KIM SEONG-JA, COMMANDER
I’ve been involved with the Odyssey program for seventeen years. It started when I was a wee little engineer working for a wee little company that no one’s ever heard of. Inevitably a multinational corporation by the name of Ceres Engineering swallowed us whole and regurgiated our thermal engineering department. Jobless, I spent the next year disseminating applications all over the world, from the parts of China that weren’t Korea at some point in history, to India and even the Americas even though my English was poor at the time and my Spanish and Portuguese nonexistent.
Then something strange happened: a job sent an application to me. At this point I was so desperate I looked at the qualifications before bothering with the job description. The location was listed as “global” and the requirements were broad. Some made sense, but others…. Not planning to have children, if female? Ever? No current spouse or dependents? What kind of business would get involved in my business like that?
POSITION: ASTRONAUT ENGINEER CANDIDATE
APPT TYPE: CONTRACT – LONG TERM
So I applied to be an astronaut. Why? Because I had a drive to explore the greatest unknown? No. I applied because I was dirt poor and selection and training paid handsomely. It kept me afloat while I continued to apply to normal jobs. It kept me afloat long after I gave up on that proposition. As I watched the pool of candidates dwindle around me, I let myself believe I had a chance at being engineer of Odyssey I.
It’s a foregone conclusion. We all know I wasn’t chosen, but there’s more to the story.
The other finalist and I didn’t talk much. The language barrier could not be ignored, but that wasn’t all. Perhaps I resented her because she worked for Ceres and therefore had the luxury of quitting, while I was laid off because my employer wasn’t Ceres. Either way, the higher-ups thought it would be best to make the big choice before the friction between us could turn serious.
One Monday morning I got a knock on my door. Still in my pajamas, I answered. I froze. A man and a woman stood in my apartment hallway dressed for business. I knew what was coming.
“Good morning, Dr. Kim. I am Dietmar Drescher, codirector of the Odyssey program. If you have a minute, I would like to discuss your future with the program.” The woman translated, though I understood most of what Drescher said.
He wasted no time. Carellos had been selected to be engineer (of course!) but that wasn’t the end of it for me. It just so happened that the backup crew, which recruited separately, needed a new pilot. Their only remaining candidate had been diagnosed with a heart condition just two days prior and had to withdraw.
“And you picked up flight operations faster than any other engineer,” Drescher said. “So here’s the deal. If you train with the backup crew, we’ll keep you in the program with the idea that you might command the next expedition. How does that sound?”
How could I say no to that? I finally had what I’d always wanted – a job for keeps.
Letter of Recommendation
Re: Safety in the field
We used to worry about the animals that looked the most threatening, the ones with tusks and tentacles strong enough to strangle a tiger. You wouldn’t want to get near a tiger, but how many people die from tigers these days? Not a lot compared to those killed by mosquitos, tripping accidents, and the weather. What got us was lurking above our heads, out of sight when our eyes were focused on the red herring. But the devil’s archer isn’t dangerous to you, because you know what to look for now. It is the unseen you need to keep your eyes on.
My advice? Don’t make the same mistake I did. I let panic get the better of me, so I was safe at camp, too far away to help, when disaster struck. Rashid might have lived if I hadn’t lost heart so early on. There may be times when you can’t bring yourself to face the danger outside. If you think the threat is serious and immediate, then keep the whole team inside for the day. As the doctor and head of safety, you have the authority to do that.
All I’m saying is, be mindful of danger, but don’t let fear hold you back. You never know when you might be needed.
ALEX OSTROVSKY, PALEOCLIMATOLOGIST
You know, I never really thought of myself as an astronaut. Taking a boat to Antarctica didn’t make me a sailor, so how is this different? I’m just a garden variety geologist hitching a ride to the next field site. I’m not even the payload specialist. I’m the payload.
YUZO YAMAMOTO, GEOLOGIST
I’ve worked with Ostrovsky before, stationed for five months at Lake Vostok. He’s the one who suggested I apply to be a part of the Odyssey II mission. Our experience working in Antarctica should prepare us for the harsh climate of the one of the coldest regions of Ilion’s sun-facing hemisphere, where we will be planting our feet. I’m excited about this mission because our science schedule emphasizes geology, climatology, and atmospheric science. I’m sure the biologists are disappointed we’re not going to another rainforest but few of them understand how much the planet’s inorganic history factors into their interests. Every ice core has a story to tell.
YEREM "NEMO" HOVSEPIAN, MARINE BIOLOGIST
Everyone else is keeping diaries, but I think I’d rather use a waterproof voice recorder so I can take it with me everywhere I go. Grant liked the idea so much I went ahead and bought two of them. I want to capture the experience at the moment, as it unfolds. It’s better that way.
GRANT IRWIN, MECHANIC
I’ll probably spend more time working with the geologists Yuzo and Os (I hope he doesn’t mind me calling him that) than anyone else once we land, since they have most of the heavy equipment. But for now, I’m hanging around Alex and Erin the most. They know their way around the ship, and man, they have stories. Did you know Dr. Mercer’s been trained for zero-g surgery? Well, I’ll just say there’s a good reason for it and leave it at that.
ALEX O'HEARN, EXOBIOLOGIST
Vander paid us a visit on launch day to wish us luck. Having been heavily involved in our training, he had something to say to everyone. He showed up during those tense hours after we were all suited up but before the shuttle was ready to board. T minus six hours, the timer read. Grant and Yuzo were having an animated chat about rugby, but the rest of us were dead silent, lost in our thoughts. Vander’s arrival failed to break the reverie but when he spoke, all heads turned.
“First, I want you all to know how proud of you I am for making it this far. Most people don’t make it past basic testing. In…six hours…each one of you will step across a line in the sand. Time dilation works like a ratchet…forward, never back. Irreversible. You know that. You also know that death is a very real possibility. Not just yours, either. All those friends and family who kissed you goodbye this morning? Any one of them could be gone when you return. In six hours, there will be no cold feet. No second thoughts. No bailing out. If you’re having any misgivings, now’s your chance.”
I remember every word because all I could think of was just how little it applied to me. The only friends who came to send me off were Raya and Rocky. Montgomery Rockwell had started out as a drinking buddy, nothing more. I met him at The Sea Shanty two weeks after my mother’s funeral. First it was Fridays, then odd days, then every day of the workweek. Soon, not even Rocky could keep pace, but he showed up every night regardless, to keep me company. It was a rough time, and he pulled me through it.
I didn’t tell him who I was until he asked me if I’d been off to Gelderland, too. “You have the war in your eyes,” he said. “I’ve seen that look before.”
“You wouldn’t believe the places I’ve been, but Gelderland isn’t one of them.” I was tempted to leave it there, to say nothing more. I could easily attribute my troubles to a recent death in the family, difficulty holding a job, or the stress of moving cities. Those were problems normal people could relate to. How would I explain the sort of relationship that develops between travelers to a distant world? I could think of a few words – codependence, mutual respect, camaraderie, fellowship – but they were inadequate. Who could possibly understand what it’s like to have that taken away?
A war veteran, that’s who. For months, no, years, we shared our stories. As I opened up, it dawned on me why I’ve had so much trouble adjusting to life at home. The sky is off color and the sun won’t sit still. The concrete stifles the plants, which are also the wrong hue. There are too many people.
This isn’t the home I remember.
ERIN CARELLOS, ENGINEER AND PILOT
After making the jump from quarantined specimen back to astronaut-in-training, my house in Cold Lake began to feel hollow. It was no longer the symbol of confinement it had once been, but it wasn’t home either. It was like an inanimate version of Jo Beringer – beautiful, rugged, inviting, and temporary.
Here at the launch pad, I was about to step back into the same prison I had struggled so long to escape. Vander’s offer was looking mighty appealing right now.
Our old commander had a message for each of us. I didn’t hear all of it, but the idea was mostly the same each time. To Caroline, he said, “I understand your son and daughter-in-law are expecting. I didn’t get to watch the first of my grandchildren grow up, and I regret it to this day. Are you sure you want to go through with this?” A single, resolute nod was all he got for an answer.
To Alex, he said, “Keep an eye on Grant, will you? I don’t think he appreciates just how much he’s given up to join this mission, but when it hits him, it’ll hit him hard.” He had it backwards, though. It’s Alex who needs to be watched, and the best person for the job, besides me, is Grant.
When it was my turn, he had nothing left to say. Instead, he handed me a piece of paper. It was a painting, torn from his own journal. A ghostly figure on a bloodred hill, waving farewell to the billowing smoke of a departing shuttle. Scrawled, in the corner:
I don’t believe in ghosts
But sometimes I wish I did
I understood. He didn’t want me to go back.
Look. People lose friends. It happens. If that was all it was, I’d maybe…I don’t know. Move on or something. I have my freedom now and there’s nothing stopping me from planting my feet and giving Ms. Drycleaner from Ilion International the finger. And the commander, too, because I’m convinced she had more do with this than she’ll ever admit to my face.
No, it’s impossible to move on because every bad memory brings with it the good. It’s like…it’s like you let in one memory, and it goes ahead and invites all of its friends. The elation that comes with a successful landing. Revisiting a location that once felt dangerous, only to find it familiar and comforting the second, third, fourth time. How many times did we follow Raya’s Ravine to Hidden Lake, cross the dry riverbed to reach the shuttle? And each time there’d be something new to see, because of course. How many millenia did it take humanity to explore Earth? Trick question. We’ll never be done. Not here, and definitely not on a planet we’ve only been aware of for a few decades.
