Day 66. 33 pages, 10,956 words.
The three Molren stood and looked up at the Godfang.
There wasn’t much to see from this vantage point, even with their EVA lamps at full illumination. The Destarion was almost entirely buried in the ice, which was lifted into jagged plates and spires in this area by a combination of tidal forces and the platform’s mass. A steeply-sloping expanse of hull, the aged-enamel surface bleached further by a coating of powdered ice, rose in front of them like a ridgeline and vanished into the darkness of Lelhmak’s Moon’s sky. The gas giant they were orbiting was only visible as a sliver on an adjacent horizon at this point on the moon’s surface. Predericon kept subconsciously mistaking it for a second ridge, this one of striated rock.
The platform lay on her side in a hundred-kilometre crescent, the convex side of which they were currently approaching.
“The hull’s all cracked,” Gyden said quietly.
Predericon had noticed the same. The frosty surface was split into a mosaic like dry hardpan, the cracks extensive but most less than half a metre deep.
“It’s meant to be regenerative – the hull,” Lelhmak explained, “but the plating looks to be dormant right now. The data packet did say she’d put as many systems as possible into stowage-standby already. It’s probably reacting to the same swelling and contracting and tidal forces as the ice around it.”
“That must be the hole the Flesh-Eater got punched through,” Gyden pointed at the ragged black spot about halfway up the slope. Predericon consulted their projections and confirmed that it did line up perfectly with the impact trail and estimated trajectory of the ‘unit’ Gyden had found.
The Flesh-Eater had sailed almost ten kilometres through the air before finally coming to rest. If it hadn’t lost a lot of its momentum going through the hull, and hadn’t exited the platform at a near-parallel to the moon’s surface, Predericon was fairly sure it would have escaped the gravity well and soared off into space.
“Unless a better access point presents itself, that’s where we go in,” Old Man Lelhmak said.
Predericon and Gyden exchanged a look through their EVA faceplates, but there didn’t seem to be much alternative.
“At least we know that the hole will likely take us to heavy freight gallery 7,” Gyden said positively. “And that the Demon isn’t there anymore.”
“What about the Flesh-Eaters?” Predericon asked. “Were they all destroyed, or are there still a hundred of them waiting in there, on high alert and ready to cut up any intruder that appears?”
“Isn’t that why we brought Stankley?” Lelhmak asked.
Predericon turned, and let Gyden unpack the cobbled-together communications array from the containers on her back. ‘Stankley’ – apparently a reference to an utterly hilarious disembodied talking head from some artistic piece centuries before either of the researchers were born – consisted of the Flesh-Eater’s head and spinal nodes hooked up to a portable comms unit scavenged from one of the spare EVA systems.
“This is researcher Predericon Ti Akmet of the research vessel Speed’s Virtues (Curiosity),” Predericon transmitted. “I am here with researcher Gyden Lazeen and research overseer Kedane Lelhmak. We represent the Manatrikti Academy of-”
“Yes, I was already able to ascertain your identities and origin from your ship name,” the Elevator’s voice spoke into their helmets. “Molren, yes?”
“Yes,” Predericon said, after glancing at Lelhmak and getting a shrug that she could only see on his face since his suit wasn’t really articulated for the gesture.
“You were one of seventeen vessels and teams registered as operative in the Four Realms volume in the immediate vicinity of Cursèd, where I myself was located when this … rearrangement … took place,” the Elevator said. “I have remained unable to contact any of them, or indeed any higher authorities on the inner planets since the departure of my crew. I am severely limited in my autonomy. I am pleased you were able to contact me.”
“Departure,” Gyden muttered over their internal comm link.
“It was pure coincidence that we located the Flesh-Eater that had been separated from your interior,” Predericon transmitted. They’d agreed on a delicate phrasing, until such time as they could ascertain the Destarion’s condition. The persistent euphemisms for the slaughter that the platform’s Flesh-Eaters had perpetrated on her living crew were not encouraging. “We apologise for the necessity of further dismantling-”
“Not at all, not at all,” the Elevator said. “I applaud your ingenuity – and after all, the component was already lost. Perhaps when we have less urgent matters to attend to, you can bring the Flesh-Eater back and I will be able to salvage its parts.”
“Of course,” Predericon said. “These urgent matters you speak of – I assume you refer to the intruder on board?”
“Yes, of course,” the Elevator replied. “As I was saying, I am pleased you managed to establish contact. Would I be correct to assume that you have approached with a portable communication construct – most likely constructed from the remains of my Flesh-Eater – so as to withhold the location of your ship? It has been almost two years, so I doubt you would have survived in such hostile terrain without a habitat,” the platform seemed to become aware of the Molren’s uncomfortable silence. “Don’t worry, I consider it a very prudent course of action,” she went on. “There are many unknowns here – and you must be aware of the danger posed by my situation. I was hardly expecting a response at all, in fact – there may be a dozen other groups of survivors on or near this moon, simply monitoring the situation and waiting to see what happens. I don’t hold it against them.”
“If they’re on this moon, I’m going to hold it against them,” Gyden remarked, once again using their internal channel. Lelhmak grinned.
“Still, you are here in response to my distress call, and I appreciate it,” Category 9 Convoy Defence Platform Destarion went on. “You can use the hull breach to access my superstructure, as you may have already been considering. Please come in, and let’s talk.”
– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark after work.