Day 52. 123 pages, 55,523 words.
“Gyden’s exploration of the surface has revealed that we may not be the only ship stranded here,” Predericon reported.
“So let her tell me,” Lelhmak snapped. “I assume you logged it all already.”
“Predericon logs everything,” Gyden said, “including exactly how much of a burden your bony old grey arse is on our supplies.”
Lelhmak pocketed the nutrient tube and squinted at Gyden. “Bit less smarm, bit more data.”
“I found an unidentified species or artificial,” Gyden said, “apparently thrown some distance, maybe from a vessel during impact.”
“You didn’t bring it inside, did you?” Lelhmak groped unconsciously for his breathing filter.
“Oh, yes,” Gyden rolled her eyes at Predericon. “In fact we’ve been cutting pieces off it and opening the inspection window and rubbing them on your face while you were asleep.”
“Excuse me if my faith in you is limited,” Lelhmak retorted. “You’ve been stranded here for how long?”
“Seven hundred and twenty-two days,” Predericon was helpless to avoid providing.
“Gosh, that’s a big number, isn’t it?” Lelhmak said. “That’s a long time to be unable to even agree where you are, let alone get mobile.”
“Again, if you can think of a way to get us off the surface with none of the materials we need to process replacement parts…” Gyden told him.
“I told you last time,” Lelhmak growled. “The sleeper has all the material you need to attach it to one of the guidance jets and convert the whole thing into a single-person escape pod. And still leave enough equipment behind for a second person to survive down here for centuries while the first goes looking for help.”
“Yes,” Predericon said. It was true – they’d run the simulations. Unfortunately the reduced capacity would mean that only one Molran would be mid-range sustainable at base in terms of environment and nutrients. A second set of consuming organs would overload the recalibrated system within weeks. “And the third person dies.”
“The third person, specifically Old Man Lelhmak, is quite prepared to do that,” Lelhmak told them. “Heh.”
“I’ll make another note of it in the log,” Predericon said. “In the meantime, that contingency can wait for at least another sixty or eighty years without suffering unacceptable loss of efficiency. Which might even allow all three of us to get home alive.”
“And if we’d tossed you out into the cold last time, you would have missed this,” Gyden added. They stepped around and into the airlock section.
Lelhmak went to the viewing panel, and stood looking out at the body for a few seconds. The silence stretched out.
“Kedane?” Predericon ventured.
Old Man Lelhmak started, as though he’d been nodding off to sleep like an elderly human and Predericon’s voice had jolted him back to full wakefulness. Full, unwelcome wakefulness. He turned wide-eyed to the two researchers.
“Oh, this isn’t good,” Gyden said softly.
“You know what it is,” Predericon said, “don’t you?”
Like his revival from the sleeper unit, Lelhmak’s recovery from surprise was so abrupt you could almost swear it hadn’t happened in the first place. “Of course I do,” he said irritably. “Don’t you? It’s a Flesh-Eater.”
– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark.
I was pretty chuffed at the subtlety of the grammar joke I made in this chapter.