ALEX OSTROVSKY Day 0
A elevated patch of bare ground was our target for the first drop. The less shoveling and uphill hauling, the better.
Things were going well, it seemed. Onboard cameras guided Grant’s hand and Pod A’s guidance software toward the patch. Yuzo and I tried to decode this piece of rock – or was it dirt? – but from this distance it was only visible on our hi-res cameras as an ever-growing collection of gray-brown pixels.
“It’s not as flat as it looked,” Kim said coolly, and indeed the pixels seemed to grow with the patch as it loomed in our view. They didn’t look like any rocks I’d ever seen. They were uniformly ovoid, piled upon one another, soft around the edges…they almost looked like, well…
“Shit,” said Grant.
The stones scattered.
“Go, go, go! You still have time,” Caroline pleaded at the screen, fruitlessly. Two dozen brownish lumps were fleeing the impending site of impact at the most deliberate pace imaginable.
“They sure are taking their sweet time, whatever they are,” I said just as the screen went white, then flat gray.
When the powder settled, the diagnostic cameras got to work, feeding us a steady stream of self-portraits and context scans. In one shot, if you squint, you can see a dark shape ambling off into the sunset, putting distance between itself and the steaming crater of snow and meltwater.
Pod B held one of our havens, the primary plumbing system, redundant reactor parts, and consumables. It was nearly identical to A, but instead of terrorizing a sleeping herd of space cows, it blasted a crater the size of a city block southeast of Pod A’s hilltop.
Pod C, with its consumables and redundant electrical systems, took root in a boulder field, deftly avoiding the sharp, windworn spires in favor of a yielding crust of ice and snow.
Pod D, with its own haven, an inflatable motorboat, an ice rover to tow it, and most of the electrical wiring, landed softly, melting a pod-shaped hole in the ice. A most inconvenient position – we will have to dig a path to it.
Pod E carried our redundant comms equipment, a mass spectrometer, beacons, carbon scrubbers, food, and a protective suit for servicing the on-land reactor. It also had three parachutes, only two of which deployed.
The pod tumbled once, entangling itself in the cables. As protocol prescribed, Grant handed the primary controls to Kim and took the manual guidance system in his hands. For all his efforts, there just wasn’t enough time. Pod E punched a neat little hole in the sea ice. It was tantalizingly close to the other pods, yet entirely inaccessible.
Kim continued to operate the controls for Pod F’s descent while Grant stood sentinel over the manual controls, just in case. Pod F was to deliver our reactor core and some essential life support equipment. There was a reason we saved it for last. If there was a fundamental deficiency in the pods’ landing systems, we’d have a chance to troubleshoot before losing our most important delivery. In theory, we could pull off a mission using just the contents of F and D and maybe one of A, B, or C. It wouldn’t be ideal, or even safe, but it was preferable to living out of the shuttles for a few days.
Pod F performed its dance flawlessly and landed dead center of our targeted plot of land. And now for the grand finale…Sunset.
ERIN CARELLOS Day 1
What a beautiful place, with its perpetual sunrise. It’s a pity we have to mar this perfect sheet of snow with our ugly-ass machines, but that comes with the territory, doesn’t it? It’s hard to believe we’re on Ilion again. If you told me this was Alberta in the winter, I wouldn’t argue. About as cold, too. All that’s missing are the larches, pines, and spruces; these have been exchanged for a large mushroom-shaped plantform covered in a pelt as black as my dad’s dog’s and topped with a cap of snow.
Rush. I miss that stupid dog.
ALEX O'HEARN Day 1
Look at all this uncatalogued life! I feel like a little kid on Christmas Eve. Grant’s endless enthusiasm must have rubbed off on me. I can’t start opening these presents until tomorrow, however. Today is a work day. I may not be an expert in heating, water, and air systems, much less fusion reactors, but every hand is needed to pitch these tents. Well, “tents” isn’t exactly the right word for the cylindrical buildings we’re erecting. I’ll have to ask Yuzo what they’re called. He and Os used to live and work in these structures during their careers as Antarctic researchers. I’m pretty sure theirs didn’t have airlocks, though. It’s more than just the cold we’d be letting in here. I still disagree with the rather lax biosecurity measures on this mission, but we all got contaminated plenty last time and no one brought anything back home. I’m more worried about what we might unleash on Ilion.
YUZO YAMAMOTO Day 1
One polar haven will do for tonight. The other two can go up tomorrow. It’ll be a tight fit for the seven of us, but I don’t think anyone will object to the prospect of an early night’s rest. I certainly don’t.
GRANT IRWIN Day 1
The geologists are already ogling the sculpted rocks scattered around the campsite. They have a term for the wind-eroded rocks…what was it, again? The one next to the reactor looks just like a dragon’s head, or a cow skull, maybe. Os said it looks like ridiculously high winds have been blowing from the wrong direction, east instead of west. I’m not sure how he figured that out from a rock, but he’s the expert.
…Ventifacts. That was the word.
ALEX OSTROVSKY Day 1
The striations are less uniform than I would have expected, as if the wind couldn’t make up its mind. The rock’s anchored firmly to the bedrock so we know it’s not moving. The bulk of the wear is coming from easterly winds, which shouldn’t occur at this point on the globe. It’s unsettling, actually. The rock itself is not that old, yet it looks like it’s been eroded for eons. It would take winds in excess of a hundred klicks per hour, bombarding the stone with ice crystals for weeks or months at a time, to create such an effect. It’s calm now, but who knows how long that will last. We can’t work in that kind of weather.
NEMO HOVSEPIAN Day 1
So this is how it goes…Ostrovsky and Yuzo will be doing their thing pretty close to camp, so they can avoid transporting ice cores and equipment over long distances. Erin will be helping Alex with his fieldwork so she can keep an eye on him. It would be good to have a mechanic on my boat, but Grant gets seasick easily, as we discovered during survival training. That leaves…Caroline? I enjoy her company a lot, but I wonder if it’s okay for the doctor to be out of reach for whole days at a time. She’s head of safety so I guess it’s up to her to decide.
CAROLINE MERCER Day 1
Erin doesn’t think I should do overnights. Well, I didn’t come here so I could make the beds and wait until someone requires my professional help. Besides, what difference does it make if I’m at camp or with one of the outside teams? Everyone’s going to be spread out most of the day so I can’t be within arm’s reach of everyone at once. I pointed that out to Erin and she couldn’t help but acquiesce.
GRANT IRWIN Day 2
Okay, so the sky. It’s always sunset, right? Or sunrise, depending on how you look at it. That’s the second thing everyone brought up when I told them where I’m going. “It must be so beautiful! So romantic.” And I always told them the same thing. Imagine you’re, oh, I don’t know. An intelligent bottleneck from Polyxena. Everything you’ve ever known is snow and black plants and red, red, red. When you’ve lived your entire life under a blood-orange sky, what’s the most exotic thing you could picture? What would your version of Hollywood use as a shorthand for “alien?” A blue sky.
“Ah, I get it,” they would say. “After two months you’ll be sick and tired of the color red.” Because when everything is romantic, nothing is romantic. And I’d say, “Exactly!”
Boy, was I wrong. The sky is in a constant state of flux. Just in the last hour the sky’s shifted from hot pink to a soft shade of rose for no apparent cause. Three hours before that it was dark, almost oppresively so, thanks to a distant flurry and an increase in moisture. It may be early to say, but this will never get boring.
YUZO YAMAMOTO Day 2
Kim will be flying down in the cargo shuttle near the end of the mission to carry up to two tons of ice, mineral, and biological samples back to the orbiter. The vehicle is smaller and more sensitive to extreme weather than Sunset, the shuttle we landed in just now. It can hold up to six people, but only Os, Alex, and I will accompany him on the ride back. The rest will stay behind another week to clean up. All organic waste will have to be autoclaved or incinerated and the entire reactor will be sealed shut.
They will probably spend a majority of the time freeing Sunset from a buildup of ice and snow. Ideally, that job would be finished before our commander gets here, just in case the shuttle is deemed unfit. Although Kim’s craft, Sunrise, only has six seats, it can carry the entire crew if need be. In addition to freight, the shuttle’s cargo bay can hold up to two injured or incapacitated passengers in the event of an emergency. This will come at the expense of cargo space, so all but the most essential samples will have to be jettisoned if it comes to that. I’d rather not think about it.
NEMO HOVSEPIAN Day 3
Night of the second day…I’m taking the boat out to the Crossbones tomorrow. The ice formation juts out from the sea. When viewed from the right angle, it makes the shape of an X, or crossed fingers perhaps, like it’s telling a lie. I’ve got my fingers crossed that we won’t slip on the ice and fall into the water. These jackets may be warm, but they are not waterproof. Besides, I have it on good authority that with our oxygen tanks strapped to our backs, we’d sink like stones.
Morning of the third day…got Alex Ostrovsky to come with me. He wants to take a look at the structure and composition of the ice to explain the atypical cleavage. It looks like chipped obsidian, and ice doesn’t normally fracture that way. I just need a place where I can look out across the coast and find a good location to set up my traps and screens. The traps are for fish and mobile fruits and I will be harvesting them every few days. The screens, I will be leaving in the water for longer so sessile organisms have a chance to colonize them.
