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Beneath the ice, more questions arise.
Submitted By Picard on 10/10/31
Mars Explorer, picard, Community, Creations, Publications, Fan Fiction 

To find the most recent part, use your browser's text search feature to find @***@

 Links to other Parts:

Part 1: Not Alone

Part 2: A Spy Unrealized

Part 3a: The Journey Part 1

Part 3b: The Journey Part 2

Part 4: Horizons

Part 5: Stranger Things

And now, Part 6.

 

 

 

 

 

The Not So Distant Future

"Spiridon, repeat, can you hear me?" Jackal boosted his signal strength to the maximum. Nothing. He changed channels. "Lizzle, we've got a problem down here. Spiridon just fell into a crevasse. He's not responding. Could be he's too deep, could be he's unconscious. Either way, the hole's too deep to fly out of. I need that shuttle down here soon, with a hovercraft and a tow hook." 

"Alright Jackal. Can you get an estimate on how deep it is?"

"Just a second." Jackal lifted off and flew over the chasm. The distance indicator dropped below its maximum range. "At least 500 meters. Maybe more. Could be too much for a tow rope." 

"I'll have them send a grav beam with the shuttle. Doc'll be on the shuttle too." 

"Thanks." The channel closed, and Jackal realized that he couldn't do anything until the shuttle got there. Well, almost nothing. He flew over the crevasse again, inverted his buggy, and fired 3 short, low level laser bursts through the hole. He waited. No response came.

***

Falconer waited for Lizzle to close the channel, then spoke. "Problem?"

"Spitfire fell through the ice. I need to send a shuttle with a Hovercraft and Doc to get them. Also a grav beam."

"Do it. Don't launch them yet though." Lizzle turned back to her console and made the necessary calls. Falconer turned towards Kestrel. "What would the ETA be for the shuttle to  fly directly down to Planum Boreum?"

"About 20 minutes to the outer atmosphere, but then they'll have to slow to around Mach 3 once they're in. It'll take them at least an hour to reach Jackal. Maybe more if the winds are bad. Those shuttles just aren't designed for atmospheric flight."

"Hmm. And what's the top atmospheric speed of the jet?"

"Last test showed over Mach 13. Why do you...oh. The jet could be there in under 20 minutes. Provided it was already in the atmosphere. I can fly her out of the shuttle's launch bay with no problem."

"Can you take Doc with you?"

"Yeah. And the grav beam too."

"Good. Get down to the shuttlebay." Falconer turned towards Lizzle. "Tell Orion to mount a grav beam on the jet and send it to the shuttlebay. And postpone the meeting until 1700." As Lizzle relayed the instructions, Falconer used his own comm to call Zam. "Zach, come up to my office. I'd like to know what it is that you found, before the meeting."

***

Spiridon blinked, then winced. His head was pounding. One moment, he'd been at the surface, and the next he was...where was he? The buggy was on a solid surface, but something just seemed...strange. Too much pressure. And he was moving, fast. He flipped on his lights. Bubbles streamed up past his canopy, seemingly at random. He was completely submerged. "What the heck?" He eased onto the throttle, but the buggy hit a bump and lifted off the ground. "Okay, that doesn't work." He checked his sensor logs. The initial fall had lasted about half a minute. He'd had to take time to shunt power from sensors to wings...too long, it seemed. He'd lost consciousness on impact. After that, his rate of descent hadn't been enough to trip the acceleration sensor. So he'd been in the water for at least 5 minutes. How deep was this? He opened the wings, and the buggy started to rise, catching the rising gas bubbles. There had to be a surface somewhere. He checked his speedometer: only a few MPH. Not very fast, but it would have to do. Suddenly, his canopy bumped into something. He pulled out his flashlight, then looked up again. A layer of ice, of unknown volume could be seen past the thin film of surface water. It was quite clear that this was not where he had come down. He watched the flow of the water, and then, slowly, turned his vehicle around. The wheels gave a small amount of thrust, and he began 'driving' back the way he had come, while wondering how there could be liquid water so close to the surface.

***

Ariel Johnson's voice filtered through the shuttle's comm system. "We'll be in the atmosphere in 1 minute," he said. "I'll be reentering with the launch bay facing into the wind, then going into full forward thrust, so make sure you're ready to punch it. I'll rendezvous with you in an hour."

"Got it," Kestrel said. 

"Just make sure you have the med bed ready," Futureboy added. "If Spitfire fell that far, he'll probably have a concussion." 

"Will do Doc." An alert sounded in the background. "Jay, 10 seconds to mark."

"Ready."

"5, 4, 3, 2, 1, mark!" The entire shuttle shook as it hit the atmosphere, and the roar of the thrusters filled the bay. The door yawned open, showing a red sky through a red hot glowing cloud. Kestrel pulled in the landing gear and cranked the throttle to maximum.

"Good luck," Johnson said, before his voice was obscured by the static of reentry. The jet screamed away from the shuttle, heating up before Kestrel turned on the shields. The relative silence inside the vehicle struck Future boy as strange. 

Kestrel turned around to speak to his passenger. "Well, Doc, how's the view?"

"Fine. But shouldn't there be a sonic boom?" 

"Not until I cut the shields. We need to get a better angle before I can turn them off without us roasting. Give me a few seconds..." The shields cut off, and the aircraft shook and rattled before the silence of hypersonic travel replaced the noise.

