Anthology of Speculative Scribblings
Volume 2 (2021)
“Papa, why did you name me Snow when there is no snow here?”
I was only six when I asked that of my father, but even now so many decades later I remember his answer.
“Snow is beautiful and so are you. But more importantly, snow is a symbol of hope for our planet. We need to keep that hope near and cherish it.”
Being only six, I didn’t understand what he meant other than saying I was beautiful. Hope was too vague of a notion for my immature mind to grasp. I never understood why some of my friends disappeared and never came back. Slowly my friend group shrank in size.
Even then the vast emigration of our people had begun, but how was a father to explain that to a young child upset at losing her friends?
In my teen years, I finally began to understand a little. The emigration plan was finally officially put into action by the government and it was all the news talked about. People began to flee our dying planet faster than ever, but still my family remained.
Over the next ten years the population on planet remained nearly the same, however, as short term tourists and thrill seekers replaced the residents who left. The high temperatures turned our world into one of the top tropical resort planets in the galaxy as the temperate zone on our planet took over the entire planet. Now the high temperature records set when I was a child were considered cool weather.
My father left me to run the touring company while he dug deep underground and prepared for the worst. He never explained his actions, but I understood by then. Others might leave, fleeing the death of our once stable world, but our family would never run away. As we had been there in the beginning, one of the founding families, so we would be there till the end.
Many a time I spent my free moments wondering exactly what kind of end that would be. The scientist agreed on one thing only. The heat would increase until life could no longer be sustained on the surface. However, they couldn’t agree on what would happen then. Would the planet erupt into volcanic chaos? Would the atmosphere boil away into nothing, asphyxiating us? Death awaited, but no one knew what form. The only topic on which the scientists could agree less was the cause of the planet’s death. They had databases full of data from all the years our planet had been colonized, but no cause could they pinpoint. Whatever had happened, it started well before even my father was born.
The death throes began quietly and slowly with a gradual change that turned our planet from half icy wasteland into a warmer climate. The population exploded in this time as people spread to previously unlivable zones and the colony finally paid off its debts as tourism began to pour in.
But, the change never stopped and slowly the first cities in the warmest zones where the colonization began emptied as people moved north and south to cooler climates. My family was one of those that moved in that migration. My grandfather packed up the whole family and moved us to the northernmost plot of land he could buy and created the touring company. The family criticized him for it, but over the years, as more people fled the hottest zones, their complaints faded away.
Their memories of snow and ice also faded away over the years as well, leaving no one in my generation or my father’s who had seen snow.
It was also my grandfather who began the task of digging deep into the underground of our land. My father continued on in his footsteps and added yet more levels to the complex. However, he died due to a cave-in before my thirtieth birthday.
And so I took up the mantle of our survival instead.
The money we earned from our touring company all went to the digging or to buying food stores. Not all of my extended family agreed with this. Those that complained joined the emmigration, abandoning their kin to flee for their lives. But no matter, the food would last longer without them.
It was with little fanfare that our family enlarged slightly when I married a man from one of the other founding families. Their remaining people joined our great task and with more hands the work proceeded faster.
It was as well that it did, for shortly after I turned forty-one, the temperatures on the surface reached such a level that our booming tourism industry burned up. Literally. Now entire zones on the surface were marked as red zones unsuitable for life. Only two types of people visited our planet now: the thrill seekers who wanted to experience death first hand and scientists wanting to study our dying planet. Like moths to a flame, they swarmed to our planet, only, in several cases, to literally burn to a crisp.
One of the last communications I heard from the federation was an order banning any ship to transport civilians to our planet. Our planet was officially now marked with a red flag and the last of the tourists left. Very few military ships were permitted to land shuttles on our planet and they only came to evacuate those that remained. One such shuttle landed near our home and tried to persuade us to leave on board. A few did take the offer, though they had to leave most of their possessions behind, but I and my husband and those loyal to us stayed.
Stubborn, the soldiers called us, but they didn’t try to force us to leave, which I appreciated. I gave them directions as to where to find the other remaining settlements and thanked them for their efforts. They left, but several weeks later the same shuttle returned.