And we’re off…we’re doing some good old fashioned manhauling until Grant can get the snow buggy and sled assembled. Yuzo’s back at camp helping him out, or maybe he’s doing something with those boulders, he didn’t say. The rest are following the tracks of some sort of large animal, like the hunter-gatherers of days past.
The other part of the Crossbones, the part that makes up the index finger, is farther away than it looked from below. How deceptive. The tip of the finger catches the red light of the rising sun…it is beautiful beyond words.
The view from here is incredible! To the west, great figures of striped ice stand in a near-perfect ring. It looks like Stonehenge…if anything were to convince me that this place harbors intelligent life, it’s this…but Alex is adamant that the shapes are completely natural. Across the land, the tortured ice stretches to eternity. Southeast, out onto the ocean, the pack ice jostles about and throws up pressure ridges. Their speed is glacial but the collisions are unimaginably powerful.
Climbing to the tip of the pointer finger…that was not the sun’s light that made the ice glow red. There is life here. Dozens of small, hairy critters are nesting on this spot. Each individual has a stalk growing out of its head, and this is where the light is coming from. Maybe they act as beacons to keep the nesting site visible through a snowstorm, kind of like the ones over our campsite. Too bad Alex O’Hearn isn’t here to see this…I’d take one back for him, but I don’t want to separate them from their babies. I’ll take this instead…it’s an egg, covered in skin and fur but frozen solid, lost to the elements.
Taxa Notes – Polyxena Firebear
EXCERPT Taxa Notes Vol. 2 Alex O'Hearn
Little is known about the firebears. Their nesting grounds are difficult and dangerous to reach, so all information on the guinea pig-sized animals comes from notes, sketches, and a single egg collected from the site. They belong to Vermovillosa, which places them among star walruses, bottlenecks, and hairy grubs. Firebears resemble macroscopic furred tardigrades, save for the luminescent stalk that protrudes from the head. For reasons unknown, the egg is marred with a ring of scar tissue. This may be a natural result of rapid growth similar to growth cracks on fruit, or it may have resulted from damage to the soft shell.
Track and Field
ERIN CARELLOS Day 3-4
A trail of elephantine footprints crossed our campground while we rested in the shelter of our completed haven complex. I say “rested” because most of us were too keyed up to fall asleep. Landing on a planet six lightyears into the depths of space will do that to you. Doesn’t matter if you’d done it before. Alex was delighted to begin some real field work so he recruited me and Caroline to follow the tracks to their terminus. Everyone else had assignments of their own.
A cursory analysis of the prints was all it took to set our course. The tracks disappeared into a nearby glacier, though their origin was untraceable. I wanted to set a hard limit on how far we would follow the tracks, but Alex was difficult to argue with. Once he got the idea into his head to catch up to the beast, there was no reasoning with him. I shouldn’t worry too much. If the danger proves to be too much, Caroline or I can always assert our collective authority as head of safety and ground commander respectively. It wouldn’t surprise me if Caroline’s position was created solely to keep Alex in check.
We carried three days of food and oxygen, a weatherproof tent with a built-in air handler, a plethora of devices for mapping and recordkeeping, and plenty of humor to go around. Even Alex was in good spirits:
AWO: Don’t worry about the map if my tablet runs dry. Erin’s an excellent navigator.
ESC: Oh, so it’s on me, then? I see how it is.
AWO: We just need someone to blame if we get lost, that’s all.
This tent is not as weatherproof as advertised. It keeps us breathing through the night and that’s about all I can say for it. My gloves and coat are staying on until I’m warm enough to fall asleep. I think I’ll just close my eyes now and pretend the sun is setting for real. That should do the trick.
This morning, Caroline stole out of bed with our radio in hand. Curiosity dragged me from my early morning torpor and I found her sitting on a blackbush, chatting away with Nemo. Personal stuff. I didn’t care to eavesdrop, so I covered my tracks and headed back to the tent.
Today is our final chance to meet our quarry. If the glacier only presents us with more tracks, we’re turning around. If not, we can afford to spend an extra night observing…whatever it is we end up finding. Even though that dips into our way-back rations, our supplies should last just fine if I take us on a direct path home. Prior reservations aside, I want to see what’s on the other side of that ridge. I want to find that monster.
ALEX OSTROVSKY Day 4
It’s a mound of eyeballs stacked to my shoulders. It’s the cocoon of a monster. It is the monster, and some unthinkable horror will shoot out of the eyespots if I get too close to it. I’ve heard the stories.
Yuzo and I are taking our drilling elsewhere until we can get a professional opinion from our biologists, but not before we’ve had a chance to place bets. If it’s a harmless plant, then I owe Yuzo three packets of chocolate. If it’s an animal, I get half his raisins. It would be easy enough to cheat and see if it’s warm to the touch, but what kind of fool would approach a formless being that stares back with twenty eyes? I know a man who’s fearless enough to do just that, and I’ve got my eye on him.
YUZO YAMAMOTO Day 6
Eggs? That was the unanimous agreement among the members of the tracking party. Caroline, Alex, and Erin found what they were looking for and more. The tracks led to a herd of herbivores the size of sun bears. In the center of the crowd was a communal nest. It must have been a sight unlike any other. Eggs were being deposited right in front of their eyes in a process I don’t entirely understand. How can an animal produce an egg without laying it? That’s hard to picture.
Either way, it’s not a plant. Well, I never liked raisins that much, anyway.
Taxa Notes – Wooly Starrus
EXCERPT Taxa Notes Vol. 2 Alex O'Hearn
The remarkably mammalian wooly starrus is the most prominent animal on the terminator’s frozen expanse. Like the star walrus, its warm-weather relative to the southeast, it bears an uncanny resemblance to pinnipeds. Pictured here are two adults and a juvenile, likely a family group. The dewlap on the individual up front houses its fetal young. Instead of simply giving birth, however, the female sheds the entire pouch and grows a new one in its place. The pouch then serves as a soft, self-heating “egg” for the developing infant. When the external womb depletes its fat stores, it rots away and the hatchling emerges.
ALEX OSTROVSKY Day 14
We call this place the Ear Canal for its strange acoustic properties. Facing outside, our voices echo as expected, but when we turn to face the cavern’s depths, the void swallows our shouts. It responds only with a steady current of frigid air, colder than outside, presumably originating from west of the terminator. The dark side.
It’s just me and Yuzo down here in the coldest Hell. Turn our lights off and we’re in a starless space. This doesn’t seem to bother my colleague much. He’s gleefully playing with his torch, swinging it around, illuminating the ice stalactites that loom over our heads, and following the foliation in the exposed rock. It’s pink like Lewisian gneiss, but the surrounding mudrock suggests a different origin, and a warmer, wetter past to boot.
Warmth is in short supply down here. I’m wearing a knit sweater under my Aeroweave jacket (courtesy of Caroline), a matching hat, a face scarf, goggles, and the rest, and I still can’t stand around for too long without feeling the shivers. It’s doing something to the air in my tanks, too. Could it possibly be freezing the gas? I don’t believe it, but it’s worrying nonetheless. I don’t like that popping sound one bit. I’m done taking notes anyway. It’s time to pack up and head home.
Now where did Yuzo get off to?
Feeding Habits of the Archersnake
ALEX O'HEARN Day 20
I never thought I’d witness anything more disgusting than the feeding behavior of the devil’s archer. Personal grudges aside, it’s a tricky affair to remain objective when confronted with the strange and formidable. It takes willpower not to outwardly detest an organism that takes its sweet time to eat its prey alive, and a sessile, mindless one at that. The creature is a product of selective pressures unbound by human sensibilities, and it’s not my place to pass judgment.
That said, I’ll make an exception for its snakelike cousin native to Ilion’s terminator. Our first run-in with an archersnake nearly ended in a potential repeat of last mission’s disaster, but thanks to Grant’s keen eye and Erin’s reflexes, we managed to avert any incident. Even better, we got the two-meter snake in the bag. Dissection of the specimen yielded valuable data and insight into not just the species, but native animal life as a whole. For one, “animals” may very well be paraphyletic. The familiar wildlife characterized by suction feet, violet organobromine pigment, and bilateral symmetry most likely branched off from the red plants, as improbable as that might seem. The group that includes the archersnake and the devil’s sharpshooter, or archer, or whatever name we end up settling on, has almost nothing in common with the former beyond the cellular level. What do members of this group have in common with one another? So far: extraoral digestion, ossified barbed spines, and feeding habits straight out of a horror movie.
Their white and black snow camouflage normally makes them tricky to spot (and avoid), but there was no mistaking the writhing mass of serpents we encountered about two miles from camp. Left in the wake of a wooly starrus herd, the fallen animal was covered in the things, each with its thorn-for-a-face buried to the hilt in the beast’s flesh. After just over an hour, engorged snakes began to dislodge themselves and by the second hour, only a hairy, liquidy mess remained.
ALEX OSTROVSKY Day 20
I don’t care what the others say, I watched the film twice and I swear it was moving. The poor thing was awake through the whole ordeal. Our creature scientists agree that one snake’s not enough to bring down such a large animal, so it must have released pheromones to attract all of its pals. Barbaric.
GRANT IRWIN Day 20
It’s nice that we’ve got quality footage of that archersnake feeding frenzy to beam back home, but ho, man, after seeing how they eat I don’t think I’ll be quite so terrified of regular Earth snakes anymore. Hell, they’re quite nice in comparison, really. They don’t attack in swarms.