"How long until we're there?"

"Not long. 17 minutes. I'll have to turn the shields back on as we enter dust storms, but that should only cause minimal speed loss."

"Good." 

Kestrel set the craft on autopilot, then turned around again. "How bad could it be, Doc?"

"Fairly bad. Spitfire never has his grav cushion on maximum, and while that can help with driving or flying, it means that it doesn't stop him as fast. If he hit his head after a fall of half a kilometer, at the wrong angle he could have given himself a serious concussion. In any event, he could be discombobulated and might get lost.

"Come on Doc, Spitfire's not going to do anything stupid."

"Buggies tend to roll without a parking brake on. If he lost consciousness on a slope, he could be a long way from where he fell in."

"Well, we'll see." 

Futureboy looked out the window again. "I just hope he doesn't start seeing things."

***

The water seemed to be getting faster. Spiridon checked the speedometer, but if he had slowed, there wasn't enough difference to tell on 2 decimal places. "I must've gone too far," he thought. "If I fell in in rapids like these, the sensors would have recorded it." He came over a swell in the water, and his lights shone on something: 2 streams fed into the one he was in. A swirling maelstrom spun at their junction, before it spilled into the one he was approaching from. "Well, they definitely would have noticed the buggy getting spun around," he thought. "I must have passed it." He made a complete turn around, and drove back. Behind him, a single stream flowed, no whirlpool in sight.

***

By the time Jackal heard the sonic boom, the jet was already touching down on the ice. "About time you got here! And keep the hover-jets on! I don't know if the ice can take the full weight."

"We got here as fast as we could," Kestrel said. "Is that the hole that Spitfire fell down?"

"Yeah. He's been down there for over an hour. I still can't raise him, and his GPS locator is out of range."

Kestrel eyed the gap in the ice skeptically. "It's gonna be a tight squeeze to get the jet down there. What do you say, Doc. Would you rather stay up here and wait for the shuttle?"

"Not on your life. If he's injured, I have to determine if he can be moved, and if he can't, I'll have to treat him there."

"Okay then. Jackal, we're heading down. Keep a channel open."

"Got it. Good luck." The jet lifted up again, and started down the chasm, slowly.

***

The Control Center was still abuzz. "Jet has arrived on schedule," Lizzle reported. "Jackal is going to relay their communications to us as the descend." 

"Shuttle ETA?" Falconer asked.

"Still 45 minutes away, at earliest. Winds are worse than expected." 

"Relay the feed to the shuttle as well. And keep monitoring for a GPS contact." Falconer turned to the science station. "Is this sort of thing normal for that region?"

"I would expect this kind of hole in a region that experiences seasonal geysers," Babbage said, "but the only geysers that have been observed were confined to the southern polar region. Judging by the scans that Jackal sent us, this chasm is part of a series of cracks that run along the immediate area for a kilometer. It's very strange. The overall pattern makes it seem as if the ice in that entire area was melted, then refrozen. The only cause that I can think of would be periodic volcanic activity, but the farthest north that volcanoes have been found is Kasei Valles, but that's over 4,000 kilometers south of the northern polar region." 

"It's not impossible," Picard said. "The first team found evidence of increased volcanic activity."

"True, but look at this." Babbage brought up the scans. "Topographically, this is the pattern of the cracks. But viewed from the side..." He rotated the image, and what looked like a cracked pane of glass was replaced by a down-angled wedge of imperfections, cutting into the ice.

"I see," Picard said. "It looks like something melted through the ice traveling north, and the ice froze behind."

"Rapidly. To from these kinds of cracks, the refreezing would have had to be immediately after whatever melted through it passed."

"Pyroclastic flow? Or maybe a cometary impact. That could explain the refreezing."

"I'll  look into it. But no impacts like that have been observed before." Babbage turned back to his work.

A surprised shout sounded from the comm. "Scraped the wall," Kestrel reported. "Compensating." 

"Forget about the comet for now, Tom," Falconer said. "A lost pilot is more important than that."

***

The jet scraped the wall of the crevasse again, this time on the nose. "We're at -450 meters," Kestrel said, hurriedly steadying the craft.

The response was tinny, as if if the caller was far away. "Copy that, Solar Flare, -450. Anything new yet?"

"Nothing. We'll check in again at -500." Kestrel glanced over his shoulder at his passenger. "Anything on scanners, Doc?"

Futureboy adjusted the settings on his console, again. "A mass of metal, but it could just be all the iron embedded in the ice. Can't make out the exact composition; the iron's interfering with the scans."

"Let me know if it gets worse. I'm already flying half blind; no need to lose the other eye."

The altimeter beeped. "-500 meters, Jackal. Still nothing-"

The jet jolted down and forward, as if pulled by something. "What the-" Kestrel surged the hover thrusters, and the jet shot up, away from the pull. "What just happened?"

Jackal's frantic voice filtered through the speaker, static obscuring some words. "What--problem, Jay? Need--elp?"

"Negative, just go a little shaken up. Repeat, negative." Kestrel tried to look out over the edge of the canopy, but the jet's main body blocked his view. "Still can't see... Doc, I'm gonna put her on her nose. Hold tight, I might hit something." The jet pitched forward, and the lights finally shone on the source of the pull: a raging stream of water, rushing into a tunnel through the ice. "Wow." 

Futureboy looked over his shoulder, and his eyes widened. "Liquid water...a whole river!"

