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The Ice Planet

The Ice Planet by Rod Glenn is a short science fiction story in the form of a journal. The following entries are extracts from the Journal of U.S.S. Explorer; recorded by Colonel L.C.Wakenshaw.

June 14, 2025

After checking back on the log, we are coming up to twenty-one months adrift in the great void. Can that really be right? Lost in the dark for so long? It seems almost inconceivable. It could still be just mere weeks since the crippling systems failure that caused all of this. I have mused (and ranted) much since about the deep space anomaly that devastated our systems, that which we subsequently nicknamed the ‘Aurora’ (after its likeness to the Aurora Borealis), so I won’t go over old ground again.

But, after twenty-one months, we have now finally located an E-Type planet. We have no way of knowing what system we are in as, despite our best attempts, the atmospheric scanners remain our only functioning sensors. Supplies are utterly exhausted, so we have no alternative but to risk everything. And when I say everything I mean it. Once we get down there, if indeed we are able to make a successful re-entry and landing, it will be impossible to take off again.

The planet has a single satellite, not unlike the Moon of our home. That is where the likeness ends. This planet has the white/grey mottled colours of an ice planet with intermittent semi-frozen oceans. From Geo-Stat orbit, it looks totally desolate. I hope, for all our sakes, that this is not the case.

June 15, 2025

Landing preparations are complete. We have five hours until the entry window is open to us. I have chosen a site as close to one of the oceans as possible; this should maximize our chances of finding habitation and/or food sources.

The feeling onboard is tense to say the least. I see fear in the eyes of everyone except Gibson; he is his usual arrogant self. I sometimes wonder if there is any feeling in the man. This time of inactivity is giving everyone too much time to think, myself included.

Now that we have decided to take this course of action, there is no going back. We will never see home again.

June 16, 2025

We have landed…relatively successfully. I say relatively because nobody has been hurt, but our poor shuttle has taken one too many knocks than she could cope with. Gibson, to his credit, has done all that he could. Even if we found a sufficient fuel source, there is no way we could initiate the necessary repairs to make the old girl flight worthy again.

So we are trapped here. The consequences of my decision and our situation are too much to bear right now. Considering this will get me and my crew nowhere. We will have to concentrate all of our energies on surviving on our frozen desert island.

Visibility is at near zero with icy gale-force winds buffeting the half buried ship (now our shelter from the elements). The immediate terrain is barren tundra with what appears to be steep rocky outcrops and narrow gullies in the distance. I plan to lead a three man expeditionary team out towards the coast into this ice-ridden hell tomorrow. Gibson and Doc Batey will accompany me.

Morale is understandably very low and Gibson is stirring resentment (partly why I am taking him with me tomorrow). I have to keep reminding myself that all they want to do is go home…to Earth. Only Jan seems to realise that all I want is the same. In my fifteen years commanding shuttles I have never felt so alone.

June 17, 2025

I have just returned from our first expedition and to say that it ended without success is an understatement. We found nothing but desolate wasteland and perma-ice – we were driven back before managing to reach open water. There was no sign of life whatsoever. Thinking of the old documentaries that I used to watch as a boy, I half hoped (stupidly, I know) to see an artic fox, a polar bear or a penguin…anything.

Pitham is close to the edge; he’s not handling it well at all…but then are any of us? He still believes that the systems failure was his fault or that he could’ve done more to prevent such crippling failures. Yes, he is the navigational officer, but the Aurora was upon us before any of us could react. And once inside none of us knew that it would have such a terrible effect. If anyone should be torturing himself it should be Gibson as Engineer. But then I’m probably just being hard on the man. It’s been a long, miserable day…

I will take the same team out and try east tomorrow.

June 18, 2025

The second expedition was a waste of time – glaciers punctuated with howling ravines. No tracks, no signs of any life or vegetation whatsoever. Nothing. Pitham cracked up when he heard the news. Doc had to sedate him. Up until today I had been clinging on to some shred of hope, but when I saw his tortured face, my hope was devoured by it. I’m starting to believe that we will die before we locate any kind of inhabitation. Thoughts like that will bury us for sure. I’ve got to get a grip. I, of all people, need to remain strong and focussed. My position means that I alone am responsible for the lives of my crew.

Their lives are in my hands. I cannot give up…I cannot betray their trust.

South tomorrow.

June 19, 2025

Nothing. Not a d*mn thing. Ice and snow and the biting, torturous winds. Pitham is dead; suicide. He simply nodded as we recounted another failed expedition and retired to his quarters. Jan found him twenty minutes later when she went to check on him. Hanged himself…with my spare belt. My belt. His eyes were open and staring. I swear there was an accusation in them.

Gibson is uncontrollable now. He said that I have killed us all. He’s right. I had to threaten him with the brig.

It is all my fault. I am the commander, so the buck stops here. As well as ruining the mission, I am now a murderer. What the hell happened? Why us? Why me?

June 20, 2025

Gibson disappeared during the night. Batey and I searched for him for several hours, but found no trace. The unrelenting storm wipes out any tracks within minutes. Was it an Oates sacrifice or a Mr Christian act of mutiny?

I feel that, whenever my back is turned, Batey is staring accusingly at me. Jan insists that none of this is my fault and that the crew are still one hundred percent behind me (except for one obvious exception). And, despite my blackest of moods yesterday, realistically, how could it be? Damnit, I didn’t throw us intentionally into the Aurora and I didn’t perch Pitham on the edge of his bunk and order him to step off with my belt around his neck and a ceiling conduit.

That may be true , but that does not change the fact that I am in command of this ship. I can debate it all I like in the silence within the screaming confines of my head, but I can’t change that.

I spent the rest of the day fighting to keep the ship from being completely buried. The brief solitude was a welcome respite from the others, despite the blistered hands, the frozen cheeks and the aching limbs.
North tomorrow. It’s our last chance.

June 21, 2025?

Eight kilometres north of the crash site Doc and I located what, at first, appeared to be caves cut into the base of a vast glacier. They turned out to be windows that led into the top floor of a submerged building, concealed beneath thick layers of ice and snow. Within the cold, dark confines, with only the foreboding moan of the wind to accompany us, we found Gibson sat upright against the wall in the corner of a room. He was frozen solid, but that was not what concerned us first. His throat had been cut and it was clear that it was not suicide.

There are now only three of us left, but none of that matters anymore, does it? On deeper inspection, we found scattered artefacts, ancient and long forgotten, but not unrecognisable. A horrific, impossible thought began to formulate and, looking across at Batey, I saw the same awful realisation in his eyes. Venturing further, but scarcely daring to breathe, we discovered that the building turned out to be an office block. Finally, like a last dying gasp, we even discovered its address – El Cajon Boulevard, San Diego, California. U.S.A. Earth.

We are home.

THE END By Rod Glenn
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Upload Date: 31/12/1969

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