“The commander thinks you are crazy, but take this. It’s a military grade com unit which can transmit to space. Use it to contact the patrol ship stationed in system if you change your mind about leaving.”
I stored the unit deep inside our complex. However, I was sure even their commander knew the futility of giving it to us. Once the temperatures drove us underground, we would not be able to leave.
Less than two years later, the window closed and we descended underground, barring the doors behind us.
My youngest child never even knew the surface, just as I never knew snow. Our whole world was now limited to our home underground. The vast warren built for several times the number of those that remained would house us easily for decades. Possibly even generations.
However, we never forgot the surface entirely. Teams went up during the planetary night to service our remaining sensors that kept us aware of the planet’s condition. I wondered what would happen when the last of the sensors broke or we could no longer fix the insulating suits needed for the team to access them.
Contrary to the scientists’ predictions, the planet didn’t break itself apart with volcanic chaos, nor did the atmosphere burn off entirely. And then, nearly thirty years after being driven underground, the surface began to cool.
At first it changed gradually, the temperature stabilizing for several years before dropping ever so slightly. But then the change accelerated at an astonishing speed. It dove past temperate and straight into weather cold enough for us to see our breaths in less than three years.
We unbarred the doors and dressed warmly for the first time in our lives. Our children and grandchildren finally saw the sun and sky. I could barely believe what I was seeing as I shivered. The outside world looked flat and barren now. No sign of life remained. We were the only things that moved on the rocky surface.
Then, one day, it happened. I had pulled out the com unit left behind by those soldiers so long ago. It appeared to work when I transmitted a message, but no one answered. The patrol established all those decades ago most likely had been withdrawn, the ships needed elsewhere. I left the com unit on, however, and stationed one of the more responsible grandchildren to keep watch.
One of the more excitable of my grandchildren found me just after I left.
“Grandmother Snow, there’s something weird happening outside. Mother sent me to get you. Hurry!”
“Peace, child. I will come, but hurry is no longer in my vocabulary.”
She pouted, but didn’t leave me in the dust, dancing on the spot while she waited for me to catch up. The walk to the outer door seemed to take far longer every year as the strength faded from my body, but I would not yet yield to infirmity. However, I was grateful to my father for installing the lift to the surface. The long staircase to the surface was now beyond my abilities.
My daughter, the child’s mother, met me at the entrance with a heavy coat for me to wear.
“Come and see this, mother.”
Oh how I did see. Or at least I did before tears blurred my vision. The sky had disappeared behind the light gray clouds covering the sky. I blinked away my tears, but the landscape around me remained blurred. I strained my eyes, trying to see through the veil covering the world and muting the sounds around us. But then the veil reached us and small white flakes drifted lazily around us.
I put out an ungloved hand and one landed icy cold on my palm. My hand shook as the flake melted into a single drop of water.
“What is that, mother?”
My tears flowed once again as I stared out at the fluttering flakes. “That is hope, my daughter. Hope for us and for our planet.”
The Twelve Part 1 (teaser)
A baleful red light solemnly blinking on his datapad greeted Brigadier General Brantley when he returned to his desk. He lowered himself into his chair with a sigh. Yet another report urgently demanding his attention. Would he ever catch a break? No, he quickly answered himself, not on a base this new. Establishing a new base consisted of 1% excitement, and 99% paperwork and preparation. And, as the base commander, his life was pure boredom aside from the occasional disciplinary or other issue. A red light usually indicated an issue of sorts. Wishing that it would be something short and easy, he pulled the pad to himself and tapped the notification. After noting the source of the report, Lieutenant Colonel Kelly, he began to read.
A quarter of an hour later, he had to put the report down. His head hurt already. Short and easy this was not. Long, confusing, and downright odd suited it better. Brantley scrubbed at his face, trying to force his brain to work better. It didn’t help. He stabbed the com button on his desk and barked, “Dining service” in response to the automated system prompt. A few seconds later a live person came on the line.
“Dining service, how may I assist you, sir?”
“Coffee. I need coffee, strong and black and lots of it. Oh and some food too!”
“Yes, sir. It will be up shortly.”