"Yeah, and Spiridon fell right into it." Kestrel upped the thrusters until they were in easy comm range again. "Jackal, we've got a problem. Finding Spitfire just got a lot more difficult."

***

Zam stepped into the MIC, then walked into Falconer's office. "Sorry I'm late."

"No problem. Sit down." Falconer waited for Zam to take a seat before continuing. "So, what are the details about this virus?"

"Basically, it spreads through a targeted system and rewrites one piece of code to initially make certain files inaccessible. Then, once we can't access it, it overwrites the files bit by bit. Finally, if anyone tries to forcibly access the files while it's erasing them, it infiltrates the terminal, disables the protocols that link the cooling systems to the CPU usage, and then over-clocks the CPU until it fragments, violently."

"Alright, but what information is it trying to erase?" 

"The only definite thing I've found so far is that it is erasing any reference to one person. Robert Garret; he was one of the building service workers. By the time Chris asked me to look into it, it had already affected the entire database. Nothing left. I believe the initial infection was through a search Krieger did over the tach-com. He checked for their personnel file, which alerted the virus. It took less than 5 minutes for it to wipe our records."

"Who'd want to remove all records on a janitor?"

"Don't know. However, he had a criminal record, which our computers didn't show either. It seems as if someone wanted to wipe his record, and then decided to wipe him from the face of the Earth."

"Any trace on the virus yet?"

"None. And we'll have to reload all the systems from the last save before the infection, then bring them back online one by one, once they're clean."

Falconer shook his head. "We can't do that now; not until we have Spiridon back."

Zam nodded. "Just telling you what has to be done. Is there anything else?"

"No. Thanks." Zam nodded and left. Falconer sighed. "Just one crisis after another..."

***

Spiridon stopped his buggy and deployed the wings. He checked the scans again. He'd travelled almost half a kilometer. He looked up. Nothing, except for solid ice. "Darn it!" Suddenly he felt himself rolling forward. The buggy had begun spinning end over end, pushed by the current. Still annoyed at the lack of progress with finding his way out, he adjusted the wings, a bit too much. The buggy shot down through the water. Before he could stop his descent, it was stopped for him: the sound of shattering ice was overshadowed by a metallic clang as the buggy hit something. Spiridon stepped on the grav brake. The buggy froze, back wheels suspended over whatever it had hit. Spiridon retracted the wings, and slowly brought the buggy to rest on the mysterious surface. "What is this?" The scans showed a familiar composition: titanium infused with carbon nanotube and coated in ablative ceramic. "A spacecraft!" A burst of sound crackled over his speaker. 

"Spitfire, this is Solar Flare. Do you read? Over?"

Spiridon pressed the response key. "Jay? Yes, I read you. I'm fine, just a little shaken. You're not going to believe what I just found. It's..." The section of hull that Spiridon's buggy sat on suddenly yawned open, drawing water, and the buggy, into the craft's interior. Spiridon only had time for a surprised "What?" before the doors sealed again, cutting off the transmission.

***

"Spitfire? Spitfire! Repeat last transmission! Spitfire, do you read?" Kestrel cycled through all the frequencies within reason, and a few that weren't, but their lucky break had dissolved into static. "Doc, can you get a bead on that last transmission?"

Futureboy checked the sensor logs. "I can get a rough estimate, within 30 meters."

"Good. Do it." Kestrel composed a brief text string, then fed it through the computer. "Please let this get through in one piece..." He hit the send button. With any luck, that small update would make it through in a readable form where a voice communique wouldn't.

"Got it! Bearing two-oh mark two-five, roughly 300 meters." Futureboy fed the information to Kestrel's HUD. An arrow appeared on screen, pointing the way.

"Alright. I sent a text to Jackal. I'll give it half a minute. If I don't get a response in that time, we'll head in anyways."

They'd counted 15 when the reply came back: "Proceed, mark path."

"No problem. Just fire up the laser, and..." Kestrel used a short burst to melt an arrow in the ice. "Alright! Spitfire, hang on, we're on our way." The jet continued down the narrow tunnel, neither occupant noticing the whirlpool beneath them fill with water as a metal door closed.

***

The Not So Distant Future

"Spiridon, repeat, can you hear me?" Jackal boosted his signal strength to the maximum. Nothing. He changed channels. "Lizzle, we've got a problem down here. Spiridon just fell into a crevasse. He's not responding. Could be he's too deep, could be he's unconscious. Either way, the hole's too deep to fly out of. I need that shuttle down here soon, with a hovercraft and a tow hook." 

"Alright Jackal. Can you get an estimate on how deep it is?"

"Just a second." Jackal lifted off and flew over the chasm. The distance indicator dropped below its maximum range. "At least 500 meters. Maybe more. Could be too much for a tow rope." 

"I'll have them send a grav beam with the shuttle. Doc'll be on the shuttle too." 

"Thanks." The channel closed, and Jackal realized that he couldn't do anything until the shuttle got there. Well, almost nothing. He flew over the crevasse again, inverted his buggy, and fired 3 short, low level laser bursts through the hole. He waited. No response came.

***

Falconer waited for Lizzle to close the channel, then spoke. "Problem?"

"Spitfire fell through the ice. I need to send a shuttle with a Hovercraft and Doc to get them. Also a grav beam."