CAROLINE MERCER Day 20
It’s only a matter of time before someone steps on one of these. I’ve never dealt with this sort of injury before, but Dr. Ping sent me his notes on the deadly mold they encountered on the first mission. It’s not the same thing, but it could be helpful:
Identification: Organism grows on tree limbs two to four meters above the ground. Identified by clusters of bulbous yellow bodies 1-50 cm in diameter. Mucous cables suspend heavier colonies from higher branches. Thorns are not always visible. Assume each body is armed and avoid at all costs.
Avoidance: Minimum safe distance unknown. Do not step on the colorless tendrils that grow from the forest floor. These organs are pressure sensitive and allow the creature to pinpoint the locations and trajectories of prey items. Always remember to look up.
If stung: Stay calm and move as far from the aggressor as possible. Pull the line taut and strip the outer layers with your knife until the core is thin enough to cut through. Remove all persons from the hazardous zone before attempting to treat any injuries.
Treatment: A thorn in an extremity can be pushed through; treat as a puncture wound. If the thorn is embedded in or near a vital organ, surgical removal might be necessary. If so, extract as much of the venom as possible from the translucent sacs at the base of the stinger before seeking help. The venom in the first compartment contains proteolytic enzymes and paralytics activated by a highly alkaline secretion from the second compartment. The paralytics only work on native life, but the high pH and the proteases are corrosive to human tissue.
If possible, save the extract for further analysis as little else is known about its composition.
The Deep Black Sea
NEMO HOVSEPIAN Day 33
The ocean…this is what I came for. No man has ever sailed these waters before. Not even the crew of Odyssey I got to witness the jet-black algal blooms that stain the sea like octopus ink beneath the breaking ice. We’re here to bring a live sample of this algae back to Earth for study, along with whatever plants and animals we can collect on the way. We’ll then need to learn how they live in their natural habitat, so we can recreate those conditions for the three-year transit. That’s the other half of our work on this overnight boating trip. I could float here forever, but our air is limited and we’ll need to leave some for the drive back. Besides, the wind is picking up and I wouldn’t want us getting caught in a blizzard on the way home.
CAROLINE MERCER Day 33
I like these boat trips. The dim red sun is an endless source of beauty. Over the water, that beauty is mirrored. But best of all, I’m in good company. Nemo’s always pleasant to be around but when he’s on the sea all of his best qualities come out. That’s how he got his nickname, by the way. His grandfather used to call him Captain Nemo because when his family visited for the summer, he always asked to go to the beach. He wouldn’t build sandcastles or splash around with the other kids. He would just sit on the rocks and watch the waves crash, recede, and return. Sometimes I wonder if his capacity to love extends beyond the ocean.
GRANT IRWIN Day 33
We found fossils! Well, it was really sea life preserved in ice, which is better than fossils anyway, right? I went out with Yuzo and Os to fix their auger, and when we tested it out on a random piece of snow it coughed up some alien fish for us. The rest of our day became an excavation, and we found so many things, we almost forgot to go home. Ooh, Alex is going to wet his pants over these, then he’ll write a novel about each one.
YUZO YAMAMOTO Day 34
The remains date back to the star’s last major flare, detected from Earth in 1998. I’ve always suspected that extinction events should follow stellar flares, but this is our first evidence of such an occurrence.
Taxa Notes – Swordsquid
EXCERPT Taxa Notes Vol. 2 Alex O'Hearn
Here is one more species we can add to the mysterious phylum ensiferophidia. Like the devil’s sharpshooter and the archersnake, the only other known members of this clade, the swordsquid feeds on liquids through a syringe-like mouthpiece. They are blood parasites, not predators like their cousins. While the leech-like spoonworms are specialized to clamp onto the respiratory spiracles of aquatic organisms, swordsquids will attack any part of the body. The microscopic stingers protruding from the venom sacs prevent easy removal.
Several specimens, none more than a few centimeters in length, were found embedded in some of the exceptionally preserved sea life our geology team exposed. Not too long after, our marine biologists dredged up a bounty of live sea animals and weeds. They kept a few alive in jars, allowing us to observe the bloodsuckers in action.
YUZO YAMAMOTO Day 34
I had to work with Alex today because Nemo wasn’t here to collect and categorize the preserved life we dug up. I would’ve rather worked with Nemo to be honest. Both are quiet folks, but Nemo’s quiet in a serene sort of way. Alex is just a downer. He always seems lost though not in the traditional sense. It’s like he knows exactly where he is, but not where he belongs. He drifts at sea. His ship has an anchor but there is no seafloor to hold it. You get the idea.
ALEX O'HEARN Day 39
I’m glad I had someone to confide in during my brief stay on Earth, but Rocky wasn’t the anchor I needed. It was Erin who kept my feet on solid ground while I drifted through space a second time. It’s one thing to listen and understand, another to know without being told. In Rocky’s company I could bathe in self-pity and gin until my pores stank of the very same. I can’t do that on Odyssey or the Polyxena base camp because there will always be someone here who went through the same ordeal and more. Erin nearly lost an arm, and her life; I merely lost the motivation to make myself useful when we found ourselves short-staffed. And Luo, for all his guilty feelings, held our crew together with nothing but tape and gauze. In the meantime, all I could do was mix a cocktail of tap water and alcohol scrub and down it with all the shame of a poacher sawing the horn off the last rhinoceros.
KIM SEONG-JA Day 44
Whose bright idea was it to station one person in orbit for several weeks, anyway? It’s not that I don’t have enough to do around here. Atmospheric study takes up hours of my time and ship maintenance takes the rest of it. At first I reveled in the solitude. I could float up and down Odyssey’s length without knocking into a single person. No more waiting for the toilets or the shower. No more snoring from Alex’s bed, no more chatter from Yuzo and Grant’s room through the middle of the night. It was my first taste of freedom in free fall.
Now I yearn for the chance to bump into someone, anyone. It is not the murmur of voices that keeps me up at night anymore, but the drone of the fans. My only chance at human interaction comes with the 19:00 report. I look forward to this every day. Problem is, most of the crew are too busy to waste time on idle conversation. They just rush through their plans and accomplishments and get right back to work. There is no concern for my wellbeing whatsoever. Can’t they see I’m lonely up here?
CAROLINE MERCIER Day 50
I thought that Nemo, being a marine biologist, would know what to do with a sick marine mammaloid. Well, it so happens that marine mammals have little to do with the algae and plankton he studied back at home, so the responsibility’s fallen to me. And why not? I’m the doctor. Here’s my chance to do some real work on the ground instead of just tagging along. There’s no opportunity for research while all my subjects are so busy. The bone density trials will have to wait until next month.
We found the wooly starrus infant lying motionless in an open field of snow, the powdery sort we only get on the coldest days. The animal’s matted fur had frozen over. I considered calling Alex to report the specimen, but I didn’t know how I felt about letting him cut it up on the table. It turns out my reservations were justified. There were no tracks in sight, but the animal was very much alive. Nemo and I loaded it into the sled while Grant steered the car to a safer place, rather hastily I might add. No one was interested in incurring the wrath of the creature’s mother.
Its lungs creaked like an old door as it struggled to breathe against the wind. I’ve hooked up the core warming system to the spiracle below its eye. Normally I’d attach the other end to an oxygen tank to deliver warm, moist air to the lungs, but this young patient of mine doesn’t breathe the same air as us. Still, the same principles apply to any warm-blooded animal suffering from hypothermia. Dry the victim off immediately. Warm the core, not the extremities. Don’t rush it.
Now the question remains: what do I do with a healthy marine mammaloid?
GRANT IRWIN Day 50
We should’ve left it to die in peace. The starrus baby, I mean. After bringing it back to strength, Nemo decided the best course of action would be to implant a tracking chip and leave the starrus in sight of its herd, which we found not too far from the glacier. Two females approached the baby and started running their face-fingers, or whatever they’re called, through its fur and across its chest. Something about the baby’s breathing must’ve bothered them because they paused in unison to listen like their fingers were stethoscopes. After a few seconds of this one of them backed off while the other rammed the baby in the chest to get it rolling. She kept at it until both of them were out of sight, far away from the herd and from us. A quarter hour later, she returned alone.
Taxa Notes – Creaky Door Disease
EXCERPT Taxa Notes Vol. 2 Alex O'Hearn
Ilian life is not exempt from infirmity. A wooly starrus infant was found dead in the shadow of Rorschach Glacier. Its herd had exiled it to prevent the spread of a lung parasite to other members of the group. The animal’s single lung was infested with a tiny, wormlike relative of archersnakes, numbering in the hundreds. Several had already exited their birthplace to feed on the carcass when we performed the necropsy. We believe the worm is a true parasite, not a parasitoid, as we determined the cause of death to be exposure rather than lung failure. Nonetheless, banishment to the unforgiving tundra is certain to make any infestation a death sentence.
ALEX OSTROVSKY Day 77
We keep digging up the strangest things. Today’s special came from a layer of snow twelve meters beneath our feet. The blackbush we uncovered dated to only a couple years ago, brand new by my standards. Twelve meters. Now what’s a young thing like you doing this deep in the ice record? I’ll have to reevaluate my other dates, I think. It looks like the snow builds up fast around these parts.