The Brigadier General leaned back in his chair and glared at the report on his desk. It was the end of the work day, for heaven’s sake. Why did he have to deal with something like this right now? He silently cursed the XO. The woman was highly competent, responsible and absolutely brain dead when it came to the niceties of catering to a superior officer. It would never have crossed her mind to check what time it was before sending the report. He sighed again and pulled another datapad towards him for taking notes. He would have to unravel this report line by line.
The clearest bit concerned the personnel who were the focus of Kelly’s report. The entire report described certain oddities happening to the soldiers in 3rd Company who were assigned to barrack 9. To be specific, the female soldiers in barrack 9, though the males were mentioned in passing. It was definitely not something which required disciplinary action, that was also clear, but fell, rather, in the category of odd and weird happenings. Or perhaps the word coincidences would suit better. According to Kelly, and all the attached medical documents and personnel files, there had been an unusual coincidence of all the female soldiers reporting for similar symptoms in roughly the same time period, dating from about a month after arrival on the planet till present.
The female soldiers reported extreme exhaustion, sore muscles, bruised feet and limbs, and an inability to sleep restfully. The severity of the symptoms ranged from mild to severe with two of the severe cases being so dangerously exhausted that they had been shipped back on the last troopship to the nearest base with a major military hospital. The medical files highlighted another handful of soldiers who were earmarked as having symptoms possibly severe enough to medivac as well if their conditions didn’t improve.
In and of itself, this was a Problem. But two bits of information pushed it firmly into the weird and unusual category. Firstly, none of the male soldiers in the same barrack reported similar symptoms. In fact, when questioned by the medical staff, they reported the opposite. They slept unusually well and woke well-rested. None had sleeping problems. That ruled out any environmental factors at work, in the XO’s opinion, because that should have affected all soldiers equally. And, she concluded, that ought to rule out any problem with the barrack construction itself or the clothing or food provided.
The second, however, came from an unexpected source: the quartermaster. She wasn’t responding as part of Lieutenant Colonel Kelly’s investigation, but her report, submitted a few weeks prior, dovetailed nicely into the oddness around barrack 9. Apparently, the shoes of the female soldiers were wearing out at a faster than normal rate. The typical combat boots issued to all the soldier on this type of assignment ought to last for at least two years even under rough conditions, but the soldiers’ boots had needed to be replaced after a mere few months. Another layer to the oddness, as Kelly pointed out, was that the more severe the symptoms reported by a soldier, the faster their shoes were wearing out. This indicated that the soldiers were literally being worked to exhaustion, but Kelly’s investigation had discovered no difference in how the soldiers worked or trained in regard to any other soldier on base.
A beep interrupted his thoughts and Brantley realized his face hurt from how much he had scrubbed at it. He heaved himself up and tapped the flashing button. A panel slid up and the smell of coffee and food washed over him, bringing his wilted mind back to life a little. Food and caffeine should help his poor brain. He took out the tray and the panel slid closed.
Five minutes later, food gone, he started in on the very large mug of black coffee and returned his attention once again to the report. The XO had accomplished an excellent investigation, but she had obviously hit a brick wall, hence her tossing the ball squarely into his court for figuring this out now. Though obviously the correct course of action, he still wished it hadn’t needed escalating, but he couldn’t have more soldiers out of action from whatever this was.
Flicking open a new program on his datapad he composed a note summoning Lieutenant Colonel Kelly, Quartermaster Terand, Chief Medical Officer Major Okali, and the commanding officer of 3rd Company, Captain Thompson, to his office for a meeting. Wisely, he set a time for the meeting: 08:30 the next day. Otherwise the XO would pop in straight away to see the result of her report and “discuss” it with him which would take hours. No, he needed his rest first and time to mull it over before the inevitable head scratching at the meeting in the morning. He attached Lieutenant Colonel Kelly’s report summary to the message as well. Once he tapped send, he tidied up his desk and headed directly for his quarters. Another tap on the communit in his quarters set it to “do not disturb” ensuring a quiet evening unless there was a red level emergency on base. He settled back to enjoy that rare quiet, trying not to compare it to the calm before the storm.