"Do it. Don't launch them yet though." Lizzle turned back to her console and made the necessary calls. Falconer turned towards Kestrel. "What would the ETA be for the shuttle to  fly directly down to Planum Boreum?"

"About 20 minutes to the outer atmosphere, but then they'll have to slow to around Mach 3 once they're in. It'll take them at least an hour to reach Jackal. Maybe more if the winds are bad. Those shuttles just aren't designed for atmospheric flight."

"Hmm. And what's the top atmospheric speed of the jet?"

"Last test showed over Mach 13. Why do you...oh. The jet could be there in under 20 minutes. Provided it was already in the atmosphere. I can fly her out of the shuttle's launch bay with no problem."

"Can you take Doc with you?"

"Yeah. And the grav beam too."

"Good. Get down to the shuttlebay." Falconer turned towards Lizzle. "Tell Orion to mount a grav beam on the jet and send it to the shuttlebay. And postpone the meeting until 1700." As Lizzle relayed the instructions, Falconer used his own comm to call Zam. "Zach, come up to my office. I'd like to know what it is that you found, before the meeting."

***

Spiridon blinked, then winced. His head was pounding. One moment, he'd been at the surface, and the next he was...where was he? The buggy was on a solid surface, but something just seemed...strange. Too much pressure. And he was moving, fast. He flipped on his lights. Bubbles streamed up past his canopy, seemingly at random. He was completely submerged. "What the heck?" He eased onto the throttle, but the buggy hit a bump and lifted off the ground. "Okay, that doesn't work." He checked his sensor logs. The initial fall had lasted about half a minute. He'd had to take time to shunt power from sensors to wings...too long, it seemed. He'd lost consciousness on impact. After that, his rate of descent hadn't been enough to trip the acceleration sensor. So he'd been in the water for at least 5 minutes. How deep was this? He opened the wings, and the buggy started to rise, catching the rising gas bubbles. There had to be a surface somewhere. He checked his speedometer: only a few MPH. Not very fast, but it would have to do. Suddenly, his canopy bumped into something. He pulled out his flashlight, then looked up again. A layer of ice, of unknown volume could be seen past the thin film of surface water. It was quite clear that this was not where he had come down. He watched the flow of the water, and then, slowly, turned his vehicle around. The wheels gave a small amount of thrust, and he began 'driving' back the way he had come, while wondering how there could be liquid water so close to the surface.

***

Ariel Johnson's voice filtered through the shuttle's comm system. "We'll be in the atmosphere in 1 minute," he said. "I'll be reentering with the launch bay facing into the wind, then going into full forward thrust, so make sure you're ready to punch it. I'll rendezvous with you in an hour."

"Got it," Kestrel said. 

"Just make sure you have the med bed ready," Futureboy added. "If Spitfire fell that far, he'll probably have a concussion." 

"Will do Doc." An alert sounded in the background. "Jay, 10 seconds to mark."

"Ready."

"5, 4, 3, 2, 1, mark!" The entire shuttle shook as it hit the atmosphere, and the roar of the thrusters filled the bay. The door yawned open, showing a red sky through a red hot glowing cloud. Kestrel pulled in the landing gear and cranked the throttle to maximum.

"Good luck," Johnson said, before his voice was obscured by the static of reentry. The jet screamed away from the shuttle, heating up before Kestrel turned on the shields. The relative silence inside the vehicle struck Future boy as strange. 

Kestrel turned around to speak to his passenger. "Well, Doc, how's the view?"

"Fine. But shouldn't there be a sonic boom?" 

"Not until I cut the shields. We need get a better angle before I can turn them off without us roasting. Give me a few seconds..." The shields cut off, and the aircraft shook and rattled before the silence of hypersonic travel replaced the noise.

"How long until we're there?"

"Not long. 17 minutes. I'll have to turn the shields back on as enter dust storms, but that should only cause minimal speed loss."

"Good." Kestrel set the craft on autopilot, then turned around again. 

'How bad could it be, Doc?"

"Fairly bad. Spitfire never has his grav cushion on maximum, and while that can help with driving or flying, it means that it doesn't stop him as fast. If he hit his head after a fall of half a kilometer, at the wrong angle he could have given himself a serious concussion. In any event, he could be discombobulated and might get lost.

"Come on Doc, Spitfire's not going to do anything stupid."

"Buggies tend to roll without a parking brake on. If he lost consciousness on a slope, he could be a long way from where he fell in."

"Well, we'll see." Futureboy looked out the window again. "I just hope he doesn't start seeing things."

***

The water seemed to be getting faster. Spiridon checked the speedometer, but if he had slowed, there wasn't enough difference to tell on 2 decimal places. "I must've gone too far," he thought. "If I fell in in rapids like these, the sensors would have recorded it." He came over a swell in the water, and his lights shone on something: 2 streams fed into the one he was in. A swirling maelstrom spun at their junction, before it spilled into the one he was approaching from. "Well, they definitely would have noticed the buggy getting spun around," he thought. "I must have passed it." He made a complete turn around, and drove back. Behind him, a single stream flowed, no whirlpool in sight.

***

By the time Jackal heard the sonic boom, the jet was already touching down on the ice. "About time you got here! And keep the hover-jets on! I don't know if the ice can take the full weight."

"We got here as fast as we could," Kestrel said. "Is that the hole that Spitfire fell down?"

"Yeah. He's been down there for over an hour. I still can't raise him, and his GPS locator is out of range."

