Voice On The Wind

Hi everybody! Story time has come round again. This week I’ve got a slightly creepy Sci-Fi tale for you. Don’t want to give too much away other than that but it was fun to write. It’s a shorter story at 11,600 words. So with that I hope you enjoy Voice On The Wind.

Everything is white. It’s as brilliant and stunning as it is stark and chilling. From left to right and all the way up to the horizon the view is the same. There are no breaks, no changes, just a giant fluffy white carpet of perfect snow which aggressively reflects the blue cloudless sky and especially the burning ball of gases that is the sun.

Alexi can’t take his eyes off it. It’s just too beautiful to pull himself away from as he stands atop a small bump. It could never be called a hill, more a mound. It is barely as large as him and has only just enough space for a single person, in this case him, to stand at its summit. It isn’t natural, unlike the view before him. No, this mound he is atop as he stares out at the freezing minus twenty five degree Celsius was created when some of the snow blocking the caterpillar tracked survey vehicle needed to be dug out. That was a week ago and since then there has been almost three days of constant snowfall. Alexi knows the survey vehicle will need digging out again for whenever they next will need its capabilities. He pays it little thought however as he won’t be using it. The vehicle facilitates a different research group for the most part. One that is part of the larger Antarctic colony, he doesn’t have a better word for it, that has setup in the coldest place on Earth. A place that is so cold and dry that it is in fact a desert. He smiles beneath his sealed mask as he mulls over the numerous responses ranging from surprised but curious to outright defiant when people are informed of that. Some people really do fear knowledge, he thinks.

Alexi can hear his breathing. When he’d first come to Research Station Orion he’d found it very disconcerting to be able to hear his own inhales and exhales, but after a couple months he barely notices it anymore. Unless, like he is now, he consciously thinks about it. He would say so much has changed but it hasn’t, not out here. Things rarely change out in a wasteland like this. At least they don’t from one day to the next. Years, decades and centuries, sure then there is change and lots of it. Alexi feels a strange comfort to know that as he becomes aware of the presence of his viro-suit. In turn that leads his mind to contemplate how man ever managed to survive and traverse this place before the suits with their seven layers, air gaps and breathing apparatus were designed. It seems, to him at least, that it should have been impossible, but then many things that should have been impossible for mankind to achieve when they did them were still done. If only the same could be said now. Humanity is struggling, the world is… He can’t bring himself to say dying. Not because it hurts too much to say or think the words but because they simply aren’t true. Humanity is not the death of Earth. Its size, its complexity are simply too great for one species, even if they are the most populous, to kill the planet. That is not to say that planets could not be killed by humanity. They very much can. Nukes are an example of that. A perfect example in fact and there is no doubt that nuclear war would, if it had ever occurred, have killed Earth. But climate change is not death, not for the planet. It is death for humanity, but the Earth will live on long after. If only we’d done something sooner, Alexi thinks to himself as he continues to take in the scenery before him, his arms hanging limply down at his sides as a blast of ice cold wind rushes at and over the shape that is the viro-suit wearing Alexi. He feels nothing and continues to breathe slowly in and out as his eyes slowly flow from right to left and then back again.

“You’ll have to return soon.” A familiar voice says in Alexi’s head. It’s his subconscious. He nods barely perceptibly but says nothing. He doesn’t feel the need to even though he is alone out in the freezing temps. To break the silence, bar the sounds of the air as it is whirls around, seems criminal to the physicist.

Alexi is the only one who ever comes out here for a reason other than necessity. At first the other researchers, not just those within his group, thought him mad. A few had even gossiped that they thought he was struggling and near the edge, but the truth was nothing of the sort. In fact, Alexi simply wanted air, fresh air. The freshest on Earth truth be told. Still, it isn’t as fresh as it had once been. The pollution in the atmosphere has put pay to that for everyone on Earth. If only we’d managed to spread further than this world, Alexi thinks with a quiet sigh of disappointment. But alas that hope ended the day a series of rogue satellites pummeled the stop-gap orbital station of Unity Station. The casualties, as you would imagine in space, were significant. Thirteen thousand in total and the next day all space exploration, for organic life, was halted, put under review and that was that. The review took seven years, but by that time the entire space industry, some four hundred trillion dollars, had collapsed. It led to a global recession. A few companies limped on until the verdict was rendered, but even they couldn’t stay optimistic once it was decided that space travel, of any kind, was too dangerous to risk human life on. That was some thirty three years ago and during that time a few, and it really only was a few, multi-trillionaire’s tried to invoke this clause or that in attempts to get the ruling overturned. They couldn’t. Even with all the money in the world they could not prevail. The decision had been final, like the last nail in a coffin.

Alexi often wonders what might have happened if the Unity Station calamity hadn’t occurred. He knows it’s pointless to dwell on such things but it helps him to relax. Everyone needs a break after all, especially when you’re in a frozen wasteland where whiteouts are commonplace and temperatures during the summer months reach no higher than minus twenty one degrees Celsius.

