Ice Station Beta
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
the open yard between the living quarters and the control section, he passed
the corpse of the vampire he had killed. A scavenger-ghoul was crouched over
it, feeding. The ghoul snarled at him, baring its sharp teeth in warning, but
he ignored it, walking past without a pause. The ghoul, reassured that he
wasn’t a competitor, returned to its meal.
The control section was wrecked, a tumble of shattered
electronic equipment, upturned furniture, and dangling wires. The big window
was still intact, looking out over the ice sheets, at the blue-white cliffs of
glaciers on the distant horizon. The ice was beginning to crack up, he
confirmed. He had noticed it this morning, before he had gone down again, but
it was clearer now, jagged lines and fissures showing from up here. By this
time tomorrow the sheets would begin to break.
This was not good news. This was news so bad that he wished
there was some way he could get off this damned station and back to
civilisation, but he didn’t even have a way to communicate with the base far
off to the south. Everything had gone the way of the control section, including
the radio equipment.
Edging as close as possible to the window, he tried to get a
look from above at the ice at the foot of the tower. They had built Ice Station
Beta on this sheet because the soundings had shown it to be thick enough to
withstand breakup; but from the way the rest of the ice was fracturing, he
didn’t trust the soundings any longer. From up here he should be able to see
any cracks before they reached the surface. But all he saw was the shaggy form
of the scavenger-ghoul, finishing the last of the vampire. The ice of the yard
was marked with a huge red stain of blood.
From the corner of his eye, he saw something white move on
the white ice, too indefinite to recognise. He craned his neck to see better,
but the movement was gone, as if it had never been. He knew, though, that he’d
seen something. Over the past weeks, he had learned to trust his instincts, and
this was why he was still alive.
The light reflecting off the ice hurt his eyes, so he
slipped on the dark glasses that dangled round his neck on a cord. The glasses
were scarcely in place when he glimpsed it again, a twitch on the ice,
scuttering along, gone before he could pinpoint it, but in a different position
from the first. Two of them, then, at least, whatever they were.
He noticed then that the ghoul had vanished, leaving part of
the vampire still untouched, scraps of furry skin and leathery wing spiked with
white shards of bone, and this was all the confirmation he needed that
something dangerous was out there. He had never known a ghoul to abandon a meal
before; despite their diet of carrion, they were aggressive and courageous
Well, he thought, if there was something dangerous coming,
the tower was the safest place he could be; assuming, of course, that the ice
didn’t crack up just beneath it and topple it, and him, into the water. He
glanced behind him, checking that he had locked the door at the top of the
stairs. After these weeks, double-checking was second nature, but that door
was among the most important. Three weeks ago, when the troubles began, a
monster (he still didn’t know what it had been – it had never appeared again) had
burst through that door and killed everyone in here, except him.
He leaned on the desk under which he’d hidden then, watching
the monster race round the room on spindly legs, slashing round it with long
hooked claws, screeching in a pitch so high it hurt his ears. Finally it had
gone, and he’d climbed gingerly over the corpses of his colleagues and down to
the foot of the tower, to try and get to the radio room. When he got there he’d
found it wrecked beyond repair, and had hidden in the living quarters. He
hadn’t known then that the tower was the safest place on the station, and it
was only by good fortune that he hadn’t been attacked there the first night.
When he’d finally found the courage to return to the control
section he’d found it a smashed ruin, and the bodies of his colleagues gone. He
hadn’t found a trace of them, not even a smear of blood or a hair, and had no
idea what had happened to them all. He hadn’t had a long time to think about
it, because that night he’d been attacked by the first vampire, and after that he
hadn’t had time for anything at all, except survival.
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