ERIN CARELLOS Day 84
I don’t understand Alex’s odd fascination (dare I say obsession) with the thorn-faced creatures and their ilk. To be honest, I don’t want to have anything to do with them. Of all the majestic life to be found on this beautiful chunk of rock, he has to poke and prod the things that have caused, oh-let-me-count, two injuries and one death? Maybe I’m just biased, being in that lucky group and all, though Yuzo’s a bit more forgiving than I am. When he called us to ask us what to do with the live archersnake sticking out of his thigh, the first thing he wanted to know was if he should keep the specimen intact. The snake, intact! I wanted him intact, for god’s sake. The snake could go to hell for all I care.
As for Alex, I guess studying the horrible things is just his weird way of coping, of moving on. Is it forgiveness, or revenge?
RECORDING 16:00 Day 84
YY: Thanks for the help, Erin.
ESC: No problem. And Yuzo?
ESC: You’ll be alright. You didn’t get the full dose of venom and that makes a huge difference.
YY: Yeah, I don’t know how you could stand it. It hurts like the dickens.
ESC: Sorry, what was that?
ESC: Alex says to watch out for more snakes.
YY: I’ll be more careful.
ESC: He wants to know if you have anything you can use as a weapon.
ESC: Not that you shouldn’t be mindful of where you step, but it won’t be enough. Hate to break it but you’re going to get swarmed. It’s how they hunt.
YY: God. All we have is our drill.
ESC: Good. Give it to Os. He’s got mobility on his side. Do you have a bludgeon? Any climbing equipment?
YY: We didn’t climb today. We packed light.
ESC: Air tanks. That’s your bludgeon. Take one of your emptier ones out and keep it by your side.
ESC: Alex says to smash the rostrum. He says it’ll…what was that?
ESC: Why don’t I just give you to Alex? Hang on a sec.
AWO: You won’t accomplish much if you just swing the drill around. They’re too fast.
YY: So what do we do then? Give Os a gas tank?
AWO: Use your feet. Or have Os use his. If you pin them down on packed snow or rock, you can pith the brain.
YY: That sounds exceedingly dangerous.
AWO: It’s the best way. You can also use a knife but the drill puts more distance between your face and theirs. Oh, and the brain is where you’d expect it to be, on the dorsal aspect of the head.
YY: I’m looking at it right now and all the sides look equally dorsal.
AWO: The ventrum has a thin, silky hair on it. That’s how you tell. If you can’t see it, just poke holes in it until it’s dead enough.
YY: Do you really think they’re coming after us?
AWO: I’m certain of it. It’s what they do.
YUZO YAMAMOTO Day 84
I saw movement out of the corner of my eye, a subtle stirring that didn’t quite register with me. To tell the truth, my full attention was on the box of microcores in my arms. This was the first time Os had trusted me with these since I took a spill and dropped the rocks last week. Today, it took four hours to sample the sedimentary outcrops on the coast. There was not a living soul out there to disturb our work, just me and Os and our rocks. The serenity was unscathed by the usual bustle of maintenance staff and researchers manning the Vostok station at home.
The view was unparalleled. The terrain looked like rumpled sheets on an endless bed. It’s funny how everything looks like a good place to nap when you’re tired. I couldn’t wait to get back to camp and rest my blistered feet, put some pea soup on the burner, and tell Nemo about the limestone we found at the base of the South Spires. Or at least set up camp, since it would take a full day to march home from our location at top speed.
No such luck today. Once again, the box went flying and the cores splintered into a thousand shards. It wasn’t the talus shifting under my feet that got me this time. Something was trying to take a core out of me. The culprit was slithery, muscular, and definitely not in my field of expertise. I was more surprised at its strength than anything. It coiled my leg so tightly, my foot went numb. I wish I could say the same for the rest of my leg. Walking was out of the question.
After following Erin’s advice (Caroline wouldn’t pick up the call), Os rigged a travois out of rope and driftwood. There’s nothing like lying at eye level with the enemy. More snakes approached us as we made halting progress back to camp. They must have picked up a scent on the air. Alex warned us that would happen. I just assumed killing the animal would silence it, but not so.
I’ll never forget the ferocity with which Os wielded that hand drill, our meager protection against the onslaught. It was spectacular. For all my worrying, we have six fresh archersnakes for the pot, all mostly intact. I hope Alex doesn’t mind if some of the samples are full of holes. He might call it damage. I call it karma.
ALEX OSTROVSKY Day 84
We should have gone to Europa instead, where I could drill in peace. Unless, of course, some as-yet-undiscovered monster skulks beneath the ice. On second thought, I’d best stick to Antarctica, where I’d have nothing to worry about but the weather.
RECORDING 6:30 Day 87
CLM: Hey Alex. Erin came to me the other day complaining of a rash on her right ear.
CLM: And I couldn’t help but notice you’ve been scratching at the same area.
AWO: It’s just the cold and dry. When I use the handset I have to lift my hood a little so I can hear through the static. It’s been pretty bad lately.
CLM: Your ear?
AWO: No, the static. Haven’t you noticed? My ear, it’s just a little irritated from the cold and dry. Like I said.
CLM: I think you might be having an allergic reaction.
AWO: Wha-why? To what?
CLM: I have a hunch, but you’re not going to like it. In fact, I think we’d all be getting rashes, or worse, except the rest of us hadn’t been exposed before.
AWO: No, no, no, no, no. That was years ago.
CLM: It doesn’t matter. I’d suggest you put on some protective gear and take a look inside one of those handsets. Outside.
CAROLINE MERCER Day 87
This is one of those times where I’m pretty sure I’m right about something while at the same time hoping to God that I am not. Because I think about what Alex and Erin have in common, and the first (only?) thing that comes to mind is they’ve been to Ilion before. Which makes me wonder…
First exposure, no symptoms. Immune system remembers the antigen and is waiting for that second exposure to mount a response. An allergic reaction. The thing is, we know there was a first exposure. It’s no secret that things went, let’s just say, south near the end of the last mission and some biological material ended up on the wrong side of the barrier. It’s a miracle no one retained anything infectious, to be honest. But that’s not what this is about. Because I don’t have a rash, and neither does anyone else besides the two of them.
Which, of course, lead me to the question: where’s the second exposure coming from?
ALEX OSTROVSKY Day 87
Remember when we couldn’t get in touch with Caroline and Nemo the other day? Erin gave them a good talking-to and now she’s eating crow because it turns out their radio was broken all along.
Fun fact: the phrase “computer bug” took on a new meaning when a couple of early computer operators traced a malfunction to an actual moth crawling inside the works. By that logic, a radio malfunction should be called a “thrax.” The inside of Caroline’s radio was gummed up with a sticky substance that had corroded the wires in some places, laid down by hundreds of what Alex termed microthraxes. These thoracostomes were barely visible to the naked eye but in their large numbers were easy to spot. It looked like the very dust was crawling.
Grant says the bugs probably jumped from the freezing baby starrus in search of a warmer home. Cockroaches are known to infest electronics for the same reason. So much for biosecurity. What I want to know is, where else have they jumped to? Our kitchenware? Pillows? Food?
GRANT IRWIN Day 87
The little shits are in all the radios. Not just Caroline’s. Killing them was easy but the damage? It can’t be undone. I guess they got hungry and thought it would be a good idea to spit acid on just about everything. The antennae got the worst of it and now the radios can only talk to each other from about ten meters or so before everything devolves into distortion. So Erin and I are taking a break from fieldwork while we tackle the challenge of extending this distance. Actually, everyone is staying home because leaving without communications is a big no-no.
ERIN CARELLOS Day 89
Here’s what we did. We figured out that all but one of the radios is perfectly fine when it comes to sending, just not receiving. So we rigged a device on our main antenna, the one we use to communicate with Odyssey, that can pick up signals from our walkie-talkies. It takes the signal and amplifies it and sends it in all directions so the target can pick it up. It’s crude but it works. I’m proud of it, anyway.
ALEX O'HEARN Day 88
Our clothing would be more effective if it were airtight, but it’s not. Any breach in our protective layers becomes obvious the minute we step into the open air. These areas are the hardest to keep protected: the skin around our eyes, our hairlines, the place where our sleeves meet our gloves, the tips of our fingers, and our oxygen masks. Some of our less cold tolerant friends have taken to wrapping scarves around their heads, leaving only a slit to see through.
Even the native wildlife can’t bear temperatures like this. On days like these, the firebears swallow their eggs and take to the ocean. Their outer fur layer is effectively watertight thanks to a system of interlocking barbs, almost like those on bird feathers or the black grasses that grow around here. The inner coat holds a layer of hot air next to the skin. This system works better underwater than in the wind, so they do their best to stay submerged.
Starruses drop all their daily activities to huddle for warmth. They lack the near-perfect insulation that firebears enjoy, so heat conservation is a team effort. They don’t seem to notice or mind the other wildlife that joins their huddle. Even some of the archersnakes drop their predatory habits to join the party, although they do their best to remain hidden. Starruses will actively hunt and kill any snake that ventures near their herd. Because of this, most snakes retreat to their burrows whenever they can.
Our geologists excavated one of these burrows once, by accident as usual. The main chamber was lined with a strange downy material we later learned was made of live hairy grubs. The snakes appeared to be nurturing these endotherms in exchange for their body heat. In times of need, the grubs could also serve as a food reserve, much like repletes in an honeypot ant colony, but that’s just speculation.
