Two scientists are left in the dark when the generator dies, and they're locked out.
Image: Tom Honz (merl1ncz.deviantart.com)
It’s cold. Shadows dance where light barely shines. It sounds like something lurks in the walls, always shuffling about. We lost power the day before yesterday. I haven’t heard his voice since the last transmission four hours after the research compound went on lock-down. Most areas have been released, but the power house remains barricaded. He said it was a malfunction in the vent-system. He joked it was triggered by my cold.
The south pole of Gliese 581d is not a place you want to be without heat. The air is thin; it pierces my lungs with each breath. I hadn’t notice it before, until I left the compound early yesterday morning. I had to. The generator ran out of fuel before we could find out why the doors wouldn’t open. Now they’re stuck. We had a plan, Barend and I, in case something like this happens. The scuttles and shuffles around the structures makes me uneasy.
“Barend?” I call out at a faint shadow around the corner of the boathouse. The ice crunches under my spiked boots. I can’t feel my toes, only the vibrations shooting up my legs. I rub off a frozen mustache again; a runny nose in permafrost is not advised. The boathouse is one of the three buildings with their own power, and the last of the three rendezvous points in the disaster plan. He wasn’t at the lighthouse or the communications tower. At least, not any more.
I found the blood trail a few metres away from the lighthouse. I followed it to the tower, where I found his pocket-knife on the tainted ice. I nearly missed it. It looked like a red rock. The trail then led me here. A smeared bloodied hand print streaks down the frame and keypad. The door whizzes open. I step through and the boathouse envelops me with its warmth. My skin prickles in protest, or celebration. The humidity makes it difficult to breathe. The lights are dim. A pool of blood rests under my feet.
“Barend?” I call out while rubbing my gloved hands together, “You here?” My echo responds with a ‘here’. Another shuffle sounds down the corridor. I’ve heard the other researchers say the planet is haunted, or inhabited according to the more sane of them. That’s why we’re here: Barend and I are biologists. He’s the naturalist. I prefer the gritty genetic issues. We’ve been on Gliese for five months and haven’t found any trace of life. Not even bacteria.
The shuffling moves down the pipes to the lower deck. Perhaps he’s below? The pod is our only way off this wasteland of a planet. I follow my thought down the narrow staircase. Its spiral descent worsens my nausea. I catch the glint of metal. The glass dome high above the pod lets a few rays of dull red sunshine into the hangar. They glisten against the drops of blood along the ramp.
“Barend?” I raise my voice. I have two echoes replying. The blood ends at the pod. Smeared hands decorate the hull. Its hatch hangs open. The lights are on. I inch closer and peek into the pod. Blood splatter paints the inside. The first-aid kit lies on the floor with its content spilled out. I feel my heart pounding. I hear a shuffle from inside the pod, followed by a guttural groan.
“B-Barend...?” The name skids over my tongue. The shuffle stops. A pin drops and dances on the floor into my view. A shadow looms over the pin, growing larger and gliding closer to the hatch. “Dude?”
“Huh?” Barend pokes his head out from around the corner. I sigh and shake mine. “Took you long enough!” He returns his attention to the large cut down his right calve. His sewing needs improvement.
“What happened?” I ask pointing to the bloodied leg. He looks up with raised brows and shrugs.
“Dunno. I was on the way to grab the beacon from the tower when something snagged my pants. It tore right through and ripped into me. But...” he runs his crusted hand through his blonde hair and exhales, “I couldn’t see a thing.”
“You don't think...” I feel my face distort.
“Might be what triggered quarantine,” he tilts his head, “stupid redundancies back-fired after that.”
“So, a fluke?” I squint my eyes and look over my shoulder. The shuffles sound louder in the hangar.
“I don’t think so...” They drown out his last words.
Entry for the Sci-Fi Short Story Contest
Prompt: "You and he agreed to three places to meet up in the event of a technological disaster, you are entering the last one now..."