Kestrel eyed the gap in the ice skeptically. "It's gonna be a tight squeeze to get the jet down there. What do you say, Doc. Would you rather stay up here and wait for the shuttle?"

"Not on your life. If he's injured, I have to determine if he can be moved, and if he can't, I'll have to treat him there."

"Okay then. Jackal, we're heading down. Keep a channel open."

"Got it. Good luck." The jet lifted up again, and started down the chasm, slowly.

***

The Control Center was still abuzz. "Jet has arrived on schedule," Lizzle reported. "Jackal is going to relay their communications to us as the descend." 

"Shuttle ETA?" Falconer asked.

"Still 45 minutes away, at earliest. Winds are worse than expected." 

"Relay the feed to the shuttle as well. And keep monitoring for a GPS contact." Falconer turned to the science station. "Is this sort of thing normal for that region?"

"I would expect this kind of hole in a region that experiences seasonal geysers," Babbage said, "but the only geysers that have been observed were confined to the southern polar region. Judging by the scans that Jackal sent us, this chasm is part of a series of cracks that run along the immediate area for a kilometer. It's very strange. The overall pattern makes it seem as if the ice in that entire area was melted, then refrozen. The only cause that I can think of would be periodic volcanic activity, but the farthest north that volcanoes have been found is Kasei Valles, but that's over 4,000 kilometers south of the northern polar region." 

"It's not impossible," Picard said. "The first team found evidence of increased volcanic activity."

"True, but look at this." Babbage brought up the scans. "Topographically, this is the pattern of the cracks. But viewed from the side..." He rotated the image, and what looked like a cracked pane of glass was replaced by a down-angled wedge of imperfections, cutting into the ice.

"I see," Picard said. "It looks like something melted through the ice traveling north, and the ice froze behind."

"Rapidly. To from these kinds of cracks, the refreezing would have had to be immediately after whatever melted through it passed."

"Pyroclastic flow? Or maybe a cometary impact. That could explain the refreezing."

"I'll  look into it. But no impacts like that have been observed before." Babbage turned back to his work.

A surprised shout sounded from the comm. "Scraped the wall," Kestrel reported. "Compensating." 

"Forget about the comet for now, Tom," Falconer said. "A lost pilot is more important than that."

***

The jet scraped the wall of the crevasse again, this time on the nose. "We're at -450 meters," Kestrel said, hurriedly steadying the craft.

The response was tinny, as if if the caller was far away. "Copy that, Solar Flare, -450. Anything new yet?"

"Nothing. We'll check in again at -500." Kestrel glanced over his shoulder at his passenger. "Anything on scanners, Doc?"

Futureboy adjusted the settings on his console, again. "A mass of metal, but it could just be all the iron embedded in the ice. Can't make out the exact composition; the iron's interfering with the scans."

"Let me know if it gets worse. I'm already flying half blind; no need to lose the other eye."

The altimeter beeped. "-500 meters, Jackal. Still nothing-"

The jet jolted down and forward, as if pulled by something. "What the-" Kestrel surged the hover thrusters, and the jet shot up, away from the pull. "What just happened?"

Jackal's frantic voice filtered through the speaker, static obscuring some words. "What--problem, Jay? Need--elp?"

"Negative, just go a little shaken up. Repeat, negative." Kestrel tried to look out over the edge of the canopy, but the jet's main body blocked his view. "Still can't see... Doc, I'm gonna put her on her nose. Hold tight, I might hit something." The jet pitched forward, and the lights finally shone on the source of the pull: a raging stream of water, rushing into a tunnel through the ice. "Wow." 

Futureboy looked over his shoulder, and his eyes widened. "Liquid water...a whole river!"

"Yeah, and Spiridon fell right into it." Kestrel upped the thrusters until they were in easy comm range again. "Jackal, we've got a problem. Finding Spitfire just got a lot more difficult."

***

Zam stepped into the MIC, then walked into Falconer's office. "Sorry I'm late."

"No problem. Sit down." Falconer waited for Zam to take a seat before continuing. "So, what are the details about this virus?"

"Basically, it spreads through a targeted system and rewrites one piece of code to initially make certain files inaccessible. Then, once we can't access it, it overwrites the files bit by bit. Finally, if anyone tries to forcibly access the files while it's erasing them, it infiltrates the terminal, disables the protocols that link the cooling systems to the CPU usage, and then over-clocks the CPU until it fragments, violently."

"Alright, but what information is it trying to erase?" 

"The only definite thing I've found so far is that it is erasing any reference to one person. Robert Garret; he was one of the building service workers. By the time Chris asked me to look into it, it had already affected the entire database. Nothing left. I believe the initial infection was through a search Krieger did over the tach-com. He checked for their personnel file, which alerted the virus. It took less than 5 minutes for it to wipe our records."

"Who'd want to remove all records on a janitor?"

"Don't know. However, he had a criminal record, which our computers didn't show either. It seems as if someone wanted to wipe his record, and then decided to wipe him from the face of the Earth."

"Any trace on the virus yet?"

"None. And we'll have to reload all the systems from the last save before the infection, then bring them back online one by one, once they're clean."

Falconer shook his head. "We can't do that now; not until we have Spiridon back."

Zam nodded. "Just telling you what has to be done. Is there anything else?"

"No. Thanks." Zam nodded and left. Falconer sighed. "Just one crisis after another..."