ALEX OSTROVSKY Day 88
Microhabitats – the shade of a blackbush, for example – are more stable and clearly outlined here than on Earth, but this land is by no means static. The wind changes direction more often than one might expect on a tidally locked planet. It was once thought that sea level wind would always blow from the terminator towards the substellar point. We know that is not the case now. Kim, Yuzo, and I revised the climate model to include landforms, the planet’s rotation, and sea currents and the results are less predictable, but more in line with what we’ve experienced. On clear days, we get a chilly breeze from the dark side, tempered by a mountain range west of us. This is as expected. However, every so often a storm blows in from the sun’s direction and dumps a substantial load of snow on the continent. This has yet to happen in our presence, but Kim and Erin look like they’re both ready to give the order to take a giant leap off this continent at the first sign of trouble. I wonder why nobody’s acted yet. The more we learn about Ilion, the more it comes to light that Polyxena was a terrible place to set up shop.
GRANT IRWIN Day 89
Naturally, we’re all pretty careful about watching our feet when stomping around in archersnake territory (that is, everywhere that isn’t underwater, and who knows what’s down there). Or at least most of us are. So it didn’t take long to notice their complete absence this morning when we were scouring the land for new species. Meanwhile, Caroline’s been bragging about all the exciting activity she and Nemo are seeing in the ocean, with starruses leaping about like dolphins and the waters overflowing with fish. There’s nothing but dead ice up here. The air is uncharacteristically still and the temperature’s dropping to the double-digit minuses, cold enough to wreak havoc on our plumbing. At least I’ve got something to work on until the animals show their spidery faces again.
ERIN CARELLOS Day 90
“Commander Kim wants us to make flight preparations right away,” Yuzo said before we had a chance to kick off our boots and set down our specimen bag, which was packed to the gills with jack shit. Another day, another fruitful slog through the snow. I’m half hoping for another serendipitous discovery to break up the monotony a bit, like Hidden Lake or the cave with the floating skulls. I’m not counting the impending “discovery” of a freak storm that’s barreling toward us as I write this.
Grant said, “Does she know it’s minus seventy outside?” She ought to know it’s simply not possible, let alone safe, to operate the shuttle at such low temperatures. After all, she was originally trained as the pilot for the backup crew of Odyssey I. She didn’t have the same level of flight experience that Rashid had – no one did – but she’s well versed in the limitations of horizontal takeoff and landing. While crisp winter air is ideal for lift, stability, and fuel consumption, -70°C goes too far into the range of “are you freaking mad?”
As a matter of fact, Kim didn’t know it was seventy below, so she advised us to prepare the shuttle for liftoff anyway and continue our work until the temperature rises. By that time, of course, the storm will be right on us.
Doesn’t she know that it’s equally mad to fly in the middle of a blizzard?
Two Missed Calls
GRANT IRWIN Day 91
Once again, Caroline and Nemo fail to pick up their radio. Last time this happened it wasn’t their fault. I’ll give them that. But Caroline has a tendency to be absent-minded at times and I suspect she might have left the radio in the car or something. I get that she can’t be everywhere at once. But she can keep her radio on her person at all times, because damned if we have to send a messenger party to warn the pair of them about the incoming storm.
Hot and Cold
CAROLINE MERCER Day 91
Safe and sound! Dear God, what a relief it is to be out of that blizzard. Nemo and I had just settled into our tent when the 100 km/h winds hit. We’d packed enough air and supplies for three nights, and driving in whiteout conditions over unfamiliar terrain would be beyond suicidal, so we prepared to sit it out and pray for the best.
That all changed when we got a call from the messenger party. Erin, Grant, and Alex were stranded two miles from camp with less than four hours of air and no food, water, or reliable means of navigation on their persons. Movement on foot was nearly impossible. Huddled in the meager lee of a snowdrift, all they could do was turn their oxygen down to a dribble and wait for rescue.
Nemo decided to take his chances behind the wheel while I manned the radio. It amounted to a game of hot-and-cold using our radios’ proximity readings. Through some sort of divine intervention, we caught a glimpse of that familiar shade of orange after just an hour of driving at a crawling pace. The five of us piled into the sled and repeated the Marco-Polo routine with the geologists, who were thankfully home and safe, to guide us back to shelter.
I have a lot to be grateful for today.
GRANT IRWIN Day 91
Whelp, looks like the next few days will be Spades, Spades, Spades, and maybe a little bit of blackjack. As long as we’re snowed in, there’s only so much science we can do. When that’s used up, it’ll be card games all day long, just like on the ship.
And once this snowstorm lets up, it’ll be Shovels, Shovels, Shovels.
RECORDING 8:00 Day 91
KSJ: Taking off in Sunset is out of the question, but I can still land Sunrise.
ESC: You sure about that?
KSJ: Yes. I did a couple of runs in the simulator and it is doable. The main challenge is knowing where you are. For that, I will need someone to play capcom and direct me to your location.
AO: What good will that do if you can’t leave again?
KSJ: Sunrise has cargo space. I can supply you with provisions and spare parts. We’ll ride out the storm together and work out an escape plan from there. Am I correct that you have food for a month?
CLM: About. Shouldn’t that be enough?
KSJ: I’m afraid not.
YY: How could a month’s supply not be enough?
KSJ: This storm of yours, it’s not your average blizzard. Trust me when I say you’re going to need more than a month.
KIM SEONG-JA Day 93
The polar havens were built to endure extreme cold and sustained winds of 100kph. The practice of draping canvas over an arched frame is an old one, but the materials are in no way old fashioned. Similar structures have braved Antarctic winters, one after another, with minimal wear. The Odyssey II base camp was designed with Polyxena in mind, retrofitted to endure high winds that would blow consistently from the west. The engineers based their work on the climate model developed from limited data collected by Odyssey I.
The climate model was wrong. Nobody expected a tropical storm to derail and travel against the rotation of the planet. Given three months to study the weather patterns, I see why this happens now, but nobody could have predicted it from the three-odd weeks of data the meteorologists had to work with. Furthermore, these anomalies appear to be cyclical. We just came at the wrong time.
The ground crew assembled the polar havens in an area sheltered from eastward winds. Now the wind is coming from all directions and it’s sandblasting the canvas with ice crystals. If the canvas breaches, the crew can seal off the havens one by one but if all three breach, they will have no choice but to strap on their masks and bundle up. Right now they’re running around the perimeter frantically patching the threadbare material so they can restore their habitat to a livable state. At least that’s what I’m picturing. In reality I have no idea what they’re doing because I haven’t talked to any of them in two days. There’s no answer when I call. Not from base camp, not from Sunset. There’s no convincing proof they’re alive at all, but I can be hopeful, right?
Meeting: Odyssey II Emergency Action
Date: 22 January Year 4 (Day 93)
Time started: 13:30
Location: Polyxena Base Camp
Erin S. Carellos, Acting Commander
Caroline L. Mercer, Head of Safety
Grant M. Irwin, Acting Secretary
Yerem (Nemo) Hovsepian
Alex W. O’Hearn
Kim Seong-Ja, Commander
- Status Report
- Food for 25 days at full rations
- No change to disinfectant, power reserve, medical, or mechanical supplies. Refer to previous minutes.
- All outdoor investigations and sample collections suspended indefinitely
- Continued limestone microcore processing, embryogenesis studies, ventifact wind mapping, and upkeep of marine algae
- Began formulating new experiments and analyses that can be performed indoors. All are still in drafting phase.
- Scouting group consisted of Carellos, Irwin, and Hovsepian. Their primary goal was to locate the antenna that blew off in the storm, causing ground crew to lose contact with Odyssey.
- Antenna was not found.
- Secondary plan was to locate the shuttle Sunset and utilize its communication systems.
- Sunset was not found.
- Inspection of the reactor yielded no immediate concern.
- Radio range reduced to 10 meters again due to antenna damage.
- Air intake vents now require clearing every 8 hours.
- Irwin reported that the water pipe insulation is showing wear from the wind and ice. If stripped, pipes will freeze and cut heating and water to the polar havens.
- Ostrovsky pointed out that body heat may be sufficient when the havens are buried in snow. He will run models to determine if an additional heat source is required.
- Mercer recommended cutting rations to 80% while reducing nonessential physical activity. Motion passed 7:0.
- Irwin proposed amendment that crewmembers eat a full ration if shoveling that day. Motion passed 4:3.
- Carellos proposed a plan to search for Sunset. The outside team would add an hour to their maintenance activities to search a set area for the shuttle, three times a day.
- Mercer vetoed the motion on the basis that risk of injury or loss is unacceptably high if the scouting team is fatigued. She put forth a revised plan using two separate teams for scouting and cleaning, with rotation of duties. A team of two performs maintenance three times a day while a different team of three searches for Sunset for three hours once a day. Yamamoto is exempt due to injury and the remaining crewmember gets the day off. Motion passed 6:1.
- Next Meeting
The next meeting will be held at 12:00 on 24 January Year 4 (Day 95) in the Eurasia haven of the Polyxena Base Camp and (hopefully) the Coms Deck of Odyssey.
Submitted by Grant M. Irwin
Party of Seven
ALEX OSTROVSKY Day 97
Our motion to stretch the food supply fell through.
Here’s the problem. Caroline’s scouting plan puts five of us outside every day. It doesn’t matter if you’re shoveling or taking a stroll. Being outside in this weather burns calories like nothing else. Your body is constantly trying to heat itself and the snow is so soft you might as well swim in it. It’s the ultimate weight loss plan. At this rate we’ll be more famous than the Donner Party.
