his way to medlab so Doctor Death can cut him up.’

‘Good riddance, I say,’ muttered Cross. ‘Creepy looking sonofabitch.’

The soldiers struggled past and on down the corridor. Munich and Burbank watched the darkening doorway for a while, their mirth forgotten.

Outside, through layers of concrete and plasteel, the wind was howling.

Last edited by Bad Badger; 05-19-10 at 08:10 PM.
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post #10 of 14 (permalink) Old 05-20-10, 09:16 PM Thread Starter
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Grrrr. Does anyone else have trouble importing data onto the forum?

I'm cut-and-pasting from Word onto the site using Firefox - it seemed to be working fine...and not it's not. Error 404 every time.

This is getting very frustrating.
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