***

Spiridon stopped his buggy and deployed the wings. He checked the scans again. He'd travelled almost half a kilometer. He looked up. Nothing, except for solid ice. "Darn it!" Suddenly he felt himself rolling forward. The buggy had begun spinning end over end, pushed by the current. Still annoyed at the lack of progress with finding his way out, he adjusted the wings, a bit too much. The buggy shot down through the water. Before he could stop his descent, it was stopped for him: the sound of shattering ice was overshadowed by a metallic clang as the buggy hit something. Spiridon stepped on the grav brake. The buggy froze, back wheels suspended over whatever it had hit. Spiridon retracted the wings, and slowly brought the buggy to rest on the mysterious surface. "What is this?" The scans showed a familiar composition: titanium infused with carbon nanotube and coated in ablative ceramic. "A spacecraft!" A burst of sound crackled over his speaker. 

"Spitfire, this is Solar Flare. Do you read? Over?"

Spiridon pressed the response key. "Jay? Yes, I read you. I'm fine, just a little shaken. You're not going to believe what I just found. It's..." The section of hull that Spiridon's buggy sat on suddenly yawned open, drawing water, and the buggy, into the craft's interior. Spiridon only had time for a surprised "What?" before the doors sealed again, cutting off the transmission.

***

"Spitfire? Spitfire! Repeat last transmission! Spitfire, do you read?" Kestrel cycled through all the frequencies within reason, and a few that weren't, but their lucky break had dissolved into static. "Doc, can you get a bead on that last transmission?"

Futureboy checked the sensor logs. "I can get a rough estimate, within 30 meters."

"Good. Do it." Kestrel composed a brief text string, then fed it through the computer. "Please let this get through in one piece..." He hit the send button. With any luck, that small update would make it through in a readable form where a voice communique wouldn't.

"Got it! Bearing two-oh mark two-five, roughly 300 meters." Futureboy fed the information to Kestrel's HUD. An arrow appeared on screen, pointing the way.

"Alright. I sent a text to Jackal. I'll give it half a minute. If I don't get a response in that time, we'll head in anyways."

***

"The comm screen in the MIC showed Kestrel's message: 'Brief contact, lost. Have bearing on last known. Proceed?' Falconer made a decision. "Lizzle, set a clock, 30 minutes. Then send this message: 'Proceed, mark path. If no contact in 30 minutes, resurface.' End message."

Lizzle set to work. Falconer turned to Babbage and Picard. "I need a workable full scale rescue plan within the next 30 minutes. Assume that only Jackal's buggy and the en route shuttle are available for it. If that's not feasible, I need to know." 

Lizzle turned around. "Message acknowledged."

"Start the clock." The countdown began, beeping at second intervals. Falconer watched as the first minute began disappearing. "And hope..."

***

"Mark path?" Futureboy read the message again. "How are we supposed to mark the path?"

"Simple," Kestrel said. He triggered the lasers and melted an arrow on the right side of the wall. 

"You sure that's safe?" Futureboy eyed the arrow skeptically. Cracks had formed around it from the lasers impact.

"I'll only make them if the tunnel forks. And it's just for 300 meters. We'll be fine. Besides, Spitfire's conscious, so if we just tell him to look for the arrows, he can find his way if we pass him. It's a piece of cake."

"Alright," Futureboy conceded. "But try using a lower level laser for the next arrow. It may be a piece of cake, but cake has a way of falling apart when it's only half-baked."

"Right, Doc. Right." Kestrel hadn't even glanced away from the controls. Futureboy sighed, then turned back to his own console. Just 281 meters to go, and this day would end on a good note. "If only this metal wasn't blocking long range scans. How would all of it have gotten here, anyway?"

***

The water surrounding Spiridon's buggy began to move. Thinking that the lock had opened again, he punched his comm's call button. "Jay, can you hear me? Jay, do you read?" Nothing. Glaring at the metal ceiling that had cut off his communication, he noticed the water's surface drawing closer. The chamber was draining! Soon, the water had reached the buggy's wheels. And second now, the lock would be empty, and he could get out and find the controls. Suddenly, and without warning, the bottom of the chamber fell open, dumping the remaining water and Spiridon down 4 meters, making the geologist's third fall of the day. With a flip of a switch, the headlights came on. A dark corridor extended to where another metal door stood, sealed. Spiridon glanced up again. The lock had closed, and there were no visible controls. So that option was out, unless he wanted to risk flooding the whole ship. "Jackal would love this," he muttered. "But of course, the rock guy falls into the archaeologist's dream." He turned on the vehicle's exterior mike. Relative silence, except for loud, long creaks from the ice surrounding the ship. Keeping his eyes open for anything that could give a clue as to where the ship had come from, he drove towards the door. Upon close inspection, he noticed that there was a pressure plate on the floor. Maybe if he drove over it...

The door slid open, half into the ceiling, half into the floor. Spiridon drove through, noting the second plate on this side. He turned the buggy, the lights revealing a bizarre surprise. "Oh my..."

***

Falconer looked over the plans. "Melt the entire surface ice with lasers?"

"The iron in the ice seems to be blocking sensors," Babbage explained. "It would be more like drilling, and would make shafts through which contact could be maintained. The complete melting would only be done if the shafts didn't work."