It comes down to an all-or-nothing decision. Either we gamble on finding the shuttle and coordinating a rescue with Kim, or we lie in our beds and try to burn as few calories as possible. If we take the first option, we might lose lives. If we take the second, we might lose our minds. The decision goes to vote tonight.
The Four Corners of the Earth
ERIN CARELLOS Day 100
We had another tense meeting under the canopy of Eurasia. To summarize, we’re scouting every day. Nobody wanted to sit in their bunks and twiddle their thumbs for god knows how long.
Our first long distance excursion into the gray taught us a lot about the challenge we’re facing. Lesson one: navigation only gets you so far. It’s impossible to find the havens without some kind of visual cue. Our most reliable cue is the Earth flag. It’s the highest point and the flag itself is huge, taller than a man, taller than Alex even. At first we expected our crew insignia to be the best guide because it’s orange and yellow but those colors don’t show up well against the dim sunrise. The Earth flag is big and black with four right angles that cut right through the whiteout.
Lesson two: temperature means jack shit. Remember when it was seventy below and still as the surface of the Moon? That was peaches and cream compared to thirty below with wind chill. Our scouts always bring a hypothermia kit whether or not the doctor’s with them. The other kit stays at camp in case our maintenance crew requires it. I don’t anticipate needing it. When I’m out there shoveling I generate so much heat I sometimes have to take my hood off. We’re throwing our precious calories literally to the wind, but what else is there to do? That air intake’s not going to clean itself.
I’m feeling simultaneously jealous of and sorry for Yuzo. He’s the living reminder of where we’d all be if we’d taken the boring option. Oh, there’s plenty for him to do but it’s obvious he’s going stir crazy watching the rest of us play in the snow. And yeah, I was in a similar situation last mission but I was too sick to care. It’s different here. Yuzo’s perfectly healthy; he just can’t do more than hobble around the havens and pretend we still care about paleoclimatology or whatever he’s working on now.
NEMO HOVSEPIAN Day 100
Day nine…Grant, Alex, and I are on scouting duty today. Grant keeps looking over his shoulder at the Earth flag, as if for reassurance. It fades in and out of view depending on what kind of mood the storm is in. All our ropes strung together don’t reach far enough for the area we’re searching, so we have to keep careful record of every step, or else we might veer off course if we lose our visual.
KIM SEONG-JA Day 108
I’m hearing them now. At first, it was just an occasional occurrence, something I could dismiss as a trick of the ear. Now, it happens every day, every hour, even. In the kitchen, Os clears his throat and I turn around. Nothing. Behind me, the door beeps and I wait for it to slide open. It doesn’t. From the garden, Alex calls my name. I know it’s absurd, but I poke my head through the vines anyway, just to make sure there’s really no one there.
I can’t lose myself up here, I really can’t, not now. We’re only halfway home.
NEMO HOVSEPIAN Day 115
Day twenty-five…nothing happened today.
YUZO YAMAMOTO Day 116
It’s hot in here! I’m not even wearing a shirt. The heater seems to have two settings: Off and Boiling. Adjusting the thermostat does nothing. I’d bug Grant about it but it’s his day off and I don’t want to wake him. Have I mentioned it’s not even dinnertime yet? Everyone’s sleeping at weird hours now. Some of us aren’t even bothering with beds. When I woke up yesterday morning (okay, afternoon), Alex was in the kitchen. Not cooking, sleeping. In the kitchen.
GRANT IRWIN Day 118
You’d think two days would be enough time to figure out why the heater isn’t working properly and do something about it. It wasn’t. A hundred days wouldn’t be enough. When the antenna blew off it didn’t just snap, it pulled all the wires with it and started a small fire. It burned out quickly because of lack of oxygen but it was enough to damage the electrical systems. That’s why half our stuff just randomly decides not to work sometimes. Our hotplates, for example. One of them is completely fried and the other one we only use to sterilize water now. God, I miss hot food. We experimented with soups a couple days ago since we’re boiling our water anyway. The less said about that, the better.
GRANT IRWIN Day 119
The air intake is now a meter and a half below the snow’s surface. To keep it clear we have to dig a cone-shaped hole around it. The vent is at the bottom of an antlion’s pit trap and this depression collects snow faster than the dunes at the surface. This means our job is getting harder by the day.
One thing that’s gotten easier is leaving the airlock. Normally one person would more or less worm their way through the snowpack and then dig a tunnel to let the rest of the party through. We’ve done that so many times we now have a sturdy tunnel we can crawl through to get to the surface. Our body heat has made it smooth and slippery so we carved steps into it and widened the space so we could crouch. We call it the rabbit run and it’s nice to have.
NEMO HOVSEPIAN Day 121
Day thirty…I’m enjoying my last mug of hot water because the only remaining hotplate has burned out on me. What’s this about tea? We ran out of that a long time ago. Ever since the water pipes buckled under the pressure, boiling has been our only means of sterilizing our drinking water, and now we have no choice but to take our chances with the snow. If we don’t find a way out of this mess fast, we’ll be taking the same chances with the air, because that intake vent’s getting harder to clear every day. Meanwhile, two dozen emergency carbon scrubbers are sitting at the bottom of the ocean because a parachute decided to take a day off one time.
YUZO YAMAMOTO Day 122
I don’t like canned peas but I’m sure going to miss them when they’re gone. We’ve only got three left. Otherwise all that’s left is “brick,” which nobody really considers to be food but it has calories and protein so I’d better savor it while it lasts.
KIM SEONG-JA Day 122
There’s quiet, and then there’s silence. A lot of people don’t know the difference between the two. Quiet is when you can hear the finches at the feeder, the turning of the page, and the whisper of the cherry tree outside the bedroom window. Silence is when your own beating heart drowns out the vacuum of space.
NEMO HOVSEPIAN Day 124
Day thirty-three…we found it! This is it. It’s got to be. There’s something hard and smooth at my feet and I’m only sinking to my thighs, not my waist. What else could it be but Sunset? Caroline, where’s the shovel?
(Alex has it.)
We’re at seventy-nine degrees southwest about a half kilometer from camp. The whole complex is buried except the Earth flag which is impossible to see from here. The orange-gray light makes the place look more like Pompeii than an alien Arctic and visibility is worse than ever. But I don’t care, we found it!
KIM SEONG-JA Day 124
So many people put their money toward this mission in the hopes that we might make contact with an alien civilization. It was humanity’s purpose, the optimists said, to extend a five-fingered hand into the stars and make peace with the neighbors. To the cynics, the mission’s purpose was to find the aliens before they found us. I can’t pretend I didn’t believe we might meet another species resourceful and intelligent enough to survive on the outskirts of a habitable world. This would be the expedition that would make first contact and what an occasion that would be.
Today is no less an occasion. Today is the day I made contact with my crew. I say that like I was the mastermind, but really the credit goes to the seven people on the ground. They made a plan. They executed it against incredible odds. Sunset was buried so deep the three of them had to dig a tunnel to the door and yet here they are, talking to me from the cockpit. How did they find it? I’ll have to ask later. I’m waiting for Sunrise to finish self-checking and when that’s done I’ll be on my way.
RECORDING 9:00 Day 124
KSJ: And make a record of where you found the shuttle and how to get to it, just in case.
CLM: In case what?
KSJ: In case something happens to you and Alex on the way back, so the message might reach them if you don’t.
CLM: How on Earth would that happen?
KSJ: I don’t know. Just do it, okay? There’s no reason not to.
CAROLINE MERCER (RECORDING) Day 124
Listen closely, and this is important. We ran into some rock outcroppings and deviated from our search path. We knew there were no big rocks at our landing site so we took a ninety degree left and walked about fifty paces from there. Do the same and you will find Nemo waiting at Sunset. If all goes well, Kim and Sunrise will be there as well. There is no need for Yuzo to come and one more person should stay behind to make sure the Earth flag doesn’t blow away, but otherwise we’ll need help carrying supplies back to camp. Best of luck.
YUZO YAMAMOTO Day 124
We have an unspoken rule, and that is to wait for the scouting crew to be five hours late before letting ourselves worry. The reason? Four hours is about the time it would take Kim to complete the flight to surface after reconnecting with our people. It should take a little less than an hour to walk back to camp. Then we can start worrying.
This is the longest five hours of my life. One of two things could have happened:
- Alex, Caroline, and Nemo found the shuttle and it’s taking them longer than expected to get it running.
- They lost sight of our Earth flag and now they’re navigating by the sun and prayer.
I wish I could go outside and flag them down myself but…I can’t. I haven’t been outdoors in weeks. Even though Hell’s frozen over across the continent of Polyxena, I would kill for a chance to shovel snow every now and then.
GRANT IRWIN Day 124
The damn flagpole broke. It’s gone. If we’d checked more often…fuck! We killed our scouts. They must’ve followed the flag instead of retracing their steps, or doing the bloody math. Idiots. I bet they’re holding it now, wrapping themselves in it to keep warm. Wherever it blew, that’s where they are.
At least that narrows it down. They’re downwind of us. If they followed the same line of logic they’d walk upwind as soon as they figured out what happened. And that just makes things harder for us. They could have passed our camp and not realized it.
Searching for Life
ERIN CARELLOS Day 124
It took considerable effort to hold myself upright against the fearsome winds. And the cold! It was bitter beyond belief. The day Caroline and Nemo rescued us from the whiteout, that was nothing compared to this. Was it really four weeks ago? That’s four precious weeks they bought us. I owe them the world for that.