Suddenly a beeping sound fills Alexi’s ears. He knows it well. When he’d first heard it he’d almost collapsed in upon himself, convinced that he was about to die. His reaction was akin to what you might expect if he was out in the vacuum of space. But now he knows better, much better. It’s an alert, not a warning of eminent demise. He chuckles, once, to himself thinking of how on edge he’d been when he’d first come out here. It’s good not to feel like that now he thinks and then lifts his left arm, spins his wrist so that he is looking at its inner edge to view the display that is affixed there. It’s caked in snow. He frowns unsure how as he doesn’t remember any snowfall occurring during his surveying of the beautiful scenery of Antarctic. The frown and associated consideration of the snow covering the display is fleeting. He sees little reason to question it and wipes his thick gloved right hand across the display. The readout shows a third of a tank remaining. He could wait for the second alert, when he’s in the red. He’d still have more than enough to easily make it back inside, it’s only three hundred metres after all, before the alert becomes a warning. On this occasion he is inclined not to. Not for fear of a sudden blizzard that might ruin his chances of getting into the safety of the research station, but because he’s had his fill of the scenery for today. It’s offered the calming influence he’d felt in need of. Or, the influence he felt he would need if he just forged ahead without taking time for himself. It’s a common problem Alexi has often suffered from and stems from an obsession with his work. Not that he is alone and has to do all the calculations and fabrication after all. He has a team for that now and yet he enjoys it. He knows when the research group, that he didn’t pick the members of sadly, came here they thought him interfering. Like he didn’t trust them to do their work and simply wanted to make sure that everything was right, but that had not been the case at all. Alexi had simply gotten so used to doing all the work himself that he’d found it difficult not to do the calculations, etc even though there are now a dozen others too, for each item of this project.

A smile, hidden by his mask, creeps across his face as he takes one last look at the beauty of the pristine white expanse before him and then turns. Immediately, his view is very different and in Alexi’s mind ugly. He has no other word for it than that. The mass of angular box shaped buildings are dug into the snow and anchored to the ground by three metre long metal bolts at every corner. They’re present to keep the research facility from being wrenched and tossed unceremoniously across the Antarctic tundra. It humours the physicist to picture that. When he does he imagines a giant snowy white hand descending from the clouds to pluck one of the grey boxes and then fling it far away. He can just imagine the box and its contents tumbling end over end over end like clothes in a washing machine before crashing unrelentingly into the hard rocky ground beneath the snow and ice.

“On your way back Doctor Baros?” A young sounding female voice says in his head, well into his ears really, like the bleep had been.

Alexi doesn’t know the voice’s owner, at least not enough to be able to accurately recall what her name might be. He’s sure she came in with the general staff change that happens every couple weeks. He couldn’t stand having to rotate that often in and out of this place. He’s here now and has grown accustomed to it. But the reasoning, put forth by the pay masters, is that it is done so none of the staff suffer adverse effects that might impact normal civilian life. He’d found that explanation both comical and confusing as it made it sound like normal people, non-scientists, were incapable of ‘suffering’ through such conditions without going mad. Yet, the scientists, him, his team, the other research teams, are permitted to stay… He isn’t sure how long. He hasn’t seen a limit written down and sure as hell doesn’t seem to have hit it yet. He suspects there may be a limit, but it is likely months, many months. After all, Doctor Alexi Baros and his clean energy team have been on Antarctica for over two months already. He’s sure they aren’t the longest guests of Orion. Though, in truth he cannot be sure. He doesn’t mingle with the other researchers and their teams. He sees no need. He gets all the human contact he feels necessary working alongside his own team. Plus, he’s got to know them well. To be honest, he knows them well for him. Alexi has never been the most sociable person. He prefers a good book or fifteen to people. Books are easy. People, not so much. They throw complexities in that either distract or dissuade you from whatever focus you have chosen for yourself. That’s not to say that Alexi has never mingled with others. He has. It’s been a while though, and after the dissolution of his last relationship, he can’t remember how long ago that was other than to say years with some surety, he threw himself into the only part of his life that had always been present, his work. He still remembers as a child skimming through books looking at the pictures of space, telescopes, apparatus and other such things and finding them fascinating. He’d been too young to read the words and even on the occasions when he’d tried he couldn’t wrap his tongue around most of them. It humours the physicist to think about that now, especially while trudging through the deep snow, as the words are really quite simple. But when you’ve never heard them or seen them before in your life they can be quite daunting. He’d often wondered if that is why some people with speech impediments and the like struggle with saying certain things. He’d never dug into it to discover if his hypothesis had any basis, mainly because of his obsession with his own work.

A beep rings in Alexi’s ears. The sound stops him in his tracks, having knocked him out of his thoughts. His brow furrows and he looks down, as far as he can in the viro-suit which is more constricting than one might imagine unless they consider how much bulk seven layers actually adds, to peer at the small screen on the inside of his left wrist. To his surprise the readout really is showing he is lower on oxygen, in the red, than he had been previously, which had been barely into the orange. He thinks it strange seeing as the tank shouldn’t be depleting as fast as that. Still, nothing to worry about he tells himself as he raises his head and gauges the distance from his current position to the closest of the facilities pressure doors which is a little less than a hundred and twenty metres, by his approximation.

Have to get the tank checked when I get back, he mutters under his breath following a shrug. With that noted he returns to putting one foot carefully in front of the other. In any other circumstance he would have already covered the distance but out in Antarctica walking only ever results in slow progress. There is no sprinting or striding quickly out here. It’s just not possible. That is why progress is slow and your movement can only be considered as plodding. He’d estimate full speed is maybe twice the pace of a snail. It really is that slow.

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