"An entire square klick, down to 500 meters? That would be half a cubic kilometer of ice vaporized. The entire fleet of buggies doesn't have enough power to do that."

"No, but if the shuttle feeds power to the buggy, it could work. Although it would still take a few hours."

"Next option?"

Picard spoke up. "Another option is that we just bore a hole large enough for the shuttle, and move it down. It's transmitter should be powerful enough to overcome any interference."

"That could work. Anything else?"

"There is one other possibility, but we would need to either bring the shuttle back or send a second one." Babbage handed Falconer a printout. "We've run some tests on the sub we have in storage, and it's sonar would do a better job of finding something underwater than either the jet's or a buggy's spectroscopes or radar. If we put the sub down their, it should be able to finish the search much faster."

Falconer paused, considering. "Do we still have the prototype jet in storage?" 

"Yes."

"What if we lifted the sonar from the sub and put it in the jet?"

Babbage shook his head. "Wouldn't work. The jet is not hydrodynamic enough to do that. It would flip over in the water and get stuck. We have to send the sub if we're going to use the sonar." 

"However, we would need the jet," Picard explained. "Assuming Jay hasn't returned, we would need the jet to lower the sub into the hole via grav-beam."

"Good. Set it up, and tell Hawkeye to be ready to fly in..." Falconer glanced at the clock. Still 25 minutes. "25." 

Babbage left to start preparations. Picard hung back. 

"Something wrong, Andre?"

"Just that we seem to be repeating the situation. If Jay's jet gets lost, then we've just increased the problem, and sending more vehicles risks even more losses. I know we can't melt all of that ice, but we should at least have them start melting some shafts so we can stay in contact." 

"Agreed. But wait until after the 30 minutes are up. We need to be sure that they're in trouble first, before we start blasting away."

"Got it." Picard left. Falconer was left alone in his office again. He sighed. The waiting was always the hardest part.

***

"Hunter!" Babbage shouted to be heard over the noise. "Hunter!" The sim-room quieted as the pilot settled his vehicle to the ground. "Something up, Tom?" Iain 'Hawkeye' Hunter asked.

"Not much," Babbage said. "You're on call, though."

"Not another buggy mission, is it?" 

"No. Rescue." Babbage outlined the role that Hunter would be playing. As he listened, the pilot's grin grew wider. "So the boss got lost in some caves, and I have to fly his rescuers in."

"Not lost yet. Jay still has...20 minutes to go before he's overdue."

"That's fine. All I care about is a chance to fly." 

"Good. Get the jet over to the workshop and have Flynn refit it with a grav beam. You'll fly in first, and then wait for the shuttle."

"Understood." Hunter flipped his jet's hover mode on, and directed the craft towards the elevator that led from the sim room to the workshop. Finally, a chance to fly the Martian skies...

***

Futureboy glanced at the timer. "17 minutes left. We should head back."

"Hold on," Kestrel said, peering intently over the nose. "We're almost on top of the last place he was."

"Jay, if we miss the check-in, they're going to send someone else in after us. And you just know that the only other pilot they'd trust to get in here is Hunter. Do you really want to have your competition being the one to pull your bacon out of the fire?"

Kestrel laughed. "We'll make it back, no problem. Now that I know this pathway, I can get us back out in half the time. And besides, it's not a competition. More like having a wingman who you rotate with."

"Even so, when it comes down to it, who'd be the better pilot?"

Kestrel grinned. "Who do you think?"

Futureboy shrugged. "To be honest, I can't say. In the past, you've flown the larger ships more than the jets. So has Hunter."

"That's why, once they get the training lasers working right on the jets, we're going to have a match." The look on Kestrel's face said that he was looking forward to it. "Loser has to drive a buggy for a week."

"You sound confident."

"Oh, I am. I've been practicing the Cobra, and..." The computer beeped. They were right over where Spiridon had disappeared for a second time. Jay was all business now. "Radio on, max-signal strength. Spitfire, do you copy? Spitfire, this is Solar Flare. Respond."

Futureboy scrolled down a list of scanner readouts, then paused and scrolled back up. "Jay, look at this!"

Kestrel peered over his shoulder at the readout. "You're sure that's right?"

"Positive. Titanium. The water here is shallower, for some reason. Something in it must be blocking sensors, but here, it's just thin enough so that the computer can tell."

"Mixed with something else, or pure?" 

"Almost pure. There's something on it that's not metal, and there seem to be tiny impurities running through it, but it seems too pure to be naturally occurring."

"What, you're saying that this is manmade?"

"No. But it definitely was made." Silence followed, as the two considered what this meant. Their thoughts were interrupted by the timer beeping 15 minutes. Time to head back. 

Kestrel melted a down arrow in the wall to the right, then turned the craft around for the return trip. "Do you think that Spitfire found this?"

"It seems so," Futureboy said. "It seems so..."