I had to keep looking, but a tug on the line told me it was time to come back down. I found Grant crouching in the rabbit run, the length of rope coiled around his wrist. His eyes, usually bright and beady, were bloodshot. The beam of my flashlight carved grooves in his forehead. He looked wretched.
He rubbed his eyes and said, “Sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt your search. I was only checking if you were still there on the other end. Worrying over nothing, really. I just don’t like that you’re out there alone. Makes me nervous.”
There’s no reason he shouldn’t have some peace of mind when it’s so hard to come by these days. So I took his end of the rope and handed it over to Os, tossed Grant his goggles, and gave him a nod. He took my hand in a death grip and together we stepped into the cold, thin air.
GRANT IRWIN Day 124
We found one third of what we were looking for and it’s not what I wanted to find. Let’s just get it out of the way: Alex is dead. We walked past him several times I think, and no wonder. He was wearing nothing but his isolation garment, which is solid white, and he was half buried in the snow. It was like looking for a ghost in the fog. Where the hell are Caroline and Nemo? Splitting up wasn’t part of the plan. Maybe if I looked around a little more…Erin’s gone back inside to tell the others but I can still….
Hang on. What’s that in his hand? It looks like…hey, that’s odd. He’s got Nemo’s voice recorder.
If you find me, head due west to find Caroline.
We had no choice but to split. The cold was getting under our coats so she hooked up my air supply to the core warming system. That helped a lot, but then she started taking her clothes off and complaining of the heat. When even the doctor doesn’t recognize the signs of hypothermia you know something’s not right. We only have one core warmer with us so I took it off and gave it to her. I have no use for it, so if you find this, go and tell Erin I’ve gone to see an old friend of ours.
ERIN CARELLOS Day 124
Grant pried the voice recorder from Alex’s frozen fingers while I was delivering the news to Os and Yuzo. He slipped it into his pocket and didn’t pull it out again until it was just him and me, returning to the site where our companion had been found. He sat me down in the snow, put his hand on my shoulder, and pressed play.
I didn’t take it well.
“Why does it always have to end like this? And it’s all because I didn’t listen to our geologists. Last time, nobody saw it coming, but this time we had warning signs. Lots! But I couldn’t bring myself to abort the mission because we worked so long to get here.” A buildup of moisture made my goggles fog up. There was nothing worth looking at anyway, just the same goddamn snow, so I buried my face in Grant’s chest. “I…I could’ve called it off whether Caroline agreed or not. It only takes one to give that order. Ground Commander, my ass. Couldn’t even do my job right.”
Grant said something but I couldn’t make out the words through my sobbing. He sounded both frightened and concerned at my outburst. What was he expecting? A quiet acceptance, or a succinct, well-rehearsed elegy for our fallen friend? I’m not a poet. I’m just the same as him, a grown-up kid who sold my soul to this mission in exchange for some temporary freedom. And you know what? I should’ve aborted this thing long before I left Earth. This sort of crap sucks you in and then when you’re most invested in it, when you feel like you were meant to do this all along, it snatches it away. Tracking down alien beasts is fun but so is backpacking through the Canadian wilderness. I would give anything to go fishing with Jo again. I would give anything to erase the memory of Alex’s mouth agape and filled with snow, of Rashid’s faceplate smeared with blood and spit.
I pulled up my goggles to wipe away the ice that had encrusted my eyes. A bit of skin came off with it. Such is life in Polyxena, Ilion.
After I calmed down, we listened to the recordings once again. They dated all the way back to the mission’s start but most interesting were those recorded today by Caroline and Nemo. They were intended for us. Nemo left coordinates for the shuttle’s location and Caroline left directions in case the coordinates didn’t pan out. I think they meant to tell us in person, Alex and her, while Nemo stayed with Sunset to guide Kim to our location. Caroline is still missing but at least we know where Nemo and the shuttle are. And Alex, I guess.
I’m stranded on Ilion and there’s nothing I can do about it so I might as well make myself useful. Kim had a lot of good reasons to push for my recruitment and one of those is my ability to navigate to just about anywhere. Well. Time to get back on my horse and ride off into the Sunset.
NEMO HOVSEPIAN Day 124
Everyone except Yuzo was here to haul supplies back to camp. Even though these crates were designed to be dragged through snow it was still hard work. Kim couldn’t walk at all. She’s been weightless too long so Grant pulled her on a sled. Yuzo waited for us at the entrance to our campsite. He’d surrounded himself with all the camp’s blankets and towels to make sure we could find our way home. It worked well and we loaded our most essential goods into the havens, leaving the rest outside the airlock.
Our reunion was bittersweet. We were a crew of seven before Kim touched down and we are seven once again. If you’re wondering why I’m saying seven and not six, let it be known that I haven’t given up on Caroline. Erin promised me we would search together when we got back, but only together. She thinks I might do something rash if I go alone and she’s probably right.
Caroline must be completely buried by now. I wonder what’s going through her mind.
ALEX OSTROVSKY Day 125
They should just give up already. No way could anyone survive this long in these conditions, not even a tough mountaineer like Caroline. Whether you’re trapped in it or braving it willingly, it’s dangerous stuff. Earlier today, the airlock door burst open with a flash of cold and the sharp smell of snow. Nemo stumbled in and deposited a limp figure at my feet. He’d found her, I thought with relief. Alive or dead, it would be the end of their risky search and rescue mission.
“She’s spent, but I can keep going,” he said, panting. “Not by myself, mind you; I’m not stupid. Erin would kill me. If one of you could help, that would be kind.”
I didn’t understand. If they’d found Caroline’s body, why the need to go out again? And where was…? Ah, of course.
“Get some rest, for heaven’s sake. Grant and I will cover for you. And for the love of God, can someone get over here and make sure Erin’s all right?”
ERIN CARELLOS Day 126
Alex was smart to leave a radio by Caroline’s ear. Even though the range was limited to 10 meters or so, that was all we needed. A barely discernable voice broke through the static on our second day of search. Nemo wrenched himself free to chase after it and I pulled him back.
“Stay with me, Nemo. You don’t know where that’s coming from.”
He looked at me with pleading eyes but I shook my head.
“We’ve got to take it slow. She could be anywhere.”
I tied a rope around both our waists and told him to stay put. The plan was simple. I would walk in a wide circle around the spot where we picked up the signal and spiral inward little by little. The plan was simple, and it worked. Somewhere in the middle of my third orbit of Nemo, my foot got stuck in the snow. In an irrational fit of panic, I yelped and struggled against what my reptile brain thought was the maw of a predator lurking in the snow. My ankle was caught in the grip of two hands. Gloved, not toothed.
As I righted myself, a thought occurred to me. “Nemo, don’t move,” I shouted. Using the angle of the rope against the sun and the proximity reading on my handset, I calculated my position from where he stood, then from camp. Nobody gets lost again if I have any say in the matter. That done, I gave Nemo the go-ahead and he plowed through the powder as fast as his arms and legs would allow, while I clawed at the spot where our object of search was buried.
Caroline was in a sorry state. Her ears and nose were black and swollen and later we would find the same of her fingers and toes. The core warmer had no power. The battery should have lasted longer than a couple days. Maybe it wasn’t fully charged or maybe it was broken. I don’t know why it wasn’t on but she would have died if it was. See, her carbon scrubbers were saturated and she was breathing 8% carbon dioxide. This would kill a person at normal body temperature; hers was several degrees below normal. How she was even conscious I can’t fathom.
I took the flag and some rope and made a crude sled that we could pull her home on. Nemo refused to leave her side. It would’ve been nice to have help but I’m not entirely heartless. I gave him the task of “emotional support” and let them have their reunion. He’s still worried sick but she’ll be okay. Caroline’s an experienced wilderness doctor and she told me just now that she’s seen people survive worse things.
GRANT IRWIN Day 127
Things are easier and safer now that we don’t have to go outside as much. Kim says we have about three weeks left of snowfall and it should start to taper off in two. That’s a long time but we’ll make it through this because we’re human. It’s what we do.
YUZO YAMAMOTO Day 127
It’s good to have food again.
ERIN CARELLOS Day 148
Today was my turn to clear the intake and collect snow for drinking water. This was to be my second full round of shoveling since recovering Caroline. Two days of fighting the wind had taken its toll: a strange illness took hold of me and I couldn’t leave bed for days without vomiting or passing out. By contrast, Nemo was out and about within a day and a half and he’s ten years older than me. Even Caroline, for all her missing appendages, looked brighter than I could possibly have hoped.
Kim accompanied me this time. She may be commander again but chores are chores and everyone has to chip in if they’re able.
I threw my body against the snow that plugged the entrance to our rabbit run. It put up no resistance. This struck me as odd because it usually takes a few good shoves to clear the blockage. I stuck my head into the open air and immediately pulled it back, like a tortoise standing face to face with a hungry raven. Except what I saw brought happy tears to my eyes, which turned to ice on contact with my goggles. I turned around, grabbed Kim’s arm, and half ran, half slid down the run to the airlock. I had news and it was good news this time. The storm was over.
NEMO HOVSEPIAN Day 149
The seven of us emerged one by one and laid eyes on a blanket of snow so pristine you’d never know mankind once set foot here. One small step indeed. It took giant steps to wade through the deep, crystalline snow to where our rescuer had landed, despite the stillness in the air. It was as frozen in time and space as it was in temperature, ideal conditions for the flight back to our ship, the Odyssey.
We are headed home at last.