cutting_torchThe air was filled with choking fumes and smoke from the cutting torch. Sparks and fragments of hot metal fell in fiery drops from the hatchway above, illuminating the smoky darkness with a bright red rain that sputtered and popped as it fell past my belted position in the chair. The hot fragments crackled and danced briefly as they struck the darkened viewport at the fore end of the cockpit. Then they went cold and flickered out. Hanging high above, I watched the light display with great anxiety and I occasionally squirmed and jerked in my seat as a random hot speck landed on the back of my head or neck.

The effects of the EMD were slow to wear off. I could turn my head a little and move a few fingers. Strapped securely to the seat and hanging face-first, a full ten meters from the front viewport, I was trapped, waiting. I twisted my neck around so that I could watch over my shoulder as the outsiders cut their way through the bent metal frame that held the hatchway door tightly shut. From my downward-facing position, I could only assume that the crash had buried the ship nose first.

As the flame and the shower of sparks neared the final cut at the base of the hatchway door, I could hear garbled shouts from outside the ship. Through the hissing and popping of the cutting torch, it sounded as if there were two or three individuals taking shouted orders from another louder individual. With all that Maxim had told me before he died, my assumption was that I had landed on Earth. This was my hope.

The hissing of the cutting torch soon stopped and I clearly heard a new round of shout and response come from outside. They spoke a mix of English and Japanese. If I hadn’t landed on Earth, I was certainly inside some common territory off-world.

A loud series of hammerings then preceded the sound of the hatchway door coming free from the bent frame that surrounded it. Cold air and soft light rushed in. I looked up into the light and saw through the cutaway opening to an overcast sky above. I was instantly puzzled. Beyond that hatchway was the Main Corridor that ran the length of the ship. It was gone. The entire fore end of the ship had broken away.

The stream of daylight was suddenly obscured by the head and upper torso of the largest LMO I had ever seen. He poked his head down through the open hole and peered through the dense smoke at me. His face was beefy, grim, and serious. He had dark, mottled skin and wore a black tight-fitting one-piece uniform with taut armbands that encircled his massive biceps. His thick fingers curled around the inside of the opening. If the metal was still hot to the touch, he didn’t seem to notice at all.

He stared at me, unblinking. Then he turned and shouted. “Ha! The probe was accurate. We have a live pilot.” This elicited a flurry of babble from outside the ship. “Get the strap assembly and haul him out.” His voice was deep and his tone was aggressive, almost military in nature. He turned back to the hole, leaned down, and peered through the smoke at me once more. “Do you understand me, Chikushou?”

I managed a weak nod in reply.

“Welcome to Bellingshausen,” he spat back, with a scowl.

Bellingshausen? Unable to speak, I knit my eyebrows, puzzled.

The LMO made an irritated clicking sound deep in his throat and glowered at me fiercely. “Alexander Island. Antarctica, you fool.”

I’m in Antarctica?

“What’s left of your ship has laid waste to an honored monument of The Director, Dr. Robertson and our Great Ancestor.” Then, with a very serious tone, he quietly added “You will be interrogated for this act of vandalism. Harshly.” The large LMO pushed himself away from the hole and shouted “Haul him out” to another LMO that quickly appeared over the hole and dropped down a long, thick and rubbery snake-like apparatus.

Much like the advanced-tech insect probe, the end of the snake strap had multipart eyes and a thin metallic slit for a mouth. It immediately went to work, winding its way around my body, and constricting tightly. When it had me secure, the face end of the snake quickly struck each belt strap once and with a flash of intense white light the belt straps snapped cleanly in two. Then, with a painful jolt to my injured shoulder, the snake snapped tight across my chest and began to hoist my body up toward the ragged hole that was once the hatchway entrance to the cockpit.

The strap snake worked quickly, pulling me upward and out. Once I had exited through the top of the hole, I could see the landscape and the destruction around the ship. The nose of the ship was all that remained. It was wedged deeply into the bottom of a large bowl-shaped crater of densely packed snow and ice. The exterior of the ship was a wreckage of bent metal, wires, and tubing. It was as if the head of a large black insect had been bitten roughly off and spat into the snow. I was horrified. The surrounding terrain was barren and cold. A thick blanket of snow and ice covered everything in all directions, but for a few bits of stone and an occasional patch of mud peeking through.

The LMO that operated the snake strap grabbed me roughly, dragged me from the opening, and fed me down to a group of LMOs on the ground. They all wore the same kind of black uniform. The snake strap was removed and I collapsed to the ground, still largely incapacitated by the effects of the EMD.

“Gah,” shouted a particularly gruff LMO, as he hoisted me from the ground and tossed me roughly to another LMO. They made a game of handing me back and forth, treating me with violent shoves and slaps. Finally, the muscular LMO called them off and I was thrown into the back of a rugged military-style snowtrack vehicle.

One of the smaller LMOs, obviously young, approached the back of the vehicle with a hand scanner. A shimmering green light emanated from the scanner and flickered across my body. The scanner squealed. The young LMO turned to his superior. “He’s wearing a device,” he reported loudly. “On his chest.”

No! I was crushed. All that I had worked for had come undone.

“Find it. Take it,” replied the senior LMO.

As the younger LMO opened my shirt and peeled off the M-patch, the muscular LMO that had initially peered in on me approached the rear of the vehicle and stopped to look upon me once more.

“It is unfortunate that you are already suffering from many injuries,” he shouted, which elicited many laughs from the throng of LMOs. “I know the company interrogation team well, Chikushou. Once they see how you have destroyed our most-adored monument, they will be… let’s say… rather unkind to what remains of your flesh.”

As the large LMO stepped back from the vehicle to shout a few more orders to his crew, I saw the structure they spoke of. A monument had indeed stood in this place prior to the crash. It was now almost entirely flattened. Sturdy as it may have been, the massive negative energy burst that prevented the ship from connecting with the ground and exploding on reentry had reduced the monument and much of the surrounding landscape to a large bowl-shaped indentation. These bronze statues or sculptures were no match for the power that the ship gave off as part of the emergency impact countermeasure. And although the figures were twisted and half buried in the snow pack, I could make out three faces. Two of them were human. I recognized neither. The third figure… was Spegg.

The LMO guard slammed the door to the vehicle and I was once more enveloped in darkness.

[Communication Relay: 01MAR2086 Alexander Island, Antarctica]