***

Spiridon blinked again, for the nth time in minutes. He had driven around his find several times, scanning it and viewing it, trying to wake himself up. Because what he had found couldn't be real. There was no way that these could have wound up inside a giant spacecraft locked in the ice. But there they were. The red text on the side, the golden-leafed half canopy, the red-dusted grey chassis. There, tumbled against the far wall, were a squadron of the original Mars Explorer buggies. A thought occurred to him, and in horror, fearing what he might find, he inched as close as possible, peering into the canopy of one of the derelict cars. But the gold film was all that met his gaze. That was almost as bad as knowing one way or the other, maybe worse. If they were empty, then that raised more questions. But if they weren't... He turned away, shuddering. It was then that he saw it. Emblazoned on the far wall, where he had entered the room, was a Mars Explorer Logo. Suddenly, he realized where he was. In his minds eye, the dust and disorder of the room disappeared, replaced by a well lit, normal scene, of buggies lined up, ready for deployment. This was the hangar bay of the Ares Voyager 1. He glanced over at the logo again, and noticed something new. The change to the familiar emblem snapped him back to the here and now. He aimed his headlights at the logo. Someone had drawn a ring of green around the planet Mars. The paint had dripped down the wall a bit before drying. Some streaks went almost to the floor. In fact, it if was only red, it would look just like... Spiridon shook his head. "Too grim, too grim." There was one good thing about this, though. He knew where he was, and he knew how to get help. "A spaceship's radio should be able to get through this." He turned the buggy around, heading aft, past the logo on the wall. The green ring, he observed, glowed slightly in the dark. Strange... As he continued back down the corridor, he turned slightly, just to make sure that the door had closed behind him.

***

Note: Page Size Limit Reached. Continue reading here: Frozen, Part 2

 
Music is from Babylon 5. Thanks to MacDane for teaching me how to add music.

» Comment on Document Threaded Hybrid Flat 18 Comments
» Reply to Comment
Re: Mars Explorer Story Series Installment 6: Frozen
4 days - 9,839v
Posted 2010/10/31 - 20:43 GMT
yah I'm alive!
great story picard
» Reply to Comment
Re: Mars Explorer Story Series Installment 6: Frozen
21 hours - 1,824v
Posted 2010/10/31 - 20:48 GMT
cool!
» Reply to Comment
Re: Mars Explorer Story Series Installment 6: Frozen
1 day - 3,337v
Posted 2010/10/31 - 22:14 GMT
It just keeps getting better!
» Reply to Comment
Re: Mars Explorer Story Series Installment 6: Frozen
1 week - 24,177v
Posted 2010/11/01 - 22:56 GMT
Wonderful. Just wonderful. I'm very curious to see how I'm doing whereever I am....
» Reply to Comment
Re: Mars Explorer Story Series Installment 6: Frozen
1 week - 24,924v
Posted 2010/11/02 - 1:50 GMT
Awesome.
» Reply to Comment
Re: Mars Explorer Story Series Installment 6: Frozen
1 day - 3,546v
Posted 2010/11/02 - 1:51 GMT
Wow, progress has been made while I was gone. Nice work as always Picard!
» Reply to Comment
Re: Mars Explorer Story Series Installment 6: Frozen
1 day - 3,859v
Posted 2010/11/02 - 17:52 GMT
Very good, though I am half suprised a new one came out so early.  Also, I am a avid fan of B5.  So I love the music addition.  Also, love my charcter.  Very good job. 
» Reply to Comment
Re: Mars Explorer Story Series Installment 6: Frozen
10 hours - 966v
Posted 2010/12/22 - 15:48 GMT
PRetta awesome.
» Reply to Comment
Re: Mars Explorer Story Series Installment 6: Frozen
10 hours - 966v
Posted 2010/12/22 - 15:48 GMT
Hey! im not thunderbird.
» Reply to Comment
Re: Mars Explorer Story Series Installment 6: Frozen
1 week - 31,378v
Posted 2010/12/22 - 20:08 GMT
(gets popcorn) THIS IS EPIC!! Best idea since sliced bread.
» Reply to Comment
Re: Mars Explorer Story Series Installment 6: Frozen
4 days - 12,819v
Posted 2011/01/02 - 15:52 GMT
Like I said once....you forgot the toilet paper. BAM 
 
 
BAM
 
BAM
» Reply to Comment
Re: Mars Explorer Story Series Installment 6: Frozen
1 day - 5,491v
Posted 2010/12/23 - 0:46 GMT
Love it. I just LOVE IT!
» Reply to Comment
Re: Mars Explorer Story Series Installment 6: Frozen
1 week - 24,924v
Posted 2011/01/05 - 16:56 GMT
The suspense is killing me!
 
 
Oaky
» Reply to Comment
Re: Mars Explorer Story Series Installment 6: Frozen
1 day - 5,328v
Posted 2011/01/11 - 1:07 GMT
Nice story.
» Reply to Comment
Re: Mars Explorer Story Series Installment 6: Frozen
1 day - 3,859v
Posted 2011/01/11 - 16:01 GMT
Pretty good story, and I see you are keeping true to the charcters and what they are.  (Yeah I pay special attention to ZAM)  I also like the virus concept.  It seems like a good virus, but it does have a few holes in it. 
» Reply to Comment
Re: Mars Explorer Story Series Installment 6: Frozen
1 week - 24,924v
Posted 2011/01/21 - 0:22 GMT
This post deserves a BAM!
 
 
Oaky
» Reply to Comment
Re: Mars Explorer Story Series Installment 6: Frozen
6 days - 11,359v
Posted 2011/01/21 - 15:51 GMT
brilliant story
» Reply to Comment
Re: Mars Explorer Story Series Installment 6: Frozen, Part 1
1 day - 5,328v
Posted 2011/02/15 - 4:48 GMT
Guess I should bam it too.
 
 
BAM!!!

» Comment on Document Threaded Hybrid Flat 18 Comments
 

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